Naval Academy Expels 18, Sanctions 82 Others Over Cheating on Physics Final Exam

The U.S. Naval Academy expelled 18 midshipmen and sanctioned 82 others after an investigation found they had cheated on a physics final exam in December, officials said.

During the exam, written and verbal instructions prohibited the use of outside resources, officials said. An investigation identified 105 midshipmen who likely accessed banned materials. Four were found to not have violated the prohibition and one other is awaiting a final judgment, the Associated Press reported.

On Friday, officials announced that 18 of those found to be in violation were expelled. The other 82 who violated the honor concept were sanctioned and entered a 5-month honor remediation program.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Naval Academy Commissioning Oath
Officials announced 18 midshipmen were expelled from the U.S. Naval Academy and 82 others sanctioned after it was found they cheated during a physics final exam. Above, U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen take their commissioning oath during their graduation ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on May 28, 2021. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

When 653 midshipmen took the final exam for General Physics I through a website in December, they were prohibited from 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.

"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 Admiral 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 Representative 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."

Naval Academy Exterior
Officials announced 18 midshipmen were expelled from the U.S. Naval Academy and 82 others were sanctioned for cheating during a physics final exam. Above, plebes socially distance themselves in line as a Naval officer (center) looks on during Induction Day on June 30, 2020, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Patrick Smith/Getty Images