Search begins for new USMMA superintendent

Search begins for new USMMA superintendent
USSMA Superintendent Rear Adm. James Helis, seen here at a Fleet Week event back in May 2017, will be serving as a special assistant to the head of MARAD. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point has begun its search for a new superintendent after Rear Adm. James Helis accepted a position as special assistant to the head of the Maritime Administration.

The official website for federal job listings,, posted the position for academy superintendent on June 5 and allows people to apply until July 5. Helis will remain head of the academy until a new leader is found.

“Today, the Academy remains fully accredited and the student body’s educational experience has been enhanced by much needed improvements to the facilities where Midshipmen learn, live, eat, and study,” the Maritime Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation agency overseeing the academy, said in a statement. “During this transition period, it is our priority to find an exceptional person to lead the Academy into the future, while still maintaining a strong and effective organization.”

During Helis’ six-year tenure, he helped the academy regain full accreditation status after the Middle States Commission issued a warning saying the school fell short on institutional planning, leadership and governance, administration, student support services, resources and other areas.

This warning criticized Sea Year, when midshipman spend a year aboard a merchant vessel, prompting the academy to temporarily suspend it to hold student training for acceptable behavior following bullying and sexual harassment.

Helis also ordered the USMMA men’s soccer season canceled due to a federal investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by seven of its players on a team bus. The athletes were deferred from graduation before commencement, prompting the students to sue the Department of Transportation, the academy and Helis.

The students were ultimately allowed to graduate and receive their diplomas and licenses after private executive board meetings.

The academy, however, was named the subject of a $5 million claim by a former student alleging sexual harassment by those students, who denied the allegations.

Under Helis’ supervision, the academy hired people to help deal with sexual misconduct, expanded its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, and added more resources like a 24-hour hotline and special devices available to midshipmen during Sea Year to call about assaults and harassment.

According to the job posting, the position’s responsibilities include providing “executive leadership, direction and coordination for all operational and administrative activities relating to the support of the Academy.”

The salary is listed as $126,148 to $189,600 per year.

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  1. A “puff” piece. Who was Superintendent when the Academy was placed on accreditation warning? The warning did not criticize the sea year, quite the contrary. Why doesn’t the press report the facts rather than the PR.


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