Search Begins For New USMMA Superintendent

Midshipmen in formation at the USMMA King's Point

by John Konrad (gCaptain) Today the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) has posted the position of USMMA Superintendent to USAjobs, the first step in replacing James Helis, the former Army Colonel who was removed from the position in May. 

2011 was a year of change for the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. Then Superintendent Rear Admiral Philip H. Greene was removed from the position after becoming vocal in his frustration over tight government oversight and tensions between him, MARAD and the Department of Transportation (DOT) which oversees both.

The subsequent appointment of Helis was the last in a series of controversial orders sent from Washington by former US Maritime Administrator David Matsuda, the school’s federal supervisor. Previous controversies include loss of the school’s training ship, the closing of GMATS (a highly respected industry training and outreach program), and the loss of a succession of superintendents leaving Alumni hopeful that Helis could turn the ship around.

These hopes were dashed over Helis’ tenure as he navigated the school into a minefield of problems including sexual harassment lawsuits, accreditation trouble and dwindling support from leadership at MARAD and the Department Of Transportation.

“I can assure you a turnaround (at USMMA) is the first issue I will take up at MARAD” said DOT Secretary Elaine Chao at her senate confirmation hearing last year.

Washington Sends A Strong Signal

“Anyone in the military will tell you that when an Admiral is laterally reassigned it means he was fired.” a high-level government source told gCaptain last week. “Kings Point along with the State Maritime Academies are foundational to the strength of the US Merchant Marine. Secretary Chao has support from the White House on this issue and, as the approval of new training ships proves, she is gaining support in Congress.”

Candidates for the position will need the approval of both Secretary Chao and Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, the USMMA class of 1979 alumni who is now in charge of MARAD. Kings Point alumni interviewed are mostly confident in Buzby’s ability to find a strong candidate for the position. “Buzby is a strong advocate for Maritime Education” said one alumni. “We are optimistic that he will find a very strong leader to replace Helis.”

Other maritime academy presidents are equally optimistic. “I do think very highly of Admiral Buzby and his vision for the future,” said Dr. Michael A. Alfultis, President of SUNY Maritime College. “I respect his leadership, character, passion, and spirit.”

According to USAjobs, the position will remain open to candidates until July 5th, comes with a salary of between $126,148 and $189,600 per year and is considered a Senior Executive Service level position.