The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Co-Chairs, the Opinion Editor, and the Editor-in-Chief. It can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In recent weeks, there has been considerable debate in the opinion pages of The Daily Princetonian about the Honor Committee. Recent columns have touched on the very nature of the Honor Code itself, even opposing the current penalties for academic integrity violations during in-class exams. The Board supports the current standard penalty of a one-year suspension for Honor Code violations because this appropriately upholds community standards and provides opportunity for rehabilitation. We also believe the Honor Committee should better explain the rationale behind this penalty. The Board next proposes changes to how punishments are applied during the semester and recorded on transcripts. Specifically, students should not be able to erase their semester and fully withdraw from their courses after the ninth week of the semester except in extraordinary circumstances, and a new grade designation should be created that will indicate on the student’s transcript that an academic violation was committed in a course and the student received no course credit or a letter grade for that course.
The reputation and validity of the University's academic community is maintained through its commitment to academic integrity. Academic integrity is critical for a community based on trust and the highest ideals of scholarship and academic achievement. Cheating undermines the University's core institutional values and makes students distrustful of each other. Thus, gaining an unfair advantage on an in-class assessment is not only unfair, but also undermines values and a sense of community. To uphold this integrity, strict penalties must be placed on those who impugn it. The Honor Code is the contract between the students and faculty that serves to ensure this integrity while entrusting students with its execution. The existing standard penalty for a violation under the Honor Committee is a one-year suspension from Princeton. This penalty is severe in the moment, while also providing an opportunity for future rehabilitation. Suspension is clearly an unenviable possibility, so it will suffice as a deterrent insofar as students can be deterred from cheating on exams. Furthermore, a year off provides an opportunity for students who commit Honor Code violations to reflect, process, and then rejoin the University's academic community.
The Board also believes that the negative impacts of alternative penalties may in fact be greater than the negative effects of the standard penalty. With a year gap in a student’s record, potential employers would not know the reason for the off-year unless they requested access to the student’s transcript, and students may be able to explain years off in more positive ways. By contrast, alternative penalties such as an automatic F in the course have effects that persist far down the line. An F could limit the ability of the student to get a job because of the significant impact this would have on GPA. As a GPA is often the first detail which employers ask of job applicants, the negative impact of an F on a person's GPA would be inescapable. Thus, a one-year suspension not only upholds community standards and provides opportunities for rehabilitation, but is also the best way to minimize the longer term impacts of penalties for violations.
However, despite the rehabilitation benefits of the standard penalty of a year off and the harms alternative penalties may impose, many students deem the standard penalty as arbitrarily harsh. The Board disagrees with this popular sentiment, but we believe that this sentiment is based in lack of information about the pros and cons of different punishments. We thus believe it is important for the Honor Committee to explain why it assigns a standard penalty of a yearlong suspension and to make sure the campus community is informed about this reasoning. This could be done as part of the committee's discussion of academic integrity at Princeton, which already takes place during freshmen orientation each September. The more students understand and support the honor system, the more likely they will be to participate in their twofold responsibility of upholding academic integrity at Princeton: not cheating, and reporting others whom they witness cheating.
While the current standard penalty is the best policy, additional inequities exist in the Honor Committee system under the status quo. Whether a student is allowed to finish a semester or not depends on the point in the semester students are found responsible for a violation. Under the current system, students found responsible for a violation whose case is resolved before week nine of the semester must leave Princeton immediately. Their semester is voided, meaning none of the classes for that semester appear on their transcript. However, if the case is resolved and an appeal is rejected after week nine but before the end of week twelve of the semester, the student currently has the choice to stay and complete the semester and their courses for grade,s or to leave and have their semester voided. We believe this is unfair to the rest of the student body, which has no discretion to drop a course after the week nine drop deadline. As part of the status quo, a case resolved after week twelve means that a student must stay and finish their semester.
The Board proposes that, out of fairness to all students in the University who may not drop courses after week nine, all students found responsible for Honor Code violations after week nine must complete their semester, except in extraordinary circumstances at the Dean of the College’s discretion. For example, this discretion might be exercised between weeks nine and twelve in case the violation was committed early in the semester but the Honor Committee and appeal process took longer than usual, for reasons out of the student’s control.
Finally, students should not be able to receive course credit for courses in which they are found responsible for an Honor Code violation, and this should be indicated on their transcript if a student finishes the semester. Currently, the Honor Committee can only recommend to the course instructor that a student receive a zero on the in-class assessment in question. This is problematic because professors are under no obligation to follow this recommendation, creating the possibility of inconsistent punishments. The Board instead proposes that students not receive credit for the course in question, eliminating the need for professors to choose a grade. On the student’s transcript, there should be a designation that makes it clear that a student committed an Honor Code violation in that course. Similar to a pass in a P/D/F course, this designation would not factor into the student’s GPA. This approach strikes a balance between ensuring that a student’s record is not unchanged if they cheat and limiting the disparate impacts of GPA effects. While students cannot hide the fact that they cheated, many employers do not ask for a transcript when hiring, limiting the impact of the designation on a transcript.
The Honor Code, like any other rule, must be enforced by penalties that are severe enough to deter infractions, while lenient enough to allow rehabilitation. The Board believes that under the current suspension policy, paired with new policies on course completion and grading, students would be sufficiently deterred from seeking an unfair advantage on examinations, but would be able to reenter the University community as productive members.
Carolyn Liziewski ’18 recused herself from the writing of this editorial.
Rachel Glenn ’19, Megan Armstrong ’19, Ashley Reed ’18, William Pugh ‘20, and Caden McLaughlin ‘20 abstained from the writing of this editorial.