One bad apple really does spoil the barrel, according to a study in which Fred Malmstrom's military academy data was analyzed by former Air Force Academy economics professors, Scott Carrell (now at University of California, Davis) and civilian James West (Baylor University). The study, published in The Journal of Human Resources in 2008, concludes that "higher levels of peer cheaters result in an increased probability that an individual will cheat."
That finding goes hand in hand with results of a 2005 Air Force audit of the Preparatory School, where students are expected to abide by the same honor code as academy cadets.
The audit, requested by then-Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa Jr., was kept quiet for seven years until it was obtained recently by the Indy. It found haphazard and biased enforcement of honor violations and lack of effective management of the honor system. When the commander found out a student had a fake ID, instead of pursuing an honor violation, he announced an amnesty period for students to turn in their cards. None was turned in, and the commander didn't investigate, Air Force auditors reported.
Athletes were allowed to participate in home and away athletic events while on honor probation for at least two years leading up to the 2005 audit, because the commander changed the policy and designated sports events as a "duty location" or a "mission requirement."
In addition, disciplinary actions were inconsistently applied by the commander who serves as head of the school, which auditors said raises "serious questions of inappropriate favoritism." The audit didn't cite the commander by name, but Col. Laurence Fariss, who retired in mid-2004, headed the school during the period covered by the audit.
More than 200 purchases with a government credit card, totaling $139,504, were used for the intercollegiate athletic program at the prep school without authorization. Even crimes, such as breaking and entering and theft, committed by athletes had no consequence, the audit reported.
"Character Development training did not receive the same level of importance and allocation of resources and time as did the other three pillars" of military, academic and athletic training, the audit reported. "Specifically, training was limited to three briefings during the first two weeks. There was no further academic or classroom training for Character Development with the exception of an occasional guest speaker."
The result: Students didn't understand the honor program, and took their lack of understanding with them to the academy. Auditors reported that during the four years preceding the audit, prep school graduates comprised 12.7 percent of the freshman class but were responsible for 20 percent of the freshman class honor violations.
The academy refused to release more recent data requested by the Indy.
In addition, 44 percent of the prep school instructors did not meet minimum academic qualifications for their jobs. Auditors note: "Although Prep School administrators clearly specified instructor qualification requirements in officer requisitions submitted to the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC), responsible AFPC officials frequently assigned Air Force members who did not possess the relevant degrees and/or teaching experience."
The commander in charge for the timeframe reviewed by auditors retired before the audit report was released.
Capt. Nicki Marino, a reservist who has civilian status at the academy, serves as honor officer at the prep school. She also teaches English and coaches volleyball. The honor system is run by staff who receive up to 17 hours of honor training during the year, she says in an interview.
Rarely is a student expelled for an honor violation. "Most of the time we feel they're retainable," she says. "Usually, none leaves because of honor. We let them learn and give them the benefit of the doubt."
As of March 19, not a single honor board had been convened at the prep school this academic year; all honor violations had either been admitted to — with students placed on probation — or dropped. In the past 10 years, only 14 prep students have been found in violation by an honor review board, according to data released by the academy.
During that time, 27 students left the prep school due to honor violations, poor grades, bad conduct or voluntary disenrollment. The academy didn't provide the number who were kicked out due to an honor violation alone.
After the 2005 audit was completed, the academy assigned 14 or 15 reservists to run the prep school's honor program and teach a "whole curriculum on leadership and character," Marino says. But that went away four years ago, she says, when the Air Force began to downsize and needed personnel elsewhere. Now, the honor program is basically in her and the commander's hands.