Captain Catie Hanft Alfultis

A cartoon showing Rear Admiral Alfutis and Captain Hanft created by SUNY Maritime cadets and posted to the instagram account page maritime_mug_memes

SUNY Maritime College Admiral Hides Scandalous External Review Report

John Konrad
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April 15, 2022

by John Konrad (gCaptain) Several sources inside SUNY Maritime College have notified gCaptain that the school President, Rear Admiral Mike Alfultis held a meeting with seniors at the College to discuss an external review committee report. Alfultis told students he would not share the report because of “legal concerns” and because the report “might be damaging to the college.”

The report in question claims the Regimental and Cadet Officers – who report to the dean of leadership and Commandant of Cadets Captain Catie Hanft – “lead through fear” rather than through respect, punish sexual harassment victims, and washes out a disproportionately high proportion of women and minorities. “Due to infractions against female Cadets,” says the report. “Some participants stated they would never recommend that younger females attend Maritime College.”

Dr. Michael A. Alfultis has been President of Maritime College since 2014 and is a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Maritime Service serving under the authority of the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD).

Image upload by cadets to the Instagram profile maritime_mug_memes’s

“A senior member of the college administration offered that the perception of the Regiment is that they are second class citizens and that the college doesn’t care about them.”

The report was written by a committee of respected alumni and academic leaders tasked with looking at accountability, leadership, discrimination, Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (SASH) on campus (plus other areas of concern like school pride and esprit de corps).

Why did Admiral Alfultis refuse to release the report?

“The admiral had a meeting with seniors on the external report on the regiment, stating that he would not be releasing the report as promised for ‘legal concerns’ and that the report might be ‘damaging to the college’ out of context,” said one cadet who claims he was at the meeting. “Admiral Alfultis said he was afraid to release it because people external to the college, and Fort Schuyler Shipmates Alumni, in particular, would take these parts out of context and run with them and do “irreparable harm” to the college’s reputation that would set the school back rather than move forward.”

After Alfultis suppressed the report students and some faculty flocked to social media to express their outrage and disappointment over Alfutis’ actions. The general consensus of cadets there was that the school has a responsibility to release the report as much as they are legally allowed to, said one cadet via Facebook. “The admiral wasn’t happy about it.”

We don’t know the full extent of Alfutis and Hanft’s motivation for hiding the report but one person close to the situation told gCaptain that the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) is taking all reports on SASH and DEI seriously and the school fears that MARAD may not allow the school to take delivery of their new training ship unless problems exposed in this report are addressed.

gCaptain has reached out to MARAD and is waiting for comments.

The External Review Report

gCaptain has obtained a leaked version of the report which can be downloaded here. Large sections of the report have been redacted but what’s left clearly shows that little progress has been made by the school on Sexual Assualt and Harassment issues since Midshipman X scandal rocked the United States Merchant Marine Academy last year.

Issues that relate to the culture of SUNY Maritime College were also looked at. During the interviews with the Cadets, the External Regimental Review Committee (ERRC) heard many times that sexual harassment and racial harassment do not receive the proper treatment from either the Regiment or the administration, and people aren’t held accountable for their behavior.

“This creates a lack of trust on the part of Cadets who believe the administration is supposed to have an immediate response to these types of issues and concerns,” says the report. “The ERRC heard that Cadets feel things are never going to change or nothing is ever going to be done.”

The ERRC reported that the administration does not deal with the “real issues. Again, the Cadets feel like things are said but nothing happens, or the wrong thing happens, in their opinion. Sometimes, the wrong people are held accountable. For example, the Regiment says you won’t get in trouble (i.e., alcohol amnesty) if you make a report but then when the Cadets do make a report, they still get in trouble. In some instances, it was reported to the Committee that the offender doesn’t get in trouble, but there are ramifications for the person who made the report.”

SASH At SUNY Maritime College

One 4/C student interview by the ERRC said he had a female classmate who was at MARITIME for only 3 months before she began getting sexually harassed. He claims that Cadets have not reported these incidents because they heard how similar incidents were handled in the past – defend the violator, but not protect the Cadet or their rights – and were afraid of the regiment’s response.

Racial Inequity At NY Maritime College

In addition to sexual harrasement the report mentioned numerous ways the college has failed minority applicants, students, and alumni.

“As discussed later in this report (redacted), there was a concern expressed several times that when DEl incidents recently occurred, MARITIME was not as prepared to appropriately deal with them.”

“The voiced concern among many Cadets is that currently being a Cadet Officer (i.e. the student regimental officers appointed by Captain Hanft) ‘is a joke’,” says the report. “For minority cadets, the feelings are even more deeply held. These cadets expressed that there was no system in place to support or protect them. They indicated that if they voiced their concerns too loudly, there would be retribution and that they feel like they were given leadership positions in the Regiment only because it looks good on paper.”

Other students discussed a racist incident that occurred during Summer Sea Term. The length of the investigation, which is still ongoing, leads to the perception that nothing is being done about it. “Leadership, at all levels, was not prepared to deal with a significant racial incident,” says the ERRC. “Maritime College must rectify the perception that they are not adequately trained and prepared to deal with such difficult and sensitive matters by improving the communication with students. For Cadets who have been subject to racism, discrimination, harassment, or abuse, they feel that the deafening silence is dehumanizing.”

No Fair Recourse For Cadets

The frustration among cadets interviewed by ERRC is palpable and aligns with the feedback gCaptain has received from cadets after years of campus visits and electronic communication. Any college environment can be restricting but it’s the regimental nature of SUNY Maritime’s license program that makes it so unusual and frustrating to those seeking fair treatment.

The college president, Mike Alfultis, is a Rear Admiral in the US Maritime service, a rank and uniform authorized by the Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and US Maritime Administration (MARAD) acting administrator Lucinda Lessley, but the Commandant of Cadets, who is in charge of the school’s uniformed regiment (which is the focus of this report), is a retired US Navy Captain. Historically that position is held by a US Merchant Service captain who is also the Captain of the MARAD-owned training ship but Hanft does not hold the license need to master a ship that size. The regiment itself is mandated by US Coast Guard (USCG) license and training requirements but the USCG tasks MARAD with administering the program. MARAD also subsidies some of the training.

Normally the US Merchant Service has a Commandant leading the service but President Biden’s appointment for that position, former US Navy Rear Admiral Ann Phillip, has been blocked by Republican lawmakers.

Midshipman X – MARAD’s Unbalanced Treatment of Federal And State Students

Despite being mandated to create and supervise the regiment MARAD has taken a hands-off approach to governing state run schools. Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley took strong and proactive action in the wake of the Midshipman X scandal and has worked with the school and congress to address SASH issues at the federal US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), but has backed away from SASH issues at state schools and aboard MARAD owned school training ship.

MARAD has both leaned into SASH issues at the federal academy and backed away from issues at the state academies despite the fact that the organization that first notified Lessley Midshipman X scandal, Maritime Legal Aid, has published several troubling reports of alleged rape and harassment at SUNY Maritime.

“He was walking up and down the rows, and when he came to me he leaned down to my ear and whispered in my ear “I wish my head was where that phone is right now.” What the fuck? I went and reported it to the Deputy Commandant, a woman named Captain Hanft.” Reported MLA last year. “She told me that if I didn’t want negative attention from the mates on the training ship, then I shouldn’t wear tight khaki pants. That’s a direct quote. And she told me there was nothing she could do.”

In October gCaptain contacted MARAD for comment on the MLA article title “I Was Raped on Campus at SUNY Maritime, And Also Sexually Assaulted on Senior Cruise. After I Graduated I Never Looked Back” and was denied an on-the-record response. Off the record, one high-ranking DOT official told gCaptain that MARAD believes that the investigation for rapes and assaults that occur aboard MARAD-owned ships under the command of a MARAD uniformed officer are the responsibility of SUNY and the US Coast Guard.

gCaptain has reached out to the US Coast Guard for comment.

MARAD’s Other State Academies Face SASH Issues Too

In addition to SASH issues at SUNY, MARAD has done little to address problems at other state academies even after a sexual assault scandal at Maine Maritime made headlines and the regimental Commandant of Cadets at Cal Maritime was suspended after speaking out against sexual and racial harassment at that school. Both of these state maritime academies operate MARAD-owned training ships, accept MARAD taxpayer subsidies, and meet MARAD uniform requirements.

“In the approximately 1,000 pages of documents turned over to MLAA by the U.S. Coast Guard, which date back more than 30 years, there are ZERO reports of complaints of sexual offenses that have been submitted to the United States Coast Guard by the master of a (MARAD owned) academy training ship,” says the Maritime Legal Aid website. “Either, In the past 30 years, not a single person working or training aboard a USCG documented, (MARAD owned), training ship has made an allegation of sexual assault that occurred onboard the vessel or ashore, or state maritime academies have been willfully violating the federal shipboard sexual assault allegation reporting requirement defined in 46 USC 10104.”

A Confluence of DOT, MARAD, DHS, USCG, State, Local, Academic, Regimental Regulations Leaves Cadets Confused And Worried

The result of this quagmire of beurocracy is a feeling of confusion and unfair treatment among cadets who are just looking for a fair and assault-free college experience.

“A concern expressed by several Cadets and staff is their belief that there are significant inconsistencies in the administration of discipline,” says the report. “The inconsistencies are believed by some to be rooted in confusion regarding the interrelationship of the College’s Judicial Board, the Regimental Suitability Board and Captain’s Mast for various violations of the Rules and Regulations for Cadets and/or Code of Conduct for all students.”

What is MARAD’s uniformed US Merchant Service?

Students are not alone. gCaptain has interviewed admirals, state education officials, top federal administrators, alumni, professors, and students. Everyone agrees the regiment is required by MARAD but nobody really understands what the US Merchant Marine is or what duties and responsibilities are required by those wearing the uniform of the US Merchant Service (which falls under MARAD) today.

“There are officers walking around Kings Point and several of the other State Maritime Academies wearing USMS uniforms with all sorts of ranks and insignia, said Mark Buzby the former head of MARAD to gCaptain in 2019. As ‘Commandant’ of the ‘service’, I’ve even commissioned officers in the USMS with fancy certificates and great ceremony… I commissioned Capt Morgan McManus as CAPTAIN, USMS and Master of TS EMPIRE STATE VI.  I have no idea how ‘legal’ that was, but as a licensed Master Mariner, at least it was justifiable.”

If the head of MARAD doesn’t understand what legal role it plays in the US Maritime Service which is mandated by federal law to oversee the regiment at SUNY Maritime College, how could the average student, or even State University of New York (SUNY) officials in Albany?

“The inconsistencies are believed by some that the Committee spoke with to be rooted in confusion regarding the interrelationship of the College’s Judicial Board, the Regimental Suitability Board and Captain’s Mast for various violations of the Rules and Regulations for Cadets and/or Code of Conduct for all students,” says the ERRC report. “Add to this, the Cadets believe that the administration of justice is a system of ‘double jeopardy’ as Cadets are now subject to both a Captain’s Mast and a Hearing with the Judicial Board, outside of the Regiment, for certain infractions… It is vital that MARITIME have a single code of conduct and judicial process for all students, regardless of whether they are Cadets or Interns.”

The recommendations of the report are strong, and much needed, also partially flawed considering it does not mention the role of MARAD or the glaring lack of protection, oversight, and concern, MARAD shows for state school cadets who ostensibly wear the same US Merchant Service, MARAD authorized, uniforms as USMMA Midshipman.

Report Redactions

MARAD’s clear ducking of legal obligations to govern the regiment of cadets is not the most troubling aspect of this report, nor are the claims of unjust treatment of minorities, or reports of mishandled Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment cases. Nor is the fact that MARAD is spending over $300 million of taxpayer money on a training ship it plans to hand over to a school without proper SASH and DEI oversight in place. Most troubling is the fact that public school officials at SUNY Maritime believed it was ok to hide such a damning report from the public and that so much of the report was redacted.

In light of this report, it is clear that the US Coast Guard and MARAD need to review the regimental system and that Congress must include the state maritime colleges in the upcoming Safer Seas Act. It is not ok for USMMA to receive all of MARAD’s support. MARAD must treat all maritime cadets wearing its uniform – both state and federal – equally.

gCaptain calls on the State University of New York in Albany and MARAD to release the full unredacted report and conduct a joint investigation of their own of student safety and equality at SUNY Maritime College.

You can find the leaked version of the report here.

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