Etched into stone outside West Point Academy is the cadet honor code: A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do. However, 73 West Point cadets were accused of just that. Now families, friends and alumni are wondering what happened and how the cheating got so out of control.

First reported back in December, West Point accused more than 70 cadets of cheating, making it the worst academic scandal in nearly 45 years. Instructors determined that 72 plebes (first-year cadets) along with one second-year cheated on a calculus exam in May, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The same error was present in the exact same portion of the exam for all those cadets.

The investigation has led to the expulsion of eight cadets from West Point, and 51 cadets are required to repeat a year.

Seventy-three cases were investigated, according to ABC News. Six resigned during that time and four were acquitted by a board of their peers, and two cases were dropped entirely because of insufficient evidence. Most of them, though, were turned back a full year, and other six months. Eight have been removed from the Academy altogether.

Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams expressed his disappointment in a statement. “West Point must be the gold standard for developing Army officers. We demand nothing less than impeccable character from our graduates.”

Tim Bakken, a West Point history professor, discussed the potential for forgiveness. “The consequences for the cadets are serious, but most of them have a second chance to prove themselves and serve the nation, and we can’t ask for more than that,” he said. “It’s the right place to start in building trust and developing honor for the benefit of the country in the future.” 

USA Today reported that most of the cadets involved in the scandal – 55 of the 73 cadets accused – were athletes. This includes 24 members of the football team that, at the time the scandal broke, were scheduled to play in a bowl game. They were still allowed to play because the superintendent suspended a policy that limited cadets found in violation of academic code from representing West Point publicly, which includes sporting events.

The cheating scandal was the worst at West Point since 1976 when 153 cadets cheated on a mechanical engineering exam. The incident sparked serious reform. West Point began to crack down on both hazing and cheating, transforming the academy model into one that focused on creating cadets who maintained and represented core leadership values.

As for why the cadets decided to dismiss the core value etched into stone outside of the Academy, no one is sure. It was during the height of Covid-19, which affected the daily lives of many individuals, especially students.

Of those students involved, 59 cadets admitted to cheating on the exam. Fifty-five of those cadets are enrolled in the academy’s “willful admissions” process, a rehabilitation program that involves classes after-hours and a discussion on ethics and the honor code, according to CNN. Four students did not qualify for that program.