Righting The Ship At Massachusetts Maritime Academy: Damn The Politics! Full Speed Ahead!

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Batten down! Political forecasters are expecting heavy winter squalls Thursday from Buzzards Bay to Boston. Winds are expected to be howling at political strength, loud enough to be heard up on Beacon Hill.

The eye of the storm will cross the state’s Board of Higher Education headquarters during an appeal hearing over the abrupt firing of able Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) President Adm. Richard G. Gurnon, who has served with distinction for 27 years in various capacities at the Buzzards Bay military-style school, and was summarily dismissed last Sunday by academy trustees for what appears to be his tough love—disciplinary tactics that have been applauded by supporters and community members.

The riff seems to be over the direction of the elite academy on Cape Cod Canal that trains ship captains, engineers and business leaders. The politically-appointed Board of Trustees (a.k.a. hacks with the exception of an alumni representative, the lone dissent in the capsizing) apparently prefers to take the school in a more secular direction, citing Gurnon’s “lack of leadership,” code for it wants a sycophant.

Gurnon, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, former MMA vice president, and hand-picked by the late Adm. Maurice J. Bresnahan to replace him six months ago, seeks to keep the course steady—a disciplined military approach that has resulted in the highest freshmen retention rate and the highest graduation rate of any college in the state system.

And so Gurnon didn’t hesitate to do his job, no matter how large a wake he created: investigating an alleged sex-for-hire operation at the school, targeting male freshmen and sophomore cadets; suspending two cadets for a Halloween dip in the roiling currents of the canal that triggered a four-star Coast Guard search and rescue; requiring the school’s student government association to complete payment vouchers correctly in compliance with state auditor guidelines and probing possible overcharges on the association’s credit card; refusing to allow the student association to run the campus pub, the Fantail, and extend its hours of operation to 2 a.m, stating it was “inappropriate that a student-elected body should be serving alcohol to other students” on campus; ending preferential police treatment of cadets caught driving under the influence.

Sounds like just the man you want at the helm of a maritime academy. “Everything he’s done, he’s stood for the school and its integrity,” Bourne Police Chief John Ford told The Cape Codder newspaper. “He’s a disciplinarian and he’s sending young people into an industry that demands discipline. He’s set high standards and stuck to them.”

Gurnon, who earlier in his career flew multi-engine P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft throughout the Atlantic and Mediterranean, has also set high standards for himself in the community, serving on local boards, volunteering for community projects, and as an active foster care parent with his wife, Linda, since 1990. Unless a smoking gun emerges (critics seem to be firing blanks), the Board of Education ought to ignore politics and precedent, and overturn the 9-1 trustee vote to swamp Gurnon, re-instating credibility and honor at this fine school.

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