The war on standards, West Point cheating edition

In the past, cheating scandals at America’s military academies have been dealt with severely. The cheaters were expelled. It didn’t matter whether they were football stars or what their race was. They were dismissed.

But that’s not how West Point is dealing with its current cheating scandal, in which 73 cadets, the majority of whom are athletes, have been accused of cheating on a math exam. Most of the accused admitted to cheating, in violation of the school’s honor code occurred which states:

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

Instead of expelling the cheating cadets, the Academy has enrolled most them in a “rehabilitation” program. Of the 59 who admitted to cheating, 55 are being “rehabilitated.” The other four apparently resigned. Those who are contesting the charge will have a hearing.

Why is West Point being so lenient? Why is it departing from its past practice of booting cheaters?

Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, the superintendent at West Point, offered a guarded explanation in a memo to the faculty. He said the Academy’s honor code “has resulted in an inequitable application of consequences and developmental opportunities for select groups of cadets.”

But what is “inequitable” about expelling all cadets caught cheating on an exam? The honor code applies to all cadets regardless of “class.” The past practice of expelling violators applies equally to all cheaters regardless of “class.” This is a classic neutral rule.

Clearly, Williams is concerned that application of the neutral rule has a “disparate impact” on particular subgroups of cadets. That’s why he’s departing from past practice.

Williams didn’t specify which groups of cadets he’s talking about. Conceivably he was talking about athletes. Fifty-five of the accused cheaters play sports for West Point. Nearly half of that group is on the football team.

However, I doubt that athletes are the main “select group” Williams is concerned about. I suspect that the primary concern of Williams is with the impact of enforcing the honor code on Black cadets. I can’t say this for certain. It’s not even certain that a disproportionate number of the cheaters are Black.

But there are sound reasons to believe that Williams, who is Black, had race in mind when he decided not to expel the cheating cadets. Rod Dreher explains the grounds for this suspicion in a post for The American Conservative.

He points out that when someone talks about “equity” these days in the context of unequal outcomes, he is usually talking about race. As Dreher says, “if [Williams] is not talking about race here, then what is he talking about?” Equity for football players? That would be a new one.

The notion that there’s inequity when neutral rules adversely affect Blacks in disproportionate numbers is a key element of “critical race theory.” And critical race theory has spread to West Point. Dreher documented this development here and here. He quoted a West Point grad as follows:

There has been a gradual shift at West Point in recent years to become more progressive, to include. . .in 2018, inviting Ta-Nehisi Coates to spend two days at the academy, speaking to cadets about a variety of topics, with an emphasis on race.

Coates is an incorrigible race hustler.

Thus, if one connects the dots, it’s easy to believe that when Williams said the Academy’s honor code “has resulted in an inequitable application of consequences and developmental opportunities for select groups of cadets,” he was talking about consequences and opportunities for Blacks.

If so, wokeness has eroded West Point’s honor code and, indeed, the Army.

I want to add two more points. First, the military has urged the Supreme Court to uphold racial preferences by colleges and universities for Blacks. It touts the supposed benefits of diversity to the military. When the Supreme Court upheld racial preferences in Grutter v. Bollinger, it cited an amicus brief by the military.

The Supreme Court might soon revisit racial preferences by colleges and universities. If it does, then, depending on the facts, perhaps a brief should ask the Court to consider whether racial preferences in admissions to West Point have caused a lowering of core standards there.

Second, the notion that it’s unacceptable for a neutral rule (e.g., expulsion for cheating) to have a disparate impact on a particular group is a perversion of “disparate impact” theory (which is, itself, a perversion of the original civil rights law, but that’s a matter for another day). Under disparate impact theory, a neutral rule that results disproportionately in bad consequences for one racial group is problematic only if the neutral rule lacks a sound justification.

Expelling cheaters from a military academy is easily justified by the military’s interest in having honorable officers. Thus, it shouldn’t matter if this policy disproportionately burdens Blacks or any other “select group of cadets.”

But this seems to have mattered to Williams. If it didn’t, he should say so. If it did, we’re left with a particularly insidious victory for the forces waging the war on standards in America.