Almost two weeks ago, Harvard administrators announced they were investigating about 125 students for allegedly plagiarizing responses or inappropriately collaborating on a final take-home exam for the undergraduate course Government 1310: Introduction to Congress. Harvard professor Matthew Platt, who taught the spring lecture course, brought the suspicious exams to the attention of the Administrative Board after noticing striking similarities in some of their answers.
Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay Harris, who is overseeing the review of Harvard policy, declined to comment to The Daily Princetonian, deferring comment to a spokesperson, Deputy Director of University Communications Jeff Neal. Neal said in a statement that Harvard was evaluating how other Ivy League schools addressed and tackled academic dishonesty.
“The [review] committee, composed of faculty, undergraduate students, resident deans and administrators, has been consulting with faculty and students in the College and assessing the practices of peer institutions on a range of actions, from the adoption of new ethics policies to the possible introduction of an honor code,” Neal said in the statement.
Terah Lyons, a junior at Harvard who serves on the school’s Committee on Academic Integrity, said that the committee hasn’t met with student representatives since the end of the last academic year. The committee does not make policy itself, but collects ideas and makes recommendations regarding academic integrity. Lyons noted that in light of the national media spotlight focusing on Harvard, she wouldn’t want any sudden ideas the committee might put forward to seem reactionary.
“It’s an accumulation of events over several years that the committee focuses its action on,” Lyons said. The most recent scandal, however, may have been “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” according to Lyons, who said she is hopeful that positive reforms, such as the adoption of an honor code, will soon come from the committee.
This wouldn’t be the first time Harvard has considered implementing an honor code. As Harvard grappled with plagiarism issues in 2010, The Harvard Crimson reported that administrators and faculty were in preliminary discussions about the adoption of an honor code. But no action on honor codes came from those discussions, and it is unclear what type of action, if any, the committee will take.
Lyons said if an honor code were ever to be put in place at Harvard, Princeton’s Honor Code would be a “great example” to follow. In order for it to be even possible though, she acknowledged that certain conditions would have to be met, namely student buy-in to the new system.
“We’d have to get to a place where the faculty trusted students and students trusted each other,” Lyons said.
Antonia Hyman ’13, who chairs Princeton’s Honor Committee, said that while the Honor Code at Princeton is unique in many ways, it wouldn’t be impossible to implement elsewhere. She attributed much of the success of Princeton’s policy to the campus culture, which she described as essential for a system like this to work.
“Here at Princeton we have extreme buy-in from most students and faculty and administrators,” Hyman said. She also explained the importance of maintaining consistent levels of reporting among students if the system to work, noting that the Honor Committee typically receives between 25 and 30 reports per year.
K. Anthony Appiah, a Princeton philosophy professor who wrote a 2010 book detailing the role honor plays in the modern world, also emphasized the importance of having a strong background culture of trust and respect between students and teachers.
“If there’s not that respect it doesn’t work at all,” Appiah said.
Hyman also pointed to the unique history of the University’s Honor Code as a reason for its success. Implemented in 1893, the Honor Code was an idea put forth by the students in response to years of rampant cheating that they felt was devaluing the quality of their degrees.
“The administration and faculty gave their approval of the Code but never forced it upon the students,” Hyman said.
Appiah noted that while Princeton’s Honor Code was originally based on notions of gentlemanly honor, it has been able to withstand changes and diversification of the student body. “It’s part of large tradition that people are socialized into it,” he explained.
“The thought behind it is that when you create an honor code, you’re not just letting yourself down when you cheat, but you’re letting each other down as well,” Appiah said. He explained that this idea of “collective honor” helps to build a sense of community both inside and outside of the classroom.
Appiah warned, however, not to ignore the tension that arises when these rules conflict with other “unofficial” honor codes also in play. In particular, he noted that the requirement that students report on each other during un-proctored exams often conflicts with an “anti-snitching” honor code in our society. He suggested that this aspect of the Honor Code is least effective and not essential.
Such a provision is not included in other honor codes, like the one used at Dartmouth. Dartmouth’s Academic Honor Principle, adopted in 1962, relies almost entirely on professors and faculty members to report cases of academic dishonesty. It also requires faculty to presume that students are practicing “intellectual honesty and integrity” in their work, in part to maintain a sense of trust and respect.
Lyons explained that, while a change in culture may have to occur before something as dramatic as an honor code could be put in place at Harvard, other actions could be taken immediately.
“The general attitude is that students want to see the policies clarified and more user-friendly,” she said, noting that there are often inconsistencies in the standards presented in each examination. She added that professors in the past would assume students knew exactly what was and was not allowed under Harvard’s policies.
“Students are ready for changes to happen,” Lyons said. “But change takes time.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/13/31084/