Faced with charges that the midshipmen's honor code failed to live up to its name during a recent cheating scandal, the U.S. Naval Academy is launching a review to see if changes are needed.
Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch told the academy's Board of Visitors yesterday that he would convene a panel that will include midshipmen, professors and officers to review the honor code guidelines.
The code says simply that midshipmen will not "lie, cheat or steal." But a cheating scandal involving the fall semester final exam for Electrical Engineering 311 left many faculty and students convinced that the strict honor code is faulty.
They say that it is not enforced fairly and effectively, and it failed to weed out all of the guilty.
Twenty-eight midshipmen were accused in February of cheating TC on the engineering exam, one of the academy's toughest.
Honor boards made up of midshipmen recommended that 11 midshipmen be dismissed; five were cleared in April by top academy officials, including the midshipmen believed to have started the scandal by selling advance copies of the exam.
The six mids dismissed, all of whom confessed to their roles in the scandal, are appealing the decision to the Navy secretary. They say they are being penalized for telling the truth, while others who lied and refused to admit they took part in the scandal escaped punishment.
Board Chairman James M. Cannon said after yesterday's meeting that some changes in the code may be necessary. "You can always improve," he said.
But Admiral Lynch said in an interview that he saw no problems with the honor concept, saying that much of the criticism is based on "perception."
The panel is expected to be formed next week and could issue a report by the time the brigade returns in late August, the admiral said.
During a board meeting yesterday in Washington, the admiral and the board held a 45-minute closed-door session to discuss the policy and the recent scandal.
The handling of the scandal, the academy's largest in two decades, also has sparked an investigation by the Navy inspector general's office, overseen by the Pentagon's inspector general's office.
Yesterday's board meeting reportedly included discussion of concerns, particularly among the faculty, that the honor code is not working as designed and is difficult to enforce on a large scale.
About 150 civilian and military professors held an unprecedented meeting with the Board of Visitors last month and called for an overhaul of the code. The advisory board is made up of six presidential appointees and nine members of Congress.
Many midshipmen are troubled that the academy's handling of the cheating scandal did not root out all of the guilty.
"A lot of people are worried that the ones who told the truth are getting in trouble," said one 3rd Class midshipman, who requested anonymity. "The ones who lied are getting off scot-free."
"People were accused, but there is no evidence there to support it," the admiral said.
"We've got an honor concept that is based on morals and we've got to put the legal requirements on there as well, to see that due process of the individual is followed explicitly.
"It doesn't always turn out the way you or I would think it should. Then again, maybe it does turn out properly, because the rights of the accused are protected."
The midshipman accused of obtaining the engineering exam and distributing copies received no punishment after his chief accuser recanted.
In early May, a midshipman told academy officials that he overheard several classmates conspiring to synchronize their testimony before an honor board.
Academy officials said yesterday that the midshipman's statement has been turned over to the Navy inspector general's office, which last month mounted a probe to determine whether the academy properly handled the cheating scandal.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would have done it the same way," Admiral Lynch said.
The 22-page guideline for the honor code, developed in its current form by midshipmen in 1951, outlines rules and procedures for investigations.
It has changed periodically over the years. The code was strengthened in August 1990, in the wake of the incident involving Gwen Dreyer, a sophomore who was handcuffed to a urinal and made to remain there while male midshipmen jeered and taunted her.