Naval Academy to give Class of '98 more honor training

June 27, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

The U.S. Naval Academy's largest cheating scandal was a tough lesson for the Class of 1994. Now it will be a morality lesson for the Class of 1998.

Marine Col. Michael Hagee, brought in by top Navy officials as the academy's new character development officer, says he plans to use the "Double E" scandal as part of an expanded honor training program for the 1,225 freshmen -- or plebes -- who will enter the academy Friday.

"We've decided to give them a factual account of what happened," said the 49-year-old colonel, a 1968 academy graduate. "Then we want to answer questions as much as we can."

The renewed emphasis on honor and integrity follows a dishonorable year in which 24 midshipmen were expelled and 64 others were punished for their part in the scandal involving a final exam for Electrical Engineering 311.

Plebe honor training, part of the six-week introduction to academy life, also will address a key ingredient of the cheating scandal: misplaced loyalty. Many midshipmen lied to or stonewalled investigators, saying later it was preferable to ratting on a classmate.

"Classmate loyalty is not in and of itself a bad thing," the colonel explained. But "taken to the extreme" it can have disastrous results.

"We're going to stress loyalty to the Naval Academy, loyalty to the Navy, loyalty to the nation," he said. "I have a feeling we're going to be quite successful."

The plebes will be required to write two papers on honor, engage in group discussions and watch video tapes ranging from an address by Medal of Honor winner and former POW retired Adm. James Stockdale to an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

"We're going to get away from the stand-up-and-lecture-for-50-minutes scenario," said the colonel. "We'll guide them and let them do the discussion so they get involved, so they feel part of it."

Much of the plebe training will be overseen by upper-class midshipmen and student members of the academy's honor board. Colonel Hagee, whose experience includes combat in Vietnam, peacekeeping in Somalia and teaching social studies and electrical engineering at the Naval Academy, told the honor staff that a command takes on the personality of its commander in four to six weeks.

"I asked them to think about that when they stood out there," he said. "Those plebes are going to be watching what they do."

Since 1845, the academy has been charged with creating

officers of character who, in John Paul Jones' words, would have "the nicest sense of personal honor." But the academy strayed from its basic charge during recent decades, according to an academy advisory panel formed during the cheating scandal.

That panel, chaired by Richard L. Armitage, an academy graduate and a former State Department official, found the school's vaunted honor concept -- "Midshipmen are persons of integrity; they do not lie, cheat or steal" -- was "on the back burner."

The Armitage report also recommended the academy's honor officer -- most recently a Navy lieutenant -- hold the rank of Navy captain or Marine colonel, and be an "exceptional officer" screened by the secretary of the Navy and the chief of Naval Operations. Colonel Hagee was assigned to the academy in March.

The plebe program will be the start of a four-year Honor Education Plan at an academy where for years character development was relegated to occasional honor lectures or random discussions of integrity with company officers.

"Can things be done better? Yes," Colonel Hagee said. "What we're trying to do now is have it logically put together so it flows all the way from plebe summer toward graduation."

The colonel also said he will make sure the subject of honor is raised in academic courses, even physical education. "My job is to ensure that each one of these elements add to it," he said.

The plan, although incomplete, will include integrity development teams of professors, officers, coaches and midshipmen who will lead monthly seminars for each class in each of the 36 companies. The teams will focus on a particular topic or reading.

But some academy employees already are questioning the focus of the teams, noting that one team covered topics that included "misperception of varsity athletes among the brigade."

During the cheating scandal, investigators detected a perception among faculty and midshipmen that athletes -- particularly football players -- were a large number of those involved in the theft and distribution of the exam and received preferential treatment from academy officials.

Of the 24 midshipmen who eventually were expelled, at least six played on the football squad, sources said.

"That's one of the issues being addressed by the commandant," Colonel Hagee said, referring to Capt. John B. Padgett, commandant of midshipmen. The colonel said that and other issues are relevant for the integrity teams to "broaden" their approach.

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