Mids may get help policing honor code

December 07, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

The U.S. Naval Academy's strict honor code, tarnished by last year's widespread cheating scandal, may be revamped to include a larger role for lawyers, officers and faculty in the education and enforcement process.

Currently, midshipmen are largely responsible for investigating and ruling on honor violations as well as educating the brigade on the code.

An academy committee, which has spent two months studying the honor system, will this week draft its report, which is expected to recommend that the burden for upholding the 42-year-old code be shared with military and academy officials, academy and committee sources said.

Still undecided, the sources said, is whether the honor code -- or honor concept, as it is known at the Naval Academy -- should be amended to include a nontoleration clause similar to those in effect at the Army and Air Force academies.

The Naval Academy concept says simply, "Midshipmen are persons of integrity: They do not lie, cheat or steal." If midshipmen suspect a violation, they have three options: Report it to the honor committee, caution the offender or drop the matter if they determine there is no violation.

The nontoleration clause would make reporting of suspected violations mandatory for midshipmen.

The seven-member panel also is expected to wrestle with whether the code should include varying degrees of punishment for less serious breaches. There have been concerns that the honor concept is too severe: A violation usually results in dismissal from the academy.

"As a general matter, we're going to address both the process as well as the philosophy" of the honor code, said Richard L. Armitage, a former State Department official and academy graduate who chairs the panel.

Mr. Armitage said the report will be filed with the Board of Visitors in mid-December, and it will be forwarded to Navy Secretary John H. Dalton for approval.

The committee is meeting as a fourth review of the honor concept -- by the General Accounting Office, the investigating arm of Congress -- gets under way.

William Beusse, assistant director of GAO's military operations and capabilities group, said the review was ordered by the Senate Armed Services Committee, spurred by last December's cheating scandal involving the final exam for Electrical Engineering 311.

The GAO will study the honor codes of all three service academies in preparation for expected congressional hearings in the spring, Mr. Beusse said.

The Naval Academy's honor concept also is being reviewed by a group of midshipmen, officers and faculty as well as by the Navy Office of Inspector General, which also is investigating the cheating scandal and which is expected to release its results soon.

Sources familiar with the IG investigation have said that more than 125 midshipmen have been implicated in the cheating scandal, including some who were exonerated earlier this year when a probe by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service led to honor charges against 28 midshipmen.

Eleven of those midshipmen were found guilty by honor boards, and academy officials decided that six should be dismissed. Their fates rest with Mr. Dalton, who has postponed action until he receives the inspector general's report.

It is still uncertain whether any new cases stemming from the cheating scandal will be handled by the honor boards or in another forum, senior Navy sources said.

The 22-page guideline for administering the honor concept was developed in 1951 by midshipmen. It has been changed periodically.

Since the cheating scandal broke, some midshipmen and faculty have been sharply critical, complaining that the concept is not administered fairly. They also note that those who admitted cheating were found guilty while those who lied went free. Others at the academy defend the current system, saying midshipmen can police the brigade adequately.

However, some observers argue that lawyers should play a greater role in the process.

"The prosecutor and the presiding officer should both be lawyers," said William M. Ferris, an academy graduate and lawyer, who represents four of the six midshipmen recommended for expulsion. Accused midshipmen should be entitled to be represented by a lawyer during a hearing, he said.

Neither the Naval Academy nor the Air Force Academy allows accused students to have a lawyer in attendance during honor hearings. West Point allows a cadet to have a lawyer present, although the lawyer may not talk with the client.

Mr. Ferris, who has been representing midshipmen accused of honor violations for a decade, said that the recent scandal fTC reflected the need for the honor boards to evolve into a more professional legal system. Rulings on evidence were uneven, he said, and the quality of the prosecutions was mixed.

Some of those same concerns have been expressed, sources said, by the committee's legal experts.

Only after midshipmen honor representatives investigate and file a decision do military lawyers step in and review the process. At the other service academies, military lawyers serve in advisory roles throughout.

Meanwhile, sources said, there are concerns among other committee members about whether the Naval Academy is doing enough to educate midshipmen on the honor system.

Midshipmen receive 16 hours of formal training by midshipmen representatives, said academy spokeswoman Karen Myers.

The U.S. Military Academy provides 47 hours of instruction over four years. Cadets at the Air Force Academy get 35 hours of training, spokesmen for the academies said.

The Naval Academy administration, faculty and officers would likely become more involved in a more rigorous training program on the honor code, under another recommendation expected from the committee, sources said.

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