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Governing Honor

This is my third post on a subject related to self-governance. While my earlier remarks focused on social conduct, this one deals with the Honor Code—an important topic that deserves the attention of all Middlebury students, especially given the discussion that took place at the April 11th faculty meeting.

The principal item at that meeting was a proposal that would permit faculty to proctor exams. The proposal, which was floated by Faculty Council, stemmed from one department’s concern that students have been cheating on exams. According to one faculty member who spoke at the meeting, this problem is now a “crisis.” Crisis or not, it is pretty clear that the custom of proctoring exams is at odds with the College’s Honor Code, which trusts students to take exams without being monitored and assumes that they will hold each other to account. At the same time, anecdotal information suggests that most students are uncomfortable with the idea of turning in other students for cheating, even though the Handbook says they are “morally obligated” to do so. Hence the need to proctor exams.

I would like to hear from students on this issue: What does the Honor Code mean on this campus? What are its strengths and limitations?

I am also struck by the connection between this issue and the matter of student responsibility in the social realm—the fact that students generally see the enforcement of community standards (let’s call them rules) as being somebody else’s (the administration’s) responsibility, but not their own. Am I drawing this parallel too crudely? It is fair to compare a student’s reluctance to flag an honor code violation with another student’s unwillingness to identify someone who has busted a window or trashed a lounge (or dining hall)?

These are weighty issues, and I feel heavy-handed writing about them. But they clearly deserve extended consideration, by students, faculty, and staff.

What happens next? Well, because a review of the Honor Code is already scheduled for next year (the Handbook requires such a review every fourth year), the concerns voiced by Faculty Council (and underscored by a sense of the faculty vote on the 11th) will be folded into that review. Nothing about the Honor Code has changed, and our rules indicate that nothing can change without a comprehensive process involving students. Faculty have the final word on the Honor Code, but any significant revisions to the Code require a vote by the two-thirds of the student body, and two-thirds of those participating in the vote must endorse the change in order for it to pass. For a more detailed description of this referendum process, see the Handbook.

The faculty is understandably most concerned about addressing the matter of academic honesty. In my estimation, though, it would be a missed opportunity if we did not also address the social governance issues implicit in this discussion. Whether and how these threads come together—perhaps in an honor code that combines the academic and the social—remains to be seen.

7 Responses to “Governing Honor”

  1. Geography Major ('08) says:

    I’ve never seen or known of cheating at Middlebury. On most examinations, students cannot benefit from cheating; instead they must rely on developing a logical, coherent argument drawing from a wide range of material. Of course quantitative tests open this door, but I’ve never seen it in the dozen or so math, stats, and science courses I’ve taken. More importantly than the Honor Code, though, is Middlebury’s cultural norm of accepting a lower grade over taking a shortcut. Through disdain for cheaters, we self-police. While I don’t doubt that there are a few Middlebury students who cheat from time to time, I doubt it’s a crisis.

    You’re right in discussing social governance issues too. What ever happened to the social honor code that was being developed? Next year’s housing changes may present new challenges, or perhaps improve inappropriate student behavior.

  2. Sophomore says:

    I agree with the poster above– I don’t believe that cheating on exams (at least not the in-class variety) is prevalent, and therefore I believe that proctoring exams would do more harm than good, causing students to lose faith in the honor code system. In my experience, cheating/not quite following the honor code much more often takes the form of getting more help than is allowed on papers and other assignments, not properly citing sources, etc. Granted, I’m a Soc/Anthro major, so like ‘Geography Major’ above, perhaps the type of exams I have experience with are harder to cheat on? In any case, I’m definitely opposed to proctoring exams, as it would do little to solve these problems. The honor code works because it forces us to stop and think, and because it gives us a specific standard to live up to. Certainly, some people may choose to ignore this, but some serious consideration is needed before we start dismantling the system.

  3. Sophomore Feb says:

    I think in general people don’t cheat, but at the same time, why not proctor exams? It couldn’t hurt.

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