I arrived at West Point on July 1st, 1983. That same day, as I recall, my entire class of 1400+ new cadets was assembled in Eisenhower Hall and given "the talk": "Look to your left, and look to your right. One of the three of you won't be here 4 years from now." In 1987 a dozen or so over 1000 of us graduated, meaning that over 400 had left in the interim. It wasn't quite a third, but it was significant.
That's the Attrition Model--start with a large number of potential graduates, and weed out the ones who, for whatever reason, can't or won't make it. That was the model West Point used for almost 200 years.
Some time after I left there was a paradigm shift. I called it "Harvard Syndrome"--everyone who gets in is top notch and should graduate. It's officially the Developmental Model--your admissions process gave you good people, develop and train them so that they graduate. The catch is the assumption that everyone you let in is "good people", that they can or should graduate from the premiere military academy.
Back in the mid-80's, we knew the penalty for violating the Honor Code: expulsion. Yes, the Superintendent could exercise discretion and keep cadets that had been found guilty by an Honor Board, but that didn't happen often. Expulsion was known as the "single sanction", and we didn't want to get anywhere near an Honor Board.
When I was a sophomore, one of my plebe year roommates was brought up on Honor charges. In my heart I didn't think he was guilty--you have to have an intent to deceive to have lied, not just given an incorrect answer. I testified at his Honor Board. I was thankful when he was found not to have violated the Honor Code.
I spent the first semester of my junior year as an exchange cadet at the Air Force Academy. When I returned to West Point in January, one of my classmates in my company was missing. He had been found to have violated the Honor Code and he was gone.
I offer those two stories to show that the Honor System back then was serious, but not capricious. We all knew the requirements of the Honor Code, we received training in different aspects of the Code, and we were expected to live up to its ideals. To this day I strive to live up to those ideals.
The change from the Attrition Model to the Developmental Model included the Honor System, and West Point is worse off because of it:
Late last year, 73 cadets were accused of collaborating on a virtual calculus exam. More than 50 of the accused cadets admitted they cheated – but almost all of them will get a second chance. West Point enrolled them in a special program designed to rehabilitate students who violate the honor code.
Shortly after the scandal became public last year, four cadets resigned from the academy. Another eight could face tougher discipline.
West Point superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams addressed the scandal at a March 2 congressional hearing. He defended the academy’s decision to allow most of the cadets to stay...
(Former head of the International Center for Academic Integrity David) Rettinger said rehabilitation seems in line with West Point’s mission – to instill the values of duty, honor and country.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean weeding people out who are imperfect, because we’re all imperfect,” Rettinger said. “That means taking the best cadets we can and turning them into the best officers they can be, which means teaching them. And if there’s no opportunity for redemption, what are we really teaching?”
But Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who chairs the Military Personnel Subcommittee, said cadets accepted into elite military academies should be held to a higher standard.
“I want to see accountability that frankly, I am very disappointed does not exist in the academies right now,” Speier said.
“When you have etched in the marble at West Point, ‘A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do,’ that should be crystal clear,” Speier said.
It's a pretty rare day when Jackie Speier and I agree on something, but in this case we do.