When the Honor System Fails


In a looter to the Herald Tribune a Yale alumnus sneers at the recent punishment of the freshman oarsmen, and then goes on to criticise the honor system itself. It does very well, he says, when applied to conduct, but has no place in the field of studies. And, shocking as his argument seems, one must concede that there is something in it. To begin with, the honor system as commonly practiced is less an honor system than a self-winding spy system. The student promises not only to accept no aid himself but also to report any student whom he sees taking aid. This, as even the dullest student knows, is a far cry from honor. In the second place, it is a system whose benefits all flow in the direction. The faculty is usually better for it than the students are, and for good reason it compels students to be honorable with the professor, but it does not compel the professor to be honorable with the students. He is not compelled to ask fair questions or consider previous diligence.

Furthermore as soon as one gets past the abstract values of the situation and faces realities the publications of honor become very complex. For honor embraces not only regard for the truth but fidelity to obligation as well, and pressure of the latter can easily confuse the student into thinking that the use of a crib is not only harmless but even honorable. All students are under heavy family obligations, parents have paid hard-earned money for their education, and expect passes, not flunks. In addition, athletes are under heavy obligations to the student body. They have been showered with adulation, and they are expected to play in the game, and not to get barred for failure in studies. Is it any wonder that some yield to temptation?

To hear the factulty talk, one would think that mayhem or worse had been committed. Yet one cannot help thinking that if the faculty were to devise fairer methods of testing knowledge, there would be more student honor New York World.