IN recent years the major United States military academies - the Army's at West Point, N.Y.; the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.; and the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo. - have had to deal with unacceptable behavior on the part of cadets probably to a greater degree than at any other time since the first academy, West Point, was founded in 1802.
The most recent example, uncovered earlier this month, involves cheating on a Dec. 14, 1992, electrical engineering exam administered to 700 Naval Academy juniors. Some 125 to 145 cadets out of 1,100 slated to graduate this year are believed to have been involved. This flagrant breach of the Naval Academy's honor code, under which cadets vow never to cheat on tests, is not the largest to take place at the academy, but it has occurred at a time when military organizations generally have come under criticism for misconduct, particularly sexual harassment.
For the most part the academies appear to be handling that problem internally, as they plan to do in the current cheating episode. Annapolis's superintendent, Adm. Thomas Lynch, has appointed three retired admirals to aid the midshipmen honor boards that would normally handle the cheating charges.
Some would suggest that there are pressures that would cause such breaches of honor: The combination of being expected to excel, competing for what may be fewer positions in the face of defense cuts, and the availability of the means of cheating, including careless handling of exam material, might seem to overwhelm honor-code ethics. Yet there is never an excuse for cheating or breaking rules. Any cadet or civilian student knows that. Resort by instructors to frequent use of the same tests, said to be a factor in this case, may invite disregard for honor-code dictums. But the cadets have their own responsibilities even if their instructors abandon theirs. Snitching an exam is theft - not legitimate ``ingenuity.''