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Air Force Academy deals with cheating, again 

Honor lapse

click to enlarge The Academy's Honor Code is visible from the terrazzo. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The Academy's Honor Code is visible from the terrazzo.

An Air Force Academy cheating incident disclosed last spring was more widespread than initially reported, and a new cheating episode caused the Academy to shut down a test and slap an undisclosed number of cadets with honor violations.

Last May, the Academy characterized the incident as involving 10 freshmen hit with honor violation allegations for cheating on a math test.

Now, that number has expanded to 18, with eight admitting their transgressions and being placed on probation. The other cases are pending.

In the recent case, the Academy refused to cite a number of cadets involved, though a source tells the Indy at least 100 freshmen were caught up in the cheating scheme.

Upon entrance to the Academy, cadets pledge to not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate those who do.

Although the Academy contends the honor code forms the “bedrock of cadet development,” cheating has been relatively common during the Academy’s 64-year history.

While research released last year showed that honor probation has little impact on cadets’ respect for the code, the Academy asserts its remedial probation system restores cadets’ respect for the oath.

“The majority of our 4,200 cadets are living according to the Honor Oath,” the Academy's Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko said in written responses to the Indy’s questions. “As an institution we must remain focused on holding our cadets to these high standards — including holding them accountable when they fall short — and on the four-year development of leaders of character who live our core values and Honor Oath.”

Over the years, the Academy has tried a succession of programs to address cheating, including, in the academy’s earliest days, simple disenrollment, as well as peer review, mental health counseling and using the military justice system to prosecute offenders. Cadets also have been sentenced to marching tours on the Academy’s terrazzo as a form of discipline.

Since 1992, the Academy has relied on a rehabilitation system that subjects offenders to an honor tribunal and requires them to report to a mentor, keep a journal, prepare a research paper on honor and other tasks overseen by Academy staff.

The 2018 study, though, found that rehabilitation had no impact on whether a violator would commit future violations, concluding that “honor probation at USAFA has had little or no effect on the historical incidences of honor violations... Honor violations have continued to increase regardless of the remediation measures applied.”

Currently, the Academy is investigating three cases in which freshmen cheated on tests or projects — two from the last academic year and one that arose in October, Bunko said.

Last spring, 18 cadets fell under suspicion of cheating on a mathematics final, the Academy says, although media reports at the time based on information provided by the Academy pegged the number at 10.

Eight of those 18 admitted to cheating, were found in violation and were placed on probation. In addition, last spring 24 freshmen were suspected of cheating on their “culminating course project” for Computer Science 110, Bunko said. Of those, nine were found in violation, two were cleared and one cadet voluntarily left the Academy before an honor hearing was held.

Of the 42 involved in both incidents, 22 have asserted their innocence and await the outcome of the honor process.

In October, an upperclassman distributed test information on a military knowledge exam to an undisclosed number of freshmen via phone messaging.

“The incident was reported immediately by several fourth-classmen [freshmen] and the test was shut down,” Bunko said. “The single upper-classman and those fourth-classmen who chose to use the material are currently facing honor cases.”

No number involved was provided.

Bunko contends the cases “demonstrate the deliberate process of our Cadet Honor System” and notes that faculty flagged the two academic cases’ irregularities, cadets themselves came forward to report the military knowledge case and “cadets who have violated the code are now being held accountable.”

Those placed on honor probation will undergo “an intensive, individualized 6-month remediation program” during which Bunko says they’re expected to grow from their mistakes, thereby earning “a second chance” to achieve good standing in the Cadet Wing.

Cheating isn’t the only challenge the Academy faces in shaping tomorrow’s leaders. In the past year, the Academy has dealt with criminal cases involving at least 15 cadets, among them several seniors and athletes. Crimes range from cocaine use to sexual assault. Two were acquitted, six saw charges dismissed, four cut plea deals, two were convicted and one case is pending.

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