When I first arrived at Williams, I did not think too much about the Honor Code. It seemed like sort of a neat idea, but not a big deal. Only recently, with the rise in violations of the Honor Code, have I had cause to think seriously about this little Williams quirk.
People sometimes tell me that I am too idealistic, so you can take my opinion with a grain of salt if you want.
But with all the cynicism out there, I don’t mind being extreme to balance it out. With that, I consider you forewarned for the perhaps “cheesy” lines to follow. I am deeply disturbed by the increase in Honor Code violations.
But I am even more disturbed by the thought of abandoning the Honor Code. It is not because I don’t want to be proctored during exams or that I feel wounded at the idea of being watched rather than being trusted.
Honor can be a bigger deal than it is in our culture right now. There have been times and places where honor meant more than it does to us today.
When the upstart rebels we call the Founding Fathers first thumbed their noses at King George, they pledged “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
This gives me a hint: their honor was on the same level as their money and their very lifeblood.
They put honor in a very, well, honored place. You know what? People are right. I am idealistic. But if we have no ideals, if we expect nothing of ourselves, we are going to get nothing from ourselves. Honor is an ideal. It is an abstract concept that we hold up on a pedestal. Is honor damaged by the actions of the dishonorable?
Shall we allow reality to remove honor from its exalted place? I think most people would agree that honor itself is still a good ideal; its goodness is not impugned by cheating. Some people probably feel that we cannot maintain this ideal in practice because of cheating, but I say that we MUST maintain the ideal in practice. Our goal should not be merely to prevent cheating, but to teach people to understand what honor means.
Our goal should be to bring every student to a place where cheating would be repugnant, not a place where cheating is merely not worth the risk of getting caught.
There is a battle going on here between the high ideals and the low elements. If we abandon the Honor Code, we have let the low elements win.
Let us not give up so easily. Let us fight to put honor back on its deserved pedestal. Let us send this message: We would rather live with your dishonor than give no one the opportunity to display honor. We would rather have you cheat, if cheat you will, than let you bring honor down.
The truest honor can look dishonor in the face fearlessly, with the confident assurance that it is the stronger.