28 mids risking expulsion Stolen exam mires academy in cheating scandal

February 10, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Twenty-eight midshipmen who passed around copies of a stolen final exam could face expulsion in the biggest cheating scandal at the Naval Academy in 20 years.

A seven-week investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service uncovered evidence that at least 28 juniors cheated on the exam for Electrical Engineering 311, academy officials confirmed yesterday.

"I don't know how many of those will be disciplined," said Cmdr. Mike John, an academy spokesman. "None of them have been charged with anything yet. If the honor committee chairman agrees that there is sufficient evidence, then they will be charged with an honor violation."

A midshipman apparently obtained a master copy of the exam at least three days before it was given in December, Commander John said.

Professors, a former faculty member and a source close to the investigation said Monday that several copies of the test were sold in Bancroft Hall, the dormitory housing all 4,200 midshipmen.

Commander John could not say how the midshipmen intercepted the exam, but said it is still under investigation. He also could not confirm whether the test had been sold in Bancroft Hall.

"Really, all we know right now is that a single midshipman obtained a copy of the questions before the exam, and he apparently passed them on to other midshipmen," he said.

Cheating is considered one of the most serious offenses at the Naval Academy. It strikes at the heart of the academy's mission because it indicates a loss of the self-imposed discipline expected of Naval officers, according to former graduates, faculty members and others interviewed yesterday.

In the last major cheating scandal in 1974, 60 students were implicated in the use of "crib sheets" in a navigation course exam. Seven were expelled, 13 others were placed on honors probation and the rest were exonerated, Commander John said.

Two years later, 96 cadets were expelled from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for cheating on an electrical engineering exam. Many were reinstated months later after the honor-code enforcement proceedings came under fire by members of Congress.

At the Naval Academy, the chairman of an honor board made up of midshipmen will decide whether there is sufficient evidence against the 28 accused juniors to take the case to the full board where the students would get a chance to plead their cases.

pTC If they are found guilty, their cases will be reviewed by the brigade ethics adviser, the staff judge advocate and the commandant of midshipmen. Students typically are expelled for honor violations.

Some 700 juniors took the Dec. 14 exam for the course, which is mandatory for all nonengineering majors and general engineering majors.

Despite the breach of security, no new test will be administered, Commander John said. "There was no evidence to believe that the exam was compromised to such an extent that it should be retaken," he said.

The scores were consistent with those of previous years, he said. Several midshipmen said yesterday that many students receive poor grades or fail the course each year.

The electrical engineering department came under scrutiny in 1990 after faculty members complained that they were being ordered to raise grades. A committee of scholars was appointed to review courses after a faculty uproar over the removal of the department's dean.

Dr. Ralph P. Santoro was demoted after he allegedly refused an administrator's demands to raise grades in one of two required courses.

That same year, administrators investigated whether the final exam had been compromised after receiving a fuzzy videotape of two midshipmen breaking into the electrical engineering department. No action was taken because the academy could not identify the students, or determine if the exam had been copied.

Academy officials yesterday blamed the electrical engineering faculty for failing to follow proper procedures in copying last December's exam.

The procedure, which requires that a faculty or staff member take the exam to the Naval Academy copy center and sign to pick up copies, "broke down on the way," Commander John said.

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