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Honor Code Monument at West Point

Both the United States Military Academy and the United States Air Force Academy have adopted a Cadet Honor Code as a formalized statement of the minimum standard of ethics expected of cadets. Other military schools have similar codes with their own methods of administration. The United States Naval Academy has a related standard, known as the Honor Concept.

A system and tradition of peer-enforced honorable conduct in a higher educational setting has historically been a part of campus life in other notable U.S. institutions, including Princeton, College of William and Mary, Texas A&M University, and Harvard, among others. In contrast, the U.K. educational system has not until very recently adopted such honor codes, sarcastically dubbing them "cheaters charters".[1]

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point

West Point's Cadet Honor Code reads simply that

"A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."

Cadets accused of violating the Honor Code face a standardized investigative and hearing process ([1]). First they are tried by a jury of their peers. If they are found guilty, the case will go up to the Commandant of the Academy who will give his recommendation, then to the Superintendent of the Academy, who has the discretion to either impose sanctions or recommend that the Secretary of the Army expel the cadet from the Academy.

Definitions of the tenets of the Honor Code

LYING: Cadets violate the Honor Code by lying if they deliberately deceive another by stating an untruth or by any direct form of communication to include the telling of a partial truth and the vague or ambiguous use of information or language with the intent to deceive or mislead.

CHEATING: A violation of cheating would occur if a Cadet fraudulently acted out of self-interest or assisted another to do so with the intent to gain or to give an unfair advantage. Cheating includes such acts as plagiarism (presenting someone else's ideas, words, data, or work as one's own without documentation), misrepresentation (failing to document the assistance of another in the preparation, revision, or proofreading of an assignment), and using unauthorized notes.

STEALING: The wrongful taking, obtaining, or withholding by any means from the possession of the owner or any other person any money, personal property, article, or service of value of any kind, with intent to permanently deprive or defraud another person of the use and benefit of the property, or to appropriate it to either their own use or the use of any person other than the owner.

TOLERATION: Cadets violate the Honor Code by tolerating if they fail to report an unresolved incident with honor implications to proper authority within a reasonable length of time. "Proper authority" includes the Commandant, the Assistant Commandant, the Director of Military Training, the Athletic Director, a tactical officer, teacher or coach. A "reasonable length of time" is the time it takes to confront the Cadet candidate suspected of the honor violation and decide whether the incident was a misunderstanding or a possible violation of the Honor Code. A reasonable length of time is usually considered not to exceed 24 hours.

To have violated the honor code, a Cadet must have lied, cheated, stolen, or attempted to do so, or tolerated such action on the part of another Cadet. The procedural element of the Honor System examines the two elements that must be present for a Cadet to have committed an honor violation: the act and the intent to commit that act. The latter does not mean intent to violate the Honor Code, but rather the intent to commit the act itself.

Three rules of thumb

  1. Does this action attempt to deceive anyone or allow anyone to be deceived?
  2. Does this action gain or allow the gain of privilege or advantage to which I or someone else would not otherwise be entitled?
  3. Would I be dissatisfied by the outcome if I were on the receiving end of this action?

History and relevance

"Although West Point did not formalize the Honor Code and system until the 1920s, the history of the honor code at the Academy goes back to its inception in 1802. The Code of Honor within the officer corps at the time was simply that an officer's word was his bond. When Sylvanus Thayer was the Superintendent in the 1820s, he focused on the principles of good scholarship and expressly forbade cheating. West Point treated allegations of stealing singularly under Army regulations through the 1920s. The first major step toward formalizing the unwritten Honor Code came in 1922 when the Superintendent, Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, formed the Cadet Honor Committee to review all honor allegations. In 1947, the Superintendent, Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor, drafted the first official Honor Code publication marking the beginning of the written “Cadet Honor Code.” However, the Cadet Honor Code did not formally include a “tolerate those who do” clause until 1970."[2]

"The Honor Code provides a minimum standard of ethical behavior for cadets. This standard, as applied to fourth class development, is easy to live by and provides the foundation for further ethical development."[citation needed]

In August 1951, Time magazine reported that 90 of the Academy's 2,500 cadets were facing dismissal for mass violations of the honor code related to "cribbing", receiving the answers to exams ahead of time, allegedly through upperclass tutors who were assisting other cadets, mostly dedicated football players, to study for those exams."[3]

The Army arranged for an investigation headed by famed jurist 79-year-old Judge Learned Hand. The investigating board recommended dismissal of all 90 suspected violators of the Honor Code, and while the Army and Congress debated the issue and its causes, the cadets were left with a cloud hanging over their heads and their futures.

There have been other instances of mass cheating scandals at the Academy, including one very famous one, in August 1976, where it was found that possibly over half of the junior class at the Academy had violated the honor code by cheating on a case assignment.[4]

U.S. Air Force Academy

The Cadet Honor Code at the Air Force Academy, like that at West Point, is the cornerstone of a cadet's professional training and development — the minimum standard of ethical conduct that cadets expect of themselves and their fellow cadets. Air Force's honor code was developed and adopted by the Class of 1959, the first class to graduate from the Academy, and has been handed down to every subsequent class.[5][6] The code adopted was based largely on West Point's Honor Code, but was modified slightly to its current wording:

We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.

In 1984, the Cadet Wing voted to add an "Honor Oath," which was to be taken by all cadets. The oath is administered to fourth class cadets (freshmen) when they are formally accepted into the Wing at the conclusion of Basic Cadet Training.[6] The oath remains unchanged since its adoption in 1984, and consists of a statement of the code, followed by a resolution to live honorably:

We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.
Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.

Cadets are considered the "guardians and stewards" of the Code. Cadet honor representatives throughout the Wing oversee the honor system by conducting education classes and investigating possible honor incidents. Cadets throughout the Wing are expected to sit on Honor Boards as juries that determine whether their fellow cadets violated the code. Cadets also recommend sanctions for violations. Although the presumed sanction for a violation is disenrollment, mitigating factors may result in the violator being placed in a probationary status for some period of time. This "honor probation" is usually only reserved for cadets in their first two years at the Academy.

In popular culture

The 2005 ESPN made-for-TV movie Code Breakers was about the 1951 scandal in which 83 West Point Cadets were implicated in violations of the Cadet Honor Code in order to help the West Point football team.[7] The film was nominated for two awards.[8]

The John Ceepak novel series by Chris Grabenstein frequently mentions the honor code the titular character follows as a holdover from his time in military service.


  1. "An idea worth imitating", Jessica Shepherd, The Guardian, 20 March 2007, Retrieved 26 Feb 2011
  2. "Brigade Honor Captain Named For 2009 ", Release № 14-08 United States Military Academy, 14 March 2008, Retrieved 3 April 2010
  3. "TIME Magazine: The Nation: Trouble at West Point", 13 August 1951, Retrieved 26 Feb 2011
  4. "Duty, Honor, Country, and Too Many Lawyers", John Harry "Jorgie" Jorgenson, Originally printed in "The Lawyer's Washington" column in the American Bar Association Journal for April 1977 (63 ABAJ 564-S67). Copyright 1977 by the American Bar Association, Retrieved 26 Feb 2011
  5. "The Honor Code ", USAFA Fact Sheet, April 2009, Retrieved 3 April 2010
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Honor Code Reference Handbook- Volume II – The Honor System ", (646 KB) USAFA, August 2008, Retrieved 3 April 2010
  7. "Code Breakers at IMDb". IMDb. 
  8. "Awards for Code Breakers at IMDb". IMDb. 

External links

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