Overhaul of honor code urged for Naval Academy

December 17, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Naval Academy advisory committee recommended sweeping changes yesterday in the midshipmen's 42-year-old honor code, which has been sharply criticized following the largest cheating scandal in academy history.

The Board of Visitors, made up of presidential and congressional appointees, recommended dozens of changes, including one that would make it harder to expel a midshipman because it would allow honor boards to recommend punishments other than dismissal.

The changes generally call for more rigorous training in the honor code and a strict legal review of alleged honor offenses.

The report from the 15-member board now goes to Navy Secretary John H. Dalton, who is expected to approve the recommendations within the next two months.

The honor code states simply that midshipmen "do not lie, cheat or steal." But the administration of that code has come under examination as the cheating scandal surrounding last year's final exam for Electrical Engineering 311 has continued to expand.

One hundred twenty-five midshipmen have been implicated by the Navy's inspector general in the theft and distribution of the exam, sources have said.

Some midshipmen and faculty have complained that the concept is not administered fairly. They complained that those who admitted their guilt in the cheating scandal were recommended for dismissal and those who lied went free.

Board of Visitors sources said the report recommends:

* Allowing the honor board to suggest punishment. An honor offense now usually results in dismissal. The punishments could include restriction to the campus, loss of leadership posts and prohibitions on participation in sports or other activities.

* Allowing an accused midshipmen to call a recess in an honor proceeding to consult with a lawyer outside the hearing room. The lawyer still could not attend the hearing.

* Expanding the size of honor boards from seven to nine midshipmen, and requiring a two-thirds vote to reach a guilty verdict instead of a simple majority. Some academy superintendents have overturned 4-3 votes, creating an impression of favoritism, said board sources.

* Getting military lawyers involved in the early stages of the review of alleged honor violations.

* Making the academy's honor officer, now a lieutenant, either a Navy captain or Marine colonel to show the importance of honor at the academy. That officer would be in charge of both the review process and the education of the 4,100 midshipmen. "He is tasked with nothing else. He's the king of honor at the academy," said one board source. "If he does a good job, he'll be an admiral or a general."

The report was critical of the lieutenants who oversee the academy's 36 companies, saying they have not taken the honor concept seriously enough.

* Using professors, coaches, officers and military lawyers to educate midshipmen in the honor code. That training now is left largely to the midshipmen honor committee.

The board did not add, however, a nontoleration clause similar to those in the honor codes at the Army and Air Force academies, which requires students to report suspected honor violations.

Board sources said they wanted to leave midshipmen with the discretion to either counsel a fellow mid or report a possible violation. The sources also said that data show there is more toleration of honor offenses at the other two academies.

Richard L. Armitage, a former State Department official and academy graduate who headed the committee, declined to comment on the report. But he and committee sources said the concept would continue to be overseen largely by the midshipmen themselves.

"We feel quite strongly that the honor process should belong to the midshipmen," he said.

The honor concept was created in 1951 by midshipmen, including a Texas sophomore named Ross Perot.

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