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Navy War College president under investigation for ‘free hugs,’ Twister & margarita parties

U.S. Naval War College (Chief Mass Communication Specialist James E. Foehl/Flickr)
June 11, 2019

The president of the U.S. Naval War College is under investigation by the military after being accused of misconduct by excessive and frivolous spending, and more.

After many anonymous employee complaints filed with the Navy’s Office of the Inspector General over the past year, Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley was investigated for abuses of power relating to hiring practices, misbehaviors while on duty, and spending on items like a margarita maker in his office, the Associated Press reported exclusively.

Among his wrongdoings, Harley, who is a self-confessed happy-go-lucky leader, sent out a number of emails to his students, teachers, and employees that proposed free hugs and invites to play Twister in his office, which drew ethical concerns from many.

The U.S. Naval War College sees around 1,600 graduates annually and employs around 700 staff and faculty. Harley assumed the role of president at the institution in July 2016, but it has since been in financial turmoil.

The AP viewed several documents that confirm the financial hardships that the college is facing under the leadership of Harley that reach nearly $5 million. However, during this financially challenging time, Harley was passing out raises of around $725,000 annually, AP News stated.

Those who sent the complaints in were in agreeance that they “hold no ill-will” toward Harley but that “his destructive and ethically challenged leadership style is destroying the college,” according to the AP.

An interview conducted by investigators in September 2018 yielded no results so the group complained again in January 2019.

In the January complaint, one employee said, “The drinking continues. Morale is at an all-time low. Your biggest concern should be, however, the financial situation at the college.”

Again, their pleas were ignored until May 2019, when the AP intervened, inquiring to the Navy about the serious problem. The Navy admitted it received several criticisms about Harley’s conduct but have yet to respond to them.

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Christina Sears said, “We do not comment on ongoing investigations.”

Part of the complaints alleged that Harley hired underqualified staff and overcompensated them. Harley also sent out an email in May in which he bragged about a new velvet portrait of himself and his photos on the walls of the college along with other significant people.

Another complaint was that Harley drinks on the job. The complaint stated, “He has invited members of the staff to his office for afternoon drinks, setting his employees up to either comply because he’s the boss or uncomfortably decline his offer because they do not want to drink during the workday.”

Harley maintains his innocence and said his decisions are in the best interest of the college.

“I do not believe there’s anything in those emails that are derogatory, unethical, immoral or illegal,” he said.

“I think you’d be surprised to know that on any given day about 85 officers are under investigation. All the decisions questioned in the allegations were subject to legal review either before or after the fact, and I believe that all of my decisions are within my authorities,” he added.

It is rumored that the college is considering replacing Harley with a civilian president.