Nearly 20 midshipmen were separated after a Naval Academy investigation found they cheated on a December 2020 physics exam.
Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck initiated an investigation into the General Physics I final after being made aware that midshipmen possibly used outside sources, including visiting websites, during their online exam, the academy said in a press release. Midshipmen also used an anonymous chat platform to discuss the exam afterward.
The academy announced the investigation in December.
There were 653 midshipmen who took the General Physics I exam, mostly in their second year at the academy, according to the release. Of the 653, 105 midshipmen were investigated and went through the academy’s honor system.
Of the midshipmen, 18 were separated, 82 were sanctioned and went through a five-month honor remediation program and four were found not to have violated the honor system. One midshipman is still waiting for the Brigade Honor Board to adjudicate his case.
Each case was investigated, reviewed and adjudicated between December and August, said Cmdr. Alana Garas, spokesperson for the academy, in an email. A number of the 18 midshipmen ultimately separated put in their resignation.
Midshipmen who are separated or who resign from the academy in their first two years are not obligated to repay their education, according to federal code, Garas said. Those in their third and fourth years may be required to pay back their education costs or serve in the military as enlisted members.
Garas could not discuss the specifics of the 18 midshipmen who were separated, but of the 105 midshipmen investigated, 61% were varsity athletes from across many sports, she said. Navy Athletics said it was an academy investigation and announcement so declined further comment.
A majority of the investigated midshipmen were in the bottom quarter of their class, Garas said in the email. Five midshipmen were in the top quartile, 11 were in the second and 23 were in the third.
The entire brigade also went through a day-long “honor conference” in April, and there will be a focus on character and professional development during the academic year, which begins Monday. The number of midshipmen who were investigated caused concern that others also might be willing to cheat, Garas 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,” Buck said in a statement. “This incident demonstrates that we must place an increased focus on character and integrity within the entire brigade.”
The academy is not investigating any other examinations, she said. Faculty verified that the results from exams they gave did not suggest an investigation was necessary.
The investigation team was led by a post-major command Navy captain and included six judge advocates, an officer with the Brigade Honor Program and an academic department chair, who is also an officer. The team reviewed website browsing history to determine whether the midshipmen violated the exam rules that mandated that midshipmen not use outside resources on the exam, including visiting sites other than myopenmath.com, which is the site used to give the exam.
The team determined that while midshipmen did violate the rules, mostly by visiting outside websites, it was not through a coordinated effort.
The investigation team also determined that the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed the academy to do hybrid learning, with midshipmen taking in-person classes while still using video learning, made the exams more flexible. Instructions were clear that outside websites were not allowed and also delivered verbally. Midshipmen also were told to use scrap paper for their calculations, which were to be turned in with the exam.
However, the investigation found that there was “inadequate proctoring,” the academy said in its release.
The academy leadership now advises instructors to use in-person, paper exams. If exams are done via a computer, a browser security program should be activated or proctoring must be done in such a way that allows the instructor to view each midshipman’s screen.
The academy also said it plans to block websites where the ability to use them for cheating outweighs educational value.
Midshipmen will have to write out an honor pledge and sign it after each exam.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Maryland Democrat who serves as chair of the academy’s board of visitors, said in a statement that he supports the findings of the academy’s investigation. The board, which oversees academy issues, including morale and discipline, has not been able to meet while the Department of Defense conducts a review of all advisory boards.
“The Academy’s Honor Concept is clear and anyone who violates it must be held accountable,” the congressman said in his statement. “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.”
Capital Gazette reporter Bill Wagner contributed to this article.