On Conduct Standards

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

Some of the charges that LTC Heffington made were around the standards for conduct at USMA, and specifically that the Corps:

First and foremost, standards at West Point are nonexistent. They exist on paper, but nowhere else. The senior administration at West Point inexplicably refuses to enforce West Point’s publicly touted high standards on cadets, and, having picked up on this, cadets refuse to enforce standards on each other.. and the Commandant refuses to enforce standards of conduct and discipline.

This was a proximate response to the Spenser Rapone incident, in which a communist cadet was allowed to graduate and enter the Army, despite behavioral issues that ought to have prevented him from graduating. LTC Heffington encountered then-Cadet Rapone and wrote a sworn statement on the issue.

LTG Caslen noted that

Last year we separated… 18 cadets for other misconduct reasons.

This is of course meaningless without knowing how many should have been separated, which is Heffington’s point, and whether that rate has changed over time.

However, anecdotal evidence aside, we have only the data on separations to guide us. If West Point were experiencing laxity in conduct standards, we would expect to see a lower percentage of conduct-related separations, or perhaps a trend towards less-severe measures (e.g. more turnbacks, fewer actual separations).

Again, the Null values (all the dark blue to the left – the high 90-%ile figures) – are those cadets who were not separated. The y-axis is graduating class year; the X axis is cut from 95%-101% for more visibility on the actual separation degree and trend. The separation percentages do not include other separations causes than those related to conduct / misconduct.

Separations - Conduct Chart

Disregarding 2018, 2019, and 2020, because those classes had not graduated at the time of the dataset, we see no distinct trend toward more or fewer conduct issues.  The periods for classes 2003-2006 and 2011-2015 seem to have higher levels of separation, but we don’t know whether that was because of who was in charge (Remember, LTG Caslen only came on as Sup in mid 2013, while the =standards slippage is asserted to have happened over a longer time), what was happening (wars, Great Recession), or other factors.

2012/2013 seem to be big outliers here. We recall some incidents that may have affected this (although no cadets were identified as having been separated), but am otherwise unclear as to why this would have happened. Any tips are appreciated.

Suspensions seem to be a more prominent tool of choice in classes 2014-2019 than prior years; actual misconduct separations seemed to be declining from about classes 2011-2012 to 2019; and there is also a high level of resignations in 2011-2014. This would seem to support both LTC Heffington’s assertion that USMA isn’t upholding the standards, as well as LTG Caslen’s note that the Academy is moving to a more developmental education model.

For this to be conclusive, we have to assume that USMA knew of and pursued consequences for conduct-related issues at constant rates over the class years. However, this is exactly what LTC Heffington is contesting, so we don’t know if the rates as shown indicate equal levels of effort by the Corps leadership. If standards are indeed relaxed 3x, one could separate 2x cadets as before and still have a big problem happening.

It’s also possible that by analyzing by class sub-groups (e.g. by CQPA, athletics, etc) we could see whether there is a continued problem. But again this wouldn’t tell us about the incidents where conduct violations are not being reported or standards enforced.

Result: inconclusive. This is where someone with experience in earlier USMA times would actually have to spend time on campus to see what was happening. Anecdotally, the Academy is slipping, but we do not have data to support that assertion.

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