Guest post by Jerry Sorrow, West Point Graduate
The United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, has a storied and proud tradition of producing graduates of character who have led the Country and the Academy through good times and bad.
The Academy’s motto “Duty, Honor, Country” is widely associated with West Point.
For decades, the Cadet Honor Code has provided the moral compass and ethical underpinning of a Cadet’s education and character development.
The Code, widely quoted and embraced by every Superintendent, is simple:
“A cadet does not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those that do”
The intention had been: VIOLATIONS ARE NOT TOLERATED AND EXPULSION WILL RESULT. However, today, the Academy makes the casual disclaimer that over 50% of convicted violators are excused and allowed to graduate.
The Academy will not provide honor code violation demographic data. Official reports are infrequently presented and provide little information as to actual code violations or the adjudication process used to assess separation or retention.
Under the banner of “development and equity”, cadets can now lie, cheat and steal, and tolerate those that do, because the Superintendent allows, at his sole discretion, retention and eventual commissioning. True, there are slaps on the wrist – e.g. counseling sessions, deferred graduation, officer mentorship, etc. However, the reality is that a newly minted West Point 2nd Lieutenant learns from personal experience, and many others learn by inference that right and wrong are fungible; this outcome poses a danger to both the soldiers he/she leads and the US Army.
Superintendent Williams carried “honor violation discretion” to new heights of misbehavior during the 2020 cheating scandal. The scandal involved approximately 70 cadets; their cheating on a calculus exam in May 2020 was reported by the Mathematics department. Although known both to the Academy and the press in May 2020, its national exposure did not occur until December 2020 and was not announced by Williams as resolved until April, 2021. The established norm for Code violation resolution is 60-90 days (USCC Pam 15-1).
A breach of this magnitude could not be easily suppressed from public scrutiny. Therefore, Williams apparently invoked a process called Willful Admissions, in an effort to reduce negative press. Introduced in 2016, Willful was developed to codify and reduce the Supe’s need to use his unilateral discretion power. USCC Pam 15-1 codified the new “rule” which guaranteed a cadet who ”admitted on her/his own, within 24 hours after an approach for clarification of a violation” would not be expelled. Over 50 cheaters supposedly admitted to cheating under the Willful Admissions. Many of those cadets were rewarded by being allowed to play NCAA sports during the fall of 2020. That participation conflicted with all precedent and, again, was, and is allowed at Williams’ sole discretion. Under “normal circumstances”, a code violator is restricted from representing the Academy in any manner or setting. For the record, LTG Williams is the first black former football player to serve as Superintendent.
Williams denigrated the Honor Code by not only extending the 90 day process to over 300 days, but also by abusing the spirit of Willful Admissions to protect both his and the Academy’s reputation.
In addition, there were ZERO reports of tolerance violations during the 9 month investigation process. Claims of zero tolerance activity stretch all credulity, based on prior cheating episodes in ’56, ’66 and ’76, all of which included numerous tolerance violations with cheaters clustered together on sport squads or cadet interest groups. Similar cadet associations and sport affiliations were reported by LTG Williams in the current scandal.
Equally troubling, after relying on Willful Admissions to rationalize his actions, Williams eliminated it from the Honor Process, without reason or comment, concurrently with his assertion that the episode was resolved.
To round out his abuse of, and disdain for, the Honor Code, Williams has now excluded public access to the current version of USCC Pam 15-1, required, at a minimum, by cancellation of Willful Admissions. This decision eliminates all public scrutiny of the current Honor Code and the changes Williams has directed.
Words do have meaning: DUTY, HONOR COUNTRY has for decades reflected the ethics, honor, character and moral behavior of cadets and Academy graduates. The abuse of those words and values seriously erodes the ethical education and character development of today’s cadets.