Honor Bound

Let's make the honor code and see if people want to buy into it. If they don't maybe Emory is not the right place for them.

—Thomas D. Lancaster, Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of German Studies


Honor Bound
Academic integrity and red tape


"We really have to pay attention to the culture that we set for the students--not just the code itself, but the way it's communicated and reinforced."
Diana Robertson, Associate Professor of Organization and Management

"Let's make the honor code and see if people want to buy into it. If they don't, maybe Emory is not the right place for them."
Thomas D. Lancaster, Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of German Studies

Perception vs. reality
Is dishonesty rampant on the Emory campus?

When faculty cheat
What happens with a faculty member falsifies data, plagiarizes, or otherwise compromises the integrity of his or her research?

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Academic Exchange: Why do you think you were appointed to the Committee on Academic Integrity?

Thomas D. Lancaster: I’m a product of Washington and Lee University; it has an honor code and it works. I believe very sincerely in the concept of honor and its part in the academic community. And I believe that Emory is falling short when it comes to the application of honor.
I was on the search committee for the Vice President of Campus Life [John Ford]. I used being on that committee as an opportunity to ask, every time a candidate came to Emory to interview for that job, “What do you think about the honor code, and how does an honor code apply to Emory?” I was very pleased to see that John Ford was quite receptive to the idea that the honor code needs to be addressed on the Emory campus. Because that kept being raised—I’m not the only one who raised it—Ford clearly remembered that once he hit campus. He apparently asked President Chace, “What do we do about this?” I was glad to see that President Chace called this
committee together.

AE: What is your opinion of the direction the committee has taken so far?

TDL: For undergraduates there are two bodies at Emory that affect their lives—campus life and the academic side, the college. To me, there should not be this distinction regarding issues of honor. As far as I’m concerned, honor should freely flow between both. Chace made John Ford a vice-chair of this committee, but then President Chace immediately shifted the focus of the committee by saying this is only about academic issues. He shrunk honor down to issues of plagiarism. But campus life generally isn’t involved with the academic part of campus. They’re involved with fraternities, sororities, the bookstore, that kind of thing. I think they should be involved even more, especially with issues of honor. I have been thoroughly disappointed with the committee’s general direction. I’m not saying plagiarism isn’t important and doesn’t need to be dealt with, but from my point of view, this is about honor, and honor involves much more than academic integrity. When a person steals a book, is that an academic issue, or is it a criminal issue? To me it’s one and the same. Secondly, by fiat, the graduate schools were simply lopped off of our discussions by President Chace. So we’re not talking about honor at Emory; we’re just talking about academic integrity amongst the Emory undergraduates. I think we missed a grand opportunity.

AE: What do you think about the committee’s actions?

TDL: The committee has just finished web surveys of both undergraduates and faculty. Instead of taking a strong position on what honor is, we’re doing surveys on what people think honor is. I don’t believe that’s the right way to proceed. Emory should decide what honor is to our community and then proceed with it. We’re not going to develop a sense of honor without that happening. Instead of President Chace saying, “Here’s honor: don’t lie, cheat, or steal,” we spent almost a year and a half doing touchy-feely interviews. Let’s make the honor code and see if people want to buy into it. If they don’t, maybe Emory is not the right place for them.

AE: What would you like to see happen with the honor code?

TDL: I think Emory needs an honor code that deals with conduct both in and out of the classroom. The one we have now has many flaws, but more importantly, it’s not an honor code; it’s about how to catch cheaters. I put a positive twist on the idea of an honor code: it’s another way to teach people to behave within a set of ethical
guidelines. I would rather catch someone cheating, have the student feel guilty about a loss of honor, and let him or her go, than miss the opportunity to teach someone about such important matters.

I believe that to pursue a truly broad-based notion of honor, and get away from this limited notion of academic integrity, the Office of Campus Life should be involved. Right now, the student conduct code is not part of Emory College’s honor code. A student can lie all he or she wants, and that won’t affect his or her academic standing. I believe that campus life and the college office should be together on this and be part of the judging process, however it works out. I would like to see a code that says,“You shall not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”