Naval Academy expels 18 after online exam cheating probe

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The U.S. Naval Academy has expelled 18 midshipmen and sanctioned 82 more after an investigation into cheating on an online physics exam in December, officials announced Friday.

When 653 midshipmen took the final exam for General Physics I through a website in December, written and verbal instructions prohibited using outside sources, including other websites, officials said. But after learning that outside sources may have been used, the superintendent launched an investigation, officials said. The violations were uncovered through various sources, including midshipmen’s discussions on an anonymous chat platform, officials said.

Officials identified 105 midshipmen who likely accessed unauthorized resources and announced Friday that 18 of those midshipmen have been separated from the Naval Academy. Another 82 who were found to have violated the honor concept were sanctioned and entered into a 5-month honor remediation program, officials said. Four midshipmen were found to be not in violation and one is awaiting adjudication.

“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. This incident demonstrates that we must place an increased focus on character and integrity within the entire brigade,” Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck said in a statement.

The pandemic required flexibility in exam administration and investigators found that the physics department used safeguards to prevent cheating and instructions explicitly stated that outside resources were prohibited, officials said. The biggest vulnerability investigators identified was inadequate proctoring.

The school now “strongly advises” instructors to use paper-based, in-person exams and if an electronic device is required, a proctor must be able to view each midshipman’s screen or a browser security program must be activated. The academy will block websites when there’s faculty consensus that potential misuse outweighs educational value, officials said. Midshipmen will also write out and sign an honor pledge at the beginning of each examination.

There was a day-long “honor conference” in April with intensive training and discussions on honor and officials said there will be a renewed focus on character and professional development throughout this academic year.

Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the academy’s Board of Visitors’ chairman, said in a statement that he supports the findings of the investigation, which appears to be “thorough and fair.”

“The Academy’s Honor Concept is clear and anyone who violates it must be held accountable,” Ruppersberger said. “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.”

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