Report suggests major revisions in how academic violations are handled

A student-faculty group created to examine the 125-year-old honor system has suggested wide-ranging changes, including the addition of faculty to the Honor Committee and creating new options for penalties.

The Honor System Review Committee was formed last January after three referenda proposing changes to the Honor Constitution were approved by the undergraduate student body but put on hold by administrators, who said they would “fundamentally alter the University’s disciplinary penalties and standards for assessing violations of the Honor Code.” A fourth referendum, which dealt with a procedural issue, was implemented. 

“Students think there is room for improvement and change in a lot of ways.” — Honor Committee chair Liz Haile ’19
Photo: Ruth Haile k’19

Many of the review committee’s recommendations, released last month, center around reaffirming the honor system as a pact between students and faculty, increasing faculty involvement in the honor system, and re-evaluating penalties for honor-system violations. They include consideration of these proposals:

  • Adding faculty to the Honor Committee. “Faculty engagement is both important and consistent with the original philosophy of the honor system,” the group said.
  • Ensuring that penalties are appropriate. For example, consider a one-semester suspension instead of a one-year suspension for first-time offenders, shorter probationary periods, and a “reprimand” option for overtime violations (in which students continue working on an exam after time has been called).
  • Setting standardized language for calling time in exams (such as “pencils down”) and ensuring that instructors restate exam policies before the test.
  • Improving understanding of the honor system and its processes.
  • Appointing professional investigators to pair with student investigators to reduce students’ workloads.

The group also said the University should consider transferring all academic-integrity violations to a single student-faculty committee. Currently the Honor Committee is responsible for matters relating to in-class exams; the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline handles violations relating to take-home exams and coursework, as well as serious non-academic violations of University policy.

Source: The Honor System Review Committee

Honor Committee chair Liz Haile ’19, a member of the review committee, said “students think there is room for improvement and change in a lot of ways” to honor-system policies and procedures. The review committee heard from both faculty and students that some students are not reporting peers for violations because some of the penalties are considered to be too harsh, she said. 

The Honor Committee is working to rebuild student trust in the system, Haile said, adding that the review committee’s recommendations and efforts by the Honor Committee “to be fair, transparent, and empathetic” are major steps toward restoring that trust. 

Haile said the most common Honor Code violations include overtime offenses and the use of unauthorized resources, such as calculators or smartphones. Last year, the Honor Committee expanded its membership from 12 to 15 to keep up with the workload resulting from technology-related investigations, she said.

“Cases have become more complicated by the introduction of technology in the classroom,” Haile said. “It’s tough when we’re having to look at WiFi records, which require a lot more time and energy related to investigating.”

READ MORE The Honor System Review Committee’s Report

A separate study group that was created to look at the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline produced its own recommendations, including the addition of a “reprimand” as an informal penalty and exploring a one-semester suspension option. 

The University said a third committee will examine the reports of both groups and make recommendations to Dean of the College Jill Dolan, Dean of the Faculty Sanjeev Kulkarni, and Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun, who will decide what steps will follow.