You know you’re in college when you finally realized that you miss the affectionate scrutiny from your high school teachers and advisors. Gone are the days when teachers stealthily prowl the corridors and watch your every move, and gone are the days when you are under the tight surveillance of invigilators while completing your finals. When I entered college, I was thrilled to be bestowed with so much autonomy and freedom, to do whatever I wanted, however I wanted, whenever I wanted. There are no scoldings, no afternoon detentions, no physical penalties in college. There is, however, the Honor Code.
Unlike college administration and policies, the Honor Code focuses not on meting out punishments when students committed a wrongdoing. Instead, the Honor Code seeks to inculcate amongst students a sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions and decisions. Serving as an academic-focused code of conduct, the Honor Code seeks to uphold student integrity and uphold academic honesty for all academic assessments that include tests, examinations and thesis papers. Schools such as Rice University have a written Honor Code that requires students to promise to uphold academic integrity. Honor Codes attempt to eliminate any act of academic dishonesty such as copying and/or plagiarism. Yet at the end of the day, it is the student body that truly benefits from adhering to what may seem like a frivolous one (or two) liner. In exchange for their integrity, students are rewarded with the flexibility to engage in take-home or self-scheduled examinations.This means that students can take an exam at the time and place of their choice, away from the distractions and stress brought about by a pair of watchful eyes.
In fact, an increasing number of colleges have successfully integrated and entrenched the school community in the qualities that drive the Honor Code. This extension of the Honor Code into every facet of student life results in both academic and social self-governance. The Honor Code is packaged not as concrete rules but a philosophy comprising of paradigms and values that seeks to foster a strong cohesiveness and trust within the student community. In fact, the equation behind self-governance is simple – freedom and autonomy as long as one upholds communal responsibility. Self-governance, which is essentially the Honor Code under a different name, is huge in Grinnell College, and I remembered the first advice dished out by a senior during my first week of college, “Grinnell runs on self-governance, so that means we have only one rule – Don’t [expletive] mess with the train.” Based on my personal experience, self-governance encourages one to act responsibly, to make informed decisions that do not implicate others, and ultimately contribute to a better college experience.
With self-governance, students are accountable for their own actions and it is common for colleges to have a student-run Honor Council or Governing Committee to ensure that the student body do not abuse their freedom of choice. In fact, colleges such as Haverford College annually revisit and re-ratified existing principles to ensure that the values of the Honor Code stay relevant and accessible in everyday context. For some institutions, the Honor Code has become so integrated into the college that is affectionately referred to as a tradition, and for others like Harvard University, a possible implementation of the Honor Code is underway.
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Photo courtesy of University of Denver which employs a strict honor code.