New changes in academy policies

  • Published
  • By Donna Miles
  • American Forces Press Service
When the Class of 2007 cadets reported for in-processing at the U.S. Air Force Academy in late June, they found many new changes that are putting academy policies more directly in line with those of the active Air Force.

Throughout the academy, privileges are now granted based not merely on individual class seniority, but on the academic, athletic and military merits of the squadrons as a whole. Similarly, the disciplinary system more closely resembles the Air Force's. For example, a strict alcohol policy is in effect, with offenders now charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or expelled.

In the dormitories, female cadets now are grouped in clusters within their squadron areas. And perhaps most significantly, new sexual-harassment and sexual-assault reporting procedures are in place, along with a new academy response team.

Sweeping as these changes may be, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, who took over the reins as superintendent at the academy in July, calls them "baby steps" in a long-term effort to transform the academy and rebuild its reputation.

"We realized that what we had here is a culture and a climate that tolerates sexual assault and sexual harassment," Rosa said. "So if you have an environment that basically tolerates sexual harassment, you have to change that."

For months, the academy has been the focus of widespread criticism. Amid charges of sexual misconduct at the academy, in March, an Air Force team released a report called "Agenda for Change” that identified 43 weak points in need of correction.

Six months later, a blue-ribbon panel led by former Florida Congresswoman Tillie K. Fowler made 21 recommendations to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force Secretary Dr. James G. Roche. Reports by the Department of Defense inspector general, the General Accounting Office, and even the academy's own internal cadet survey reaffirmed that change was needed.

Rosa said such intensive scrutiny has actually helped the academy, because "it gives us a blueprint and a baseline for getting better." And he and his new leadership team are wasting little time putting recommended changes into effect, he said.

Of 165 "action items" identified in the "Agenda for Change," the academy already has adopted 140, and is incorporating them into the school's operating instructions. Rosa said he hopes to implement all 165 recommendations by March, exactly one year after the “Agenda for Change” was released.

The most significant initiative, he said, was establishing clear sexual-assault reporting procedures and standing up a new academy response team headed by the vice commandant. Since its establishment, the team has activated several times to review alleged offenses, all of which are now under investigation, Rosa said.

In addition, the academy leadership is making it crystal clear to cadets -- perhaps more so than ever since the school started admitting women cadets in 1976 -- that there is zero tolerance for the type of misconduct identified through various panels and reports.

"We're at the point where we've laid down expectations and guidelines," Rosa said. "Our expectations are that we don't tolerate criminals, we don't sexually harass people, we don't sexually assault people. We are not going to tolerate it."

The next big step, Rosa said, will be to institute a program of cadet training and education about human relations, sexual harassment and sexual assault. These classes, Rosa explained, will be provided throughout a cadet's four years at the academy.

While implementing Agenda for Change recommendations, Rosa's team also is reviewing the Fowler Commission recommendations. Rosa said about a half-dozen of the commission's 21 recommendations already have been addressed through Agenda for Change initiatives.

Rosa said one big challenge in introducing changes at the academy is to make sure they are backed up by lasting programs, "so that we don't find ourselves 10 years down the road in the same or similar circumstances."

He acknowledged these changes and programs -- and the culture change that they are designed to help bring about -- won't happen overnight. But Rosa said he hopes to be "well down the road" within one to two years toward bringing the academy "to the next level of excellence and (to) make it a place where moms and dads are proud to send their kids."

Rosa said he and his staff are working to rebuild trust and confidence in the academy among the American public, but also among the cadets themselves. That is a two-fold process, he said, that begins by ensuring cadets understand their leaders care about them and will enforce measures in place to protect them. But he said it also involves "getting them to trust us to trust them."

Rosa said cadets at the academy are committed to helping restore their school's image.

"They're ready to get past this," he said. "They want (the academy) to get better. They want this to be the institution they came to. There's a tremendous amount of pride in the institution, and they want to be a part of taking us to the next level of excellence."