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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

UNDERGRADUATE HONOR.

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Perhaps there is no saying more trite than that a custom or habit once firmly established in a community is apt to continue unnoticed long after it has become, in the opinion of outsiders, an unmitigated evil. Equally evident must be the fact that of all communities a large college would be the last place where such a situation could exist for any length of time. But in dealing with the delicate subject of undergraduate honor, we feel that an abuse, the seriousness of which few suspect, has flourished in our midst far longer than any excuse can justify.

That nothing has recently been done to check wholesale dishonesty in libraries, class-rooms, and examinations, is by no means due to indifference on the part of the College authorities. The trouble is that the proportion of evidence is remarkably small. The many forms of unscrupulousness, examples of which almost any undergraduate can narrate, are so insidious that they will run for months or even years without furnishing convincing proof of their presence. Merely occasional revelations have led to the optimistic saw that "on the whole undergraduates are pretty honest fellows, after all." Altogether they are pretty honest fellows. But, and here is an important point, there will appear a small group of men who do incalculable evil by their unprincipled methods. A natural question, then, arises: what makes these few men so disproportionately effective? It is because the undergraduate standard of honesty is not universally positive enough to crush every attempt at deception. We quote from one of the many excellent opinions expressed in the 1910 Class Report: "The reason why men keep on taking books from libraries, or tearing pages out of books for other people's use as well as their own, . . . why men do not hesitate to hand in other men's theses signed with their own name, . . . why men get other men to sit in their seats to prevent being marked absent, the reason why they will read off another man's paper in a test or even out and out 'crib' in an examination, is the same in each case. Because the rest of the undergraduates . . . do not think any the less of a man for doing one of these things. More often than not deceitful methods are merely considered clever or amusing. Harvard needs a sense of honor. How can it be obtained?"

It is obtained at some colleges by means of the Honor System, to which we strongly believe the Student Council should give full consideration. As already implied, the problem is to regulate undergraduate opinion so that the present all too frequent instances of cheating on the part of a small group of men, instead of affording amusement to the many, will be universally frowned upon. Class-room deception is amusing to some men today, because they do not feel as keenly as they should, the weight of moral responsibility. They do not consider a man who "cribs" under the present system essentially dishonest, for honor in this connection receives very little emphasis, the reason being that evident, glaring instances of its abuse are extremely rare. But with the Honor System a man is put directly "on his honor not to cheat," a decidedly different matter in undergraduate morals. And there is very little doubt but that, if deception were universally frowned upon, as it assuredly would be under this system, dishonesty would almost entirely disappear.

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