3 admirals to help resolve cheating scandal

January 13, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

With some 125 midshipmen expected to be implicated in the U.S. Naval Academy's largest cheating scandal, the academy's superintendent yesterday named three retired admirals to help determine what type of discipline should be handed out.

Rear Admiral Thomas C. Lynch said at a news conference that the admirals -- all former academy officials -- would provide "fairness and consistency" and not "overburden the midshipmen" who rule on violations of the school's strict 43-year-old honor concept.

Senior Navy officials approved the process announced yesterday and devised by the admiral and his staff, academy officials said.

The Navy Inspector General's report on the December 1992 cheating scandal involving the final exam for Electrical Engineering 311 could be released as early as tomorrow. Sources said some 125 midshipmen are involved in the scandal. Nearly 700 juniors took the exam.

It is expected to be the largest cheating scandal in the academy's history, more than doubling the 64 midshipmen implicated in the use of "crib sheets" in a 1974 navigation exam. Seven midshipmen eventually were expelled in the 1974 incident.

The "EE problem," as it has become known, has troubled the academy for the past year, leaving many in the brigade dispirited. While the admiral took pains yesterday to say the school has "a strong, viable honor concept," he acknowledged that the academy has not done enough to instill honor in the midshipmen.

"Education is the key, and that's what we have been lacking. I intend to fix that in the near term," Admiral Lynch said before a mass of TV cameras.

Pressed by reporters about whether he felt responsible for the scandal, the admiral said, "The buck stops with the individual midshipmen. . . . I feel very badly that it happened under my superintendency. You have a problem when you do not recognize you have a problem. I know what the problem is. We have failed in the education and training."

The admirals named to the panel were Admiral Leon "Bud" Edney, midshipmen commandant from 1981 to 1984; Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence, superintendent from 1978 to 1981; and Vice Admiral Charles Minter, midshipmen commandant from to January 1964, after which he was superintendent until June 1965.

New process

Under normal circumstances, midshipmen accused of honor code violations must go before honor board, which determines guilt or innocence. Punishment is then left to the commandant of midshipmen, the academy superintendent or the secretary of the Navy.

Under the new process, the "Flag Officer Panel" can make four recommendations: find there was no violation; send the case to the commandant of midshipmen for discipline short of expulsion; send the case to a midshipmen honor board; or send the case to the military court system.

Although violations of the honor concept generally result in expulsion, Admiral Lynch said the admirals may opt for a less severe punishment based on individual circumstances, such as whether the midshipman admitted guilt or helped in the investigation.

A senior Navy source said there will likely be few cases where

the admirals determine there was no violation.

Honor board changes

The process announced yesterday will include changes to the honor boards themselves.

Navy Secretary John H. Dalton approved recommendations from academy advisory committee headed by former State Department official Richard L. Armitage.

Those include increasing the membership of the honor board from seven to nine and requiring a two-thirds majority vote -- rather than a majority -- for a guilty verdict.

Mr. Dalton is still deciding whether to approve other recommendations, including one which would allow the honor board to offer a "gradation of punishments." Senior Navy officials said there will be no action taken on this and other recommendations until after the EE cases are resolved.

The Navy Inspector General became involved in the case in June, after new reports of complaints from midshipmen, professors and others that all the guilty were not caught. Some complained that only those who admitted guilt were caught.

Twenty-eight midshipmen were implicated last spring when the cheating scandal was investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Eleven were recommended for dismissal by honor boards, although academy officials reduced that number to six, citing a lack of evidence on the others.

Those six midshipmen will have their cases reviewed again by the admirals' panel, academy officials said. The remaining 22 will not be tried again for the same offense of cheating, but could face other charges.

'A more fair system'

Rodney Walker of Atlanta, one of six recommended for dismissal, yesterday welcomed the news and his chance to appear before the admirals' panel.

"I think that's a more fair system than it originally was," he said, charging that some midshipmen on the honor boards had friends involved in the scandal. "There's no conflict of interest with those admirals."

Seniors interviewed yesterday -- juniors when they took the exam -- also welcomed the process for handling the EE scandal. "I think it will be OK," said one first-class midshipman who requested anonymity, noting the admirals were "well-qualified" to oversee the cases.

But others wondered whether the midshipmen honor process was being overtaken by senior officers. Those concerns were put to Admiral Lynch when he met with the class yesterday.

Some academy graduates viewed the panel as a way for the academy administration to wash its hands of the scandal, to "pass the buck" in the words of one.

Former Navy Secretary James Webb, a 1968 academy graduate who served on the honor boards all four years, said the process XTC calls into question the "workability of the normal chain of command.

"It's just sort of curious you would have three former admirals come in to report to a midshipman [honor chairman] about the disposition of cases," he said.

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