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Students Sign Honor Affirmation on Final Assignments

As many students clamber to finish bibliographies and extend term papers onto that last page, some have had to add a new sentence to final assignments for the first time this fall.

During final exams, and on final papers and assignments, undergraduates have starting affirming their awareness of Harvard College’s first honor code, which went into effect this semester.

The Office of Undergraduate Education now requires students to sign statements affirming that they are aware of the new academic integrity policy on all seated final exams, according to Elisabeth L. Laskin, an assistant dean of undergraduate education. Attendance confirmation forms now require students to sign that declaration in accordance with the honor code.

Honor Code Panel
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana speaks at an April panel discussion on the College's honor code at the Barker Center.

The honor code and its attached student-faculty Honor Council, the new disciplinary board charged with enforcing the policy, made their debut this semester after years of extensive planning and a high-profile cheating scandal that originally involved more than 100 students in 2012. From the start of the semester, administrators and students have tried to publicize the policy, about which some undergraduates and faculty members have voiced skepticism. Student members of the Honor Council wore matching shirts at events, created a Facebook page for the group, and expanded outreach to dining halls, courses, and other events.

Laskin wrote in an email that administrators have asked that faculty notify students to include affirmations of integrity on final assignments. Administrators provided faculty with a sample statement—“I affirm my awareness of the standards of the Harvard College Honor Code”—but professors may modify the pledge, according to the honor code’s website.

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Many professors, from classes spanning the University’s expansive course catalog, have carried out such requests.

In a take-home final for Philosophy 34: “Existentialism in Literature and Film,” professor Sean D. Kelly added a spot on the front page of his exam for students to sign the affirmation. Kelly said he included the affirmation after students said they wanted a take-home exam.

“It was my idea,” Kelly said. “I suppose [the honor code] was part of what made me think it might be an interesting experiment, but it was also just that I wanted to give the students the opportunity for a take-home exam… and I wanted to give them some guidance about what the constraints were.”

Kelly said he thinks the affirmation of integrity signature requirements will help remind students of the limitations for his take-home exam.

“I would realize the seriousness of [academic integrity] if I had to not only read the instructions, but sign my name saying that I followed them,” added Kelly, who also leads a committee tasked with reviewing the College’s program on General Education.“It helps the students to involve themselves in the act of holding themselves up to those constraints.”

Some students said they were more skeptical that signing an affirmation of integrity is effective in curbing academic dishonesty.

Amanda Lin ’16, who signed the pledge already on two exams, said she had “no opinion” on the new protocol. She said students inclined to cheat will do so, regardless of whether they sign the affirmation statement.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalin.cunningham@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

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