College faces rise in Honor Code violations

The College saw a 40 percent increase in honor and discipline cases last Spring, according to the Spring 2002 report of the Honor and Discipline Committee released last week. While the committee dealt with 16 cases during the 2000 – 2001 school year, it saw 27 cases last year. Of the 27, 16 cases were addressed during the 2002 spring semester alone. The Honor and Discipline Committee, which consists of eight elected student members, four faculty members and the Dean of the College, has been concerned with this dramatic increase.

At the beginning of every year, Williams students sign a detailed Honor Code (available at http://www.williams.edu/resources/honor/honesty.html), which clearly describes the guidelines that students must follow in doing their academic assignments, including rules regarding plagiarism and collaboration with other students. “At Williams, the honor code allows us to operate on a day-to-day basis with considerable liberty,” said Duane Bailey, professor of computer science and the new faculty chair of the Committee. He cited the frequent use of take-home tests as an example of the trust that professors can have in their students. Still, he said, with the increase in Honor Code violations, “the committee has redoubled its efforts to educate the home community about the importance of academic honesty.”

If a professor or student feels that there has been a violation of the Honor Code, he or she contacts one of the chairs of the committee. From there, Freeden Oeur ’03, student chair of the committee, and Bailey will meet with the concerned party and decide if the situation is appropriate to be heard by the committee. According to Oeur, during a hearing the accusing party will present a case against the student in question and the student will be able to present evidence supporting his or her case with and without the accuser present. The committee makes a decision after both parties have presented their arguments.

With the increased usage of the Internet, there is also increased potential for Honor Code violations. In both the 2000-2001 and the 2001-2002 school years, there were five violations that related to the use of the Internet. “I think the general academic community is still struggling to define [the Internet’s] role as an intellectual tool,” Bailey said.

Often, when students are under great amounts of stress and time constraints, the Internet becomes a viable and accessible means with which to fill up pages with information, albeit plagiarized. “When the pressure mounts and thousands of pages of material are easily accessible through Google, a student might be compelled into making a bad decision,” Oeur said.

Due to the availability of a wide array of information concentrated in one convenient place and the ease with which students can “copy and paste” text directly into assignments, students not only utilize the Internet in a negative way, but also may not realize the severe consequences of such plagiarism. “Something about the Internet lends to a sense that because work is presented to students on the same screen as their paper, the copying of source material to a student’s own work is not as reproachable and culpable compared to if they had copied from a bound book,” said Casey Czubay ’04, a member of the Committee.

Students found guilty of such a violation, even on something as seemingly minor as a homework assignment, may face such consequences as failure in the course and disciplinary probation for a semester or a year, depending upon the seriousness of the offense.

The committee is making considerable strides in educating the Williams community about the Honor Code and the serious consequences that come with violating it. Last spring, committee members began speaking in first-year entries to discuss the gravity of the matter, and did so again this past month to the College’s new first-year class. As a higher percentage of last year’s freshmen are involved in violating the honor code than any other class (56 percent of total cases involved first-year students in 2000-2001, and 40 percent in ’01-02), the Committee sees the importance in discussing the Honor Code with them as soon as they arrive on campus. “I’m hoping that, by establishing more communication between the Committee and first-years, the Committee will see fewer and fewer cases down the road,” Oeur said.

Members of the Committee noted that students with limited experience in citing sources should seek help with the abundant resources on the campus, such as writing tutors, advisors, and professors.

Students must also read carefully and understand the Honor Code. “All students should take the time to reacquaint themselves with the honor code and make sure to ask their professors, the Dean’s Office, or JAs if any aspect of the code is unclear,” Czubay said.

Oeur also noted the importance of students discussing questions or problems with specific assignments with the professor directly to clear up any confusion. “A communication gap between students and faculty can lead to a lot of problems,” Oeur said.

While this past semester’s Honor Code violation statistics were high, Committee members expressed a general sense of confidence in the student body’s ability to realize the importance of adhering to the academic guidelines set forth in the Honor Code. “If you imagine that 2,000 students complete a total of, say, 100,000 individual assignments over an academic year and only a handful of efforts are called into question,” Bailey said. “We must be optimistic about the integrity of our academic work.”