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Panel evaluates Honor Code

Steve Kerins | Thursday, March 22, 2007

Academic integrity is an essential aspect of Notre Dame’s mission, and students, faculty and administrators share the responsibility of upholding the Honor Code, a three-person panel said Wednesday.

University Vice President and Associate Provost Dennis Jacobs, philosophy professor Bill Ramsey and senior Sarah Glatt spoke to about 30 people at this semester’s second-to-last Theology on Tap event, “To Cheat or Not to Cheat: The Academic Honor Code.”

The issue of academic integrity “really cuts right to the heart of the University,” Jacobs said, citing a phrase in Notre Dame’s mission statement requiring members of the community to “seek and share truth for its own sake.”

Jacobs said the Undergraduate Academic Code of Honor has a dual purpose, aiming both to promote academic integrity and to provide procedures for penalizing students for dishonesty.

Glatt addressed the issue from a student’s point of view, raising the thorny question of whether circumstances matter when it comes to cheating.

“Here at Notre Dame, one of the main concerns is … how much you should worry about [reporting another student’s cheating], if everyone is morally and intellectually responsible for themselves,” she said.

Ramsey described academic dishonesty from a faculty member’s perspective, but emphasized the need for both students and professors to ensure that clear goals and expectations are established at the beginning of each course.

“I think sometimes faculty suppose that if we need to explain what’s wrong with cheating, there’s already something wrong,” he said.

While taking a hard line against academic dishonesty, referring to it as “an ugly form of fraud,” Ramsey said a goal of the educational process at Notre Dame is to foster an ethic in which a student would not consider cheating a means to get ahead.

“We’re here to make you into a certain kind of person,” he said. “[The motivation to attend Notre Dame] is not to get into medical school, and it’s not to get into law school, and it’s not to get that really good job. It’s to become the kind of person who belongs [there].”

Ramsey also addressed Glatt’s point about the choice between upholding the Honor Code and remaining loyal to a friend or classmate, arguing that the ethical conflict is illusory.

“The choice is not a choice between loyalty and disloyalty,” he said, asserting that a decision to remain silent when a friend cheats can be considered disloyalty to Notre Dame, one’s classmates and oneself.

Faculty Honor Code Officer and philosophy professor Thomas Flint, who was not among the panelists Wednesday, explained some of the specifics of the Honor Code. Flint said, as at many universities, Notre Dame’s is a “modified Honor Code,” which allows students and faculty to administer it jointly.

“Personally, I think we were wise to adopt a modified Honor Code,” he said. “Cheating hurts other students, but it also does enormous damage to the teacher-student relationship.”

Flint also commented on the University’s new system for responding to Honor Code infractions, which was redesigned to give professors more control over matters of discipline in certain cases. The change has resulted in a significant rise in reported infractions, he said, the causes of which remain unclear.

“There’s no reason to think that dishonesty among Notre Dame students has increased 61 percent over one year, but I know of no data that shows that it hasn’t either,” Flint said. “We’re in an area where all one can do is speculate.”

Wednesday’s panelists touched on students’ increasing use of the Internet as a vehicle for plagiarism, but Flint said the Internet can be a double-edged sword.

“Professors have largely caught up to the students in terms of computer literacy, and most are quite adept at using Google, Turnitin.com or other resources to uncover cases of Internet-based cheating,” Flint said.

The Theology on Tap series is sponsored by Campus Ministry. The next event, the semester’s last, will take place April 18.