Air Force nuke officers caught up in big cheating scandal



I’m disappointed, but not surprised, at the military cheating scandals, where 34 officers got together and exchanged answers on their monthly proficiency exams (Air Force) and where instructors where exchanging answers so they could be instructors (Navy). This is pretty scary stuff, as these guys are in control of nuclear weapons and reactors—you kinda want folks responsible for this level of firepower to know what they are doing, and you also want them to be trustworthy. These officers failed on both accounts.

I’m disappointed, but not surprised. The culture of cheating encouraged by administrators in our institutions of higher education will naturally spill over into our military officers…that’s where we get our officers, after all.

Student: “When I graduate, I’m going to join the Air Force and pilot a bomber.”
Faculty: “But you’ll drop bombs that will kill women and children!”
Student, excited: “I’ll make $40,000 a year!”

–Yes, this conversation really happened…and the student involved was female. Considering how the US spends as much on the military as the rest of the world put together, I can’t help but worry the devastating effects of this level of military expenditure has created such a miserable economy that our young people are so desperate for a decent job that, indeed, killing women and children is a fair price to pay for earning a decent living. I’m not one to crush dreams, but I hope she found a better dream.

I’ve had a number of military or soon-to-be military students in my classes in the last few decades. They’ve almost always been outwardly respectful, and generally good students I’m glad to have in my classroom.

ROTC student: “Yeah, I can’t make the test, I’m sick. Can I take a make-up?”
–Early in my career, I used to give make-up tests regularly. I learned, however, that make-ups are just too ripe for cheating, and so I don’t give them now unless I have little choice in the matter. This is how one of my early mistakes started.

One year I had the pleasure of having about a dozen Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) students; this was right after the liberation of Kuwait, so sentiment was high, and these guys put on shows on campus, climbing down from helicopters and such to show how well we were being protected from invading Iraqis.

“I will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who get caught.” –the secret version of the ROTC motto.

My ROTC students showed up to class as a unit, filing in at the same time. But, one test night, I was one student short; he called in advance to say he was sick, and wanted a make-up. No problem, stuff happens. I have him come to my office, and he takes the make-up there, while I go off and do some errands.

“70%” –the class average on the test. A little low, but no big deal.
“96%” –the make-up student’s test score, highest in the class.

The make-up student does well, best in class, and about double what he scored on the first test. Maybe he studied, it can happen, and I was still pretty naïve about cheating in college. What followed afterward was a strange series of phone calls, over the course of a few days:

Phone call: “Hi. If one guy does well on the test, does that hurt the other people that take the test?”
Me: “Uh, I’m not sure. It depends on if I curve. What’s this about?”

Next day:
Phone call, different voice: “Hi. I’m in your statistics class, and I wanted to know if there was a curve.”
Me (getting suspicious): “I haven’t decided. Because one student did well, I can’t curve more than 4 points, however.”

Next day:
Phone call, different voice: “Hi. I’m in your statistics class. I just wanted to make sure what I heard was true. If some guy scores high, that affects any curve you give to the rest of the class?”
Me: “Yes. What’s this about?”

Next day:
Phone call, Commanding Officer of ROTC at the institution: Hello, I’m the CO of the ROTC program here at [the institution]. One of my charges lied to you about being sick for a test you gave. He was actually at work that night. We don’t tolerate lying, and we’d like you to nullify that test as punishment for his lying.
Me: “Well, I rather think there’s more to it than lying, but seeing as that’s the best I can prove based on what you’ve told me, I guess simply dropping that test would be fairest to the other students.”
CO: “Thank you.”
–I was younger then, and really didn’t think it through. Primarily I was just glad that the strange phone calls would end.

Clearly, what happened here was that the other ROTC students didn’t mind one of their own cheating…provided it didn’t hurt the other ROTC students. This is bad news on two levels—not only is cheating acceptable, but the ROTC students are really not functioning as a team; the other members were not willing to sacrifice even a few points on a test to help out one of their own.

I’ve already discussed before that cheating is overwhelming in college. This doesn’t speak well of the moral fiber of our children, but, as I’ve shown before, administration rather encourages cheating, so I’m hard pressed to really blame students for responding to the (barely) mixed messages they receive regarding cheating. On the other hand, our young are so desperate for decent jobs that killing women and children doesn’t seem to count as a drawback for a job that pays, frankly, not all that much.

Our military officers are drawn from our young, drawn from a college population told to think that cheating is no big deal, and so deep in debt that they’ll commit bloodshed for money.

So yeah, I’m disappointed in the officers involved in that cheating scandal. But not surprised.