Honor Rolled

These Air force cadets were ready to fly. Then the honor board crashed their careers.


Despite finding many faults with the honor system, the General Accounting Office didn't recommend any changes in its 1995 report. Four years later, another scandal erupted and another report was issued. The same results were found.

In 1999, a professor twice accused cadet Juan Nieves of lying, and a Wing Honor Board twice exonerated him. But the academy later kicked him out for poor academic performance, which Nieves appealed, saying his grades dropped because he had to spend so much time fighting false honor allegations. The secretary reinstated Nieves in January 2000 and called for a review of the academy's disenrollment procedures; the Air Force chief of staff later assembled a task force to investigate the "climate" of the AFA honor system. The voluminous document that resulted in August 2001 -- known simply as the Carns report, after Michael Carns, the retired Air Force general who led the task force -- identified the same problems as the GAO review.

"While the climate of honor and the corresponding importance of the Honor Code continue to be outwardly supported by the Cadet Wing, confidence in the Air Force Academy Honor Code has seriously declined," stated the report, which was based on interviews with 179 cadets, faculty and staff. "This loss of confidence is rooted in cadet problems with the Honor Code's non-toleration clause and the Honor System's presumptive sanction of disenrollment."

Retired Brigadier General Marcos Kinevan, who headed the academy's law department from 1967 to 1988, has grave concerns about diminished trust in the honor system. "If you have cadets saying they wouldn't automatically turn someone in for violating the honor code, you're not going to have a code that means very much. The most important thing a graduate can take from the Air Force Academy is a sense of honor and integrity; everything else is secondary," says Kinevan, who still resides in Colorado Springs. "The crux of the honor system is that it depends on the cadets themselves. Unless you get 99.9 percent of them truly committed to it, it's in danger."

The task force did not recommend changing the disenrollment presumption, nor did it suggest removing the non-toleration clause. Instead, it determined that the biggest problem with the system is that the academy spends so much time holding seminars on honor that it's lost sight of the code's true mission: "The conclusion has been reached that the Center for Character Development remains overly concerned with maintaining its external image versus assessing, measuring, or evaluating the internal result of positive character development at the Academy." And so the task force's primary suggestion for the academy was to teach honor by using examples of real cases.

Although there are many such real cases now, no one is suggesting the academy abolish the honor system -- not even cadets who feel they've been hurt by it. But they do want reform. As Josh Moynihan says, "They just need to put a little common sense into it."

Read related stories in our Inside the Air Force Academy archive

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