Liberal arts colleges gather to discuss the importance of Honor Code policies


By Kim Bolduc

This past weekend, three members of the Honor Council accompanied Dean Wunderlich to an Honor Code conference at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. Representatives from four other small liberal arts colleges from around the country joined them to discuss the differing Honor Code systems.

Davidson College, located in Davidson, N.C., was the first to give an overview of their Honor Code on Friday night’s dinner introductions. Its code has been around for decades and is a source of Davidson pride.

Every part of social and academic life is laced with the theme of honor, from swearing in public to cheating on self-proctored final exams.

Professors and students alike are honor-bound to report those breaking the code of trust that pervades college culture. During orientation, first-year students become official students after attending a formal evening that involves the signing of the code.

In terms of protocol, Davidson’s Honor Council resembles a criminal court. Student solicitors act as investigators and present the professor’s or the complainant’s case, while student defense advisors plead the defendant’s case. When determining sanctions for an Honor Code violation, the jury begins at an “F in three,” where the student fails all of his or her courses and is suspended from the school. Mitigating circumstances determine the severity of the sanction.

Much like Davidson, Haverford College, situated in Haverford, Pa., has a strong academic culture of honesty. Founded on Quaker principles, Haverford’s Honor Code focuses on fostering a community of mutual trust, concern, and respect. Student participation is key.

Towards this end, five random students are selected to serve on the jury for each Honor Council case. Each case involves an in-depth analysis of all the factors involved, making each a 15-hour endeavor. Sanctions are decided on a consensus-basis only. No faculty member is allowed to be on the Haverford Honor Council.

Discussion involving the Honor Code is key at Haverford. To encourage student awareness and contribution, the Honor Code at Haverford must be re-ratified every year.

At these re-ratification ceremonies, the Honor Code can be rewritten by a majority vote. Dinner discussions are also held regularly with the campus community to discuss previous released cases.

Unlike Davidson and Haverford Colleges, Reed College, located in Portland, Ore., does not have a codified set of rules. Its Honor Code takes the form of an Honor Principle, which is very fluid and open to individual interpretation.

One Reed Honor Council member described the Honor Principle as generally meaning: “Don’t be a jerk.” The ideological nature of the Honor Principle generates meaningful discussion at Reed, even as it can sometimes lead to conflict between opposing definitions. This system allows for a large degree of autonomy in the student body, a source of pride at Reed.

The Honor Council’s basic function, as a result, is education and mediation. Unlike the Honor Code system at Haverford, Reed’s Honor Council deals with issues like roommate conflicts, smoking in public, and drug abuse.

Of all the colleges that attended the conference, Hamilton College’s Honor Code was most similar to the one currently in place at Union.

Like Union, Hamilton has two separate systems that deal with academic and social misconduct. Their Honor Code and Honor Council deal solely with matters of academic integrity, while their Judiciary Board deals with matters of social misconduct, which is similar to Union’s Student Conduct Committee.

However, unlike Union, Hamilton has the Two-Strike Rule. If a student violates the Honor Code for the second time, the usual sanction is expulsion. This policy has apparently improved the academic scene at Hamilton.

Of all the schools at the conference, Union is unique in one striking way: Our Honor Code is relatively new, as it is merely two years old. While Union had an honor code many years ago, it fell into disuse. Union students asked for the Honor Code in 2006, but it was only in 2012 that it became a reality.

On Saturday, panels discussing topics ranging from education, student culture, procedures and sanctions lasted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., which was when the Hamilton organizers formally closed the conference.

Throughout the conference, the sense of pride that pervades schools like Haverford and Davidson became clear. At these schools, the Honor Code is considered a privilege.

Both colleges feature self-proctored exams, which help alleviate student stress and administrative difficulties. Students at these schools feel safe leaving their belongings out while running errands to another building on campus.

In general, the goal of the Honor Code is for faculty and students share a relationship of trust predicated by respect for the Honor Code.

In these communities, students are largely entrusted with keeping the honorable and just atmosphere intact.


Leave a Reply