Although it is unpleasant to air the dirty laundry of the student body, it should be noted that cheating is rampant at Yale. Certainly there is ample punishment if one is caught, but no number of administrative Executive Committees can provide deterrence for such a widespread problem. Indeed, if the language of deterrence even needs to be used to convince people of the importance of academic honesty, then the moral caliber of Yalies is in sharp decline.
Dishonesty is not merely a problem in the academic realm, but socially, as well. How many undergraduates have been let down by fellow members of their singing groups, publications, music quartets and political parties? Yalies are remarkably dedicated to their activities, and yet not often so dedicated to each other.
The solution must come from students themselves, and from a sense of personal obligation to being truthful. One remedy currently exists throughout the world of education and has successfully functioned for many years.
We need an honor code.
An honor code requires people to take their words and actions seriously. Trustworthiness and credibility hinge upon the promises we make. While the laws of Yale College might be a formidable threat for the common cheater, an honor code system holds students responsible to more than a complex set of laws — it holds students to their word.
One of the most famous honor codes in the country, established by Princeton undergraduates in 1893, is a hallmark of that institution. It demands that students not merely promise to comport themselves honestly during examinations, but to report any students who may have cheated. Such an action is not meant to create division among students, but instead to foster a common trust between students, professors and the university as a whole.
Indeed, under the Princeton system, professors leave their students alone during exams. The code is a contract among members of the community, a sacred oath that people hold as inviolable. This bond is so strong that should a Princeton alumnus learn of cheating after graduation, he would still be expected to report this infraction.
In an era when skepticism is rampant and words like honor and integrity are commonly mocked, the common response is that an honor code will not work. If people cheat now, taking an oath will mean nothing to them.
Such arguments are pathetic.
As shocking as this may be to many, there are those who take their word seriously and feel bound to the promises that they make. Accepting an honor code would affirm a commitment to these virtues.
Some claim that rampant cheating implies a flaw in the Yale curriculum. They will rally for a decreased amount of work or a new grading structure. These issues are not relevant to the idea of a code that would address academic integrity. Yale must remain dedicated to providing a rigorous education. An honor code is a sign from undergraduates that we are committed to our role as students.
Acting honorably reflects well on the University as a whole. We honor alumni for achieving great things and living decent lives. Having an honor code shows that we are dedicated to the legacy that our predecessors have upheld.
Indeed, the greatest challenge to an honor code comes from the traditional ideal of a Yale Man. One alumnus recently said, quite proudly, that Yale has never had an honor code because the Yale Man does not need an oath in order to be honest.
Although many wish that such an ideal were still embodied on campus, the current environment requires a reaffirmation of this basic code of conduct.
Will this make a difference?
You have my word.
Justin Zaremby is a junior in Calhoun College. His columns appear on alternate Tuesdays.