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CLEARLY THE TIME has come for the Clinton Administration to make some drastic changes at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The system, including the so-called "honor code," is badly broken, and traditions that seemed fine 40 years ago no longer have a place - and the Navy seems hard put to do anything about it.In the latest outrage, the Academy's male-dominated student panel in charge of code violations has recommended depriving one of its female midshipmen, Naomi Jackson, of her diploma because her roommate said she lied about why she didn't attend a mandatory dinner.

It seems the roommate overheard her on the telephone saying she didn't feel up to the dinner and was going to study. She later told the roommate that she hadn't attended because she forgot.

How horrible.

Of course the roommate, with the obvious judgment of a gnat, had to turn her in to the honors code committee.

Lying should never be condoned. But there are LIES and then there are lies.

There also are enormous extenuating circumstances in this case, just one in a number of recent incidents in which women have been badly victimized at Annapolis.

It so happens that Jackson is a key witness in the trial of a very popular male student leader, Scott Ward, of Grand Rapids, Mich. Jackson and three other female students have charged that their fellow senior sexually assaulted them. The midshipman is being held in the brig.

The dinner Jackson missed came on the evening after she testified in the sexual assault case. She contends that she was unnerved by the experience and that she hadn't meant to mislead her roommate - a wholly plausible explanation among people with any common sense.

What's unsettling about this case is the failure of the student board and then the academy's officers to dismiss this silliness out of hand. The fact they haven't lends credibility to charges that Jackson is being punished for having the temerity to speak out publicly against an injustice. Jackson was the first of the four women to accuse Ward.

The Jackson case is not the first scandal to hit this beleaguered academy. There has been a string of recent incidents in which students or recent graduates have been implicated for cheating, child molestation, drug use, pornography and participation in an auto theft ring.

Compared to those violations, a misunderstanding about a senior's excuse for missing a dinner doesn't even register on the one-to-10 scale for serious breaches of the honor code.

One expert explains that the Navy, of all the services, has been the most isolated from women. Officers and men spent months at a time at sea, away from females, and when they did pull into port, getting drunk and having sex, usually with a prostitute, were priorities.

But the other service academies, the Army and the Air Force and the Coast Guard, have adjusted well to female cadets, and it clearly is time for the Navy to understand what has happened since the end of World War II.