The Air Force Academy is undertaking a wide-ranging "honor review" after a massive scandal in which some 249 cadets ended up under investigation for some form of cheating.
The alleged honor code violations appear to be a direct result of changes to class structure last spring due to pandemic restrictions.
"Part of the review will focus on the spring semester of 2020, when the Academy made the unprecedented decision in March to send the lower three classes home, approximately 3,000 cadets, in order to best protect their health and safety," academy officials said in a news release Friday. "The decision forced a swift, 8-day transition of the Academy's academic curriculum to at-home remote classes, a first for the traditionally in-person institution. Unfortunately, amidst these extraordinary circumstances and challenges, 249 cadets were suspected of violating the Academy's Honor Code."
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The release noted that the honor code violations entailed various forms of cheating, including improper source citation, "using unauthorized online tutoring websites to receive solutions to exam questions in real time," and completing exams in small groups rather than individually. The cheating behavior was discovered through established Dean of Faculty academic safeguards.
A spokesman for the Air Force Academy told Military.com that two cadets had been dismissed as a result of infractions. He did not immediately have information about how many cadets had admitted to cheating and how many investigations are still underway.
The release noted, however, that the "vast majority" of those suspected have admitted to cheating and been placed on a six-month probation and remediation program.
While on probation, the spokesman said, students cannot represent the academy at any sporting events or competitions or participate in any academy clubs. Remediation, he said, consists of additional honor code training and instruction to make clear what behaviors are off-limits.
"Probation and remediation have proven to be effective tools, where more than 90% of cadets who go through remediation do not commit another Honor Code infraction," officials said.
The review will generate findings and recommendations to improve and clarify the honor code, according to the release. It's being undertaken in collaboration with AF CyberWorx, a public-private initiative with an emphasis on cyber capability, and will entail conversations with alumni, cadets, leaders and other stakeholders.
"The Honor Review Committee will focus on reviewing tenets of the current Honor Program, previous Honor assessments, studies, reports, and surveys," officials said in the release. "They will also look at internal processes, structures, and activities associated with the Honor Program. After completion, changes and timing will be implemented based on the conclusions and suggestions of the review."
Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, superintendent of the academy, emphasized the need to see behavior change as a result of the review.
"Findings and recommendations are great, but they don't equal progress until action is taken that results in enduring positive change," he said in a statement.
While COVID-19 conditions added complexity to this cheating scandal, it's far from the first time the Air Force Academy has dealt with the issue.
In 2019, suspicious exam results prompted an investigation into cheating among at least 10 cadets. And in 2017, 13 first-year cadets were accused of cheating on a test. A 2014 report from the Colorado Springs Gazette found multiple instances of cheating and criminal behavior, including sexual assault, leading to courts-martial and expulsions.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.