Features 01/08/02

USU considering honor code to combat cheating; other schools' codes quite diverse

By Nollie Haws

Mention the words "honor code" in Utah and people will run screaming.

To anyone who is familiar with the Brigham Young University honor code it is either infamous or a great idea. Many students attend Utah State University because they want a college environment with strong moral values, but do not want the hassle of being told exactly what they can and cannot do.

So then why is Utah State University thinking of adopting its own version of an honor code?

Andy Haws, the Associated Students of Utah State University academic vice president, who has worked extensively with writing and implementing the proposed honor code, said that it is for a simple reason: "It would be na´ve to assume that USU is someway insulated from the pervasive cheating that is occurring around the nation's campuses."

According to the Center for Academic Integrity, academic dishonesty is on the rise among high school and college students. Duke University released the results of an academic integrity survey in spring of 2000. Of 242 Duke students who responded, 45 percent admitted to engaging in unauthorized collaboration. 38.5 percent acknowledged that they had copied a few sentences without citing them in a paper, and 37 percent said they had falsified lab or research data.

There are no statistics on the number of academic dishonesty cases at Utah State University, but if USU is a normal campus, cheating is happening.

Adelle Pratt, a senior at USU majoring in sociology, said that she has seen cheating in "every class." The most common form she witnessed was where one or two students would choose someone they thought was "smarter than them," and then they would take the same version of the test as the person next to them and copy the other person's answers.

Two different types of university honor codes exist. These are the traditional and modified honor codes. Traditional honor codes are characterized by a zero-tolerance policy and unproctored exams. Modified honor codes emphasize rehabilitation and education for the offender. The common theme between both types is an honor pledge and students being heavily involved in the disciplinary process, usually in the form of a student honor board.

"There has been a resurgence in the recent past of honor codes, but mostly modified ones," Haws said. "Traditional honor codes are usually associated with small private schools. Modified honor codes are being adopted by larger public institutions mainly because there has been a drastic increase in the amount out cheating that goes on a college campuses."

The University of Virginia is one school that has a longstanding traditional honor code. On the main page of the university's website it boasts that UVA has "the nation's oldest student-run honor system." This was instituted in 1842 when a professor was shot on the campus lawn while attempting to quiet a disturbance. The honor code has changed over time to reflect the changing demographic of the university, but the sense of importance has stayed the same.

At Washington and Lee University, the honor code gives students "academic and social freedom." According to the honor code explanation, "By being in a trusting environment, students reap the benefits. Students schedule their own finals, take unsupervised exams, personal property is generally safe on campus, and most university buildings are open 24 hours a day."

But before USU students get too excited about getting to schedule their own finals, it would be wise to mention that USU is thinking of adopting a modified, not traditional, honor code. This would include academic integrity and incivility violations and a student honor board that would hear the cases. The USU Student Code is being revised to include the honor code due process in the language, so that teachers would have the option of sending students who cheated to the student honor board to be tried instead of having to deal with it themselves. Research shows that students are customarily more severe with their peers than faculty, thus dissuading students from being repeat offenders.

Haws also noted that it is important that if adopted, the honor code becomes an important part of the campus culture.

"One of the keys of the success of the honor code is that it has to become a part of the culture," he said. "That is why the traditional honor codes have worked so well. The students all abide by it."

Another component of a successful honor code is the honor pledge. The proposed USU pledge would say, "As a student of Utah State University, I pledge to conduct myself with honor, integrity, and civility." Haws said he hopes to help instill the pledge as part of the campus culture by placing it in large letters in a conspicuous location in Taggart Student Center, as well as by encouraging professors to put it on their syllabi, tests and assignments.

"Faculty are the lynchpin," Haws said. "If they don't have confidence in the student disciplinary process, they do not have to refer cases to the student honor board. They can handle cases as they always did."'

What about the question of the different interpretations of the word, "honor?" In our day of shifting values, what might be honorable to one student might not be to another. Why not call it a "Code of Ethics," or by some other name?

According to those involved with the honor code, the answer is threefold. First, there is no synonym for honor. Second, as USU strives to become a nationally recognized university, the name "honor code" has national significance, thus giving the university more credibility and prestige. Third, the name immediately grabs the attention of faculty and students because of the Utah connotation. They hope that with that attention, they'll be able to educate them on the differences between the BYU honor code and the one proposed for USU.

BYU's honor code has a dress code component, which deters many prospective students. Shorts must be to the knee, female students may also not wear more than one pair of earrings in each ear, and male students may not wear beards, among other regulations. The BYU honor code also makes rules about where students may live and who can come into their residences at what time of day or night. USU students need not worry that these types of restrictions will be introduced.

"BYU's honor code is an aberration from what honor codes have been traditionally in this country," Haws said. "The definition of appropriate is far narrower than almost any other institution in the country."

The proposed USU honor code still has to get approved by the Faculty Senate, as well as the University Executive Council and the Board of Trustees, as it would be a change in the current Student Code. But as mentioned earlier, it would be a major addition to the university's prestige. More than 30 other schools in the nation have honor codes, among which are Dartmouth College, Kansas State University and the College of William and Mary.

Undoubtedly many students will have questions and concerns about implementing such a large change, but hopefully this will help get rid of the BYU honor code stereotype in Utah once and for all.


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