Changes have been underway at Southwestern to try to maintain the integrity of the university’s long-standing Honor Code. The wording of the Honor Pledge was changed last year to give it broader authority, and now the governing body of the Honor Code has shifted from an all-student Student Judiciary to an Honor Code Council that has an equal number of faculty and student members.
These changes have not been rash. An Honor Code Task Force made up of students and faculty was formed three years ago to examine the effectiveness of the Honor Code. It was this group that made the decision to change the previous Honor Pledge because of its antiquated and narrow language (“I have neither given nor received aid on the examination…”). The change to include faculty in Honor Code affairs was made to try to legitimize the system in the eyes of faculty, according to Mike Leese, who acts as the advisor to the HCC.
“It was apparent at the beginning of last fall that we still [had] too many faculty [that] were not buying into the Honor Code,” Leese said. “There seemed to be this agreement that it was time for a change, and we just simply had too many faculty that didn’t buy into the Honor Code anymore.”
Sarah Gould, the president of the new HCC, agreed that the Honor Code needed to be reworked.
“It did become ineffective. It got to the point where faculty weren’t believing in it, [and] students weren’t following it like they should,” Gould said.
In an effort to ensure the success of these changes, the HCC is vigorously trying to educate the campus about the new Honor Code.
In an effort to reach first-years, Gould was a speaker at matriculation, just one of the events that the HCC used to get its message out. There were hall meetings about the code in dorms, a formal meeting in the Alma Thomas Theater, and even the chance for new students to sign a giant banner inscribed with the Honor Pledge. Gould said that this is just the first step in raising awareness about the changes.
“We are going to start a campus-wide education campaign, [HCC Vice President Jon Appel] and I are, to speak to athletics and fraternities and sororities and student organizations – really just kind of wiping the slate clean as far as Student Judiciary and the previous Honor Code is concerned – and reeducate everyone on not only the Honor Code at Southwestern, but why academic integrity is important to students, to faculty, to the future,” Gould said.
Leese and the HCC said that there were 36 Honor Code violations last year and 37 the year before that. Twenty nine of last year’s cases were settled by a “non-judicial resolution,” the most common solution for Honor Code violations, according to Leese. Non-judicial resolutions are arrangements made between a professor and a student that has allegedly violated the Honor Code where the two will work out an agreement so that the student does not have to have to go before the HCC Hearing Board. These agreements will usually involve revising or rewriting as well as capped grades for the assignment or even the course.
Leese and Gould both described these resolutions as a sort of warning. Students are only allowed to have one of them during their academic careers. If a student is charged with violating the Honor Code past that first instance, he or she is forced to go before the HCC Hearing Board. Even once it has reached the hearing stage, however, rarely does a violation lead to serious action. Gould said that in her two years working on Student Judiciary, she has only seen one instance where an offense had the potential to warrant suspension or expulsion. Leese himself said that “it is very hard to get kicked out of this place.”
The HCC can take this action when needed, however. Upon its formation, the group was given the ability to take stronger disciplinary action against Honor Code offenders.
“We now have the power to suspend or expel,” Gould said. “If we wanted to suspend or expel as Student Judiciary, we had to go through the University Committee on Discipline, but now Honor Code Council solely has the power.”
The HCC is insistent that all Honor Code violations be treated seriously. One of the group’s major focuses is to have faculty report agreements that they make with students regarding Honor Code violations. To the HCC, every single infraction – whether it is accidentally citing a source incorrectly or buying a whole research paper – must involve the process that the group has set up for handling violations.
“Yes, it seems too formal for some certain stances, and it’s really up to the professor’s discretion whether they pursue it with the Honor Code Council or not, but in the effort in making the Honor Code work at Southwestern, we cannot be discriminatory towards different instances, so we will prosecute everything that technically violates it,” Gould said.
Leese said that the numbers are up from earlier in the decade and that he is not concerned by these numbers. He instead claimed that he was happy with them because he views this as reflective not of more Honor Code violations, but of more incidents being reported through the proper channels. Leese said that he makes this distinction based on a “gut feeling.”
Leese said that the Honor Code’s place is not a fixed one. If the efforts of the new Honor Code Council can not sway faculty and students to believe in and support the code, there are provisions to eliminate it all together.
When the decision to make changes to the Honor Code was approved by the faculty in spring of 2008, it was also agreed that the faculty would revisit the issue three years later, the spring of 2011, according to Leese. He said that after these three years have elapsed, the faculty could decide to not have an Honor Code at Southwestern.
Despite the looming threat of its discontinuation, Gould and other supporters of the Honor Code are confident that the changes they are making will persuade not just the professors, but everyone at SU, that an Honor Code that is overseen by a committee of both faculty and students and stresses the principles of “honesty” and “integrity” is something worth having.
“As the faculty and students see the positive changes that come under the Honor Code Council – the greater commitment to education, the broader awareness of academic integrity – the Honor Code’s roots will only grow deeper. Southwestern’s education goes beyond the skills we are building in the classroom,” Gould said. “Who we are today will be part of who we are tomorrow. The Southwestern Honor Code instills integrity into every student for that primary reason.”