Most of those who have acknowledged cheating, a violation of the academy’s honor code, have been enrolled in a rehabilitation program that officials introduced several years ago to give cadets who run afoul of West Point’s rules and regulations a second chance rather than simply dismissing them, as had been the practice in the past.
As described by Colonel Ophardt, the rehabilitation regimen, known as the Willful Admission Program, is a kind of honor-code boot camp that matches enrollees with mentors who, among other things, steep them in ethical ideas and require them to write about their experiences.
The academy’s website says the purpose of the honor code — “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do” — is “to foster a commitment to moral-ethical excellence and an insight into the more comprehensive military professional ethic.”
The last major cheating scandal at West Point was in 1976, when more than 150 seniors, or firsties, were expelled or resigned for cheating on a final exam in electrical engineering, Colonel Ophardt said. The lack of advanced technology at the time meant that such a widespread scheme required more planning and a more active role by ringleaders, he added.
Ninety-two of those involved in the scandal were later readmitted as cadets and allowed to graduate after accepting a Pentagon amnesty that required them to complete a year of “useful service” away from the academy.
The 1976 scandal led to a series of reforms intended to “find the remedies” to the “underlying causes,” according to Lt. Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, the superintendent at the time. The changes included a restructuring of West Point’s entire academic program, major changes in military training and a revamping of the cadet honor system.
“Something like the cheating scandal does not happen by accident,” General Goodpaster said then.
Tim Bakken, a West Point law professor and the author of “The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris and Failure in the U.S. Military,” called the scandal a “crisis” with the potential to do damage far greater than the infractions of several dozen cadets accused of acting unethically.