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Navy fires grad school president and provost

Nov. 27, 2012 - 06:51PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 27, 2012 - 06:51PM  |  
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus fired the Naval Postgraduate Schools' president, Vice Admiral Daniel T. Oliver (ret.), left, and provost, Dr. Leonard Ferrari.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus fired the Naval Postgraduate Schools' president, Vice Admiral Daniel T. Oliver (ret.), left, and provost, Dr. Leonard Ferrari. ()
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IG investigative reports: Navy Postgraduate School

The Navy fired the head of the Naval Postgraduate School and his deputy after a year-long investigation found financial mismanagement at the Monterey, Calif.-based graduate school.

Retired Vice Adm. Daniel Oliver, the first civilian president in the school's 61 year history, was ejected along with provost Leonard Ferrari by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the Navy said in a statement Tuesday.

"Navy inspection and investigations into management practices at the prestigious school determined that the school's leadership fostered an ‘atmosphere of defiance of statutory requirements and Department of the Navy rules and regulations,'" the statement said.

The Naval Inspector General found Oliver failed to follow standard hiring procedures and that both leaders had "inappropriately accepted gifts" from an independent private foundation, the statement said, noting that the school's leadership consistently brushed aside expert advice, including from their attorneys.

Both leaders were reported to have run afoul of gift-money guidelines, an issue similar to the one that led to the Naval Academy Superintendent's firing two years ago. Under Oliver's direction, the non-profit NPS Foundation bankrolled expenses ranging from faculty recruiting dinners to souvenirs and cases of wine. Oliver and his administrators spent tens of thousands of dollars in part to get around Navy rules, the report said.

Reached via email on Tuesday night, Oliver wrote: "I have no comment at this time except to say that NPS is a great institution that I was proud to serve. And I never knowingly took any action, or had any motive, except to further its success."

Ferrari said in an email late Tuesday night that he disagreed with the findings of the report. "I fully intend to evaluate my alternatives as a response," he added.

It is the latest tumult for NPS, one of the crowns of the Navy's academic realm, which has seen two headline-making scandals in recent months. This fall a distinguished professor was arrested in connection with the slaying of his wife. And in October, a former student accused a professor of using racial and ethnic slurs in and out of the classroom.

The dual firings followed an extensive Naval IG investigation that began a year and a half ago; a redacted version was released Tuesday. It found Oliver, a former chief of naval personnel who served for 34 years, did not follow proper hiring guidelines and that both he and Ferrari inappropriately solicited funds from the non-profit NPS Foundation to pay out-of-pocket expenses.

The IG called Oliver's use of gift cash for personal reasons "particularly egregious in light of the fact that he has spent almost 34 years of his life in the naval service, including 5˝ years of distinguished service as a flag officer," the report said.

Whistleblowers called for the probe because an alleged free-wheeling culture had taken root under the school's civilian leadership. Flush with cash from grants, professors flew around the world. They splurged on new computers and furniture. And they expected their requests to be rubber-stamped. This raised red flags for military faculty, accustomed to the fleet's tight accountability rules.

"It was a feeling of entitlement by the senior faculty that they were above the rules," said one former NPS faculty member who raised concerns. "My experience was that whenever people challenged the spending, the challenges were never upheld."

She said she was unable to continue approving requests that the professors refused to justify and was sidelined.

"I never could in good conscience approve these," said the official, who asked for anonymity out of fear of reprisal. "I couldn't. I was literally sick to my stomach."

The lavish spending offended another NPS official who saw it as out-of-keeping with the fleet the school is chartered to serve.

"It's amazing: Lifestyles of the rich and famous out there," said this former NPS official, who asked to remain anonymous because of what he called the school's "get-even" culture. "They're buying fancy iPads and fancy phones and fancy furniture. They're all kind of lining their own nest."

That's a far cry from the fleet, he continued, where comfort and new gear often take a backseat to steaming days and flying hours.

"The Navy's lost their grip on it," he said.

Mabus has appointed Rear Adm. Jan Tighe as interim NPS President. The one-star's most recent assignment was as director, decision superiority with the staff of the Chief of Naval operations.

O. Douglas Moses, vice provost of academic affairs, will serve as acting provost.

A working group led by Juan Garcia, assistant Navy secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, will address and correct the issues raised in the report, the Navy said.

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