Better enforcement needed for Honor Code to work well

Cheaters. They pass off other people’s work as their own. And they are on campus. Contrary to what some people may think, this is not an argument for changing the Honor Code. It is a mere statement of fact. Cheaters inhabit every college campus, and regardless of what the Honor Code is, there will be those who cheat. Even if we impose strict Islamic law and begin chopping off the hands of those whom we catch, the problem will still remain.

So instead of pretending that we can create an Honor Code that will suddenly eliminate all dishonest activity on campus while whitening our teeth, we should focus on rationally evaluating the one we have to see what changes, if any, need to be made. Remember that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, so if a change would not affect things one way or another, the correct action is to leave the code as is. And certainly in this case, there seems no reason to alter the holy writ.

True, one could fill space by enumerating every specific type of violation, from bringing notes into an exam, to looking at the person’s exam at the desk next to you, to sneaking into the professor’s house and shooting the guard dog with a tranquilizer dart so you can take microfilm photos of the exam in advance. But in terms of test taking, the standards of what is permissible should be fairly obvious. If students are not complying with these rules, then measures need to be taken to enforce the rules, instead of dancing around them. When you want to stop a vandal, you don’t impose a curfew on the entire city; you just have the police be more alert. When you want to stop a cheater on an exam, you don’t institute assigned seats; you simply have a proctor enforce the rules that already exist. If reforms are to be made, we should worry more about following the rules we already have than drafting infinite new rules that won’t be effective.

As for papers, the rules clearly state that all words must be individually attributed to each author who has ever written them. According to the current rules, not only must all ideas be referenced to where they were heard, but even one’s own work may not be used without permission of all prior instructors for whom that work was turned in, and a signed note from your mother. Certainly no one can argue that the guidelines for plagiarism are too relaxed.

Finally, the inner workings of the honor committee itself are fairly well established. A reasonable quorum is required for any large decision, and enough checks and balances are in place to prevent a few angry students from destroying the college career of someone who accidentally forgot to attribute a quote.

It would then seem that no changes need be made in the Honor Code. The system we have now works well enough, and those who are unsatisfied with it would be well-advised to further enforce the code as it stands rather than bicker over useless amendments. If anything, one might even posit that the regulations on attributing paper ideas are a bit too strict, but we trust the honor committee not to be trigger-happy. (Otherwise they’ll find out that this column wasn’t entirely mine and have me dismissed.) So let’s just keep the Honor Code we have, and worry more about the real problems confronting our college.