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Examining the Honor Code

Illustration: Scott Bakal

Stanford has had its Honor Code for 94 years, and students specifically agree to uphold it by signing the pledge printed on exam blue books. Revised most recently in 1977, "The Honor Code is an undertaking of the students, individually and collectively, that they will not give or receive aid in examinations; that they will not give or receive unpermitted aid in class work, in the preparation of reports, or in any other work that is to be used by the instructor as the basis of grading; and that they will do their share and take an active part in seeing to it that others as well as themselves uphold the spirit and letter of the Honor Code." The Code also stipulates that the faculty "manifests its confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring examinations and from taking unusual and unreasonable precautions to prevent the forms of dishonesty mentioned above. The faculty will also avoid, as far as practicable, academic procedures that create temptations to violate the Honor Code."

The Office of Community Standards (OCS) is charged with handling Honor Code violations and their consequences. Last May, the Board of Judicial Affairs conducted an open forum that included discussion of some of the frictions surrounding the Honor Code. Although the Honor Code is covered thoroughly in freshman orientation, many students don't seem to know its details and don't think about it much, asserts Susan Fleischmann, associate dean of student life and director of OCS. What's more, some faculty members find their role in implementing the code burdensome because of the demands of documenting transgressions and participating in subsequent investigations. "Stanford was very different in 1921. Some of Stanford's classes are now very large and teaching methods have changed," Fleischmann explains.

Fleischmann says students tell her they like the prohibition on proctoring, a sign of trust and a signal that they will be treated "like adults." However, students also seem to resent the expectation that they should turn in cheaters, in part because of the social cost of snitching, but also because they fear that the consequences for a student found guilty can be serious. Fleischmann says students don't realize expulsion is a very rare consequence reserved for repeat offenders. A first offense may result in probation or suspension.

Not all students agree that proctoring exams is a bad idea. "It's such an easy solution if you're concerned about cheating. Faculty or TAs should sit in on the test," says economics major Ryan Gaertner, '17. "Students should have prepared."

OCS is working on a video about the Honor Code it hopes to release later this year illuminating the expectations and the process.


Comments (1)

  • Dr. Paul Nahay

    1984 to 1986, I was Lecturer in Music Theory at Stanford, having received my Doctor of Musical Arts in composition in 1983 there. In 1985, I set the Honor Code text as an art song, for soprano and piano, which was performed in Dinkelspiel Auditorium in the spring of 1986. The song text is simply the entire Honor Code text!

    Posted by Dr. Paul Nahay on Oct 17, 2015 11:04 AM

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