Haverford Winter 2013 : Page 36
Students gathered in Ryan Gym in February for an open discussion of an Honor Council trial abstract given the pseudonym “Toy Story.” Council regularly sponsors such events. HONOR W Though the College’s cherished Honor Code started its life in 1897 as a simple system for holding exams without proctors, it has become the purest expression of the College’s values and an intrinsic part of a Haverford education. BY REBECCA RABER hen nearly half of the 279 students enrolled in a government class at Harvard University were suspected of cheating on last May’s take-home final exam, it not only set off the largest cheating scandal ever at the country’s oldest university, but also raised pertinent questions about academic integrity and the state of higher education. The situation has sparked renewed interest in perhaps creating an honor code at Harvard, which disclosed in February that some 70 students had been required to temporarily withdraw. Reverberations from the scandal can be felt well beyond Cambridge, Mass. Last month, for example, stu-dents at Columbia University proposed their own code, and a number of media outlets have used the breach at Harvard as a peg for larger discussions about academic integrity and the efficacy of honor codes. 36 HaverfordMagazine
Though the College’s cherished Honor Code started its life in 1897 as a simple system for holding exams without proctors, it has become the purest expression of the College’s values and an intrinsic part of a Haverford education. <br /> <br /> When nearly half of the 279 students enrolled in a government class at Harvard University were suspected of cheating on last May’s take-home final exam, it not only set off the largest cheating scandal ever at the country’s oldest university, but also raised pertinent questions about academic integrity and the state of higher education. The situation has sparked renewed interest in perhaps creating an honor code at Harvard, which disclosed in February that some 70 students had been required to temporarily withdraw. Reverberations from the scandal can be felt well beyond Cambridge, Mass. Last month, for example, students at Columbia University proposed their own code, and a number of media outlets have used the breach at Harvard as a peg for larger discussions about academic integrity and the efficacy of honor codes.<br /> <br /> Here at Haverford, however, we know that they work. For 116 years the scholastic integrity of Haverford students has been guided by an academic honor code. And as it stands today, that Code, which is written and governed solely by the students themselves, covers more than just cheating or plagiarism, it is a way of life on campus. Guided by the Code’s main principles of “trust, concern and respect,” students leave backpacks unattended in the Dining Center lobby and self-schedule their unproctored exams.<br /> <br /> “[The Honor Code] was one of the main reasons that I applied to and attended Haverford,” says Kate Monahan ’14, a former representative to Honor Council, the student-run body that administers the Code. “It impacts my life at Haverford every day. It changes the way that I interact with my suitemates, it affects my working relationships with professors, and it makes me think about my own academic and social responsibility to the community.” <br /> <br /> “[As a prospective student] I was skeptical,” says Tamar Hoffman ’15, current co-chair of Honor Council. “I thought it was great that an Honor Code was down on paper, I thought it was a good start. But I had no idea of the extent that students lived and breathed the Honor Code. It was a pleasant surprise.” <br /> <br /> As it stands today, the Honor Code is a “living document” of more than 2,400 words that is overseen by the 16-member Honor Council. It must be re-ratified each year at Spring Plenary by at least two-thirds of the student body. The Code requires respectful conduct, academic integrity and confrontation of those believed to be violating one of the community standards.<br /> <br /> “It is much more than what one typically thinks of as an honor code in an academic setting, which is usually a pledge that you won’t cheat,” says Dean of the College Martha Denney, who serves as an unofficial mentor to Honor Council. “The Honor Code is a way of life. It’s a way of being a member of the community, of interacting with other people. It’s an assumption that people will be treating each other with respect, openness and honesty, and it’s an assumption that when things go wrong they will be addressed as quickly and productively as possible in the spirit of education, not punishment or retribution. It’s very pervasive, and that’s what distinguishes it from honor codes at other institutions.”<br /> <br /> Though there is substantial introduction to the Code by designated Honor Code Orienteers during Customs Week, a student’s first interaction with its principles actually begins before he or she ever gets to campus. According to Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Jess Lord, since at least the 1970s Haverford has not asked for a deposit from students who accept an offer of admission to the College. Taking them at their word that early in their relationship with the school is a good introduction to the culture of trust and independence they will find once they get to campus. And, says Lord, “almost never” do those pre-freshman break that promise.<br /> <br /> “People do, in fact, value their word over their money,” says Lord.<br /> <br /> The simple existence of the Code doesn’t make it a cureall for problems at Haverford, however. There are infractions each year, more often with regard to academic dishonesty than the vaguer social portions of the Code. And there is some evidence to show that the numbers of infractions have grown in recent years, possibly in connection with technology and the changing nature of research, collaboration and assignments that it allows. A recent “State of the Ford” letter sent to students in February by the Honor Council co-chairs reported approximately 25 cases that have been brought to trial over the last 12 months and mentioned that in the spring 2011 semester 17 cases went to trial.<br /> <br /> But, according to the co-chairs, what this uptick in reported Honor Code violations means is not obvious. “Part of abiding by the Honor Code is addressing breaches of trust, which we do through confrontation and Honor Council involvement where necessary,” they wrote in their “State of the Ford” email. “The rise in cases brought to Honor Council could, therefore, demonstrate that the Honor Code is being taken more seriously. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the evidence that adherence to the Honor Code has decreased.” However, the Code’s student governance and annual re-examination process means that trends in infractions can be addressed quickly from within. For example, after the spring 2011 increase in trial load, students and faculty formed the Committee for Plagiarism Education, which designed a new Academic Integrity webinar that all first-years must now take. The hope is that, by addressing rules about citations, plagiarism and paraphrasing with new students, the expectations will be clearer and the number of cases brought to Honor Council will diminish.<br /> <br /> “Many freshmen come from schools where citation wasn’t emphasized, and some freshmen come from countries where plagiarism itself is looked at differently,” says Monahan. “Reconciling everybody’s different viewpoints is a big task, and I think that more formal education on the mechanics of academic integrity is important.” <br /> <br /> Cases, should they make it to trial, are then decided by juries made up of five students from Honor Council and five other students selected at random. Hoffman estimates that cases take, at minimum, 10 hours in the jury room to decide.<br /> <br /> “People who are on juries take it seriously,” says Hoffman. “I’ve had a number of seniors come up to me and ask why they hadn’t been randomly selected yet, because they really wanted [jury duty] to be part of their Haverford experience.” <br /> <br /> These trials aren’t simply to mete out punishments. They are about restoring the sanctity of the community, reaffirming its values and helping students learn how to make better choices in the future. Prescribed resolutions, reached by consensus at trial, can be anything from offering an apology or writing a letter to the community to receiving a 0.0 grade on the paper or project in question, meeting with a counselor assigned by Counseling and Psychological Services, attending ongoing mediation, or even being separated from the College for a semester or more.<br /> <br /> Confidentiality is an intrinsic part of the Code, but pseudonymous trial abstracts are released online to the Haverford community, using names from pop culture and history in place of the real names of community members. Those abstracts are also reviewed publicly throughout the year so that the student body can learn lessons from the outcomes and Honor Council can get feedback on its decisions.<br /> <br /> “The goals of every trial are education, accountability and restoration,” says Samara Flug ’15, former Honor Council cosecretary and current co-head of the Honor Council Orienteers. “So every decision and resolution should fulfill at least one, if not more, of those [ideals], because the resolutions are supposed to help the student be an even better student and part of this community. Sometimes the student needs to learn about all of the resources on campus to help manage academic stress. … Other times, the student is looking for a more reflective, long-term process to think about how they can get the most out of being at Haverford and working with an Honor Code.” <br /> <br /> In a student body of approximately 1,200 people, even 25 infractions in a year reflects the success of the Code, says Dean Denney. “Given the number of individuals, the number of courses, the number of assignments and the number of exams in any given semester, plus the number of people who live next to each other without any residence hall monitors—given all that potential for interactions that could lead to violations—I do think [infractions] are relatively rare.” <br /> <br /> The research of those who study academic integrity bears this out. Teddi Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, says that while there are probably hundreds of schools with some sort of honor code on their books, relatively few have a code that is “part of the academic culture”—and only at those schools does a code actually deter cheating and other infractions.<br /> <br /> “We have come around to the belief that what actually makes the most difference isn’t so much the code itself, but the conversations that surround it,” says Fishman. “The important thing is that considerations of integrity are actually woven into the fabric of the culture. When students understand the significance of integrity—to their own development, to the missions of the university and its reputation—that is when a positive difference can be seen.” <br /> <br /> Haverford’s Honor Code wasn’t always the wide-reaching, student-administered document that it is today. In fact, it wasn’t always a code. It began life as the “Honor System” in 1897, with one very specific goal: to “have examinations held on an honor basis and to have entire control in managing any possible cases of cheating.” And even that modest proposal, submitted as a petition by the Class of 1900 to then President Isaac Sharpless, wasn’t as popular as modern Fords might think.<br /> <br /> The establishment of an Honor System was first argued for in the fall of 1896 by Haverford’s debating society, and those opposed to it won the debate. And once Sharpless granted the request, the System still had detractors. At its genesis, it wasn’t a schoolwide code of conduct, but a classwide promise of academic integrity. Each class created and agreed to its own System each year, and the Class of 1902, unwilling to pass a version that obligated students to report a peer if he was found cheating, and unable to earn faculty support for a version without that clause, went through its four years at Haverford without an Honor System. The Class of 1902 was the last in the College’s history to take all its exams with proctors.<br /> <br /> In those early years, the Honor System applied strictly to exams, which students of a given class year all took together. Quizzes and make-up exams were administered to students of many different class years, and since the College had no cohesive, schoolwide Honor System, those types of tests could not be given unproctored until 1925, when a System was created and managed for the entire campus.<br /> <br /> The next few decades gave rise to some striking changes in the System. In 1944 it was broadened to include all academics, not just test-taking, thus making any and all kinds of plagiarism an offense. The first social aspects of the code were born in the postwar era. Standards of behavior regarding female visitors to the dorms and the use of liquor were among the first to be proposed. A 1948 clause deemed that “any act of commission or omission, which, if it became public, would damage the reputation of the student, the woman guest, or the College shall be deemed a violation of the Honor System.” <br /> <br /> In 1961, moved by a fellow student’s exam-time suicide and burdened by his own workload, Kent Smith ’63 proposed something that every future Ford would come to see as an intrinsic part of the Honor Code: self-scheduled final exams. A varsity baseball and basketball player who was active in other extracurricular activities as well, Smith felt that exam time was too pressured and always found himself scrambling to prepare. To make matters worse, the Dean’s Office controlled the scheduling of exams, which were held after the winter break, so not only could he end up with multiple tests on the same day, but he also spent his whole “vacation” studying. Smith wrote a letter to the student newspaper and later formed a Students’ Council committee to explore the idea of self-scheduled exams.<br /> <br /> The idea was adopted on a trial basis in the spring of his junior year. It became a permanent part of the system a year later. “I’m pleased to hear that self-scheduled exams continue to be important,” says Smith. “It’s evidence of the fact that the students really feel an investment in it. And we spent a lot of time thinking about how to insure that investment.” <br /> <br /> In the turbulent late ’60s and early ’70s, as the College grew from 450 students to more than 1,000, the Honor System had to adapt to changing social attitudes, especially toward drugs and sex. In 1967, time limits for women in the dorms were liberalized. In 1969, the students in plenary approved a statement on drugs. The 1971 Honor Code, which, according to “Making the Best Possible Haverford Man,” the thesis of Katherine Sedgwick ’99, may possibly be the first to use the word “code” instead of “system” (though alums from the late ’60s remember it in use during their time), included over 15 queries on drugs and other intoxicants, such as “Am I facilitating in any way an unwise choice by another student to use drugs?” And from 1970 to 1976 a section of the Code specifically denounced heroin’s use or sale.<br /> <br /> But while those specific additions to the Code—emblematic of their era—have long since been removed in favor of a more general, open-ended social policy, many believe that it was the malleability and strength of the Code, and the fact that it was reaffirmed annually, that helped Haverford through those tempestuous years.<br /> <br /> “While I was at Haverford, women moved into the dorms and became a much larger presence on campus,” says Paul Haagen ’72, a former co-chair of Honor Council. “It was my sense then, and since, that the Code made that change much more natural and organic than it was at other schools going through the same transition. Haverford also weathered the Vietnam protests better than most other schools.<br /> <br /> The Code definitely helped.” The administration of the Code has changed over the years, too. In the beginning, the faculty had to approve each year’s System, but the administration of the System was left up to the students. The Class of 1905 proposed a “committee of five,” who were charged with dealing with infractions, and, in 1925, jurisdiction over the System was given to Students’ Council. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that Students’ Council appointed an Honor System Committee to deal with violators; this would eventually separate from Students’ Council in 1968 and become the Honor Council we know today.<br /> <br /> “I started the practice of posting short summaries of the [trial] decisions in hopes that we might create a body of precedents and shared understanding and expectations,” says Haagen, now a professor of law at Duke University. <br /> <br /> “The summaries omitted names and gave only very limited factual detail.” The Honor Code is still not perfect; it’s a work in progress. There have been crises of confidence in it and years when it didn’t pass on first attempt at plenary (either for procedural reasons or for actual concerns with the Code). In 1973, for example, students couldn’t reach a quorum, partly because of the unpopularity of the confrontation policy, and Acting President Gerhard Spiegler had no choice but to suspend the Code. And just this spring, the ratification didn’t earn enough votes to reach a quorum; a Special Plenary is being called for late March to discuss the Code and try to ratify it again. But what matters is student investment.<br /> <br /> Fords care so much about their Honor Code that many of them are currently busy proposing language changes in advance of the upcoming Special Plenary, striving to be better, not just for themselves, but also for the strength of the campus community.<br /> <br /> “I would say that the academic code is more successful than the social code, given that the social code is more open to personal interpretation and deals with murkier issues,” says Monahan. “There are many situations where confrontation can be a lot more difficult than simply asking someone to turn their music down.” <br /> <br /> “There are a lot of different ways to measure the success of Haverford’s Honor Code, and in my opinion it passes all the tests,” says Flug. “Academically, I think the Honor Code creates a noncompetitive environment of driven students motivated by their own capabilities and ideas. Socially, the Honor Code gives us a language and vocabulary for a common set of values that we all share and exhibit every day.” <br /> <br /> The Code guarantees that once students graduate from Haverford they’ve learned more than just French or physics or philosophy. They’ve learned responsibility and citizenship and how being a trustworthy, concerned and respectful community member makes every community stronger.<br /> <br /> HONORABLE MENTIONS<br /> <br /> The Center for Academic Integrity’s director, Teddi Fishman, estimates that there are hundreds of honor codes in American higher education. Schools from the all-male Hampden-Sydney College to the School of Law at the University of Texas at Austin to service academies like West Point have some sort of code in effect on their campuses. Haverford’s, however, is remarkable for its age, its breadth and its student governance; few American institutions have codes that are older, guide social behaviors and are completely student run.<br /> <br /> The College of William and Mary, for example, has had an honor code since 1779, when it was created at the urging of then Virginia Gov. Thomas Jefferson, but it only governs academic matters. Princeton University’s student-run honor code, which only covers in-class examinations, dates back to 1893. Bowdoin College has two codes, a social code and an academic one, both overseen by its deans’ office. And religious institutions like Brigham Young University have codes that focus on the social aspect of campus life, regulating behavior very specifically (such as prohibiting facial hair and coffee and commanding students to live “a chaste and virtuous life”). More similar to Haverford’s Honor Code are the codes at Davidson College, which governs both social and academic affairs and where infractions are judged by a student honor council, and the University of Virginia, whose student-run Code of Honor, which dates back to 1842, covers acts of lying, cheating or stealing.