The Honor Committee recently announced that it would be holding focus groups to solicit student opinions regarding the punishment for writing after time has been called on exams. In an op-ed published in the ‘Prince,’ Honor Committee chair Antonia Hyman ’13 reported that there has been a significant increase in the number of students reported taking extra time on exams. The Editorial Board welcomes the Honor Committee’s initiative and calls for even greater transparency. Taking into account our judgment about the relative severity of working over time and the likely effects of a policy change, the Board believes that the default sentence for writing over time on an exam should be a zero on the exam and academic probation, rather than a one-year suspension.
Firstly, the Board calls on the Honor Committee to practice greater transparency and provide the student body with the maximum amount of relevant information with which to weigh in on this issue. The Honor Committee should release data regarding the number of accusations for this infraction, the number of hearings held and the number of punishments imposed. While the Honor Committee has declined to release these numbers in the past, citing student privacy, it is clear that these statistics by themselves do not compromise the privacy of any accused or convicted student. Furthermore, such statistics are important since they would allow the student body to understand the scope of the problem, make informed recommendations to the Honor Committee and better understand the typical fashion in which the Honor Committee adjudicates its cases.
That being said, the Board believes that this violation of the Honor Code is, on average, less severe than other violations for which a one-year suspension is the current standard punishment. Writing over time generally confers a comparatively small advantage to the student and is a smaller deviation from accepted norms of fairness. Contrast, for example, working 30 seconds past time with copying answers off of a neighbor. If the average case of writing over time is a less severe violation than say, the average case of copying, the default punishment for the offense should reflect this judgment. Moreover, according to Dean Kathleen Deignan, chair of the Committee on Discipline, the COD has previously punished students who lie to professors about personal circumsances in order to gain extra time on papers with probation, rather than suspension, when there are no other exacerbating factors. The Board believes that writing over time on exams and lying to receive extra time on papers are similar offenses. This incongruity in punishment, then, suggests that the punishment for writing over time on exams should be aligned with the punishment for unfairly receiving extra time to complete a paper.
Despite the lack of statistical data surrounding these cases, anecdotal evidence suggests that the fraction of instances of working over time actually reported to the Honor Committee is lower than reporting rates for other offenses. This comparatively low reporting rate might reflect prevailing beliefs among the student body that writing over time is more acceptable, the confusion about whether a professor’s statement that “time is up” really means that students must finish working and the comparatively large number of students who work over time even after the professor announces the end of the exam. The low level of reporting of this offense is strong evidence that the student body as a whole does not believe that working over time merits the likely punishment of a one-year suspension.
We believe that this reduced standard penalty would maintain an effective level of deterrence: Receiving a zero on an exam and academic probation is a sufficiently serious negative consequence that students will be unlikely to work over time and take the risk of this punishment. Furthermore, this change might actually increase the risk of punishment for working over time because students are more likely to report violations when they believe the likely punishment that the accused will receive is not disproportionate — as the one-year suspension is now.
Finally, we would like to remind the student body that the Honor Code is a student-governed institution. Any student can propose changes to the Honor Code, and proposals that pass student referenda constitute binding changes to its structure. While the Honor Committee’s focus groups are an important first step, students who wish to effect substantive change have the power to work beyond the confines of these groups in order to improve the Honor Committee.
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