In the largest cheating scandal to rock the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in nearly 45 years, 73 cadets were accused of breaking the school’s honor code by cheating during a calculus final in May that was conducted remotely amid the pandemic, officials revealed Monday.
“The Honors process is working as expected and there have been no exceptions to policy for any of these cases,” Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt, an academy spokesman, told The Washington Post in a statement. “Cadets are being held accountable for breaking the code.”
The allegations that dozens of students cheated on an exam, which were first reported by USA Today, raised concerns Monday over integrity and national security at the Army’s premier training ground for officers.
The school asked students not to return from spring break and turned to remote learning in late March as the coronavirus spread across the United States. Online classes continued until the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, but cadets returned to campus in the fall for a mix of in-person, hybrid and remote classes.
Professors uncovered the alleged cheating scheme while grading the final exams, finding irregularities in the mathematical work submitted by the accused students, officials said.
Among the 73 students accused of cheating, four cadets resigned from the academy before the investigation concluded, and 55 admitted to cheating and were found in violation of the school’s honor code, officials confirmed to The Post. Two cases were dropped for lack of evidence and the remaining 12 students will have hearings by the Cadet Advisory Board or the Honor Investigative Hearing, officials said.
All but one of the accused cadets were first-year students at the academy in May, officials said.
Despite the allegations, Ophardt said the pandemic is not jeopardizing the integrity of the school’s academic program and an honor code that says cadets “will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.”
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“West Point honor code and character development program remains strong despite remote learning and the challenges brought by the pandemic,” Ophardt said.
With more than six dozen alleged incidents, the cheating scandal is the largest since 1976, when more than 150 students were accused of conspiring to cheat on a take-home electrical engineering exam.
The new allegations troubled some faculty members and lawmakers, who noted the importance of integrity among the students at West Point, who commission as officers in the U.S. Army after graduation.
“To see that 73 West Point cadets conspired to cheat, apparently taking advantage of the fact that exams are being conducted remotely, is deeply troubling,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel, told The Post in a statement. “Our West Point cadets are the cream of the crop and are expected to demonstrate unimpeachable character and integrity.”
The military academy should “ensure that these cadets are worthy of the prestige and honor bestowed upon those chosen to serve in the academy and destined to lead our military and country,” Speier added.
A law professor at West Point also spoke out Monday about the implications of allowing students who are willing to cheat to become leaders in the military, where lapses in integrity can have life-or-death consequences.
“When the military tries to downplay effects of cheating at the academy, we’re really downplaying the effects on the military as a whole,” professor Tim Bakken told USA Today. “We rely on the military to tell us honestly when we should fight wars, and when we can win them.”
The students who admitted to cheating last year will be enrolled in a rehabilitation program focused on the honor code and will be assigned faculty members to coach them through the training, officials said.
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“While disappointing, the Honor System is working, and these 67 remaining cases will be held accountable for their actions,” Ophardt said.