Secretary of Navy extols 'character' 1 day after he expels Mids for cheating

April 30, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

One day after he expelled 24 midshipmen from the Naval Academy for cheating, Navy Secretary John H. Dalton told the brigade that "character is the most important aspect of being an officer in the Naval service -- more important than any grade, any score, any game or any personal achievement."

His speech was especially poignant, coming at the conclusion of an investigation into the worst cheating scandal in the academy's 149 years.

"All the ships, all the aircraft, all the submarines, all the weapons mean absolutely nothing without men and women of integrity and honor," he said.

Mr. Dalton, a 1964 academy graduate, said yesterday's speech was the first of a series he plans to give on ethics to Navy schools throughout the country.

The cheating scandal began in December 1992 when some midshipmen received a pirated copy of an electrical engineering exam.

Some of the midshipmen used the information to cheat; some lied about their role -- violations of the academy's strict honor code, which states, "Midshipmen are persons of integrity: They do not lie, cheat or steal."

Of 134 midshipmen originally implicated, the cases of 106 were found serious enough to require hearings before an officers' panel. Thirty-five were exonerated, 24 are being expelled and 47 are receiving punishment short of expulsion.

An initial inquiry ended with complaints that not all of the guilty had been identified. In February, the Navy's inspector general told a Senate subcommittee that academy officials did not seem eager to get to the bottom of a cheating scandal.

"There may still be lawyers to litigate, and individuals who want to air the debate in the media, and critics who find it easy to second guess.

There may be some of you who feel that an individual was [let] off too easily or punished too harshly," Mr. Dalton said. "No justice is perfect . . . but at this point, I am convinced that all involved in supervising the process made every effort to ensure the fundamental fairness of its resolution," he added.

In a news briefing after the speech, Mr. Dalton said he had determined that 24 midshipmen being expelled "failed to live up to the highest standard of Naval service, which is the honor concept."

He decided that two midshipmen whose cases he reviewed deserved to graduate.

"It was a judgment call I made based on their level of involvement, what they did and how they cooperated with the investigation," he said. He added that he considered their entire academy record in making his decision.

The mood in Alumni Hall before the speech, scheduled only two hours before an appearance by comedian Bill Cosby, was lighthearted. Midshipmen in the upper decks started a wave that spread throughout the hall.

But once Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, the superintendent, took the stage, the brigade snapped to attention. The midshipmen listened somberly as Mr. Dalton told them that their lives and America's military preparedness depend upon their trustworthiness.

The secretary offered the midshipmen a chance to ask questions afterward, but none did.

Several midshipmen at the mandatory event said the cheating controversy had infected the entire academy atmosphere and they are glad to see it resolved.

"It's a relief," said Brian Blair, a plebe from Philadelphia. "Everyone is kind of glad the black cloud has moved away."

Dean Metropoulos, a sophomore from Pittsburgh, said that although a small percentage of midshipmen was involved in the scandal, it tainted everyone.

He said he believed most midshipmen have the character Mr. Dalton extolled. "Deep inside, there's still integrity," he said.

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