Harvard College Rolls Out Its First Honor Code With Fanfare

After years of planning and a massive cheating scandal, the College’s honor code is now finally in effect, and administrators and students are introducing the policy and the new body that will adjudicate academic dishonesty cases in an attempt to make sure the students it governs are aware of it.

Armed with student ambassadors in matching T-shirts and a new Facebook page, the College is trying to publicize the policy—the first of its kind—amidst its roll out, which included an event during freshman orientation devoted to it.

Honor Code Panel
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana begins the panel discussion on the College's honor code by talking about the impetus for the honor code at the Barker Center in April.

With a stated goal of a sparking a culture shift among undergraduates so that they become more committed to integrity in academics and more broadly, the honor code asks students to sign a statement affirming their awareness of the policy.

A new student-faculty body called the Honor Council will adjudicate on cases involving potential academic dishonesty. Previously, the Administrative Board, the College’s primary disciplinary body with no student members, heard cheating cases, but after roughly 125 students were initially implicated in 2012’s Government 1310 cheating investigation, an existing push to create an honor code at the College was expedited. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved the policy in 2014.

The varied methods -- online and in person -- administrators used to introduce the honor code to students as they arrived on campus last week for the fall semester indicate that they recognize how large of a change they hope it will represent. Before it was adopted, some faculty members and students were skeptical that students would buy in to the policy in practice.

“The goal is to start kind of effecting a cultural change immediately at Harvard,” said Matthew J. Vegari ’17, one of 12 undergraduate students on the Honor Council.

The College introduced the honor code to the new freshman class before they arrived on campus, asking each member to respond to questions about the policy and the importance of academic integrity as part of their writing placement test. All students were asked to affirm their awareness of the honor code when they registered online for the semester.

Brett Flehinger, the Honor Council’s secretary, said it would make sense to repeat the writing exercise in future years, and argued that it is important for the College to increase students’ engagement with the honor code and academic integrity now that the policy is in place.

“What you’re doing is trying to make that bedrock value more prominent,” Flehinger said. “It’s not about us; it’s about the community picking this up.”

Given the broad ambitions that administrators and students have for the “cultural change” they hope the honor code will spur, administrators were tasked with communicating the new policies as a new class of first-year students arrived on campus.

So far, the College has taken several steps in publicizing the honor code, including student meetings and social media. Michael C. Ranen, freshman resident dean for Ivy Yard and a member of the Honor Council, met with student leaders of pre-orientation programs to brief them on the honor code. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana spoke to incoming students about the policy in Memorial Church last week.

Although a spokesperson said he was unavailable to speak about the honor code’s rollout to reporters in person or over the phone, in an emailed statement, Khurana called the policy “an important part of a dialogue we can all participate in and learn from.”

Prior to freshman move-in, students on the Honor Council arrived on campus in mid-August for their own training, which started last spring, as they prepare to hear their first cases this fall. A few student members of the Council had stayed on campus over the summer as interns.

But while students and administrators say they want to make students excited about, and simply aware of, the honor code, there is tension with the desire to make it feel established and a general understanding that the pace of change can be slow.

Jonathan G. Jeffrey ’16, an undergraduate Honor Council member who also helped shape the policy, said students on the judiciary body are tasked with both hearing cases and communicating the honor code at events for freshmen and in upperclassmen Houses this year.

The Honor Council’s voting membership is as follows:

Nathaniel R. F. Bernstein '17
James M. A. Bollinger '17
Carlton E. I. Christian '17
Maria P. Devlin, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. candidate
Ahmed S. Gondal '18
Jay M. Harris, dean of undergraduate education
Joseph D. Harris, Mathematics professor
Karen Heath, Expository Writing senior preceptor
Jonathan G. Jeffrey '16
Kate E. LaHorgue '17
Lien E. Le '17
Meg G. Panetta '17
Michael C. Ranen, resident dean of freshmen for Ivy Yard
Mary-Grace R. Reeves '16
Casey Roehrig, Molecular and Cellular Biology preceptor
Catherine Shapiro, resident dean of freshmen for Crimson Yard
Samantha A. Singal '18
Mariano Siskind, Romance Languages and Literatures professor
Nina Srivastava '18
Tiffanie L. Ting, Cabot House dean
Matthew J. Vegari '17
Cory Way, Kirkland House dean
Cheryl B. Welch, Government director of undergraduate studies
Richard W. Wrangham, Currier House master

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at noah.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.

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