We are getting close to implementing our Honor Code and Honor Board and I am very excited by the our progress in this critical area. It is not that our campus is any different from most other campuses. We know that there is academic dishonesty taking place on virtually every college or university campus. We have just, however, made a commitment to push for a measureable decrease in such behavior. Students will sign an Honor Code that will serve as both a commitment as well as a reminder of the values we ascribe to and an Honor Board will work to promote activities in support of academic honesty and also ensure that there is fair and consistent treatment when there is a violation of the Honor Code.
Our Honor Code and Honor Board is an outgrowth of an extended campus wide discussion and debate regarding academic honesty. This debate was sponsored by a Task Force that had been established to review our existing policies on academic honesty and recommend possible changes. The discussion and the resulting recommendation then went through our campus shared governance, first passing scrutiny by the University Senate followed by the full faculty reviewing and recommending these policies. Our Senate is our shared governance organization that includes representation from the faculty, the students—both undergraduate and graduate – academic and non-academic administrators and a staff member. We are fortunate to have such a strong and vibrant facilitator of shared governance. After the action by the full faculty, I was pleased to endorse these recommendations and the President was pleased to approve them. The campus conversation and the campus governance process provided the greatest buy-in possible for this new initiative.
In selecting the Honor Board student members, I worked closely with our Vice President for Student Affairs to assure the best possible student representation (which includes serving as one of the three co-chairs of the board with the other two co chairs coming from the faculty and the academic administration). The faculty and administrators who have been chosen are clearly highly regarded opinion leaders widely respected by their colleagues and other members of our community. So far, so good.
And yet, to be realistic, there are two concerns that I have. First, a number of faculty, here and elsewhere, want to make whatever decision there is to be made in response to academic dishonesty themselves. Sometimes these actions are very lenient and other times very drastic but regardless these faculty don’t want to fit any framework or adhere to any standard other than their own. To this day, there are incidents of academic dishonesty that are never reported and are known only to the faculty member and the student or students involved. I believe that faculty should have wide latitude in resolving incidents of academic dishonesty but I also believe there needs to be full disclosure and reporting. Not to second guess the faculty member but to make sure that repeat offenses by the same students are dealt with sternly. My other concern relates to a number of students who have been so accustomed to cheating that it is both second nature and not recognized for what it is—unethical behavior, presenting someone else’s work as your own. I have even heard a story from a colleague about a student in a very good university who tweeted matter of factly about cheating. One comment noted that if this person had a smart phone in high school, Harvard would have been within reach while another tweet noted incredulously that that the cheating had only resulted in a C and how could that be. It will take considerable time, even with a heightened awareness of the importance of academic honesty for individuals like this to clean up their acts.
Our Honor Code and Honor Board are one major step forward for academic integrity. And now we have to work together that regardless of the school, and whether we are talking about higher education or K-12 education, students always receive a consistent message regarding the importance of academic honesty.