Remote Learning Prompts Cheating Scandal at West Point

Remote Learning Prompts Cheating Scandal at West Point cadets march on field Cadets march into their commencement ceremony on June 13, 2020 in West Point, New York. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

By Nick Koutsobinas | Saturday, 17 April 2021 10:51 AM

Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, are entrenched in its largest cheating scandal in four decades in light of the pandemic. "We sent a video out to the entire corps, saying, 'Don't cheat. We know you're home.' And they still did," said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, academy superintendent, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A summary report revealed that 73 cadets were suspected of cheating. A policy known as the "willful admission process," which started in 2015, was designed to protect cadets who admit to wrongdoing without fear of being kicked out. The policy also encourages cadets to report on peers without fear that they would be kicked out either. But the weight of the cheating scandal proved the new policy to be too lenient, according to Gen. Williams.

"It's clear to me, it has to go."

John Williams, a graduate of the academy in 1991, also believes the policy is too forgiving. "Back in my day, there was just a zero tolerance. … If you were caught cheating there was no question about it, you were going home," he said. You have to have character. That's one of the things that distinguishes us from other institutions."

The West Point cheating scandal is no isolated incident. Across the country, proclivities to not cheat are tested. At the United States Air Force Academy, 249 cadets were suspected of cheating in the spring semester. A majority of them have confessed and been placed on six-month probation.

A group of staff showed up unannounced one day in Gen. Williams office saying, "Sir, we think we have a major honor breach," he recalls.

"I listened, and was thoughtful, thinking about the next steps. I knew that it was going to be a long road ahead."

The math department sent out emails to the 73 cadets suspected of cheating. When pressed, 59 admitted right away to wrongdoing. In all, 52 of the alleged cheaters were NCAA athletes. Gen. Williams made an order that they should continue participating in their area of sport.

Of the 73, six resigned and left the academy. Two had their cases dropped. For the rest, they were accepted into a willful admission process and protected from dismissal.