Annapolis, MD

Naval Academy No-No: 18 Expelled For Cheating

Susan Kelley

US Naval Academy planes, photo courtesy of Peter Pryharski on Unsplash

The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis expelled 18 midshipmen and sanctioned another 82 after an investigation into cheating on an online physics exam in December, officials have announced.

A total of 653 midshipmen took the final exam for General Physics I online in December At that time, written and verbal instructions expressly prohibited using any outside sources or materials, including other websites, according to officials. However, after learning that outside sources may have been used, the superintendent launched an official investigation.

Violations of the Naval Honor Code were uncovered by investigators through a variety of sources, including discussions by midshipmen themselves on an anonymous chat platform, officials noted.

Navy officials identified 105 midshipmen who appear to have made use of unauthorized resources for their exams. It was announced Friday that 18 of those midshipmen have been formally separated from the Naval Academy. Another 82 midshipmen who were determined to have violated the honor concept were sanctioned and will be entered into a five-month honor remediation program. Four midshipmen were found not to have violated standards, one is still awaiting adjudication.

Some flexibility was required in this years examination administration due to the pandemic, and Naval administrators believe that the physics department implemented safeguards to prevent cheating, but more importantly, the instructions are quite clear that using outside sources is expressly prohibited. Investigators determined that the greatest vulnerability in this year's exams was the inadequate use of onsite proctors.

As a result of the cheating, the Naval Academy now "strongly advises paper-based, onsite exams, but if a web-based or computer exam is required, measures will be taken to ensure that a proctor is able to view each midshipman's screen, or that heightened security programs are applied. The academy plans to block websites in those instances where there is faculty consensus that potential misuse outweighs educational value, according to officials. Midshipmen will also write and sign an honor pledge at the start of each examination.

Prior to taking the exams, the midshipmen underwent intensive training and discussions on honor, including a full instructor-led session, so officials said there will be a increased emphasis on character and professional development in the coming year.

In a statement, Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck said, "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."

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., who chairs the Naval Academy’s board of visitors, said, “The Academy’s Honor Concept is clear and anyone who violates it must be held accountable. Midshipmen must earn the privilege to study at one of our nation’s most prestigious institutions and their character and conduct must be worthy at all times,”

The physics course that contains the exam that the students cheated on is one course in the core curriculum at the academy. The exam was taken by approximately 650 sophomores, a rank which Annapolis refers to as Midshipmen, Third Class. The discovery of the cheating came after the professor recognized some inconsistencies in the students' grades.

Once the question of a grading anomaly was raised, officials looked into all possible malfeasance within the final exam for the sophomore-level physics exam, and quickly found evidence of tampering which consisted primarily of those students using quick research tools and support sites.

At first, the students involved received a grade of "I" for "Incomplete," until the initial investigation could conclude. The initial phase has completed, without a strong result, but the investigation is not yet complete.

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Susan is a runner, avid traveler, mom of three grown children, and a newly-transplanted Baltimorean who follows tech trends, especially at the intersection of health and the public good. Sound intriguing? It is. Often, technology is at odds with the "earthy-crunchy," but sometimes, it is a real boost. Susan is an avowed supporter of women's and human rights, so that situates well here.

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