Decoding the College’s honor policy

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February 18, 2011

12:06 AM

I recall experiencing the feeling of information overload during orientation. There were talks and discussions about alcohol, academics, sex and just about anything that pertained to life on campus. One of the topics stressed to incoming students was the College of William and Mary’s Honor Code, the oldest in the country. We were told of the importance of integrity in all facets of academic and student life, and that the Honor Code serves to hold each individual to the highest standards of conduct.

Beyond orientation, I have heard very little concerning the honor system, aside from a note on the front of some exams which states that the honor system is in place. The Undergraduate Honor Council seems to operate under the radar of most students. The supposed importance of the honor system has faded into the background of my academic career here, which seems odd considering the emphasis the College placed upon the system during orientation.

I am not here to point fingers, but there is a clear discrepancy between what the College practices and what it preaches. This problem has just begun to be addressed with the development of the Honor System Review Committee. The HSRC is in the process of creating a survey to address common issues the student body sees with the honor system. I applaud the initiative to formalize concern regarding the honor system, but I have doubts about the ability of the committee to implement effective reforms. We are all inundated with mass e-mails from a variety of organizations, as well as from the College. How many people even bother to read these e-mails, and even if they do, how many people will be honest in the survey? The people intimately involved with the honor system and those who are well educated about the system are the most likely to respond. This response will create a skewed view of the student body opinion regarding the honor system.

Most importantly, the HSRC does not have jurisdiction to better educate the student body, which is in direct contrast to what seems to be one of the main concerns about the honor system. Dean of Students Patricia Volp said, “I don’t think any of the codes I’ve looked at are as complicated as ours.” If students are expected to abide by the Honor Code and professors have the right to report violations, then isn’t it the responsibility of the College to ensure that students are continually educated about the intricacies of the Honor Code?

To its credit, the HSRC is going to address the creation of an incentive program to report potential honor code violations. The system as it exists now is not equitable in any sense. Professors have discretion to decide how they want to handle a potential violation of the Honor Code. I cannot think of any other policy on campus that allows individual professors to resort to their own judgment concerning honor policy violations.

In order for Honor Council reform to be meaningful, the HSRC will need to work closely with the College to ensure that recommendations become effective changes.

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