The Citadel dictates that cadets live by honor, duty and respect as they learn to become principled leaders.
In the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal, some alumni of the Military College of South Carolina are wondering whether Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa is capable of instilling those virtues.
While Rosa, 60, continues to enjoy the support of the school’s board and many of its graduates, pressure is mounting among alumni for him to resign.
Rosa gave no indication that he was considering stepping down when he stood ramrod straight before 2,200 cadets last week and spoke about forging ahead as their leader, despite mishandling a sexual-abuse complaint that allowed a predator to go loose for four more years.
“We should have done more,” Rosa acknowledged.
James Brown, a 1992 graduate, said Rosa’s failure to report the incident to law enforcement officials has tarnished the school’s reputation. “If they continue to cover this up and delay, I plan to mail you my Citadel ring because it is now just a paper weight,” Brown wrote in an email to The Post and Courier.
Rosa finds himself in an unusual position. He’s the man the Pentagon called upon in 2003 to clean up a sexual-assault scandal that dated back decades at the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colo.
More than 140 sexual assaults had been reported at the academy, but many of the women involved in those cases said they were pressured to keep quiet. Some said they had been punished for reporting assaults.
Rosa was handpicked for the job of superintendent at the academy by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper and former Air Force Secretary James Roche after the school’s four top officers were ousted in the wake of the scandal.
The academy was in dire straits and needed a tough leader who was able to make and enforce unpopular decisions. At the time, Rosa was serving as deputy director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Jumper and Roche said they trusted Rosa to implement the needed changes.
Rosa gained a reputation for being fearless in his efforts to reform a culture at the Air Force Academy that tolerated sexual assault. He took allegations seriously and sought prosecution on many cases, angering some alumni who thought his reforms went too far.
If Rosa stays in command at The Citadel, he will have to clean up a mess of his own making. The Citadel, under Rosa’s leadership in 2007, did not report to law enforcement officials an allegation of child sexual abuse at the military college’s since-abolished youth summer camp.
The incident came to light only after The Post and Courier forced the school through the Freedom of Information Act to release hundreds of pages of documents on the college’s internal investigation.
On Friday, the State Law Enforcement Division launched an investigation into the school’s failure to report suspected child abuse at the summer camp.
The records The Citadel released to the newspaper show that a former camper accused senior counselor Louis “Skip” ReVille of hosting porn and masturbation sessions with boys at the school’s summer camp in 2002.
ReVille went on to work with hundreds of children as a coach and teacher before his arrest Oct. 28 in Mount Pleasant on charges of molesting five boys. Police say more charges are expected.
He admitted to the allegations and is cooperating with detectives on the molestation cases.
A puzzling call
By the time Rosa took the reins at The Citadel in January 2006, he was an expert on sexual assault and harassment, taking on the issues as a professional and personal mission.
“I needed to know how big an issue sexual assault is in this country and at other colleges and universities,” Rosa said in 2003 after taking over at the Air Force Academy. “I needed to know how many people don’t report sexual assault.”
Less than a year after arriving at The Citadel, Rosa publicly released the results of a cadet survey that found that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 25 men reported being sexually assaulted since enrolling at The Citadel.
The release was a bold action for the traditionally insular military college, and uncommon among nonmilitary colleges and universities in the United States. He also put in place a cadet training program to correct what the survey uncovered.
Rosa declined an interview with The Post and Courier to discuss why he didn’t report the 2007 sexual abuse allegation to law enforcement officials.
Citadel spokeswoman Charlene Gunnells said Rosa addressed the issue at a news conference Monday and didn’t want to make any further comment.
At that conference, Rosa said he made the best decision he could with the information he had at the time. He knows now that the school didn’t do enough.
Rosa also said then that the college hired the private, New York-based Guidepost Solutions to review the procedures the school followed.
But the school’s Board of Visitors has backtracked on that decision, Board Chairman Doug Snyder said Saturday. In an effort to be more transparent, the board sent a letter to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson on Friday, asking him to convene a special panel to conduct a thorough and independent investigation that will report its findings to the board and the people of South Carolina.
The Citadel’s hiring of a consultant to evaluate its actions was in stark contrast to the decisive action taken by the board at Penn State when news broke of a child sex abuse scandal. The governing body quickly fired legendary Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier.
Circling the wagons
Snyder said the board was informed in 2007 about the sexual-abuse complaint against ReVille. He echoed Rosa’s words from last week and said the board should have done more. “We are all responsible,” he said of the school’s leaders.
He can’t estimate the percentage of alumni who continue to support Rosa or who are calling for Rosa’s ouster. The Citadel has about 25,000 living alumni.
They are a “highly charged, highly committed and highly emotional” group, Snyder said. He asks that they not rush to judgment, but instead wait for the results of the investigation.
“When we get the facts, we’ll take appropriate action,” he said.
The board has been pleased with Rosa’s leadership over the years, giving him scores between 4.6 and 4.99 out of 5 on his three most recent performance evaluations, Snyder said. And for the last two years, Rosa has scored perfectly on the questions about ethics and integrity.
While some alumni of the military college, which has a reputation for circling the wagons during tough times, have called for Rosa’s ouster, many are standing by him, said Ralph Tice, immediate past president of the college’s Alumni Association and former member of its Board of Visitors.
“The vast majority, in the high 90 percent, have been very pleased and excited about his leadership,” he said.
Tice said his immediate reaction to Rosa’s handling of the ReVille case is that “there’s more to the story.” He said he is going to be patient and wait until the whole story comes out.
“It’s hard to fathom that he would have intentionally tried to hide something,” Tice said. “He’s everybody’s leader. He’s everybody’s friend.”
John Insani, a 1976 graduate of The Citadel, said he thinks Tice is wrong about the majority of alumni supporting Rosa. He said Rosa should step down, and that many graduates agree with him.
Insani also said he is angry about a letter the Board of Visitors sent to alumni, asking them to bear with the school as it takes a closer look at what happened. “They’re saying, ‘Keep your mouth shut,’?” he said.
Many other alumni sent emails and called The Post and Courier expressing similar feelings and calling for Rosa to step down. Most asked that their names be withheld for fear of retribution.
Susan Leighton, who worked as a safety and risk manager at The Citadel from 1994 to 2000, said she would not be surprised to learn that The Citadel had tried to cover up allegations of sexual abuse. It has demonstrated “a pattern of cover-ups” over the years, she said.
For instance, a cadet was convicted of molesting an 11-year-old girl while working as a lifeguard at The Citadel’s pool in 1996, she said. The cadet received two 10-year sentences, which were suspended upon service of three years in prison. He was paroled in June 1998.
The Citadel had hired the cadet knowing he was in a pretrial intervention program for a previous lewd act against a minor while working as a swimming instructor at another Charleston pool.
The same cadet in January 1999 became the first person committed to the Department of Mental Health under the state’s Sexually Violent Predator Act after he was convicted of assaulting a 9-year-old girl in Dorchester County in December 1998.
Insani said he thinks it’s a natural initial reaction to want to deny that something as horrific as child sexual abuse could happen at an honorable institution like The Citadel, but he said it was wrong not to report the allegations about ReVille to law enforcement officials.
“If the Charleston police would have investigated and found nothing, The Citadel could have said, ‘We did our duty,’?” Insani said. “A crime against a child needs to be reported to authorities. It’s not the general’s choice.”
Glenn Smith and Gene Sapakoff contributed to this report.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.