Harvard’s efforts to encourage an atmosphere of academic honesty took a major step Tuesday with the unveiling of the Honor Code draft. The short, one-and-a-half page document includes two important new policies. First, it calls for students to sign an “affirmation to integrity” before major examinations; and second, it creates a joint student-faculty “honor board” to oversee cases involving academic dishonesty.
These are positive developments toward fostering a culture of academic honesty at the College. Over time, we hope that they will help to create a community that better upholds the ideals of honesty and integrity. The declaration of integrity—which requires students to “attest to the honesty of [their] academic work and affirm that it conforms to the standards of the Harvard College Honor Code”—will have to be signed before every major test and paper. It should serve as a reminder of the importance and value of academic integrity at the times in which cheating is most tempting. Far from meaningless talk, the honor code and declaration can have a positive psychological impact by reminding each student of the culture of academic honesty and integrity to which we all should strive. And at the very least, a declaration of integrity is unlikely to have any negative effects on academic honesty.
The second major announcement was the creation of a new honor board, which will include both student and faculty members and hear cases of academic dishonesty. We applaud this effort to engage the student perspective in the disciplinary process. Having students on the honor board not only makes the process more transparent to the student body but also gives those with the best knowledge of the infractions at hand—current students—a say in the correct punitive measures. Judgment before one’s peers can also be a deterrent to potential cheaters.
As the process of drafting an honor code moves along, we hope that students continue to have an active voice in the process. As we opined in April, an honor code shaped by the student body moves the moral responsibility of academic dishonesty away from the administration and onto the students. The development of a declaration and honor board puts more onus on student judgment and decision-making. We welcome these steps as Harvard moves forward in discussing academic integrity, and in developing a culture that sustains it.
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