Honor Proposal Would Catch Harvard Up, Incrementally, With the Times

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Gregory attributed this increase in student engagement to the emergence of research by academics such as Alexander W. Astin that found that involving students in the disciplinary process could improve student retention rates and increase students’ satisfaction with their schools, among other benefits.

Not only would Harvard be late among its peers in providing student representatives on disciplinary bodies—the College is also late in instituting an honor code. Aside from Harvard and Yale, all Ivy institutions have adopted a formal code of honor or academic integrity. Princeton established its honor system just three years after Harvard created the Ad Board; Dartmouth and Cornell created their policies in 1962 and 1976, respectively.

More recently, a push by the Columbia College Student Council resulted in the implementation of an honor code this academic year, when members of the Class of 2017 were encouraged to collectively recite and sign a version of the code at a fall assembly, according to Nora Habboosh, an undergraduate and the academic affairs representative for the council.


In public and private conversations about Harvard’s current proposal for an honor code, members of the Academic Integrity Committee have consistently pointed to peer institutions’ policies as justification for adopting a similar system at Harvard. They point to research to evidence the success of honor codes elsewhere.

Yet Harvard’s proposed policy, if approved, would have limited reach compared to those established by some of its peers. The Academic Integrity Committee’s proposal for a modified honor code purposefully does not require students to report peers who violate the policy, and maintains that examinations be proctored.

Harvard is not alone in this respect. Of schools in the Ivy League with honor codes or similar policies governing academic integrity, only Dartmouth and Princeton hold non-proctored exams, and only Princeton requires students to report their peers for cheating. Pavela, for his part, suggested that the requirement to report—characteristic of a traditional honor code—“doesn’t work.”

Still, Harvard’s proposed policy is also narrower in its jurisdiction than some peers. While some schools have honor systems that govern integrity outside of the classroom, Harvard’s proposed code and judicial board would affect only cases of academic dishonesty, as the Ad Board would continue to hear disciplinary cases outside of the honor board’s jurisdiction.

Schools such as the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary have honor codes that establish student-only disciplinary bodies that administer cases of cheating, as well as cases of lying and stealing. Other schools, such as Haverford College, go even further, with honor codes and honor boards regulating most actions, including some peer dispute cases.

Even at institutions without honor codes, students play a larger role in the disciplinary process than they would under Harvard’s proposal. Undergraduates at Yale and MIT—neither of which have honor codes—hear all student misconduct cases, including peer disputes such as sexual assault cases.

Undergraduate Council President Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15, who attended a high school with an honor code, suggested that involving student representatives on the Ad Board may make sense, and that including more student voice in such processes is usually better.

Lake suggested that Harvard “could do a lot more” to involve student voice in the disciplinary process—even beyond putting undergraduates on judicial boards that address misconduct beyond cheating. Lake suggested that colleges should involve students “in regular and periodic climate and assessment check[s]” and self-study their discipline systems at least annually with “meaningful student input.”

“[Harvard] may be missing an opportunity to use students more broadly in the management of the environment,” Lake said.



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