Committee Reviews Honor Code

By Emilie Munson

On Monday, March 13, the Student Government Association (SGA) invited students, staff and faculty to discuss a question of central importance to the college community: how can the Middlebury College honor code be improved to truly maintain academic integrity? The SGA hoped that the forum would bring the issue of improving the honor code into the limelight; this is a timely discussion given that the Honor Code Review Committee will review the document this year, three years following the last review.

During the most recent review in 2009, the Honor Code Review Committee discovered that faculty members and students nearly unanimously felt that the College’s proctoring system was ineffective. According to their research, honor codes which require students to proctor each other do not work — both at Middlebury and other institutions.

To address this problem, the Honor Code Review Committee altered the language of the honor code to indicate that professors could proctor exams if they felt is was necessary and received the approval of the Dean of the College.

Since 2009, fewer than five professors have used this option. Yet, at Monday’s meeting, attendees indicated that they believed cheating still occurs in the community.

Students and faculty shared various stories of when the honor code has worked optimally and others when it failed to stop cheating. Most participants agreed, however, that the honor code allows students many important privileges.

SGA President Charlie Arnowitz ’13 said that the College’s honor code was a feature that attracted him to the College when he was applying, but that it has fallen short of his expectations. Arnowitz believes that, in part, students misunderstand the honor code.

“The honor code is not a permanent fixture of Middlebury College,” said Arnowitz.

He wondered if students understood what the College would look like without an honor code, and reiterated the privileges that the honor code affords, such as no proctoring and take-home exams.

Students and faculty agreed that the honor code promotes invaluable collaboration, especially in courses like Geographic Information Systems (GIS). They agreed that recognition of the honor code’s benefits would promote adherence to it.

Dean of the College Shirley Collado concurred that ultimately the evolution of the honor code will depend on the student body.

“The culture has to be defined by the people who have tremendous stake in what we have around us and students seem to me to be central to that,” said Collado. “I like to believe our students can be adults with tremendous integrity, and I know that there are enough students here who are bothered by the lack of a sense of agency among their peers.”

Collado and other forum participants brainstormed various ways to promote further respect for the honor code.

SGA Chief of Staff Anna Esten ’13 suggested that promotion of the honor code should fall more heavily on the College’s Residential Life staff. In particular, she offered that first-year counselors could be held responsible for holding more hall meetings in which they discuss issues like the honor code.

While forum participants agreed that the beginning of students’ first year at the College is the time when they will be most impressionable in regards to the honor code, the forum hoped to continue the discussion of its importance throughout students’ college careers.

Associate Dean of Judicial Affairs and Student Life Karen Guttentag, who is spearheading this year’s Honor Code Review Committee, thinks that sharing stories of students courageously upholding the honor code could inspire more respect for it.

Professor of Mathematics Steve Abbott, a member of the Honor Code Review Committee, believes that the place to encourage adherence to the honor code is in the classroom.

“Faculty could make this a more default component of how they introduce their courses,” said Abbott. “It’s [currently] very uneven.”

The forum also discussed how the language of the honor code, and especially the pledge that students write on their papers, may affect whether or not individuals cheat. Studies have shown that honor code pledges that address a student’s identity (for example, “I will not be a cheater” versus “I will not cheat”) are more effective at dissuading cheating. For this reason, the committee is considering revising the language of the honor code pledge.

Similarly, many schools, such as Haverford College, have had success in linking a social honor code to their academic one.

“I think that what we are talking about with the honor code is symptomatic of other ways that students aren’t looking out for each other,” said Collado.

She hopes that a social honor code would serve the dual function of improving student life and discouraging cheating by stressing the importance of integrity in all areas of campus life.

Whether or not any of these changes will be implemented will be decided by a new council established by the SGA, called the Honor Code Student Committee. The main function of the Honor Code Student Committee will be to evaluate the functionality of the honor code and decide on ways to improve it. Applications for this committee are due Friday, March 15.

Information regarding the honor code and judicial review is available at go/judicial.

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