The president of the beleaguered California Maritime Academy has resigned after sharp criticism that he permitted sexual harassment to occur aboard the academy's training ship and then failed to discipline those involved.
Retired Adm. John J. Ekelund said in a letter to Bruce Johnston, chairman of the Academy Board of Governors, that he is retiring because "it is apparent that the academy is seriously threatened unless management changes are made."
The Board of Governors did not act on Ekelund's letter when it met at the Vallejo campus on Wednesday but sources at the academy said the resignation would be accepted and the search for a new president would begin soon.
In a scathing report made public last fall, the National Maritime Administration accused Ekelund and other administrators of allowing female students to be sexually harassed on the annual cruises of the training ship Golden Bear and of not imposing appropriate discipline.
Ekelund and others came under additional criticism at a hearing held by the state Senate Select Committee on the Maritime Industry last week. State Sen. Milton Marks (D-San Francisco) called on both Ekelund and Johnston to resign and other legislators have suggested that the state should stop funding the academy.
After a closed meeting of his select committee Thursday, Marks said he was "sorry the academy has gotten itself into such a position that it is necessary for the admiral to resign."
But Marks said "there is no excuse for the problems" at the merchant marine school and repeated his suggestion that Johnston and a majority of the Board of Governors also should resign.
At Wednesday's board meeting, after what one observer called "an hour and a half of acrimonious discussion," a vote of no confidence in Johnston was defeated, 3 to 2, with Johnston casting the deciding vote for himself. "That's pretty unusual," Marks said Thursday.
Phillip C. Kazanjian, the board member who introduced the "no confidence" motion, said he might try again next month, if all seven voting board members are present.
Kazanjian said board members "seemed to like my idea" for an outside investigation of the Maritime Academy but they want it done by a retired service academy official, not by a lawyer, as Kazanjian had proposed.
"I assume they think a lawyer would be pretty thorough and somebody else might not be as unkind," said Kazanjian, a Glendale attorney.
Meanwhile, Marks said his committee has decided to hold a hearing on a recent legislative analyst's report that suggested the state might not need the Maritime Academy because of an apparent national surplus of merchant marine deck and engineering officers.
The 60-year-old academy where merchant marine officers are trained has 410 students, a faculty of 40 and a budget of about $9.7 million, of which $7.5 million is provided by the state.
Ekelund, a former U.S. Navy officer, has been president since 1983.