Time to Own the Honor Code

By Guest Contributor

Middlebury College tells anyone who will listen that the Honor Code is an essential part of student life. We all heard about it in info sessions and tours when we were prospective students. We signed the Honor Code agreement when we submitted our applications. We sat through long, hot meetings with our Commons during orientation while our FYCs told us stories about why the Honor Code was important to them. But for most of us, it only takes a few weeks on campus to feel like we have been misled.

Most Middlebury students do not cheat, and surveys show that we like the idea of the Honor Code, but it is also clear that we do not have much faith that the Code works. We think that our peers cheat but we do not think that anybody reports the cheaters. The Economics department has started proctoring tests because they do not believe that the Honor Code is working, and a number of students, faculty, and administrators think that the rest of the school should follow suit. 

We on the SGA Honor Code Committee like the Code, but we think that a change needs to be made. We have proposed – and the Senate has passed a bill that will require – a biennial vote on whether to keep, amend, or eliminate the Honor Code. Later this spring, there will be an all student referendum on this amendment to the Honor Code. If two-thirds of the student body votes, and two-thirds of those voters approve of the amendment, then next year we will hold a vote on whether to keep the honor code.

We want to make clear that we as a committee are in favor of keeping the Honor Code – we just want to make it more effective. The point of the vote is not to eliminate the Code, but rather to get the student body to engage with it. Currently, we sign the Honor Code during orientation week and then basically do nothing with it for the rest of our time at Midd.  Sure, we sign the pledge on papers and tests, but this becomes something that most of us do automatically without even thinking about it. That is not how Honor Codes are supposed to work, and we think that is why our Code is not working as well as we need it to. In order to succeed, the Honor Code needs to become deeply ingrained in campus culture – it needs to be something that we really believe in.

Fifty years ago, it was the students who created the Honor Code at Middlebury because they wanted to live in a community that valued integrity and academic honesty.  Those values are not dead on Midd’s campus, but it’s hard to feel like the Honor Code belongs to us when it was our grandparents who created it.  We think a vote will help students take ownership of the Code, and give it a legitimacy that can only make it stronger.

Some people might be worried that this proposal might result in drastic changes or even the elimination of the Honor Code. We think it is worth the risk. We think that the conversations and debates that this bill will raise will be good for the Honor Code and for the school as a whole. It is true that we are putting the Code at risk. However, we are of the opinion that the status quo is our worst available option. It does no one any good to have an Honor Code that no one believes in. If the student body is not willing to stand up and do what it takes to keep the Honor Code alive and well, then we are better off scrapping it altogether.  We don’t want that to happen, and again, we really don’t think it’s going to happen. We hope and believe that we are just around the corner from a stronger Honor Code and a better Middlebury, but at this point it is out of our hands as a committee. It is up to all of us here in the community to support academic integrity at Middlebury by voting and by encouraging others to vote. It is time for all of us to own the Code.

Respectfully,

SGA Honor Code Committee

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