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Students Weigh In On Proposed Honor Code

By Madeline R. Conway and Steven S. Lee, Crimson Staff Writers

The day before a proposed five-point honor code was expected to be unveiled at the Tuesday faculty meeting, students generally welcomed the prospect of an honor code, but cautioned that such a policy may not succeed unless there is a shift in the community’s attitude toward academic integrity.

The proposed honor code, prepared by the Committee on Academic Integrity and laid out in a report obtained by The Crimson late Sunday night, comes in the wake of Harvard’s largest cheating scandal in recent memory. The proposal would institute a Student/Faculty Judicial Board populated by both students and faculty to hear exclusively cases of academic dishonesty. Among other points, the proposal calls for students to write a “declaration of integrity” on assignments, final exams, and projects as part of an effort to build a “culture of trust” on campus.

Sebastian M. Chiu ’13, a Statistics 104 teaching fellow, said that before an honor code can succeed, “you have to reach a point where academic integrity is valued and shared in the community.”

“I feel like in order to be really effective with an honor code, you need to have a sort of culture shift on campus,” Chiu said.

While voicing support of the proposals, other students echoed the sentiment that an honor code must be accompanied by student support in order to change the climate of integrity at Harvard.

Tara Raghuveer ’14, president of the Undergraduate Council, said she believes the honor code is “a good starting point to have continued discussions about academic integrity and about what the culture looks like on campus.”

“Something like the honor code really doesn’t hold any weight without any buy-in from the student body,” Raghuveer said. The proposed student-populated board, she said, would be key to creating that buy-in among undergraduates.

Another student, Mariana Gudino Castanon ’14, expressed mixed feelings about the five-point proposal. Gudino Castanon said she thinks the introduction of an honor code might encourage students to discuss issues of academic integrity more openly than they do now. She also expressed support of the proposal that would give students a voice in hearing academic dishonesty cases, but said she was not sure that simply signing a statement when turning in assignments would necessarily change much.

What would be most effective in promoting academic integrity, according to Hillary B. Singer ’14, is a clear definition from the administration about what constitutes cheating. Singer, drawing on her experiences as an Applied Math teaching fellow, added that it was essential that the administration’s policies reflect differences in the ways that different departments structure assignments.

“I think there ought to be a very clearly defined, explicitly written policy about what constitutes cheating and what academic integrity is,” Singer said.

The Committee on Academic Integrity first began discussing Harvard’s honesty policies in fall 2010, but its work took on new significance for many this academic year after 125 academic dishonesty cases in Government 1310 sparked a scandal that generated international attention.

Going forward, the Committee on Academic Integrity is looking to solicit student feedback about the proposal. Terah E. Lyons ’14 and Samuel F. Himel ’13, committee members who have been leading the student effort to help draft proposals for the student-populated disciplinary board and the integrity statement, said the timeline for finalizing the honor code is not definite.

Himel said the committee plans to solicit feedback through the UC, in the Houses, and among student groups.

“This is the beginning of a conversation, and now we’re going to draw literally thousands of voices into it,” Lyons said.

—Nicholas P. Fandos contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at stevenlee@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @StevenSJLee.

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