Spence's Snitches


WHEN A. MICHAEL SPENCE, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, commissioned a study this summer of honor codes at colleges across the nation, some undergraduates wondered just what the dean had up his sleeve.

Spence assured those who asked that he merely found the topic compelling and that he had no preconceived plans to bring an honor code to Harvard. But some students could not help but question why the dean would spend time and money to investigate such a system for nothing more than his own personal edification.

At the beginning of his second year in office, Spence is now setting his administration in motion. Within the last four months he has selected a new dean of the College, named two new deans for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, stated his intention to increase the number of junior faculty members tenured from within and proposed a review of Harvard's disciplinary system.

If bringing an honor code to Harvard also falls into this grab bag of administrative changes, it is not too early to nip the idea in the bud.

In his defense, Spence, a veteran of Princeton's honor code, has rightly decided to make the results of the nationwide study public to engender campus-wide debate about the issue. He has repeatedly labelled the study a "fact-finding" exercise and said he's curious to find out what students think about the idea.

No doubt some undergraduates will respond that they'll be flattered if the University requires them to sign a statement promising not to cheat and obliging them to snitch on their classmates for breaking the rules. These students will proudly trumpet the honor code as a reflection of the respect and trust Harvard feels for its students.

But surely Harvard can find better ways to shower appreciation on its students than by making them morally obligated to babysit each other.

It is already against Harvard rules to cheat; students know from the day they enroll here that they have signed a tacit contract not to break the rules. An honor code is not necessary to remind students that they're not supposed to let their eyes wander onto their neighbors' bluebooks.

Requiring undergraduates to sign an additional contract when they enroll--an honor code--would apparently only serve to inform students that at Harvard you are not only a scholar, but a policeman.

Sure, in theory it's nice if the University trusts its students enough to remove proctors from exam halls. But no student should have to feel, in the midst of frenetic spewing in his blue book, that he should be simultaneously monitoring his neighbor's wandering eyes.

Students already have the choice, if they feel so compelled, to turn in cheaters. If they believe it is their moral obligation to do so, they can snitch without compunction.

BUT THOSE WHO feel it is Harvard's responsibility rather than their own to discipline students should be permitted to honor their own convictions.

No university should burden its students with such a moral dilemma, nor with the responsibility of snitching on their peers, even if such action implies a sense of trust in its students.

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