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100 Days: 13 Questions with the 13th Superintendent—Part 3

Last month we promised the final installment of our 13 Questions with the 13th Superintendent feature. As we said in the last two installments, Rear Admiral Jack Buono, the 13th Superintendent at USMMA spent a few minutes with us discussing his vision for the Academy and some of the current initiatives he is interested in for the future. Last month he discussed his commitment to the four pillars of the Academy, and how our leadership development experience prepares graduates for a life at sea. In Part 3, RADM Buono discusses the Strategic Plan, some ongoing USMMA initiatives and how he spends his free time.


Shortly before your arrival, the Academy issued a new Strategic Plan. Have you had a chance to review it and would you care to comment on the importance of the plan?

JJB: Coming from a business background, I think a strategic plan is    essential and I embrace the recently released plan for USMMA. I was fortunate to be part of the development effort for the current strategic plan. I couldn’t be more excited about the six strategic priorities and I recently used them to frame our Board of Visitors meeting. The       Strategic Plan informs the basic game plan for the immediate future of USMMA and describes how it will run.  Everything we do should fit into our strategic plan and its six strategic priorities.  If it does not, we need to reevaluate its importance, or we need to stop doing it. Look at    strategic priority number one, the educational program and a pillar of the Academy. I’m thrilled to have our Dean and Provost, Dr. John      Ballard, and Commandant, Capt. Mike Stroud leading this priority. Many issues are being considered in the development of this priority, from the state of the general curriculum, to changing from trimesters to a quarterly system, to reaching deeper into the structure of our   academics to make sure that every course has learning objectives and outcomes that are appropriate to our mission. This is an integral part of our accreditation, so all this fits. Strategic priority number one, critical and essential to our continued development.

Then there is strategic priority number two, Institutional Culture. This is probably the most important priority we have. This is the hearts, minds, and souls of all of us, especially our midshipmen. Institutional culture is the most   difficult to wrap our hands around. Sexual assault, sexual harassment, our sexual assault prevention and response mechanisms, all of these most important activities are a part of institutional culture. I have a lot of confidence in our ability as engineering minds to identify problems and solve them. We are good at that, but where we could be better is in the behavioral sciences. Dealing with hearts, minds and souls and trying to change behavior is something that requires significant resourcing and thought. Institutional culture involves behavioral change. We have regulations, we have the “thou shalts,” we have a mission, but we don’t really have the tutorial on the behaviors that support those regulations and that mission, and that needs to be our focus. Many years ago, I didn’t believe in behavioral change as it relates to safety culture, but I actually had the opportunity to witness that this type of change is achievable. The greatest form of success comes when the individuals hold each other to a set of behavioral standards, when they   embrace them and, when they decide this is how they will  behave as members of the organization. We want them to say, here is our code of conduct, these are the behaviors that we, the midshipmen of USMMA hold as paramount and important, and we steward these behaviors, we self-steward, we don’t look for the Commandant or the Admiral to tell us what it is that we should or shouldn’t be doing, we hold ourselves accountable as shipmates, as teammates, and as colleagues. We are progressing down the road with this cultural change, we aren’t just sitting around hoping that it will happen.I can go through each of the strategic priorities like this but, the answer to the question is, a strategic plan is essential for any organization whether it is in an educational institution or it is in a Fortune 500 company. You just cannot understate the importance of having a strategy that tracks towards a mission, which has priorities and performance metrics and ensures that everything you do supports it. It is essential.

My vision actually bolts securely to the strategic plan, so when you hear me talk about staying in a constant state of mild discomfort, what respect is, what it isn’t, what leadership is, that’s institutional culture. That’s strategic priority number two. When I talk about the importance of the four pillars, the Academic pillar, that’s strategic priority number one. The athletic pillar, that’s strategic priority number six, and it also includes regimental band and extracurriculars. When I talk about dispelling the best kept secret, that’s strategic priority number five. Then there is the structure of how we move forward as an organization, our governance, our leadership, our administration, that’s strategic priority number four. And the one that is left is, infrastructure, strategic priority number three. This institution has an  incredible amount of history and tradition on the campus. Just look around, we are back in the 1940’s, we’re back in World War II.  All of our art, all our artifacts, all come from, or harken back to that era. Look around and ask yourself, where can you see the next 75 years of the Academy and our mission. Where is the infrastructure to support that?  Where is the future when you are out around our campus. We need that and we are working it hard in strategic priority number three.

We’ve been hearing about a possible change in the Academic program that will see us switch to a four quarter system rather than our current trimester system. Would you like to comment?

JJB: We have decided to propose to our Board of Visitors that we make that change, and we are looking forward to it. The idea isn’t new here, we operated in a quarterly system some number of years ago. We talk about it a lot as a  leadership team and we are working this initiative within strategic priority number one.  A quarterly system helps the USMMA pillar of athletics and extracurriculars, our Academic pillar and our Sea Year pillar. I’ve asked the Dean to pull together a document to explain our perspective. I don’t want to go into great detail here, because I would like you to hear the full rationale from the Dean’s perspective, but some of the challenges we see that are associated with a    trimester system include a two trimester split for one of the two Sea Year components. At this stage, eight months is too long to be at sea and from my perspective that needs to change. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a number of students, many of them strong students, failing sea year projects because of time management deficiencies. They fall behind and at a certain point in that eight-month cycle, they cannot catch up. Too many midshipmen have failed sea year, which should never happen. Our system should set our midshipmen up for success.

Another important reason, and this is one that our Board of Visitors brought up for consideration is the trimester   system negatively affects our competitive sports and the seasons in which they compete. That would not be true in a quarterly system. Within a quarterly system, all your sports and activities can be managed within the system, there is still some minor overlap that you have to work out with certain sports, but our Shipboard Training Office will handle that. It is much easier to manage the requirements of Sea Year having four equal opportunities to do so rather than having one shorter and one longer. Also, the ability to move midshipmen around to meaningful assignments at sea is easier in a quarter system than it is in a trimester system. Another consideration is that a system of four quarters lines us up more closely with other institutions of higher learning. In fact, very few are on a trimester system. Making a change like this is a lot of work and is not a simple action in terms of accreditation. It has to be managed properly. We want this to be an orderly evolution in a structured manner, over time. Provided this change is endorsed, we expect it will take between two and three years. Stay tuned for more information on this exciting change.

-End of Part 3-

Updated: Thursday, May 9, 2019
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