A Better Approach to Academic Integrity

The Honor Council Represents Progress, But It Must Keep Improving Transparency

Harvard College’s new Honor Council, due to begin operating next fall, represents a significant improvement over the Administrative Board in terms of transparency, communication between the adjudicatory body and students, and emphasis on student involvement. Operating in tandem with the Ad Board, the Honor Council will improve the College's handling of integrity cases. In particular, the inclusion of Student Academic Integrity Fellows is an impressive feature of the council’s structure. That said, the Council has to ensure that it makes good on its promises of transparency in the coming years.

Students have long called for peer representation on the College’s primary judiciary board, and as half of the Honor Council's case-hearing members will be undergraduates, this new body will be fulfilling a much-needed and much-awaited wish. In addition, the new process will be more transparent for the accused: While the Ad Board currently breaks into small subcommittees to interview accused students, the Honor Council will meet with students in larger eight-person groups. According to Associate Dean for Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Brett Flehinger, future secretary of the Honor Council, every accused student will now have the chance to meet with everyone deciding his or her case.

The SAIFs will also play a worthwhile role by representing the interests of students and by ensuring communication between the Council and students. In addition to four students and four faculty or staff on the Honor Council, a SAIF will accompany students undergoing academic integrity evaluations, working to help them understand how the Honor Council process works. Besides serving as representatives from the administration, SAIFs will also be points of contact for students who have been asked to withdraw.

This peer support system, in addition to the public, transparent nature of the Honor Council’s development thus far, provides a stark contrast to what we have in the past called the Ad Board’s “central lack of transparency.”

“One thing that has distinguished this process is that it has been so visible,” said SAIF Palmer Smith ’16. “We wanted strong community engagement throughout this process, and the SAIFs are going to play a big role in that.”

This “community engagement” will also be key to making students feel personally responsible for academic integrity.  

“Given the important role our students play in [the Honor Council and crafting the Honor Code], it will probably inspire curiosity around the culture of academic integrity around students,” Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said. This emphasis on student awareness will be crucial to having students feel like they have a degree of ownership over academic integrity at Harvard.

But while the Honor Council will be more open in many ways than the Ad Board has been, it has not eliminated all the transparency issues that are associated with discipline at Harvard. In particular, the College should begin releasing more detailed statistics on academic integrity violations.  This weakness remains a concern with the Honor Council: When reached for comment about how the Honor Council plans to publish statistics about academic integrity cases, Dean Flehinger said there were no concrete plans in this regard.

“Our connections to the community through case reporting are developing as the members of the Honor Council develop their understanding of the scope of their work and the Honor Code becomes part of our culture,” Dean Flehinger said. “The student members of the Council are just starting, and as all the members of the Council work together, they will guide our efforts to connect to the community as effectively as possible.”

While this perspective reaffirms the Honor Council’s interest in engaging with the community, it does not necessarily solve the procedural transparency issue that has plagued the Ad Board for years. The Honor Council’s inclusion of students represents immense progress, but it must continue working to avoid the pitfalls of its predecessor. 

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