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US Naval Academy expels 18 students for cheating

The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. (Dreamstime/TNS)
August 20, 2021

The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., has expelled 18 midshipmen after an investigation revealed they cheated on a physics exam in December 2020, Naval Academy officials announced Friday.

“Character development is an ongoing process and midshipmen must make the choice to live honorably each day and earn the trust that comes with a commission in the Navy or Marine Corps. This incident demonstrates that we must place an increased focus on character and integrity within the entire brigade,” Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck said in a statement.

According to the academy, over 650 midshipmen took the final exam for General Physics I through an online platform. The students were given both verbal and written instructions prohibiting the use of outside websites or sources during the test.

The academy was made aware of possible “improper use of outside sources” during examinations through a number of sources, including discussions between midshipmen on an anonymous chat platform following the exam.

Vice Adm. Buck immediately initiated an investigation into the examination. The physics department attempted to prevent cheating by requiring midshipmen to submit their work for the test on a sheet of paper, but 105 students were still identified as possibly accessing unauthorized material during the exam.

“The investigation found that the COVID-19 pandemic mitigation requirements forced a position of flexibility in exam administration,” the academy stated. “The Physics Department employed safeguards to prevent cheating, such as requiring midshipmen to complete calculations on scratch paper that was turned in with the exam. Instructions were clear and explicitly stated that use of outside resources was prohibited. Those instructions were also verbally briefed prior to the commencement of the exam.”

“The biggest vulnerability identified was inadequate proctoring,” the academy’s statement continued.

Of the 105 students identified as those who possibly cheated on the exam, 82 were found guilty of violating the school’s honor code and were “retained in the Brigade with sanctions and entered into a five-month honor remediation program.” Four were found not in violation and one is awaiting adjudication by the Brigade Honor Board.

“USNA now strongly advises instructors to use paper-based, in-person exams. In addition, when an electronic device is required for an exam, either a browser security program must be activated for all online examinations or a proctor must be able to view each midshipman’s screen throughout the exam,” the school announced. “All electronic devices not authorized for exam use must be stowed. USNA will also block access to websites for which there is faculty consensus that their potential misuse as a vehicle for academic dishonesty far outweighs any educational value.”

Prior to all exams, midshipmen will now also be required to write out and sign an honor pledge.

“The mission of the Naval Academy is to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship, and government,” the academy concluded.