The outbreak of COVID-19 last spring forced the United States Air Force Academy (AFA) to switch to remote learning. The move, which was geared at keeping cadets safe, caused a second outbreak, this time of cheating.

Things began to go awry when the Academy sent home for remote learning 3,000 cadets from the lower three classes of 2021, 2022, and 2023 during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as the country looked to limit the spread of the virus and keep social distancing. Only the senior class of 2020 was kept on campus.

“Part of the review will focus on the spring semester of 2020, when the Academy made the unprecedented decision in March to send the lower three classes home, approximately 3,000 cadets, in order to best protect their health and safety,” academy officials said in a news release Friday, as reported on Military.com.

“The decision forced a swift, 8-day transition of the Academy’s academic curriculum to at-home remote classes, a first for the traditionally in-person institution. Unfortunately, amidst these extraordinary circumstances and challenges, 249 cadets were suspected of violating the Academy’s Honor Code.”

In the wake of the scandal, the academy is undertaking a broad “honor review.” The 249 cadets are now under investigation for cheating on assignments or exams.

The academy said that the cadets in question are suspected of violating the school’s honor code in several different ways, from failing to properly cite sources to looking up answers on unauthorized websites during exams. Some cadets even completed final exams in small groups. The cheating cadets were discovered through established academic safeguards by the Dean of Faculty.

None of the seniors who graduated were involved in the cheating. 

Air Force Academy Cadets Caught Cheating
The Air Force Academy’s Honor Code is displayed on the school’s terrazzo. (Gazette)

Because of this scandal, Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark has ordered the first review of the academy’s honor program in several years. The academy’s honor code is simple: “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.”

“The Honor Review Committee will focus on reviewing tenets of the current Honor Program, previous Honor assessments, studies, reports, and surveys,” AFA officials said in a press release. “They will also look at internal processes, structures, and activities associated with the Honor Program. After completion, changes and timing will be implemented based on the conclusions and suggestions of the review.”

“The Honor Code is not only foundational to the Air Force Academy, but it serves as a guide for cadets to live an honorable life, whether serving in uniform or not,” LTG Clark said in the Air Force Times. “Honor serves as one of my fundamental institutional priorities for developing leaders of character.”

“Findings and recommendations are great, but they don’t equal progress until action is taken that results in enduring positive change,” Clark added in the statement to Military.com.

Two cadets have already been dismissed from the academy for cheating. The majority of cadets who have admitted to cheating have been placed on probation and remediation for six months. 

While on probation, the cadets are not allowed to represent the academy at any sporting events or competitions or participate in any academy clubs. Remediation, according to academy officials, consists of additional honor code training and instruction to make clear what behaviors are off-limits.

“Remediation is a consequence and not an act of leniency,” Clark said. “If earned, remediation provides an opportunity to reset the moral compass and deepen a cadet’s understanding of and respect for the Honor Code. Developing leaders of character is not without life lessons and learning from these mistakes.”

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Army’s service academy, was also rocked by a cheating scandal during the COVID-19 pandemic, as 70 cadets were accused of and 58 cadets admitted to cheating on a remotely administered exam. The majority of those cheating were “plebes,” or first-year cadets, and have been enrolled in a rehabilitation program. They will be on probation for the remainder of their time at the academy.

That was the worst scandal to hit West Point in over 45 years.

Now, the Air Force Academy joins West Point in the struggle to balance cadet safety during a pandemic with academics.

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