The superintendent of the Naval Academy defended yesterday his decision to recommend that six midshipmen be expelled in the school's biggest cheating scandal in 20 years.
Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch acknowledged that students were "disappointed that only six were dismissed" of the 28 accused of cheating on the fall-semester final exam for Electrical Engineering 311.
But the admiral said those midshipmen were the only ones to be found guilty in administrative hearings before a panel of their peers, the commandant and himself. "We have to do it based on the preponderance of evidence," he said.
Rumors that several hundred midshipmen had seen questions the night before the test was given have "taken on a life of their own that's not fact," Admiral Lynch said. He insisted that the academy would have expelled the entire Class of 1994 had there been proof that all had cheated.
The scandal has raised concerns among a number of midshipmen and their professors over the administration of the academy's strict honor code, which says that midshipmen "do not lie, cheat or steal."
From the day they arrive, midshipmen are taught that personal honor is absolute. Cheating strikes at the heart of the academy's mission to train naval officers with self-imposed moral standards.
The six midshipmen who were convicted of cheating say they were the ones who followed the school's honor principles and told the truth.
Midshipman 2nd Class Rodney Walker, 23, said he was persuaded to confess after the superintendent gave a speech to the brigade in early January stressing moral courage.
"There's definitely a problem with the system when people were lying and they got off, and those who told the truth didn't," Mr. Walker said.
"I guess I have become convinced by this experience that the whole way the honor concept is administered is wrong," said William Ferris,an Annapolis attorney representing four of the six midshipmen. "I ask myself why is it that so many of these people got off."
But the superintendent, who spoke to the press between reviewing midshipmen practicing drills in the sunshine yesterday, said the six who confessed did not come forward immediately. They did the right thing by coming forward, the admiral said, but they still had cheated.
Silence, changing stories and inconsistent testimony led honor boards made up of midshipmen to clear 17 of the 28 accused of cheating, academy officials said yesterday.
The fact that so few students were convicted and all five football players implicated were cleared has caused some midshipmen to question the fairness of the proceedings.
Professors also were angry when Dr. Raymond Wasta, an electrical engineering instructor, was suspended without pay for week during spring break.
Dr. Wasta was accused of "negligence" for failing to report the disappearance of the exam. He's appealing the suspension, saying he informed the dean when the exam did not come back immediately from the copy center.
"There really is a lot of anger and hostility. This is kind of the last straw," said a humanities professor, who did not want to be identified.
The Civilian Faculty Affairs Committee met earlier this week and listed 38 complaints, including that "the honor concept is a joke."
Dr. Wasta was accused of leaving a quiz on a copy machine while he went to get a cup of coffee. The exam was promptly picked up by a military colleague, who reported it to the department chairman. Other faculty members called the incident blatant harassment."
A group of professors who met for breakfast Thursday said they fear the moral of the scandal is that it's best to lie to escape punishment.
Admiral Lynch took offense at that conclusion. Some students have been allowed to stay at the academy after admitting an honor offense, but not when they came forward a month later and confessed to buying an exam.
The admiral said he felt deeply sympathetic toward the young men who came to him, some in tears, admitting their role in the scandal.
"My heart goes out to you," he said. "But there are 4,200 honorable people who did not have the unfair advantage you had."