UPDATED: April 2, 2013, at 3:34 a.m.
Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences raised concerns about how frequently students would be required to make an affirmation of integrity under an updated proposal for the College’s first-ever honor code, which was presented by Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay Harris to the faculty at their monthly meeting Tuesday.
Harris also presented a proposal for the adoption of a new course credit system, replacing the College’s current system of course units. Under the proposed policy, courses that currently count as half-courses would be worth four credits, though the number of required courses necessary to graduate would remain constant.
Both proposals were presented for discussion only and were not ready for faculty vote.
During the discussion of the proposed honor code, faculty raised concerns surrounding the ambiguity in the policy’s language, especially as it concerned the frequency with which students would be required to sign or make an affirmation of integrity.
At the faculty’s last meeting in February, members asked Harris how often students would be required to make or sign the affirmation. Tuesday, Harris told the faculty that the frequency would be determined by the Dean of the College. But some said that provision is still too ambiguous.
The possibility that students might be required to sign or write the affirmation on every assignment “disconcerted” anthropology professor Arthur Kleinman, who said that further discussion is necessary to prevent this possibility.
“Something that is repeated all of the time is very different from something that is affirmed once in a student’s career or once every year,” computer science professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 said.
If the affirmation became too regular, said history professor Charles S. Maier ’60, it might become “ritualistic” and lose its meaning.
After hearing these concerns, Harris assured faculty members that the frequency, although initially proposed by the College Dean, would be sent to them for a vote before being enacted, because it would represent a change in the Faculty Handbook.
Still others questioned if students and faculty would be required to report instances of cheating under the new honor code and what would happen to those who refused to sign the affirmation of integrity.
Harris said that the honor code would not require students to report cheating if they saw it, and that, for this reason, exams would continue to be proctored under the new policy.
Professors would still be obligated to report cheating should it be brought to their attention by students, he added.
Harris also said that students who refuse to sign the affirmation would still be expected to abide by the code, but that further discussion surrounding that possibility had not yet taken place.
The honor code policy presented at the meeting would also establish an honor board to hear cases of potential violations of academic integrity. At least half of that board would be composed of undergraduate students, with faculty members, administrators, and teaching fellows filling the remaining seats.
In addition to the proposal from the Academic Integrity Committee, Harris proposed switching to a credit system from the current course system, with each half-course equalling four credits.
“I realize that for some of you this might be coming out of left field,” he said. “[We] have tried to structure this in such a way so that it will not change anything for those who do not want to change anything.”
Harris pointed to a new system for organizing student records that will be implemented in the fall of 2015 as a pragmatic reason for the switch. “That system comes ready-made equipped to deal with course credits rather than half-courses," he said.
Beyond the administrative reasons, Harris cited the need to "adjust to the reality of a changing academic world” as primary reason for the shift.
Specifically, he said, the new credit schema would allow for the future possibility of the introduction of a new type of shorter course, lasting for only part of a semester. He said that a numerical course credit system would make these shorter courses—which are still a “theoretical possibility at this point”—easier to track administratively.
Addressing a question from one faculty member, Harris said that faculty members would have the same teaching requirements under the new policy.
Noting the importance of the in-person class experience, Harris also asked faculty members on behalf of the Standing Committee on Undergraduate Education Policy to consider revising a current policy that allows for simultaneous enrollment in courses that meet at overlapping times.
This semester, Harris said, the Administrative Board received and granted 200 petitions from undergraduates requesting permission for simultaneous enrollment, more than four times as many as the 44 who were granted permission six years ago.
Harris, along with members of the Ad Board who unanimously supported the presentation’s recommendations, argued that this signaled a departure from the College’s principles.
“Students are doing entire courses without ever stepping foot in a classroom,” Harris said. "What we are struggling to articulate is that this is not what a residential college should be offering and this is not what a Harvard education should be.”
—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dev_a_patel.
—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: April 2, 2014
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Computer Science professor Harry R. Lewis's middle initial.