… shall be known by its fruit

A large cheating scandal at West Point has come to light:

The US Military Academy at West Point is dealing with the fallout from a major cheating incident involving 73 cadets, the largest cheating episode at the elite school since 1976.

Seventy-two of the cadets accused of breaking the academy’s famed honor code are first-year cadets, referred to as the “plebe year,” according to the academy. One student is a sophomore. All of them are accused of cheating on a calculus exam in May, when West Point had shifted to virtual classes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

We learn that the Academy’s honor program now includes a rehabilitative “willful admission process” instituted in 2015:

Fifty-nine of those students admitted to cheating, with 55 set to be enrolled in the rehabilitation program that was instituted in 2015 called the “Willful Admission Process.”

LTC Heffington specifically called this out in his 2017 letter:

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...

In fact, there is now an addition to the honor system (the Willful Admission Process) which essentially guarantees that if a cadet admits a violation, then separation is not even a possibility. In reality, separation is not a possibility anyway because the Superintendent refuses to impose that sanction.

So we should not be surprised to see this. And we should not be surprised if other and deeper cheating and moral rot is going on. After all, this was found by professors noting common grading irregularities (in other words, everyone cheated and got the same things wrong), not by cadets who “will not tolerate” Honor Code violations.

We’re also curious about the profiles of the students involved in the cheating ring. Were they athletes? Top or bottoms of their classes? Of a particular demographic persuasion? Is the “Willful Admissions Process” just a way to keep desired student groups in the Corps of Cadets, when they might otherwise have to be expelled and look bad for the generals’ diversity or football OER bullets?

However, we don’t identify problems without offering solutions.

The West Point Superindendent, LTG Darryl Williams, says that “The honor system at West Point is strong and working as designed.”

If that’s the case, then in the spirit of Truth in Advertising we recommend amending the Honor Code to:

A Cadet will not Lie, Cheat, Steal, or else he’ll have to write essays and attend classes on Honor.

Granted, it’s not quite as catchy as the original but it captures the current program much better.

Update: Coincidentally, shortly after publishing this, the Sup sent out an email. The letter is below, followed by our summary.

December 30, 2020

Members of the Long Gray Line,

Last Spring, while in remote learning environments away from the United States Military Academy, 73 Cadets were accused of violating the Cadet Honor Code by cheating on a calculus final. Of these 73 Cadets, 72 are from the class of ’23 and one is from the class of ’22. All but one of these young men and women were in the tenth month of their 47-month leader development journey.

These Cadets chose the easier wrong over the harder right.

As the Superintendent, I own this cheating incident. Furthermore, I and every leader at West Point own their role in developing leaders of character.

The standards established by the Cadet Honor Code have not changed and the Honor System receives my personal investment of time and attention. West Point takes every Honor Code violation seriously.

The incident involves a cross-section of Cadets from the Corps. They represent multiple companies. Some are athletes and some are Preparatory School Graduates. They include Division I Athletes from nine different teams and athletes from three different club squad teams. This incident is not isolated within one club, team, company, or regiment.

The strength, power and uniqueness of the West Point Leader Development Model is that while here on these hallowed grounds, we place our young men and women in the toughest, most demanding academic, military, physical, and character programs that shape, forge, and mold these young men and women into officers over time. The professors, both civilian and military, the staff, the Tactical Officers and Noncommissioned Officers, and our coaches are all mission essential role models that drive how we develop leaders of character.

The global pandemic disrupted our developmental process. In an instant, our tried and tested leadership model was interrupted and for a short time the Corps was dispersed to 4400 locations around the world. In this environment our Cadets were void of those critical developmental engagements in the barracks, in the classrooms, and on the athletic fields that help them understand themselves and increase their commitment to the West Point and Army values. Our plebes are the most vulnerable to the effects of losing the inspiration and accountability of an in person cohesive team.

Even though the environment changed, there is still no excuse for the actions of these Cadets; their actions are antithetical to the same honor code upheld by generations of USMA graduates.

These Cadets were notified of the allegations in May, and not incepted into the Honor System until September because the Corps was away from the Academy grounds. The Class of 2021 Honor Committee returned to West Point in August to receive training and to begin processing other cases already incepted. The Honor Committee is handling every case in compliance with the established sequence that ensures due process for every accused Cadet. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we expect all cases related to this cheating incident to be complete by April 2021.

As many of you know, over time the Honor System has changed from an attritional model to a developmental model. Since the publication of the findings of the Borman Commission in 1976, Superintendents have used discretion regarding separation for an Honor violation.

In the Spring of 2016, the Academy developed the Willful Admission Process (WAP) to encourage Cadets to take responsibility for their actions and reduce the barriers to reporting honor violations. In addition to losing rank and privileges, all Cadets granted discretion are enrolled in the Special Leader Development Program for Honor (SLDP-H). SLDP-H requires completion of a rigorous program of personal reflection and growth that is roughly equivalent to a 2.0 credit course. They do so under the tutelage of an assigned developmental coach who volunteers about 50 hours of coaching. If Cadets do not demonstrate growth in SLDP-H, they will be separated from the Academy.

In January 2020, I directed that we establish the Character Integration and Advisory Group (CIAG). Its purpose is to elevate, develop, and integrate character education across all of our developmental programs. In October 2020, I directed the CIAG and the Superintendent’s Honor Review Committee to conduct a bottom-up review of the cadet honor process and to assess the overall effectiveness of the Cadet Honor Code and the Honor System. The purpose is to ensure the Cadet Honor Code and Honor System are effectively and efficiently achieving the character development goals articulated in West Point’s strategic documents.

Developing leaders of character has been, and remains, my top priority for the Academy. We remain committed to the outcomes of the West Point Leader Development System, which is to graduate commissioned officers who live honorably, lead honorably, and demonstrate excellence.

Our West Point Honor Code has been and will always remain the very core of our institution.

Darryl A. Williams
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army

In summary, and paraphrased to common English:

After nearly a year of training and development on-site at West Point, the updated-in-2016 honor program failed, nearly 10% of a freshman class opted to cheat on an exam, and as a result we’re establishing a committee to do a study.

It’s interesting that the Sup saw fit to call out the athletic demographics, sort of, of the cadets at fault. He did not give absolute numbers, nor break out demographics any other way.

6 thoughts on “… shall be known by its fruit”

  1. If you want to understand the changes to the honor system, see if you can get a copy of USCC PAM 15-1. There is a copy on the internet dated 2009. It’s interesting, but if you have contacts within USMA, that’s where I would start.

  2. That’s a link to the 2009 version. I’m sure there have been more than a few updates, but that reg will make it easier to understand the Oct 2020 Memo along with the Supe’s comments.

  3. I’m surprised a cheating scandal of under 100 cadets is the biggest in so long. I graduated from the Air Force Academy and just in my time there alone (3 or 4 years ago) the then freshman class had a scandal where over 400 of them were caught cheating on the same calculus quiz. None of them even officially got honor strikes (and wouldn’t have been separated if they had). The whole incident was swept under the rug. On another occasion a few hundred from all classes got caught cheating during the covid online school and a lot of that also got swept under the rug.

    I have a feeling that the cheating numbers at West Point are much worse than the 73 they admitted to, I would guess that a lot more cheating got ignored or hushed up.


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