Amherst Magazine

College Row

Amherst adopts an honor code

In response to a notable increase in the reported cases of cheating over the past few years, the college has adopted an honor code for all students. The College Council, made up of students, faculty and members of the Dean of Students’ Office, spent the past two years discussing various approaches to the code. The council briefly considered the most stringent and well-known version of a code, in which a student who fails to report another student’s cheating is considered guilty as well, but they rejected the idea as inappropriate. “There was strong sentiment across all constituencies,” Dean of Students Ben Lieber says, “that that approach just wouldn’t fly here. At a place so small, where students all know each other and run across each other on a daily basis, it’s really difficult to get students to turn in other students for all kinds of offenses.”

The code that the council presented and the college adopted is based on the existing Statement of Intellectual Responsibility, Statement of Freedom of Expression and Dissent, and the Statement of Respect for Persons. These statements, Lieber says, have been the college’s governing principles since the 1960s. But the new honor code takes what had been a passive set of standards and makes them active. “Both the faculty and the student body will have to vote on these principles every four years,” Lieber says, “so once in each student’s stay at the college he or she will have an opportunity to vote on these principles and reaffirm them. The faculty will be asked to reaffirm them as well. And now each student is asked upon entrance to sign those statements, acknowledging that they’ve read them and understand them.”

In addition, the code recommends, but does not require, that the penalty for cheating be failure in the course. College Council members say they devoted much discussion to the issue of mandated penalties, but in the end felt that it was important to give faculty members discretion in dealing with individual circumstances.

In addition, the Dean of Students Office has developed Orientation sessions about cheating and the honor code, and faculty members are discussing these issues in early meetings of their classes.

Students themselves clearly embrace the idea: In a campus-wide vote, they approved the code by 71 percent. Kelly Rich ’08 says that she signed the code happily during Orientation, feeling that “it helps keep everyone on the same page.” Normandy Vincent ’08 says that she approves of the idea because it keeps the issue in the spotlight. “It puts cheating in front of you, so you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist,” she says. Senior Ryan Park, president of the Association of Amherst Students, says that in addition to adopting the code, students need to increase their vigilance. “We need to destroy the mentality that cheaters aren’t usually caught,” he said in an op-ed piece in The Amherst Student. “These measures will not end cheating. Most likely nothing we do as a college could ever do so. What they will do, however, is give students a fair chance to honor their honest instincts and not submit to the cheating culture.”

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