Editor's Note: As a clarification, the Honor Constitution, as adopted in 1895, determines a punishment of expulsion for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and recommends a punishment of suspension for first-years who violate the Honor System.
We admire your passion for the Honor Code, and as alumni, we are deeply invested in the Code’s ability to create and maintain a positive academic climate on Princeton’s campus. Over time, it is important to revisit and revise the Code to ensure it remains fair and consistent for all students. It’s also vital we continue to uphold the values of honesty and integrity that we share as a community.
The Code was created 124 years ago by students for students, to hold each other accountable in the exam room. As former Chairs of the Committee, we hope we can provide context behind how the Code has evolved so you can reform it responsibly and ensure it lives another 124 years.
In 1893, after a wave of cheating scandals, students developed the Honor Code in an effort to take responsibility for their education and academic culture. It’s why the Code is twofold: students agree to not cheat on exams but also to uphold the Code by reporting any suspected violations. Because we promise to oversee the integrity of our education, the administration and professors play very limited roles and agree to leave the room during exams.
Every student who matriculates at Princeton agrees to adhere to and uphold the Code. We’ve seen there can be discrepancies between professors and what they believe is an Honor Code violation. If we give professors the prerogative to determine whether a student’s actions gained an unfair advantage, we hand over ownership of what it means to adhere to the Code and remove the capacity to ask one another to take responsibility for our actions. As Princetonians, our student-driven approach to academic integrity is unique, even amongst our peer institutions with Honor Codes. This provides consistency and transparency that transcends the opinions of individual professors.
In taking ownership of their education and academic integrity back in 1893, Princeton students settled on a consequence — one-year suspension — that they felt reflected the severity of violating the Code and the trust they placed in each other. This consequence has been reaffirmed by thousands of students since 1893, all of whom have agreed to abide by the Code when they have matriculated at Princeton. Over time, we’ve also seen that there are certain Honor Code violations that do not merit suspension. In 2012, the Honor Committee, in collaboration with USG and the student body, made disciplinary probation the standard penalty for all overtime violations.
However, we believe it would be a grave mistake to reduce the standard penalty for all forms of cheating to disciplinary probation. This erodes the Committee’s ability to treat students fairly and consistently. Does the student who wrote over the allotted time merit the same punishment as the student who used a cellphone to access lecture slides during an exam? Or the student who modifies their exam before submitting it for a regrade?
We understand the concerns that a standard penalty of one-year suspension is too harsh. The proposed changes, however, are overly broad and tie the Committee’s hands to excessive leniency. Previous changes to penalty came out of thoughtful discussion, where all parties recognized the need to be specific. Otherwise, we harm the Honor Code’s ability to preserve academic integrity on campus.
In addition, we’ve seen firsthand the respect for honor, integrity, and commitment that Princeton alumni are routinely accorded because of our high standards and ideals. Any change diluting the meaningfulness of the Honor Code could slowly erode the reputation that we will rely on for the rest of our careers and lives. Perhaps a better solution lessens the Committee’s obligation to issue a one-year suspension without requiring it only issue probation in every case.
We applaud your commitment as a student body to academic integrity and to improving the Honor Code. We encourage you to sit down with members of the Committee, members of the faculty, and your peers to understand how the Honor Code works — and doesn’t work — today, and collaborate together on a more perfect system for the current day.
Charles Jacobson '16, former Honor Committee Chair
Luchi Mmegwa '14, former Honor Committee Chair
Antonia Hyman '13, former Honor Committee Chair
Pauline Nguyen '12, former Honor Committee Chair
Alex Rosen '11, former Honor Committee Chair
Peter Dunbar '10, former Honor Committee Chair
Bennett Fox-Glassman '08, former Honor Committee Chair
James Williamson, '07, former Honor Committee Chair
Christopher Lloyd '06 former Honor Committee Chair