Continued Conversations

Honor Unbounded

Creating a student-led culture of integrity

By Adriane Ivey and Christine Loflin,
Assistant Professors of English, Oxford College

Honor Bound
Academic integrity and red tape (February /March 2003)

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In "Honor Bound: Academic integrity and red tape" (Academic Exchange, February/March 2003) Emory faculty discussed academic integrity from a faculty perspective: what do we think about the Honor Code? What prevents faculty from reporting cases? What do we want changed in the Honor Code? While students and student attitudes were mentioned throughout, the emphasis was on the faculty's "ownership" of academic integrity:

So much of this is driven by the faculty, what they put on syllabi, what importance they put on the issue, how much education about academic integrity they do in their classrooms, how much buy-in they have to the current system of handling cases. By looking at the results of the faculty survey and discussing this topic with the academic deans and the faculty, we really need to assess where the faculty want to go.
--John Ford, Vice President of Campus Life

At Oxford, we are trying a different approach, focusing on student participation in developing and upholding the Honor Code. Education about academic integrity is increasingly important; statistics show that most students have seen someone cheat on a test in high school. In fact, most students entering college have, at least once, cheated on a test or plagiarized an assignment in high school (ETS Research Center). So educating the student body is not just reinforcing an already-existing understanding of academic integrity. It is intervening--trying to prevent students from continuing to participate in and condone acts of dishonesty.

We need to emphasize to students that they are now going to be held to a higher standard of ethical behavior in their academic work. In order for students to feel this is not simply some kind of extra punishment or arbitrary structure (which they will try to get around), we need to share with them why they should want to be ethical and principled scholars as they enter Emory's academic community. Creating a student-led culture of integrity is a significant step towards this goal.

Last February, we invited faculty and student judges from small liberal arts colleges with active honor codes to discuss how we create, sustain, and enforce academic honor codes on our campuses. Representatives came to Oxford from Lyon, Birmingham-Southern, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, University of the South, Davidson, LaGrange, and Emory for a two-day conference on academic integrity. Conference participants emphasized the paramount importance of student participation and commitment to an honor code. As a result of the discussions during the conference, we came to the realization that the students themselves have strong opinions about how to foster academic integrity at Oxford.

At Oxford, students, faculty, and staff are working together to create a "culture of integrity." Student-led activities that create an expectation of integrity on campus best foster student participation. Student awareness of the Honor Code cannot be left to a single moment when an entering freshman signs a statement that he or she understands the Honor Code and will abide by it.

In the coming year at Oxford, the student members of the Honor Council will be meeting with tour guides, student leaders, English 181 and 101 classes, and informal groups in the dormitories to discuss student participation in the Honor Code. They will make a presentation at orientation to incoming freshmen and present reports to the faculty about the proceedings of the council. They are also planning a week of activities on academic honor in the spring, as well as co-hosting the second conference on academic integrity in February.

By showing their commitment to the Code, these students help create a better understanding of honor in Oxford's student community. Their activities are supported at Oxford by faculty, the administration, and campus life, which actively participates in educating students about the Honor Code and integrity in decision making generally, making the link between academic and personal integrity.

Students who cheat say they do so because they believe everyone else does; they feel they must be dishonest to be competitive. If we create an atmosphere where academic dishonesty is actively discouraged by students, as well as by faculty and staff, the reason for cheating disappears, and students are less likely to do so. Students, then, have significant responsibility in promoting academic integrity, and based on the student participation in February's conference, they are eager to shoulder that burden.

They cannot accomplish the task alone, however. As faculty members, we need to do our part to educate students about how the Honor Code will apply in our classes. This includes stating on the syllabus and/or in class that the students' work will be held to the standards of the code and plagiarized work or cheating on exams will not be tolerated. It also includes setting out the professor's standards in areas that are not so clear-cut: will collaboration on assignments be allowed? Can students share data? Is it plagiarism if a student edits another student's paper?

Further, faculty need to share the ethical principles that underlie these academic standards: our own research relies on the integrity of other scholars' work. We trust when we read others' research that they are publishing their actual data and that their conclusions are based on real information in documents that may be beyond our reach. Being explicit about these principles with our students and informing them that they are now, as college students, entering into an international community of scholars will help them to see the real significance of academic integrity. Many of our students will become doctors, scientists, and researchers in the future; ideally, they will be concerned about the validity of their own work.

We need to know what students know and do not know about the reasons for academic integrity and find out the best ways to influence their behavior. In this endeavor, current students will be our best guides--not to tell us what academic integrity is, but how much and how well students understand what it is.