Honor code needs review, panel says Academy scandal prompted action

August 18, 1993|By Tom Bowman and JoAnna Daemmrich | Tom Bowman and JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writers

The Naval Academy's strict honor code, sharply criticized after a major cheating scandal, should be reviewed with an eye toward refinement, an academy panel says.

The eight-member group composed of students, officers and faculty members told Capt. John B. Padgett III, commandant of midshipmen, earlier this month that midshipmen and professors do not have a "grasp" of the concept or how it should be administered.

The academy's superintendent, Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, established the committee last month and told the Board of Visitors, which oversees the academy, that he expected a report by the time the brigade returned in late August.

But the panel said it needed more time to make recommendations.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike John, academy spokesman, said the group's findings are expected by December.

The honor concept, instituted in 1951, says simply that midshipmen do not "lie, cheat or steal." But the academy's largest cheating scandal in two decades raised questions about administration of the code.

Both midshipmen and faculty members complained that those who lied about cheating on last fall's electrical engineering exam went unpunished, while those who owned up to their role are slated for dismissal.

Twenty-eight students were accused of studying from copies of the engineering exam.

Eleven were recommended for expulsion by honor committees made up of midshipmen. Top academy officials later cleared five, citing insufficient evidence.

In early May, three midshipmen approached the chairman of the brigade honor committee, saying they had overheard several classmates conspire to coordinate their testimony before honor boards. One student implicated three varsity football players in the scheme.

The following month, the Navy Inspector General's Office began an investigation into the handling of the scandal.

News of the committee's decision to conduct an intensive review of the code pleased professors and students who have questioned the honor system's effectiveness and administration.

Mike Clark, a former history professor at the academy, has complained that midshipmen have been expelled for something as minor as fibbing about a kiss, while others have gotten away with plagiarizing papers.

David O. Tomlinson, an English professor and former department chairman, agreed. "Even when professors submit evidence of direct copying of a paper, midshipmen often aren't convicted," he said.

The department has had about one case of plagiarism each semester, he said, but professors have grown increasingly reluctant to bring charges.

Others complain that the honor system can be abused by students retaliating against a classmate.

Honor violations generally result in expulsion, but the committee is looking into less severe punishments.

Retired Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence, who helped draft the honor concept as a midshipman and enforced it as superintendent from 1978 through 1981, said the system has been reviewed and refined several times.

"Certainly, some midshipmen will cheat, and it's a disappointment when they do," he said.

"But the real test of the honor concept is what people do after graduation," he said.

"After 35 years of active duty, I contend Naval Academy graduates as a group have a very high standard of integrity," Admiral Lawrence said.

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