Instructor disciplined after giving midshipman information on exam

Academy officials say incident wasn't cheating but a lapse of judgment

January 17, 2002|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

The Naval Academy said yesterday that it had disciplined an instructor who during a private tutoring session last month gave a student information nearly identical to the correct answers on a final exam.

The student drafted a review sheet based on that session and passed out copies to 100 classmates in the Naval Strategy and Tactics course.

Academy officials concluded after an investigation that the incident was not cheating. Instead, they said, it was a lapse in judgment by an inexperienced instructor who went too far in helping a student prepare for the test.

"It was a classic case of overenthusiasm," said academy spokesman Cmdr. Bill Spann. "There was absolutely no malice."

The academy is taking no action against the midshipmen.

The incident, first reported in The Washington Post, occurs almost a decade after the worst cheating scandal in the academy's history. The circulation of advance copies of an electrical engineering exam in December 1992 led to the expulsion of 24 midshipmen, the removal of the academy's superintendent and a raft of new programs to strengthen education in ethics and the institution's vaunted honor code.

Academy officials took pains yesterday to distance the latest missteps from the earlier scandal. The school's investigation found that the students who saw the review sheet did not know it mirrored the exam, did not use it as their only study guide and did not score significantly higher than classmates who had not seen it.

A midshipman's decision to report to superiors the similarities between the review sheet and the exam differed from the 1992 scandal, when some students lied about their role, the officials said.

"If anything, it's a validation of the changes we've made since the mid-1990s," Spann said. "

At the center of the flap is an instructor - a junior officer in his second semester on the faculty - who teaches a naval strategy class required of all 900 third-year students.

The instructor had led group review sessions for the 40 students in the two class sections he teaches. One of those students asked for additional help outside the classroom in the week before the final exam, which was given Dec. 10.

Academy officials said the instructor did not tell the student that the materials they were discussing would be on the test. "There were no nods, no winks, no nudge-nudge," Spann said.

Based on the meeting with the instructor, the student compiled a review sheet that was a near match for the first six questions on the 12-question exam.

Shortly after completing the exam, another midshipman who had seen the review sheet reported the similarities to a different instructor. That led to an investigation and what academy officials are calling "appropriate" administrative action against the instructor.

Actions can range from a serious official warning to a permanent reprimand letter in a personnel file, which can affect promotions.

Spann said the instructor, whom officials refused to identify, has an otherwise spotless record and continues to teach in the seamanship and navigation department.

Academy faculty members said one-on-one tutoring is common at the 4,000-student officer-training school. There is even a term for it - extra instruction, or "e.i." - in the Navy's clipped vernacular. Princeton Review's 2002 college guide ranked the academy first in the country for faculty accessibility.

David P. Peeler, a history professor and president of the Faculty Senate, said instructors enter a minefield when they teach to the test rather than offer general guidance.

"This seems to be somebody who got too eager," he said of the naval strategy instructor. "It takes a little bit of talent to negotiate with students who understandably ask, `Should I study ... ?'"

He said most faculty members view the matter as a "slip-up" rather than a serious breach of academic standards.

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