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Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022

No Honor (Code) Among Us

Self-proctored exams are one of the most visible manifestations of our honor code. Our professors hand out the exams, answer questions, and then retreat to their offices, coming back only occasionally to check in and make sure everything is ok. For the Economics department, this norm may be changing. During the spring semester, proctors will be present while students take their exam - an attempt to combat cheating and a lack of peer reporting. While professors have always been allowed to petition to proctor their exams, this is the first time that a group of classes will be proctored.

This should not be seen as a logical step, but rather as a shameful reminder of a broken system, and should not be lauded. The honor code is a privilege. Our professors grant us tremendous trust that extends far beyond proctoring. From assigning take-home exams to understanding and accommodating our needs when problems arise, professors here believe in our honesty and academic integrity, and this grants us a degree of freedom. This change in policy, however, shows that this trust is being breeched and there are consequences.

Is the honor code dying? No one seems to be rushing to its defense. Economics majors are not protesting or petitioning. Professors are not pressing its importance upon their classes. Students are not passionate about the honor code anymore. The fact that this was covertly laid out and never officially announced points to the overwhelming apathy of all parties. A change in the culture in our classrooms has been met with deafening silence.

It makes sense that the student body has lost interest in the honor code. We had nothing to do with its creation, and we almost never hear about it after first-year orientation. If the honor code has lackluster support, it is not because this generation of Middkids is less moral or more apathetic than the ones before it. It is simply that we, that is to say our entire community, administration, professors, and students alike, are not invested enough in the honor code. As with anything else, if we want the honor code to succeed, we need to invest in it. It is easy enough to say cheating will always be a problem. The challenge is to create a culture that rejects it.

In the real world, there are no proctors, but students here will go on to be successful and influential businessmen, politicians, doctors, teachers, lawyers and community members. The honor code is a part of the Middlebury brand. We love to point to the honor code as a demonstration of our integrity and the type of community we come from. What, then, does it say about our future selves if we cannot expect integrity from our community members now?

Our limited contact with the honor code consists of ceremonial signing during orientation followed by writing it occasionally on essays and tests. But at schools where the honor code really works, Davidson and the University of Virginia for example, the honor code is ingrained into the culture. Instead of acquiescing to the Econ Department’s decision, we need to double down on the honor code. Here’s how:

First, students must deal with the honor code on a more regular basis. Professors should require students to write the honor code on all graded assignments to serve as a constant reminder of our community standards. Students should re-sign the honor code at the beginning of each year. The idea should not be perceived as a forced training, as with AlcoholEdu, but as a renewal of our commitment to our community and our education. We should also install plaques with the honor code in every classroom, as they do at UVA, to serve as a visual reminder of this commitment. UVA also has an entire website dedicated to their honor code, whereas we have a page embedded within the Dean of Students’ page, which explains in several places that uncontested infractions can be resolved without even a judicial hearing.

Furthermore, we all know that peer proctoring — the requirement that students report cheating — is the exception, rather than the norm. The problem is as simple as a fear of talking with a professor face-to-face to say that you have seen someone cheating. We should again follow UVA’s model in addressing this by establishing an online method to report cheating. This will make peer proctoring a less onerous task, and one more likely to succeed. Additionally, to strengthen our commitment to this system of peer proctoring, we should change the honor code from “I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment” to “I have neither given nor received nor witnessed unauthorized aid on this assignment.” While these measures may not alleviate the problem entirely, pairing them with improved enforcement just might.

We must strengthen the punishments associated with cheating if we expect the honor code to be effective. We suggest a one-strike suspension, two-strike expulsion policy. While there are gradients of cheating — accidentally misciting a source is certainly different than buying a paper online — clear-cut instances of intentional cheating should not be tolerated in our community. The underlying message would be that when you come to Middlebury, you enter a contract with the community, and this has strict expectations. We owe our peers and professors basic respect. At its core, cheating is an issue of respect. Currently, our punitive responses are insubstantial. When one person cheats, it reflects poorly on the entire community and insults those who abide by the honor code. While we recognize that Middlebury is a place meant to teach, if you choose to cheat after constantly being reminded of the honor code, this is not the place for you.

Our honor code is not broken, but it is certainly ailing. We must take this problem seriously while we are still able to fix it, lest we change the culture that makes our community as strong as it is. The changes need to be both institutional and cultural. Regardless of your major, the Economics department’s decision should be a wake-up call. We need to treat the honor code like the privilege it is and hold each other accountable so this trust between faculty members and students will not be called into question this strongly again.

 Artwork by AMR THAMEEN