The Honor Code: for or against students?

Cooper Stuntz

The Honor and Discipline Committee is a committee that I cannot imagine anyone would be glad to be a part of. As a former representative for the Class of 2024, I feel it is important to explain why none of us ran this semester. 

As members of the College community, we need to have a conversation about what the committee and the Honor Code it enforces stand for. As the place where all alleged violations of the Honor Code are heard and punished, this committee has a lot of power to decide how the Honor Code is enforced. When I was on the committee, I was struck by the injustice of many cases. Do we stand for a system that is easy to game, with awful consequences if you fail? 

In this conversation, it is clear that our Honor Committee system serves neither students nor faculty in creating an environment for genuine, collaborative learning. We should remember that the purpose of the Honor Code has always been to promote the best learning environment. For example, the student-led 1971 reforms allowed for take-home-exams, changed plagiarism from a disciplinary offense, allowed for punishments other than expulsion, and established the current Honor and Discipline committee.

In a Sept. 28 Record article, one current committee member said, “It seems obvious that academic honesty doesn’t matter as much to students [now] as it did when the honor code was ratified.” This sentiment is wrong, and it is not why I did not seek re-election this year. The issue at hand is not a lack of respect for the idea of academic freedom; rather, the issue is that the Honor Code is fundamentally disconnected from the student body. When I ran last year, I believed that the Committee was the best way to uphold an ideal of academic integrity. The Honor Code has always been presented to us as being written and enforced by and for us, the students. The Honor Code is supposed to stand as a reflection of our shared academic values and as a model for the type of academic community of which we wish to be a part. While I was on the committee, I learned that it is not an institution that builds community or teaches about values. Instead, it is an institution that metes out punishment. 

The Honor Code has become ossified, used as a tool for punishment and maintaining the status quo. We must sign it to join the College, but it doesn’t have popular engagement. It has become a tool to outsource the dean’s dirty work. The only way to move beyond the current, unsatisfactory state of affairs is to engage in a conversation as a community. What do we value? Do we value the free and trusting exchange of ideas? Does the administration trust the students and faculty to decide what it means for us to have an honor code?

When I served on the committee, I was struck by what I felt to be the injustice of every case. Most cases involved students attempting to get good grades for reasons external to the intrinsic goal of education. The pressure upon us as students is real — our future careers and graduate options directly depend on the grades we get in our courses at the College. We must think about what it means for a committee to exist that punishes students for making a choice that feels like it makes sense for their futures. Those students I had the privilege of hearing are no different from any other member of our community, and to punish them, without reflecting first upon how we want the Honor Code to bind us, is to do us all a disservice.

According to the Sept. 28 article, the College administration and The Advisory Board for Lobbying and Elections (TABLE) are looking for a way to fill the seats on the Honor and Discipline Committee left vacant by the Class of 2024 by appointing students. 

That TABLE and the administration are working to fill these seats outside the democratic process betrays the central concepts of the Honor Code. I was contacted by the dean’s office to serve again, but I told them instead that the lack of juniors is a reflection of how the student body is not engaged with the current, unjust Honor Code system.

A campus conversation is necessary. As it is, the Honor Code does not work. Only by working as a community can we expect to have an honor code that reflects our values. If we view the Honor Code as a living document, it is a hopeful statement that we, as a student body, care about our education and the environment in which we learn. 

Cooper Stuntz ’24 is a chemistry and philosophy major from Canton, NY.