Abusing Naval Academy's honor code Is school's honor system being manipulated for revenge?

June 06, 1996

SOMETHING IS AWRY with the U.S. Naval Academy's system of discipline. The academy has a strict honor code that prohibits lying, cheating or stealing. But it appears that the sanction against lying is being misapplied to punish a female midshipman who lodged a sexual assault complaint against a student leader.

Naomi Jackson faces expulsion from the academy. She was convicted four days before graduation last month, and was denied the right to graduate with her class. She now faces the loss of her degree and a commission as an officer in the Navy. Her heinous crime: Fibbing about missing a dinner.

But the story is a bit more complicated. Ms. Jackson is one of four women to file charges against Scott T. Ward, who had been the brigade's third-highest ranking midshipman. She alleged that he committed an indecent assault against her while she was sleeping. An investigation supported her claim.

Ms. Jackson testified at an Article 32 hearing, the military's equivalent of a grand jury, against Mr. Ward. Later that evening, instead of showing up for her company's last dinner before graduation, which was considered obligatory, Ms. Jackson stayed in her dorm and committed the high crime of studying. When asked by her roommate why she missed the dinner, Ms. Jackson said she had forgotten about it. Her roommate then said she had overheard a phone conversation in which Ms. Jackson said she planned to miss the dinner. Her roommate reported her for violating the honor code.

Meanwhile, the serious charges against Mr. Ward are still pending. The Navy decided it did not have enough evidence to convict him in a court-martial. Instead, he now faces a disciplinary hearing for improper conduct.

Missing a dinner and then lying about it in order to study hardly seems an expellable offense. Ms. Jackson did not lie to a superior. Her fib did not harm anyone. She confessed to it.

An honor system should have safeguards to ensure that it is not being manipulated. By threatening to expel Ms. Jackson, the academy doesn't seem to be able to differentiate between serious offenses and contrived ones. This case suggets additional problems with the Naval Academy and application of its code of conduct.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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