The release of a new book, one coming on the heels of the 2020 cheating scandal that shook the United States Military Academy at West Point, is offering new perspectives on another cheating controversy that ensnared cadets at the institution 45 years ago.
“Choosing the Harder Right” tells the story of Cadet Timothy Ringgold, who stood up to senior leadership at his beloved school and aided fellow cadets during the infamous 1976 West Point cheating scandal.
Ringgold was a year away from graduating in 1976, when he and other cadets were selected at random to meet with then-Under Secretary of the Army Norman R. Augustine. Each was questioned about a scandal involving 153 upperclassmen who resigned or were expelled for cheating on an electrical engineering exam. The secretary of the Army went as far as appointing a select commission headed by former astronaut Frank Borman to review the case. By the end of the ordeal, more than 90 of those caught cheating were reinstated and allowed to graduate.
While Ringgold was not directly involved in any violation, he believed the institution’s honor system was “not fairly administered.”
“I thought it was a bunch of nonsense,” Ringgold told Military Times, explaining what he told Augustine during the 1976 meeting. “In my opinion the cadets who were involved did no more or less than we all have done. Cadets are only human, cadets make mistakes. This just did not seem to me to be an an incident worth making a crisis out of.”
As news spread of the 1976 incident, which was considered the largest cheating scandal in service academy history, Ringgold called for outside assistance, going as far as asking Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater for an impartial investigation. In doing so, Ringgold became the de facto spokesperson for the accused cadets.
“West Point clearly lost its way in the 1970s,” he said. “I think the changes that have occurred since have made West Point the very strong institution that it is.”
Ringgold faced expulsion for his stance, but would go on to graduate in 1977 after West Point dropped all charges following the discovery of “new evidence” that implied cheating was far more widespread than West Point leadership suggested.
Today, Ringgold, who would go on to enjoy a distinguished career at the Pentagon, Capitol Hill and the White House, said he hopes the information in this book will be a reminder of what it takes to keep an institution in check.
“Every revered institution like the military academy can have flaws and lose its way,” he said. “If there’s not a constant vigilance to make sure you’re on the right path ... then history will repeat itself and we will have the chaos and confusion and disappointment we had so many years ago.”
Discovering the Untold Story
Author Destiny Jennifer Ringgold, the subject’s daughter, was unaware of her father’s story or role in the scandal until discovering following a recent online search of his name.
“I was in the process of doing a sequel to my first book and I knew [my father] had a complex relationship with West Point,” she told Military Times. “It really took my breath away because I didn’t understand the history behind the story until I sat down with my dad and asked him.”
Despite his daughter’s newfound curiosity, Ringgold initially ignored her queries, telling Military Times that the story is one he would have never written himself.
“I’m very much at peace with what my role was,” he said. “I have no regrets about the stand I took, but that doesn’t mean I want to relive it.”
Eventually, however, Ringgold acquiesced to his daughter’s inquiries.
“I think this is an important part of West Point history,” Destiny Ringgold said. “This was a dark period but I knew there was a lot of good that came out of it.”
The book’s title, meanwhile, comes from an excerpt from the Cadet Prayer.
“Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.”
The sentiment also explains why Ringgold stood up to West Point leadership.
“We were all fighting for the same thing,” he said. “We all believed in the honor code and we wanted standards; it was just a difference of how we got there.”
Even though “Choosing the Harder Right” is based on his own story, Ringgold, whose father and older brothers also served, wants readers to know that the story remains bigger than him.
“The real story here is how a lot of people came together and were willing to sacrifice their career to put values [first],” said Ringgold, acknowledging the West Point-graduate attorneys, the chaplain and officers who fought alongside him.
“They all sacrificed their careers in order to force West Point to correct the ills of the time, so that it [could] become the world class institution that it remains today.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Caitlin O'Brien is a digital intern with Military Times. She started in January 2021. Caitlin attends Hofstra University where she is a double major in journalism and political science.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.