22 Cadets Leave, Hundreds Put on Probation After 2020 Air Force Academy Cheating Scandal

Air Force Academy cadets participate in the annual Acceptance Day Parade.
Academy cadets participate in the annual Acceptance Day Parade on August 10, 2020 at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Stillman Field. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

The Air Force Academy placed 210 students on probation, while nearly two dozen others were either expelled or chose to resign from the school, in the aftermath of a 2020 cheating scandal.

In the two years since the incidents occurred, the Air Force hadn’t publicly revealed how many students were disciplined in the scandal, with the figures only surfacing during a Board of Visitors meeting earlier this month. In total, 245 students were suspected of cheating, and 231 of them admitted they had violated the school's honor code.

Faculty caught wind of alleged cheating on papers, tests and homework after the school transitioned to remote learning during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"Once presented with facts discovered by the faculty, most admitted they had used unauthorized resources during on-line classes," Maj. Brian Maguire, Air Force Academy director of public affairs, told Military.com in an emailed statement.

The academy's honor code is clear: "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does."

Of the 245 accused of cheating, a student-run honor board deemed that seven had not broken academy rules, and cases were dropped against another three, according to Maguire. Two are still awaiting possible disciplinary action.

At least 22 students have left the school since the incidents were brought to light. The Air Force Academy did not clarify when asked how many of the 22 were expelled and how many voluntarily resigned during the investigation.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters during an event at the National Press Club on Tuesday that he supported how the cases were handled and said the academy is working on redeeming students who break the rules.

"What we try to do now with people, when they commit a violation, is see if the culture of honesty and integrity can be better inculcated into them," Kendall said. "It used to be one mistake and you were out automatically. We don't take that approach anymore. I think that's probably a positive change."

The 210 cadets put on six-month probation could not represent the academy at any sporting events or competitions nor participate in any school clubs. They also faced additional honor code training and instruction.

Every student who was placed on probation has since completed it, Maguire said.

Since the cheating incidents, the Air Force Academy has put several safeguards in place, such as electronic monitoring to prevent unauthorized sharing or use of resources; creating new exam questions and different versions of tests; and implementing more time restrictions.

Additionally, Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, the academy's superintendent, called for a review of the school's honor system. Faculty saw a "need for a holistic approach to shift culture and more deliberately inspire living honorably," Maguire said.

Since the cheating incidents, honor code instruction has been expanded during first-year cadets' basic training.

Other military service academies have also suffered through cheating scandals during the pandemic.

The U.S. Naval Academy announced last summer that it had kicked out 18 midshipmen following an investigation into allegations of cheating during a 2020 physics exam. In December 2020, more than 70 West Point cadets were accused of cheating on a math exam; over 50 of them were required to repeat a year as a result.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to specify that the number of students punished was unknown, not the number of students accused of cheating, and that it was a student board, not the faculty, that determined whether an ethics violation occurred.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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