On Maintaining the Honor Code

Reminder: LTC Heffington’s letter  and  LTG Caslen’s letter

The Cadet Honor Code is one of the most cherished institutions at West Point. It states “A Cadet will not Lie, Cheat, Steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Heffington states that

The cadet honor code has become a laughingstock. Cadets know they will not be separated for violating it, and thus they do so on a daily basis. Moreover, since they refuse to enforce standards on each other and police their own ranks, cadets will rarely find a cadet at an honor hearing despite overwhelming evidence that a violation has occurred.

This is difficult to assess, because we can’t prove that people are not violating the honor code; there’s no way to screen for honor code violations that are not prosecuted. We have to discard that particular line of inquiry.

The available data does show, however, separations of cadets and the reasons for those separations. From those, we can conduct a comparison of the years when Heffington was observing and other years, and see whether there are trends that would support the claim of honor-code laxity or strictness.

Again, however, if honor code violations are increasing, and are not being prosecuted, as Heffington claims, we will not see those show up in trend changes.

In any case, the raw numbers that Caslen gives:

– Last year we separated 10 cadets for Honor and 18 cadets for other misconduct reasons.

are completely meaningless without context, which we will now provide.

Trends by class show, excluding the un-graduated classes of ’18, ’19, and ’20:

Honor Separations by Class


This shows honor-related consequences as a percentage of the total number of cadets who attended the class. The average seems to be around 2%, with some variation, with slight total increase from 2000 to 2017. The amount of separations vs resignations seems to be increasing, as does the use of Turnback as a tool.

So we can rule out that the possibility that the Academy is not employing Honor discipline at rates comparable to previous years, but we cannot say for sure that the honor code is being fully enforced to the standard it should be.

A tie, if you will.



Thoughtful criticism and factual corrections are welcome.

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