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Naval Academy Dismisses 18 Midshipman for Exam Cheating

| August 20, 2021, 12:31 PM

The U.S. Naval Academy has completed the investigation of honor violations surrounding cheating on a General Physics I exam taken primarily by second-year midshipmen in December 2020. Ultimately, 18 midshipmen were expelled from the Naval Academy.

“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,” said Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck.

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In December 2020, 653 midshipmen took the final exam for General Physics I, administered through the website Midshipmen were given written and verbal instructions stating they could not use outside sources to complete the exam, including other websites.

Leadership at the Naval Academy became aware of the improper use of outside sources in exam submissions through various sources, including post-exam midshipman discussions on an anonymous chat platform. The superintendent immediately directed an investigation.

The investigation team reviewed thousands of pages of information and technical data with assistance from multiple experts, including NCIS. The investigation team reviewed website browsing history during the exam timeframe for all midshipmen who took the exam. The investigative team determined that violation of the exam rules was primarily carried out by individuals visiting websites independently and without any coordinated effort.

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The investigation found that the COVID-19 pandemic mitigation requirements forced a change in exam administration. 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 start of the exam. The biggest vulnerability identified was inadequate proctoring.

One hundred and five midshipmen were identified to have likely accessed unauthorized resources and were processed through the Naval Academy’s Honor System for suspected violations of the Honor Concept.

Ultimately, eighteen midshipmen were separated from the Naval Academy. Eighty-two midshipmen found in violation of the Honor Concept were retained in the Brigade with sanctions and entered into a five-month honor remediation program. Four midshipmen were found not in violation of the Honor Concept by the Brigade Honor Board 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. Additionally, midshipmen will now write out and sign an honor pledge at the commencement of each examination.

As a result of this investigation, the entire Brigade of Midshipmen conducted a day-long “honor conference” with intensive training and discussions on honor in April 2021. There will be a renewed focus on character and professional development throughout this academic year.

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