In a shocking result in the 2015 British elections, Prime Minister David Cameron won re-election and returned to Number 10 Downing Street with a slim yet outright majority in the House of Commons. An election that, due to the rise of traditionally minor nationalist parties just weeks earlier, was heralded as the end of the two-party system ended with a victory for one of the two major parties.
Unlike in so many elections, higher education policy positions were a topic of great debate this year, providing major and minor parties alike the opportunity to share their visions for the future of British higher education. The lessons of the 2015 British election not only provide a fantastic microcosm of the past five years of British politics, but also have great implications for the 2016 presidential race in the United States.
Among higher education policy issues in the United Kingdom in the past decade, perhaps no issue has gained more media attention than tuition (frequently called fees in Britain). Labour governments under Tony Blair introduced tuition and fees to the UK higher education system for the first time in 1998, and increased the £1,000 ($1,548) tuition cap to £3,000 ($4,647) in 2004. In 2009, it became clear that universities needed increased funding. John Browne, formerly the head of the energy company BP, chaired a commission that examined higher education and eventually advocated for no tuition caps and increasing the availability of student loans.
In 2010, public disapproval of the Labour government was high, and for those voters who didn’t approve of the Tories, either, the Liberal Democrats provided an alternative. Youth voters were drawn to the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and his pledge not to raise tuition, and voted for the party in droves. No party won a majority in Parliament, so the Liberal Democrats and Tories joined forces in a coalition government. As junior partners in the Conservative-led governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats tried to serve as a moderating force -- a goal that ultimately proved unsuccessful when they went back on their pledge and voted for a Tory proposal to increase the tuition cap to £9,000.
The Liberal Democrats paid dearly for not following through on their no tuition increases pledge. In a nationally televised appearance on a question and answer show, Clegg was asked by an audience member, “Your promise on student loans has destroyed your reputation -- why would we believe anything else you say?”
The tuition flip-flop had the same effect on Clegg that the “Read my lips: No new taxes” pledge had on President George H. W. Bush -- it provided ammunition for opponents of the Liberal Democrats, and cast doubt on Clegg’s trustworthiness. The raise of fees, seen as a Tory policy, also built upon the opposition narrative that Clegg and the Liberal Democrats weren’t doing enough to stave off the unpopular austerity measures the majority Conservative government wanted to enact. By election night, the Liberal Democrats’ image was so badly damaged that they were reduced to 8 seats from 57. Of those eight members of Parliament, four had broken party ranks and voted against the tuition increases.
Similarities in party platforms with regard to higher education also dramatically changed the outcome of the election, as differentiation in policies shed some spotlight on traditionally minor parties. The Labour and Conservative parties proposed very similar research funding and tech transfer policies. The Tories called for university enterprise zones that would connect university research with potential entrepreneurs and spin-off businesses in the mold of Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. Labour proposed “knowledge clusters” much the same way -- areas where universities would build ties with industry.
The two parties also stated that they were committed to maintaining research funding, but provided few specifics as to how they would do so. The Liberal Democrats were the only major party to differ in these areas, actually calling for greater investment in research funding and changes to employment law that would allow university students from abroad the ability to stay in the U.K. after graduation to contribute to the knowledge economy of the country. Yet, because of the party’s history on switching positions on tuition, many felt the differing ideas were unattainable in a coalition government at best, and dishonest at worst.
Such similarities among the major parties wouldn’t normally make a major difference in an election outcome, but traditionally minor parties used the similarities to their advantage. The Scottish National Party argued that the Labour Party had lost sight of its socialist roots and become too much like the Conservative party. Any similar policies between the two main parties, especially in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum in which both parties worked together to defeat the SNP, played directly into the SNP’s narrative.
In the one area where Labour and the Tories disagreed -- tuition caps -- Scottish voters paid no attention. Labour’s proposed cap reduction from £9,000 to £6,000 fell on deaf ears north of Hadrian’s Wall, as the SNP had already provided free tuition and fees for Scottish students at Scottish universities through legislation at the regional level. When Scottish voters tried to determine which party had the best chance of success in breaking up the perceived Labour-Tory policy monopoly, they had to choose between the Liberal Democrats with their poor track record on tuition fees or the party that brought free higher education to Scotland.
The Scots weren’t the only minor party to take advantage of higher education policy to build their own agenda. The pro-environment Green Party promised to erase all student debt and cap pay for the highest earners at large firms like universities at 10 times that of the lowest wage earner. Plaid Cymru, a Welsh nationalist party, dedicated to eventual independence for Wales, argued for a work visa program for foreign students similar to that of the Liberal Democrats to ensure the continued economic health of the Welsh aerospace and electronics industries.
On the opposite end of the political spectrum, the far-right U.K. Independence Party used differentiation in its higher education platform to draw attention to its main political goal of leaving the European Union. UKIP, virulently opposed to E.U. membership and patently anti-immigration, proposed a tuition policy for students from outside of the U.K. that could only be achieved if the United Kingdom were to leave the E.U. Students from abroad, even those from fellow E.U. countries, would have to pay higher tuition fees than domestic students, a policy that is illegal under European Union law.
Higher education policies became a way for minor parties to differentiate themselves from the “business as usual” candidates, and some were quite successful in that effort.
The lessons of the 2015 U.K. election certainly apply to next year’s U.S. presidential election. While the rise of a Texas national party or complete implosion of the Democratic Party seems highly unlikely, presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle are likely to use their positions on higher education issues in ways that fit with the personal narrative they try to present. Governor Scott Walker has already channeled the Tory government with his proposed cuts to the University of Wisconsin. He cites this austerity measure as an example of his commitment to fiscal stability and a low-taxes government. Expect Marco Rubio to tout the bipartisan work he has done with Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden as an example of the ways in which he rises above traditional partisan politics -- not exactly the same as creating a third party, but not particularly different in its purpose, either.
Presidential candidates should look to the minority parties of the United Kingdom for guidance on how to energize voters. Rand Paul’s proposed elimination of the Department of Education will certainly energize his base the same way UKIP energizes theirs through discussion of tuition policies in a Britain free of the European Union. Bernie Sanders’s belief that higher education should be a right, and that higher education should be free, has more in common with the stated policy positions of the SNP in Scotland than the Democrats in the United States. Those positions, however, will invigorate many of the left-wing youth of the Democratic Party and could greatly increase turnout even if Senator Sanders isn’t on the ballot in November of 2016.
Finally, presidential candidates should also heed the lessons of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. Going back on promises related to higher education could result in dramatic losses in the next election. While many voters won’t consider the state of their local university on election day, a high profile flip-flop on higher education could indicate a level of dishonesty to which no re-election-seeking politician would ever want to ascribe.
Christopher R. Marsicano is a Ph.D. student in leadership and policy studies with a focus in higher education policy at Vanderbilt University.
America and much of the world have been transfixed by recent events in Baltimore. What’s most important, however, comes after the cameras leave.
More than 50 years ago, Americans also were riveted as dogs and fire hoses were unleashed on the marching children of Birmingham, Ala. Participating in that march was the most terrifying experience of my life. Even so, it was not the hardest.
The toughest experiences came in the next 50 years, working to change the educational and socioeconomic systems that still exclude far too many Americans from real opportunity. At my university, students and staff work every day with hundreds of inner-city teenagers who are first-time offenders, providing them with guidance around the clock. These children and so many more need our support now more than ever.
As one of my students said to me recently, the Baltimore story -- which is the American story -- should remind us that issues related to poverty and inequality, crime and opportunity are not about “those people.” They are about us -- all of us.
How we react to events like those in Baltimore speaks volumes about our values. We know we must do much better, especially for people who have not had a chance to thrive in our society. Americans -- not just in Baltimore but across the country -- have an opportunity now to ask difficult questions and take long-term action.
Universities have an especially critical role to play as community anchors, educators and researchers. A quote from a 1923 edition of The Daily Princetonian sums up our responsibility as aptly today as it did the day it was penned: "We are almost the only section of the population which has the leisure and opportunity to study the controversial questions of the day without bias, and to act accordingly. The power of today is in our hands.”
The future will depend heavily on universities -- not only the policies we shape but the leaders we produce. Historically, one of America’s greatest strengths has been our ability to look squarely at our problems and to make hard changes. To do so often requires struggle, and we have a responsibility to embrace that struggle. To do so is a fundamental part of the learning and growing process -- and it is fundamental to changing issues of systemic injustice and inequality that are neither new nor isolated.
We have made tremendous progress since the 1960s; the fact that I can write this as the African-American president of a predominantly white university is testament to that. But recent events have reminded us just how uneven opportunity, power and justice in this country remain.
At a recent campus forum, one professor contrasted the quick disaster of a riot to the slow disaster of Freddie Gray’s neighborhood -- a site impacted by failed public and private policies since the 1930s. That slow, devastating deterioration, combined with the heightened effects of discrimination during the War on Drugs, boiled over into the West Baltimore riots on April 25.
Our responsibility as educators is to help our students -- young citizens and voters, future leaders and parents -- understand the context of recent events. The liberal arts, especially the humanities and social sciences, are powerful tools for shedding light on the challenges we face in this country. Universities must serve as models -- and actual spaces -- for talking about sticky issues of race, inequality, authority and fairness. How do we eliminate inequity if we don’t even know how to talk about it?
We recently started a program on campus to coach first-year students in intercultural communication. While the INTERACT program is completely voluntary, it reaches students who would not naturally gravitate toward such programming, often because they grew up in communities dominated by a single race or class and are uncomfortable interacting with peers different from themselves. Upperclassmen serve as peer recruiters and promote the program on their residence hall floors and in casual encounters, rather than just at multicultural events or among groups focused on diversity.
Many of my students first confront issues of race or class when they work at one of our partner schools in Baltimore. Whatever their race or background, our students often see themselves in their younger counterparts, but they also recognize that they have advantages these children have never had. Too few Americans understand what children in such circumstances experience long before they reach their teenage years.
Universities need to create more opportunities for students to connect with people in circumstances vastly different from their own and to relate what they’re learning in classes about justice, politics, economics and history to real work in the community. Our BreakingGround initiative, which works closely with the national American Democracy Project, does just that. Through the initiative, engineering students have built models of water infrastructure for the city of Baltimore, English students have performed research and service to advance childhood literacy, and American studies students have documented the proud history and decline of the industrial neighborhood of Sparrows Point.
Other students, recent alums and staff members work with hundreds of first-time offenders through our Choice program, a community-based initiative that supports and empowers youth through a host of services. Recently the program has been bringing together youths and police officers for structured conversations and the joint creation of a tile mosaic for a public space. Such initiatives build trust between communities and police and can, ultimately, save lives.
But even with abundant opportunities for engagement, students often have to be pushed to get beyond their comfort zones. Even at UMBC, where students from all walks of life and more than 100 countries study alongside one another, we have to work to get people to talk openly about race and socioeconomic differences. I often wonder if universities are doing enough. We are having renewed conversations on our campus about how we can deepen our ties to the community and keep issues of inequality and inequity at the forefront of our teaching and service.
I know we must remain vigilant. The limelight will predictably fade, but the challenges will not. The power of today is in our hands.
The fate of the middle class in the United States is a topic frequently discussed by our political leaders, including President Obama. Given the growing wealth inequality, there is good reason for this emphasis. However, this should not distract us from also paying attention to the fate of people who are living in extreme poverty. Most of these individuals live in far-off countries. Others are our fellow citizens.
A number of corporate leaders, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have highlighted this global phenomenon of dire poverty and its deleterious effects. They have urged their colleagues to join them in giving generously to help relieve it. Although few college and university presidents can give on the scale of corporate magnates, we can do our part. An organization called The Presidents' Pledge Against Global Poverty works to bring us together to accomplish this goal.
The Presidents' Pledge was launched in 2011, and now has more than 30 members from colleges and universities around the country. Both active and emeriti leaders are part of this initiative. Ann Svennungsen, former president of Texas Lutheran University and now bishop of the Lutheran St. Paul Area Synod in Minnesota, was the founder of the organization. Her colleague in this initiative was Peter Singer, professor of ethics at Princeton University. Through his lectures, courses and books, Singer has inspired many people to give more generously to relieve global poverty.
Our motivation for joining the pledge is to do our part to help relieve a grievous situation. More than 1.2 billion people are living under the World Bank global poverty line of $1.25 a day. These individuals are likely to be hungry for at least part of each year and even if they have food, they will probably be malnourished. They must scrape together some kind of shelter and have little or no money left to send their children to school, find transportation to jobs or access even minimal health services.
Pondering the lives of these individuals and families moves many of us to want to help. However, a number of diverting thoughts often intervene. Sometimes we just want to close our eyes and forget such misery, concentrating on the ups and downs of the lives we and those around us live. We may think that the problem is so huge that it must be insoluble, and in any case, my own small gift won’t make a dent in it. Or we believe that any money we may give will be wasted because of corrupt government intermediaries or the difficulty of reaching those who are truly in need.
One of the goals of the Presidents' Pledge is to provide informed responses to each of these concerns, so that more of us follow our initial instinct of compassion. We hope to make relieving global poverty a moral priority for each of us, regardless of what else we may do with our money and what other philanthropic causes we may support.
For those who believe the problem is intractable, we point to the data reported succinctly by The Life You Can Save, an organization with a name taken from one of Peter Singer’s best-known books. If you look on the website of this organization, you will learn that the percentage of people around the world living under $1.25 a day fell by half between 1990 and 2010. Seven hundred million fewer people lived in extreme poverty at the end of these two decades, and the number of deaths of children under 5 years of age fell from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012.
These gains depended in part on gifts from people like us, gifts that strengthen relief organizations and supplement the aid provided by governments. For those who believe that it is impossible to channel aid where it is most needed, this same website lists organizations with a well-documented record of improving the lives of the poorest people around the world. Participants in the Presidents' Pledge would add other names to this list, which would include Oxfam and Partners in Health, among many others. The argument that giving will not make a difference simply cannot stand up to the evidence.
The mission of the Presidents' Pledge Against Global Poverty is “to make the greatest possible impact toward ending global poverty through the public leadership and financial commitment of university and college presidents.” We are convinced that our personal commitment will make a difference, along with the research, teaching and service provided by faculty, staff members and students on our campuses.
Many of us feel a special sense of obligation to the areas closest to our campuses -- whether Durham, East Palo Alto, West Philadelphia, Hartford, Buffalo or other neighborhoods. For this reason, we decided that up to half of the gift each of us makes can be designated for causes in the U.S.; the other half is to be contributed to international projects. Each donor can choose the causes he or she regards as most worthy of support, and the specific dollar amount of our giving remains private.
We had originally emphasized the importance of the public impact of our leadership, the example that joining the pledge would provide for our colleagues, both on and off campus. We still believe that this impact can be significant. However, to accommodate those who prefer not to be publicly identified, commitment to the pledge can be anonymous if a donor wishes.
Our initial goal was to ask each member to pledge 5 percent or more of their personal income for gifts to organizations of their choice that address global poverty. This is still our ideal, but we also welcome those who do not feel comfortable making this percentage pledge. We ask those who join us to commit to making the relief of global poverty a priority in their own portfolio of charitable giving.
College and university presidents should, we are convinced, be in the forefront of those who are tackling this crucial problem.
Nannerl O. Keohane is Laurance S. Rockefeller Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Center for Human Values at Princeton University. She previously served as president of Wellesley College and Duke University.
Sexual assault on college campuses is a national problem. No campus is immune. It is a challenge at public and private institutions, it plagues small colleges as well as universities with tens of thousands of students, it happens at highly selective colleges and institutions that cater to a local demographic. It also happens at our federal service academies (FSAs).
FSAs, supported nearly entirely by federal funding, are rightfully held to a higher standard due to both the level of federal support and the jobs FSA graduates fill in service to our nation. As superintendents (i.e., presidents) of the five academies -- the U.S. Military Academy (USMA), the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA), the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) and the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) -- we embrace this higher standard and work at every level of our institutions to create a culture where sexual assault is eliminated and never tolerated.
We work tirelessly to design training and education programs to prevent sexual assault, to create an environment that encourages reporting, to care for the victims following an assault, to hold perpetrators accountable while protecting their constitutional rights and to track and report our progress so we can continuously improve. Our institutions have been the subject of intense scrutiny on these issues over the last decade, preceding the current national focus on sexual assault in higher education. We are taking this opportunity to share how we are addressing the issue of sexual assault on our campuses to promote transparency, and encourage continued dialogue among university leaders on this challenging problem.
Federal Oversight of Sexual Assault Prevention at FSAs
While the FSAs are not all covered by the Clery Act, which requires annual reporting on campus crime, all the FSAs must report sexual assault data annually through various other laws that cover the institutions. The most recent Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at Military Service Academies: Academic Program Year 2013-2014 was released in February 2015. The analogous USMMA report has also been released, and the USCGA report is scheduled for release this spring. These reports are designed to provide assault details, including the gender and military status of the accused and victim, time of day, location, etc., as well as the investigative and adjudication processes and outcomes. They also include all formal complaints of sexual harassment, and starting with academic year 2013-14, all informal complaints of sexual harassment. These reports contain similarities to those required of colleges and universities under the Clery Act and are written to provide insight into the prevention, victim advocacy/response, investigation/adjudication and assessment/reporting programs implemented at the FSAs. The following sections describe these efforts in more detail.
Prevention -- Education and Training
If we are to be successful at changing a culture, then we have to change behavior. When our candidates arrive at our academies, they arrive with a set of values that may or may not be congruent with the core values of the individual services and academies. Our education and training programs are therefore key to transitioning values and attitudes at matriculation to the values of our institutions (e.g., duty, honor, service, excellence, courage).
Education and training programs are the primary mechanism used to prevent sexual assaults at the FSAs. Although each of the academies is different, students typically receive roughly 30 hours of training and education on sexual assault prevention and response (SAPR) during their four-year academy experience. This training begins within the first two weeks of a new student’s arrival on campus and is augmented throughout the first-year summer program to include gender socialization, alcohol use, definitions of sexual assault, introductions to the reporting mechanisms and bystander intervention. This training is supported by external groups that specialize in defining sexual boundaries, discussing ways we communicate about sex and promoting healthy relationships. This initial training forms the foundation for training and education experiences that occur throughout the next four years.
Key to cultural and behavioral change is enabling open and honest dialogue where reflection and introspection can occur, and we have found that the best way to enable this dialogue is through peer-led small group forums, which all of the FSA programs now include. The students leading these forums receive extensive training that enables them to act as a counselor and approachable responder, ultimately serving as a low-threat conduit for students to seek help from the various supporting agencies (e.g., sexual assault response coordinator [SARC], counseling center, mental health, chaplains, etc.).
These students are also often the ones who organize and support relevant programs for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in April, participation in local events, national conferences and the White House's ongoing “It’s on Us campaign. For example, as part of the most recent Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Air Force Academy held a Take Back the Night event organized by students, which included multiple interactive displays and a guest lecture by Katie Koestner, founder and director of Take Back the Night.
In addition to the smaller peer-led groups, larger audiences with guest speakers nationally renowned for their research or advocacy on sexual assault prevention and response provide additional context. The point is that any successful program requires strong leadership starting from the top, and the buy-in and ownership of the students themselves. Grassroots student ownership is a critical component.
Officers and enlisted military members working directly with the students as mentors in their military organizations also receive special training and educational experiences to better prepare them for the challenges of the 18- to 22-year-old demographic. They guide discussion of actual case studies, they describe the elements of sexual assault and sexual harassment, they promote the responsible use of alcohol and examine trends in alcohol consumption by their peers, and they define the expectations of leadership that are required of these students now and when they graduate to lead in their respective service.
These training experiences are complemented by a focus in the general education curriculum on character and ethics. The FSAs typically require students to take general education courses that focus on educational outcomes like respect for human dignity, morals and ethics, and ethical reasoning and action. Academic courses promoting these outcomes provide a reinforcing mechanism for the assault prevention training and an opportunity for students to think critically about the elements that can lead to sexual violence, harassment and oppression.
Furthermore, at the FSAs, these classroom principles are highlighted and reinforced via centers dedicated to character, ethics and leadership, which organize full-day forums on ethics, professional conduct and risk. These forums provide a venue for students to engage in small group discussions with experienced moderators to reflect on challenges they face now as students, as well as difficulties they may encounter as future leaders. Finally, interdisciplinary faculty reading groups are used at some FSAs as a forum for faculty members to discuss gender relations and sexual violence in literature and popular culture, which provides a venue for faculty to share ideas and discuss topics before introducing them into the classroom.
In these ways, sexual assault prevention is designed as an integrated aspect of the academy culture and is a critical component in the character and leadership education of every student. Clearly, it is our responsibility to develop leaders who will set the conditions within their units where everyone is respected and feels valued, included and secure regardless of gender, ethnicity or any other characteristic -- a particularly important aspect given the removal of the combat exclusion law, which will allow women in formerly restricted units.
Victim care is among the highest priorities of every academy superintendent and our SAPR offices. Each SAPR office is staffed by dedicated, highly trained professionals, who provide immediate response and support to all victims of sexual assault. SAPR professionals have the ability to receive sexual assault reports in confidence, which provides victims the ability to make restricted or unrestricted reports.
Restricted reports are designed to give the victim access to counseling, medical care, legal services (e.g., a special victims counsel [SVC] or victim legal counsel [VLC] at all but USMMA), and in some cases special consideration in academy programs (e.g., coordinated flexibility in course work) without requiring the victim to pursue an investigation.
Unrestricted reports trigger an investigation by appropriate criminal investigative authorities in addition to allowing the victim access to the above services. Unrestricted cases of sexual assault are tracked via a monthly case management group meeting that enables all interested parties (e.g., law enforcement, SARC, counselors, medical professionals, administrators) to remain involved in the process and ensure victims are receiving the care and services they need, and ensures that any special circumstances are addressed at the appropriate level with an integrated response. These case management group meetings track a case until its final disposition.
Over time, the SARC has been augmented by professional victim advocates who provide one-on-one support to each victim throughout the process, as well as specially trained student advocates who support a victim in a low-threat student setting at some FSAs. More recently victim care at all FSAs except USMMA has expanded to include trained lawyers who enter into an attorney-client relationship and advise victims on their legal rights throughout the process, to include the victims’ right to privacy, and empower the victim to make informed decisions. Included in this advice, these lawyers help victims make an informed decision on whether to convert a restricted report to an unrestricted report. Because these lawyers have an attorney-client relationship with the victims, all conversations are confidential. If the victim converts a report of sexual assault from restricted to unrestricted, the lawyer safeguards the victim’s rights in the ensuing investigation and criminal justice proceedings. In this way, the FSAs ensure victims receive the focused care they need in either a restricted or unrestricted setting.
Every unrestricted report of a sexual assault at a FSA is referred to a criminal investigative organization -- such as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) -- a force that includes investigators specially trained to address sexual assault. The investigative organizations can interview witnesses, gather evidence, reconstruct the circumstances of a crime and provide a report of investigation to guide leadership on the appropriate disposition of the case. The crimes investigated involve a broad range of sexual offenses from sexually harassing statements to an unwanted touch or kiss to forcible rape. Note that the spectrum does not imply that one type of behavior will lead to the other. It simply illustrates the range of sexual harassment to sexual assault behavior we work to eliminate.
The severity of the allegation and availability of reliable evidence will inform how the misconduct is addressed. Options available to the FSAs range from administrative remedies such as disenrollment (i.e., expulsion with recoupment), to discipline through the student conduct system, to criminal proceedings. For criminal misconduct, each of us as superintendent and general court-martial convening authority, in consultation with our lawyers, may refer students to a court-martial. This requires a preliminary hearing, overseen by a military judge or senior attorney, to examine the evidence and provide advice as to whether probable cause exists. We receive an independent legal review and advice from our staff judge advocates (SJAs), who are senior lawyers with specialized training in sexual assault. Throughout this process we also consider the input of the victim’s lawyer and the accused’s defense counsel. Any decision not to prosecute a case undergoes multiple layers of review by attorneys and senior leaders.
One challenge the FSAs share with other small residential colleges is how to best separate a victim and accused on the relatively small academy campuses. For example, all Air Force Academy cadets live in one of two dorms roughly a quarter-mile apart, take all of their courses in the only academic facility on campus, and have relatively frequent gatherings requiring the attendance of all students. Hence, there is a high probability that the victim and accused will have continued incidental interaction. Thus, following an alleged sexual assault, the accused is given a military protective order, (i.e., no contact order) which requires him or her to avoid any physical, verbal or electronic contact with the victim and to report any incidental contact to the administration. Moreover, typically one of the cadets (i.e., accused or victim) is relocated so that they’re not living in the same dorm. Victims at several of the FSAs are also offered, upon the recommendation of the SARC and approval of the chain of command, the opportunity to take a semester or year off with no penalty in their progression to provide the time necessary to heal.
The FSAs use a variety of internally and externally administered anonymous climate surveys, focus groups and real-time reports from the SAPR office to guide programs and determine areas for improvement. These surveys examine the overall climate, provide feedback on the outcomes of the education and training efforts, and help leadership judge the perspective of the students toward sexual assault and sexual harassment, and they are used to judge prevalence -- i.e., the “true” amount of unwanted sexual contact. Comparing the prevalence with the number of restricted and unrestricted sexual assault reports in a given year provides an indication of the level of reporting. For example, the Academic Year 13-14 MSA report indicated the strength of reporting at the MSAs was roughly 16 percent, consistent with national levels of rape reporting, and three times the level of reporting indicated in a 2000 study of female college and university students funded by the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which used a similar definition for sexual assault.
Although the difference in prevalence and reporting may be due in part to students addressing the unwanted sexual contact themselves, it still suggests there are likely many incidents of unwanted sexual contact going unreported at MSAs.
To assimilate the survey data and derive programs that prevent assaults and encourage reporting, several of the FSAs (e.g., USAFA) have created a new office that reports directly to the superintendent. This office is better able to integrate sensors from across the campus to identify trends, target corrective action and interface with academy senior leadership to ensure unity of effort across the multiple helping agencies on campus. They are a one-stop shop for campus cultural issues and provide a higher headquarters ability to respond to and triage problems. They also are responsible for ensuring all reporting is integrated, accurate and informative. This office removes the burden and confusion that comes from having multiple offices respond to an assault, and provides centralized control of the response within the office of the superintendent.
As this nation’s federal service academies, we must hold ourselves to the highest standard, and we must be held accountable. We work daily to live up to this standard. We have made great strides over the past decade to improve the care of victims, the education of our students and the prevention of sexual assaults. However, we clearly have room to improve. We must continue to foster an environment that does not tolerate sexual assault, that supports victims and that develops leaders dedicated to maintaining an environment of dignity and mutual respect. We welcome continued dialogue with higher education leadership as we explore lessons learned and best practices. Together we can strive to eradicate sexual assault on college campuses.
The authors of this piece are:
Lieutenant General Michelle D. Johnson, superintendent, U.S. Air Force Academy.
Vice Admiral Walter E. “Ted” Carter Jr., superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy.
Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, superintendent, U.S. Military Academy.
Rear Admiral James A. Helis, superintendent, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz, superintendent, U.S. Coast Guard Academy.