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Academy panel: Problem-causers a minority

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 11, 2003) -- The Defense Department's Air Force Academy Review Panel met Sept. 5 to discuss issues related to its investigation of sexual misconduct allegations at the institution.

While the panelists concluded there were problems at the school and that the leaders failed to recognize those problems, they also recognized that the problem-causers at the school were a minority.

"We want to make sure that people understand we are talking about a very small number of cadets who have caused these problems," said Tillie Fowler, the panel’s chairwoman. "I think one of the things we were all impressed with was the extremely high caliber of men and women who are cadets at the Air Force Academy. They are very concerned that they are getting painted with this brush because of the really reprehensible actions of the few.”

Part of the panel's investigation into culture and climate involved review of surveys that had been conducted by the academy since 1991. The results of those surveys indicated trouble at the school, said panel member Dr. Sally Satel.

"The data were indicative of several problems," Satel said. "(One) point was the reluctance of a good number of women and men to discuss instances of sexual harassment. Another point was a reluctance to discuss or report illegal alcohol consumption."

About 40 percent of sexual assaults had allegedly involved alcohol, Satel said.

She also said the surveys showed about 20 percent of cadets at the school had some sort of objection to females being allowed into the academy. The panel was also concerned that while the surveys showed there were issues at the school, the administration had rejected the findings.

"The survey findings were, interestingly, repeatedly rejected by the academy and the dean as invalid, yet these surveys continued to be performed year after year without changing appreciably in their methodology," Satel said. "This is something we have been very concerned about."

The surveys had been rejected because academy administrators said they felt the survey methodology and sampling methodology may have invalidated the results. But the overall message in the surveys should have been enough to raise concern amongst school officials, said Laura Miller, a social scientist on the panel.

"I would concur that the numbers are problematic," Miller said. "But as far as commanders’ interest in needing to know if there was a problem ... there was certainly enough information and enough validity in these surveys to indicate a problem existed and something needed to be done about it."

"We do want to make it clear that ... we are trying to deal with is how we can change that culture and climate, and deal with those bad apples who are causing the problems," Fowler said.

The panel's findings will be formally presented to the secretary of defense Sept. 22.