Radcliffe students taking hour examinations in Memorial Hall for the first time are always surprised and indignant that male proctors are instructed to follow them to the rest room and to wait for them. They regard this both as ungentlemanly and as a serious encroachment upon their venerated honor system.
Allowing Harvard proctors to supervise joint examinations is the only concession the Annex has made to the University in disciplinary problems. But the Harvard proctor technically has only the rights of a Radcliffe girl in such cases. Under the honor system, every girl is supposed to report herself or anyone else she see for any violation of the regulations. These reports are made to the president of the 'Cliffe Student Government, not to the deans.
In 1943, when the academic honor system was in its infancy, the proctors were considered only "mechanical aids" who would pass out blue books and record the passage of time. They had no disciplinary powers. But a special action by the Student Government made the proctors in both mixed and all-Radcliffe exams the equivalents of Annex undergraduates for the duration of the test.
Because of this ruling, the girl who wishes to cheat is actually only slightly less safe from exposure in a mixed exam than she is in an all-Radcliffe exam. Harvard regulations provide for one proctor for every 30 students taking the test; Radcliffe requires only one proctor in each examination room, no matter how many students are in it.
But few proctors in Radcliffe exams ever wish to exercise their powers, for they prefer to respect the honor system and let the girl report herself on her own initiative. As a result, there has only been one instance reported in the past six years. And this case resulted in a stalemate because the girl involved flatly denied the proctor's accusation that she had cheated.
Violations of social rules, also enforced by the honor system, come much more frequently. It is almost common practice for girls to come in at 1:30 a.m. and enter 1:00 in the sign-out book. Freshmen, with limited late permission during the first semester, sometimes don't even bother signing out to avoid using up these precious few.
Such violations are easy because of the amazing degree of freedom the honor system, gives the student. Since it very inception, Radcliffe has given each girl a key to her dormitory and even today is one of the few colleges which does.
Critics of the honor system point to the many infractions that go unobserved as proof that the honor system primarily honors only the principle of expediency. The Radcliffe library is an oft-cited example. There is no attendant at the door to check for stealing; last year 209 books were taken. Library authorities have threatened to abolish this aspect of the honor system if the record does not improve this year.
President Jordan and a committee of faculty and students are now giving the system its periodic examination. Chances are some of the tarnish may be removed, and Radcliffe's honor system will again take on high lustre.