“A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.” West Point’s Honor Code is brief but resolute. Any cadet who violates the Code faces firm consequences. Many of Yale’s peer institutions follow similar declarations, though some have adopted them sooner than others.
In 2012, nearly half of the students in a Harvard government class were found guilty of academic dishonesty. The university disciplined them accordingly, forcing dozens to withdraw. This scandal pushed Harvard to implement an Honor Code. Princeton has boasted its Honor Code and student-run Honor Committee since 1893. This speaks to a deep-rooted spirit of student responsibility and institutional emphasis on character. We at Yale, however, have neither an Honor Code nor a student-run Honor group. What does this say about us?
The only thing coming close to either of the aforementioned entities is the Executive Committee (ExComm). ExComm consists of seven faculty members, the Dean of Yale College, three undergraduates, a factfinder and a secretary. The committee is responsible for punishing the perpetrators of academic violations. During Camp Yale, out of many mandatory workshops, not a single one of them touches on academic integrity. Instead, first years hear presentations from student groups like the Community Health Educators and Communication and Consent Educators. Consistent throughout their curriculum is an underlying desire for respectful and civil interaction among students, for fundamental principles of character and camaraderie that impact every facet of life at Yale. How can Yale instill these principles? Through an Honor Code.
As we assess our national leadership, some question the relevance of honor. If my public officeholders don’t exhibit it, why should I? The traditional role of honor in Western civilization has been declining. Yale’s policies on handling academic dishonesty are listed only online, in a distant subtab. Yale needs a stronger statement of integrity.
Why do we need a written statement? Maybe we should just try to emulate Lincoln, “I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.” But a written Honor Code codifies the core values of quintessential Yale students, much like the Declaration of Independence for the quintessential American. There is something about the written word that transcends time and space.
According to ExComm public records, in Fall 2017 alone, there were 36 dispositions, 46 cases of academic honesty and nine cases relating to non-academic issues. Critics suggest that an Honor Code won’t decrease infractions, but active reminders, such as writing a statement of academic integrity on exams (as Princeton suggests), certainly aren’t detrimental. A 2010 survey conducted by the Daily News of Yale undergraduates showed that the majority hadn’t ever read the school’s policy on academic honesty and were unclear about the school’s rules on collaboration.
It’s clear, then, that we need an Honor Code. To those doubting the power of a written document I redirect you to the Bible or the Quran. A code has the power to shape an entire culture. Last year, I helped to amend my high school’s new Honor Code: “As a member of the Haverford community, I am a man of integrity who embodies respect, honesty and courage.” While a character honor code is ideal, it is hard to define these attributes universally; an academic honor code, at least, is a good start.
The first time anyone discussed academic dishonesty with me was this past week, now over a month into the academic year, at a Trumbull College fireside chat (before that, only at the very bottom of long syllabi). From plagiarism to sexual misconduct, issues of character still exist at Yale. A step toward solving them? An Honor Code at Yale.
Samuel Turner is a first year in Trumbull College. Contact him at email@example.com .