The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has been rocked with its worst cheating scandal since 1976 as 73 cadets are accused of breaking the honor code. 

The cadets were accused of cheating on a calculus exam back in May when the service academy switched to virtual classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the cadets involved, 72 were first-year or “plebe” cadets and one was a sophomore. 

West Point, which is about 60 miles north of New York City along the Hudson River, is the oldest of the country’s five military service academies. Upon graduation, cadets become officers in the Army. They are expected to embrace the values of Duty, Honor, Country, and Professional Excellence.

Evidence of cheating surfaced when it was learned that cadets “shared answers and made the same mistakes,” Lieutenant Colonel Chris Ophardt, a West Point spokesman said to NPR.

Thus far, two of the cases were dropped due to a lack of evidence, four other cadets have resigned from the academy, while 67 other cases are still under investigation. 

“West Point honor code and character development program remains strong despite remote learning and the challenges brought by the pandemic,” LTC Ophardt said to CNN. 

“Cadets are being held accountable for breaking the code,” Ophardt added. “While disappointing, the Honor System is working, and these 67 remaining cases will be held accountable for their actions.”

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The West Point Honor code is short but to the point: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

The academy said that 59 of the cadets have admitted to cheating on the exam. Fifty-five of those will be allowed to remain at the academy on the condition that they complete the academy’s “willful admissions” process. This is a rehabilitation program that involves after-hours classes, discussions on ethics and the honor code, and the importance of being a better leader. All will remain on probation. 

Eight of the accused have denied any wrongdoing and will face a hearing composed of seniors at the academy to determine whether they will face disciplinary actions.

The rehabilitation program is a new initiative at the academy. In the past, any cadets caught cheating would be expelled. But in 2015, the academy instituted the program to give cadets a second chance. 

The first cheating scandal surfaced at the academy in 1951 when it was learned that 90 cadets had engaged in a massive cheating ring. All 90 were expelled. 

The biggest cheating scandal at the academy took place in 1976 when 153 third-year cadets were caught cheating on an electrical engineering exam. In that instance, all of the men resigned or were expelled. However, 98 were later readmitted because of how the investigations and punishments were handled. They graduated in 1978. 

The Naval Academy has also seen similar incidents. In 1992 a cheating scandal involving 125 cadets was revealed. 

West Point’s Superintendent, Lieutenant General Darryl Williams released a statement saying that, “The honor system at West Point is strong and working as designed.”

“We made a deliberate decision to uphold our academic standards during the pandemic. We are holding cadets to those standards.”