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Faculty and students at the United States Air Force Academy have opposing perceptions of the school's atmosphere for women and efforts to prevent sexual harassment, according to a General Accounting Office study released September 12.

While 51 percent of faculty members surveyed for the report stated that the overall conditions for women at the AFA are good or excellent, just 36 percent of cadets felt that way. In fact, 36 percent of their peers said the atmosphere is poor or below average.

Still, 65 percent of faculty members said they feel the emphasis placed on sexual-harassment prevention is about right, compared with 37 percent of female cadets, who said it's underemphasized. And 69 percent of the professors indicated that emphasis on gender-based discrimination prevention is adequate, while 47 percent of female cadets stated it's not enough.

These findings are in line with what former training-group commander Colonel Sue Slavec told Air Force investigators as part of a report that came out earlier this summer ("Academy Gets a Pass," June 26). Slavec's comments reveal a discrepancy between what administrators knew -- or admitted they knew -- of sexual assaults and what cadets have been experiencing. "I've never been party to or witnessed somebody...who was taken by force," Slavec told investigators, adding that she knew of no "true" rapes or sexual assaults at the academy. However, at least sixty women have come forward since January, when Westword first reported that females had been raped by fellow cadets.

The GAO study, which was commissioned by Congress last year as part of a defense-appropriations report, asked the same questions of students at the Naval and Military academies. The study found that faculty members at all schools "were less likely than students to report that quality-of-life problems at the academies are seldom openly confronted and/or solved." Nearly three-quarters of cadets at the Air Force Academy said quality-of-life problems are rarely confronted and solved openly, while only 46 percent of administrators felt that was true.

The study found that overall satisfaction among cadets at all three schools is high, but satisfaction with social life, in particular, is quite low. Sixty-five percent of Air Force cadets reported being dissatisfied with their extracurricular opportunities, with many more men being unhappy (68 percent) than women (47 percent). And 73 percent of Air Force cadets said their rigorous academic and training schedule leaves little time to handle personal affairs.

At the same time, faculty members and cadets both stated that performance standards at the academy are too low. The other area of academy life on which students and leaders saw eye to eye was the honor code, which states that cadets won't lie, steal, cheat or tolerate peers who do. Thirty-five percent of cadets and 33 percent of faculty feel the honor code is applied unfairly, and only 43 percent of students and 41 percent of professors indicated that the honor code is practiced as taught. Those results are similar to past GAO findings on the academy's honor system and to stories of cadets who say they were unfairly accused of committing honor-code violations ("Honor Rolled," July 17).

The GAO concluded that the shared views on the honor code "underscore [an] area of potential concern" and suggested that the Department of Defense make better use of GAO and student-climate surveys in the future.


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