Honor Code in Students' Hands

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Brian Elworthy and Erica Rosenthal

Students will vote on proposed changes to the Honor Code handbook language during MARS Spring term registration at the end of this week. We want to take this opportunity to share with you why we support the proposed changes to the Honor Fode. As the President and Vice-President of the student body, we feel that it is important for us to share our rationale for supporting these changes.

The proposal put forth by Community Council calls for a change in the board structure for judicial hearings. Currently, students charged with cheating on examinations receive a hearing before the Student Judicial Council (SJC), comprised of eight students. Students charged with plagiarism receive a hearing before the Judicial Review Board (JRB), comprised of one member of the academic administration, two faculty member, and two students. The proposed change would create a new board, the Academic Judicial Board (AJB), to hear all cases of academic misconduct. The proposed AJB would be comprised of one member of the academic administration, two faculty members and four students.

We view this as being in the best interest of students. Under the new system, students accused of any form of academic dishonesty would appear before a board with a student majority. Currently, students charged with plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty, excluding cheating on an examination, appear before a board in which students are the minority.

We believe that it is imperative for students to take a lead in establishing the Honor Code as a central feature of our academic community and this should be reflected in all cases where a student is charged with academic dishonesty. The proposed AJB allows this to happen.

The proposal to have all cases of academic misconduct heard before one board that is comprised of students and faculty, the AJB, is also a positive step. The current distinction that our system draws between boards that hear cases of cheating on examinations and plagiarism is unnecessary. It is a sensible move for all cases of academic dishonesty to be heard by the same board with the same composition of members. While it is obvious that there are differences between cheating on an examination and plagiarism, both are incidents of breaking the Honor Code and acting dishonestly.

Similar to cases of those charged with cheating, students charged with plagiarism deserve to have a hearing before a board that has a majority of student members. Similarly, the faculty have a vested interest in students upholding the Honor Code in all realms, not only plagiarism, and therefore ought to have representation in judicial hearings on academic misconduct.

All forms of academic dishonesty break the Honor Code that we pledge to adhere to when matriculating to Middlebury College. We make the pledge to the entire college community to do our own work and commit ourselves to upholding the Honor Code. While it is essential that students take ownership and responsibility for keeping the Honor Code at the forefront of our minds, we must acknowledge that other members of the academic community are affected by a student’s decision to break the Honor Code.

Our discussions in Community Council have addressed additional areas of importance. The proposed Honor Code changes now clearly elucidate faculty responsibilities. These proposed changes would require the faculty to discuss their Honor Code expectations with each of their classes at the beginning of every term. In addition, these expectations will be included on course syllabi. We believe this is a positive move towards clarifying the expectations of professors for their students. This increased clarity will help to eliminate confusion over what is acceptable with respect to specific courses. In the proposed language, anyone that has a question or concern about faculty compliance with the Honor Code is directed to consult the Dean of the Faculty. This provides added guidance to those with concerns over faculty adherence to Honor Code expectations.

Many of the changes that Community Council has proposed to the handbook language provide clarity and better organization. The definitions of offenses (plagiarism, cheating, duplicate use of written work) are compiled in one section. With the new language, students are able to better understand all offenses that are considered academic dishonesty and grounds for judicial hearings. Unlike current language, the proposal clearly presents student responsibilities and faculty responsibilities under the Honor Code. The language also clarifies the sections of the Honor Code that are subject to amendment by student referendum. While these changes may seem minor, they are needed to clarify confusing aspects of the current handbook language, and are essential to guiding students while and helping members of the entire college community understand their respective responsibilities under the Honor Code.

Since the Honor Code Review Committee initiated dialogue on the Honor Code last year, students, faculty, staff, and trustees have continued to participate in this discussion to enhance our current Honor Code system and elevate the status of the Honor Code on campus. It is readily apparent that the Honor Code is a community-wide issue that impacts all members of our community. Community Council has engaged in lengthy discussion on the need for students to take a lead in emphasizing the necessity of upholding the Honor Code in our academic community. We hope that students will take advantage of this opportunity to enhance our Honor Code by voting in support of the proposed changes to handbook language.

Elworthy is currently president of the Student Government Association and Rosenthal is student co-chair of Community Council