UNTIL the mid-'70s, the United States armed services academies were all-male clubs. The exclusionary policy spawned attitudes toward women - or, more precisely, women's ``place'' - similar to those fostered at other bastions of male separatism. If anything, such attitudes were compounded by the machismo that is an accepted, even encouraged, element of martial skills. Then Congress opened the doors of the academies to women. Some of the academies have adjusted better than others. At West Point, the Army Academy, the corps of cadets last year was commanded by a woman cadet. The Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., however, has had a tougher time accepting women.
So conclude several reports issued last week by panels investigating sexual harassment at the Naval Academy. The probes were initiated last spring after a woman midshipman resigned, citing harassment by male students.
The two leading reports - one by an internal committee, the other by civilian members of the academy's Board of Visitors - found widespread sentiment among midshipmen, faculty, and staff that women don't belong at Annapolis. The panels confirmed the allegations of Gwen Dreyer, the woman who resigned, that she had been handcuffed to a urinal and jeered at by some of her male peers. The groups further documented a wider and disturbing pattern of harassment against the women midshipmen.
In 1990 - when women soldiers, sailors, and airmen are capably performing tasks in Saudi Arabia that could involve them in a shooting war - such attitudes and practices are dismayingly atavistic. Fortunately, according to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the fleet is ahead of the academy in integrating women into operations.
The commanding officers at the Naval Academy should promptly implement the panels' recommendations to improve the environment for women. And the Navy's highest brass and its civilian overseers should closely monitor the progress.