Last week, Williams students signed the Honor Code under the threat of being locked out of the course registration process. The Honor Code, as it currently stands, is the College’s means of ensuring that all students understand and promise to respect the rules of academic honesty that are necessary to uphold standards of academic achievement.
Despite its name, the Honor Code has little to do with the self-imposed standard of behavior that the word “honor” implies. Instead, what students sign is, in fact, a code of conduct that is enforced by the Administration through punishment. While many students do not cheat because such behavior would not conform to their own standard of honor, the honor code does not address that standard.
As with many institutions on this campus, the Honor Code hides its real policy – dissuading cheating through punishment – behind a veneer of community and softly-worded language, in this case, the idea that honor is what is at stake in the decision not to cheat. We recommend that this veneer be lifted, making the college’s stance on these issues more clear.
In contrast to the document put forward by the College, a real honor code would be a wonderful document to sign in principle. It would explain the personal code of conduct that each student coming to this institution is expected to uphold on his or her own, without threat of punishment, and then ask that each member of the community sign onto this ideal. No one would be forced to sign, but each would be given the opportunity to defend his or her views where they deviated from the communal norm. A genuine honor code would allow for a community that perpetually strove to improve its own standards.
Although this hypothetical vision is admirable, no one believes that Williams students, given the highly competitive graduate school market, would be diligent enough in self-policing for such a liberal policy to take the place of an actual code of conduct. We therefore recommend that the honor code change both its name and, with that change, its symbolic position. We ask that the ambiguity surrounding the standards in question be replaced by a clear policy of enforced behavior in matters that are of particular concern to the campus community.
While the current code addresses those matters of concern that reside in the academic arena, there is no mention of the social violations that are a major threat to campus stability. For every event of antisocial behavior in recent memory that has been discussed widely on campus, there are dozens more that go unreported because of the ambiguous position of the community on such issues. Harassment, defacing of property, and even violence do occur at Williams College, but there is nothing near the level of the current code to condemn such behavior.
We recommend that standards of social behavior be given weight and standing equal to that of academic behavior in the new code. We further recommend that the Honor and Discipline Committee be restructured to enforce this new code of conduct, with its new emphasis on social behavior. It is our hope that the community at large will benefit from making the standards of what is and is not permissible more explicit, with the goal of eliminating undesirable behavior of all kinds from this campus.