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Schumer to Tour Academy After Reports of Deteriorating Facilities, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Dormitories, Lack of Training Ship, and Lack of Leadership

Will Call for Secretary of Transportation to Expedite Appointment of a New Superintendent to Bring Stability to Academy, Announce Effort to Ensure the Academy is Able to Properly Fund Needed Capital Improvements, and Push for New Training Ship to Ensure Students Can Meet Required At-Sea Days

Schumer: Merchant Marine Academy is Rudderless Right Now and We Must Get this Prestigious Institution Back on the Right Course


U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to expedite the appointment of a new superintendent to the United States Merchant Marine Academy to help restore the institution’s reputation and boost morale. On a tour of the Academy with members of the alumni association and the interim superintendent of the facility, Schumer called on the Department of Transportation to have a permanent superintendent in place by the summer and called on DOT to ensure that students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders have a significant seat at the table and role during the selection process. Schumer’s visit comes on the heels of reports of deteriorating facilities, a carbon monoxide poisoning incident in dormitories and the loss of a training vessel on campus for students to receive their required at-sea hours for graduation. 


“We cannot let one rough chapter of a storied history define an institution as prestigious as the United States Merchant Marine Academy,” said Schumer. “For too long now the Merchant Marine Academy has been allowed to go rudderless and it is past time to set things on the right course. I am urging the Secretary of Transportation to appoint a permanent superintendent by this summer and ensure that the stakeholders who make this institution great –its student body, faculty and alumni –have a serious and significant seat at the table during the selection process.”


In his letter to Secretary LaHood, Schumer noted that the Merchant Marine Academy has had three superintendents over a three year period, leaving the institution without strong, consistent leadership which has had a significant impact on campus morale. He went on to note that in January USMMA students were evacuated from campus as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning that sent over two dozen midshipmen to the hospital. In the aftermath of this episode it was determined that the Academy’s dormitories did not have basic carbon monoxide detectors installed.  


Schumer also raised concern over the lack of a training vessel on campus after the Kings Pointer, an at-sea training vessel for students, was transferred to Texas. The transfer of the ship has left the Academy without the ability to provide on campus options for students to help meet their required days of at-sea training. Midshipmen are required to earn 300 sea days before they can take the U.S. Coast Guard exam and rely on an Academy training vessel to help met that requirement. During their sophomore year, midshipmen spend one trimester, approx 100 days, at sea and during their junior year, midshipmen spend two trimesters, approx 200 days, at sea.  The Kings Pointer provided a 30 day buffer for students, particularly for athletes who often find themselves short of sea days because teams require they come back to school early. Seventy percent of Merchant Marine Academy students participate on an athletic team, making an on-site training vessel critical to meeting at-sea requirements.  Schumer is pressing DOT to replace the vessel as quickly as possible to ensure students have greater flexibility to meet their mandated at-sea training requirements.


On his visit, Schumer toured numerous facilities that are rundown and falling further into disrepair. A 2010 Capital Improvements Advisory Panel found the school’s infrastructure to be in such poor condition that it would take $300 million in necessary upgrades to get the facilities up to standard. In the face of these desperately needed repairs to facilities and infrastructure, Schumer is pushing for the Senate Appropriations Committee to include $85 million for the Academy in its the FY2013 budget, of which $23 million would be dedicated for capital improvements and $9 million for overall maintenance and repair. The president’s proposed 2013 budget requests only $77 million for USMMA.  Schumer pointed out that multiple facilities on campus, including the Academy’s piers, were in desperate need of upgrade and vowed to fight to ensure that funding levels remained steady.


Schumer also voiced concern today with the Department of Transportation’s decision to close the Global Maritime Transportation School continuing education program housed at the Merchant Marine Academy. While the program provides job training to military, government and private sector employees, DOT claims it does not fulfill its mission to service the student body at the USMMA, since only 5% of the student population takes advantage of the program. Schumer urged Secretary LaHood to reconsider this decision, and at a minimum, assist employees in finding new jobs should DOT not reverse course.


Schumer was joined on a tour of the Academy today by the President of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association, Jim Torbin, the interim superintendent of the Academy, and members of the Alumni Association’s executive committee.


The Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point was established by Congress as part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 to train officers for the United States Merchant Marines, the United States military, and the private marine industry. Admittance to the Academy requires strong academic credentials as well as sponsorship from a member of Congress.


“The young men and women who come through the Merchant Marine Academy are an immeasurable asset to our military fleets, the U.S. Coast Guard, and private vessels throughout the country,” continued Schumer. “Students who went though this institution were some of the first to put their lives on the line as part of the response effort in lower Manhattan on September 11th. They deserve to study and train at an institution that provides them with the best we have to offer and I intend to push the Department of Transportation to ensure that the Merchant Marine Academy remains the jewel of the sea.”


A copy of Schumer’s letter to Secretary LaHood and the Senate Appropriations Committee:



Dear Secretary LaHood,


I write to urge the Department of Transportation (DOT) to expedite the hiring process for a new superintendent at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York and to continue working closely with students, faculty and staff in selecting the next superintendent. USMMA has had three superintendents over the course of three years and, during that time, challenges have arisen which will require strong leadership to overcome. It is crucial for DOT to hire a superintendent to steer this Academy in the right direction before students return for the next school year.


The USMMA in Kings Point is vital to the Long Island community, as well as the nation as a whole. Locally, the Academy has created jobs and serves as a focal point along Long Island’s Gold Coast. Many of Great Neck’s events take place at Melville Hall, located on USMMA’s campus. Throughout its history, Academy graduates have played a critical role in emergency situations both here and abroad. In the 1990s, graduates transported military supplies to the Middle East in preparation of the first Gulf War. On 9/11, midshipmen from USMMA transported the necessary supplies and medical support to the New York harbor.  It is imperative that our nation’s heroes be trained under the supervision of a tenured superintendent who has the qualifications to lead a world-class institution of higher learning.


Over the past few years, several issues of concern related to the Academy have been brought to my attention. In January, USMMA students were evacuated from the Academy’s campus and treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and it was discovered that detectors were not installed in the Academy’s dormitories and 39 midshipmen were exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide. Thankfully, the students did not suffer ill health effects as a result of this exposure.  The departure of the training vessel the Kings Pointer makes it difficult for many cadets looking to complete their mandated 300 sea day requirement and no new ship has been brought to USMMA to fill this void.  In 2010, the Capital Improvements Advisory Panel found the school’s infrastructure to be in poor conditions and in need of $300 million in upgrades. During the time that these and other issues arose at the USMMA, the school has had several different superintendents and the school is without a superintendent at this time.  It is my hope that the installation of a new superintendent with superior qualifications will usher in a new era at the Academy.


                It is my understanding that your Department worked with various stakeholders including students, faculty and staff in initiating the search for a new superintendent. I urge you to continue consulting with these stakeholders as the selection process moves forward and to heed their opinions in making a final selection. The students, faculty and staff who make up the Academy are intimately familiar with the school’s needs and can provide critical feedback in selecting the right person to take the helm of USMMA.


The time has come for the DOT to hire a world-class superintendent for the USMMA. Despite the Academy’s recent problems, it is quite evident that your Department understands the true value of the Academy which remains an integral part of our nation’s history and future. Therefore, I am asking that you expedite hiring a superintendent for the USMMA so that the Academy will have a leader in place before the start of the new school year who can right this ship on the correct course and steer it though the challenges it will face in the coming years.



Dear Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Collins:


            I am writing to request $85.168 million for the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) at Kings Point, NY of which $22.900 million would be dedicated for capital improvements and $9 million to maintenance and repair. 


            I believe that the USMMA serves an important purpose in the maritime industry and the students deserve the tools and infrastructure necessary to obtain the best possible education.  The USMMA serves as a guaranteed source of merchant marine officers who can help meet the growing domestic and international crewing needs, including those of the U.S. reserve fleets, such as the Maritime Sealift Command and the U.S. Ready Reserve fleets.  


                In recent years, USMMA facilities have not received the funding needed to adequately maintain the school, leaving students with deteriorating facilities that do not meet the needs of 21st century midshipmen.  In 2010, the Academy’s Capital Improvement Advisory Panel estimated that the total cost for bringing facilities and infrastructure up to date would cost $300 million. In January, 39 students were exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, as carbon monoxide detectors were not installed in dormitories. Thankfully students were evacuated, but this incident highlights the urgent need for safety and facility upgrades at the Academy.


As our nation’s shipping and maritime needs continue to grow, it is critical that we provide students at the USMMA a first rate education.  Previous lack of investment in the Academy does not reflect the value that the school brings to our nation.  It is our responsibility to ensure that students at the USMMA have the proper resources they need to succeed.  Our merchant marine has a strong history of transporting cargo and passengers in peacetime and supporting our military during war.  The USMMA trains men and women to serve in the U.S. merchant marine, so we strongly encourage you to maintain level funding for USMMA in FY13.


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