The inside skinny on cheating at the AF Academy that they’d rather not discuss
By David Mullin Best Defense guest commenter Air Force Academy officials recently stated that the honor system works because, they said, 78 cadets were caught cheating on a Math 142 (integral calculus) exam. The Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, and the Vice Dean, Col. Richard Fullerton, have gone on record stating that fragmentary evidence of ...
By David Mullin
Best Defense guest commenter
Air Force Academy officials recently stated that the honor system works because, they said, 78 cadets were caught cheating on a Math 142 (integral calculus) exam.
The Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, and the Vice Dean, Col. Richard Fullerton, have gone on record stating that fragmentary evidence of declining honor cases in recent years is evidence that the honor system is working. So if the number of cadets caught in honor violations is up, the system is working. And if known honor violations are down, the system is working. It’s no wonder that the Center for Character Development and Leadership, the Air Force Academy unit responsible for running the honor system, has been consistently uninterested in using the best available data sets in assessing the effectiveness of the honor system.
The Air Force Academy also said that the system works because many of those 78 cadets will go through honor probation. This program, which started in 1990, has never been validated by the Air Force Academy. But our initial data analysis shows that is ineffective in improving adherence to the honor code.
My research colleague, Fred Malmstrom, has been collecting survey data following strict scientific, random-sampling procedures from graduates for nearly thirty years. It is now a comprehensive collection spanning from the first Air Force Academy class of 1959 to the class of 2010. Comparable data were collected from graduates from West Point and Annapolis, and we have hundreds of observations of cadets who resigned or who went through honor probation.
Dr. Malmstrom and I have just completed a study which shows that the best explanation for why honor cases have been down in recent years is that there has been a dramatic increase of cadets tolerating others of cheating. About 70 percent of recent Air Force Academy graduates — significantly higher than the rate of violations by West Point graduates — have admitted to violating the honor code.
In 2009 when Col. Fullerton was writing the self-study report for academic re-accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, he was carefully told of the existence of these very informative data and he was offered ample help to conduct proper analysis. He was even told of the disturbing declining trends of cadets’ adherence and enforcement of the honor code. Instead of using the data for constructive evaluation of the honor system, he chose to claim that no data existed to do the analysis that we are now publishing independently of the Air Force Academy. It is no wonder that the Air Force Inspector General found that Col. Fullerton was negligent in falsifying the self-study report. His superior Dean of Faculty, Brig. Gen. Dana Born, was also found to be negligent in overstating faculty credentials. Lt. Gen. Gould has chosen not to punish meaningfully either of them.
If officers who hold leadership positions at the Air Force Academy can get away with dishonorable behavior, is it any wonder that many cadets are so cynical of the honor system there? Or that large numbers of cadets cheated on the math exam? Or that senior athletes who trashed Air Force Academy golf carts last month were allowed to graduate by Lt Gen Gould? Or that a cadet was caught secretly video recording two other cadets have sex in a dorm?
Corruption of leaders breeds corruption of their subordinates.
David Mullin is a research econometrician who teaches at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. For 13 years he was an Air Force Academy economics professor.
More from Foreign Policy
No, the World Is Not Multipolar
The idea of emerging power centers is popular but wrong—and could lead to serious policy mistakes.
America Prepares for a Pacific War With China It Doesn’t Want
Embedded with U.S. forces in the Pacific, I saw the dilemmas of deterrence firsthand.
America Can’t Stop China’s Rise
And it should stop trying.
The Morality of Ukraine’s War Is Very Murky
The ethical calculations are less clear than you might think.