THE U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY'S reaction to an LSD incident involving two upperclassmen this week shows how much the academy has changed since the major cheating scandal there two years ago. Academy officials who met that debacle with a flaccid combination of foot-dragging and denial have been replaced with tougher, more responsible leaders. Their response the drug incident -- a minor embarrassment so far -- was swift, sweeping, candid and designed to get to the root of the problem.
First, the Navy did the right thing by acting promptly on a tip that a small group of midshipmen were involved in illegal drug use. These mids face expulsion if they are found guilty, and there seems little doubt the academy will not protect them in that event. The Navy's actions following their arrests Sunday made it clear officers are not about to wink at such infractions, that the zero-tolerance drug policy has teeth.
Half the brigade was tested for drugs the day the two students were arrested and half were tested the following day -- even though academy spokesmen say they have no reason to suspect anyone else. The academy says it wanted to create a deterrent and send a message. What a far cry from the attitude academy officials displayed two years ago, when, despite strong evidence of a widespread cheating problem, they tried to brush the matter under the rug.
The academy's new tough stance against wrongdoing is not unduly harsh. It's no more than the academy ought to demand of midshipmen, who are getting an expensive, top-flight education at taxpayer expense and who one day will be charged with protecting our national security. The country will be in perilous shape if it starts letting drug users man submarines and fly combat planes.
Experimentation with illegal drugs is troubling enough at civilian high schools, colleges and universities. Statistics show LSD use in particular sharply increasing these days; what happened at the Naval Academy this week merely reflects that.
But the nature of the mission for which midshipmen are being schooled means drug abuse must be dealt with more severely ZTC than at other educational institutions. It can't be allowed, period. Fortunately, today's academy leaders seem to appreciate that.