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Honor Code violations high among first-years

Amanda Michaels | Friday, September 22, 2006

Incoming University students who sign the Academic Code of Honor pledge – “As a member of the Notre Dame community, I will not participate in or tolerate academic dishonesty” – are assumed to be familiar with all the Code entails.

However, based on statistics collected by the University Honor Code Committee, that assumption may not be entirely correct – especially for first-year students.

Thomas Flint, faculty officer for the Honor Code Committee, said 58 honor code violations were reported during the 2005-06 academic year. Of those, 40 were from 100- and 200-level courses – classes predominately populated by freshmen and sophomores, Flint said.

Of the remaining 18, 10 came from 300-level courses, seven from 400-level and one from a 500-level (an undergraduate taking a graduate level course).

“The vast majority of students found responsible for Honor Code violations at Notre Dame are first-year students or sophomores,” Vice President and Associate Provost Dennis Jacobs, also co-chair of the Honor Code Committee, told The Observer in September 2005. Jacobs could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Flint said while it was difficult to know for sure why younger students would be more prone to honor code violations, he had some ideas.

“Lower-level courses tend to be required of students. Every student is required to take Intro to Philosophy, but a lot of them might not have any interest, so it may be that the temptation to cheat is going to be a little bit greater,” Flint said. “These intro courses also tend to be much larger than higher-level classes, so it could be that some students think their dishonesty will go unnoticed.”

He also suggested freshmen might be coming to the University “having engaged in a lot of academic dishonesty in high school,” according to statistics that suggest more cheating goes on in secondary schools than in college.

“Some students may be bringing bad habits with them, which they’re gradually losing through the course of their college career,” Flint said.

Assistant Dean of First Year of Studies Kenneth John DeBoer agreed with Flint’s assessment.

“Most likely there was not a similar code of honor at the [students’] secondary school, so it’s a new world for them,” DeBoer said. “And upper-level students have been here longer, maybe have had classmates who ran into some [honor code] trouble earlier and know this is serious situation.”

O’Neill freshman Alexander McShea had another idea.

“It’s probably because we freshman are more careless when we cheat as opposed to the more thorough upper classmen,” he said.

In the past, freshmen were sent the full Academic Code of Honor Handbook – “a long and imposing document,” Flint said – and a statement to sign confirming they’d read it.

“We had heard from students on committee over the years that they didn’t think anyone read the whole thing and our fear was that no one was even looking at it, signing the paper without reading,” Flint said. “This is a real problem, because this is already the first dishonest act by students, and besides that, people weren’t getting familiar with important information.”

So, to make this information more accessible, the essential details were condensed into a short student guide in 2005, which is sent to freshmen before they come to Notre Dame. Additionally, this past summer, students were asked for the first time to take an on-line test on the material presented in the guide.

The quiz, designed by the Honor Code committee, presents students with eight out of 33 possible ‘real-life’ situations where the honor code would be involved. Six of the eight must be answered correctly for the student to pass – and if they fail, they must wait 12 hours before they can access the quiz again.

“Well into the summer, about 85 percent of students were passing the tutorial on the first try, which suggests they were actually looking at the guide before doing it, and that reading the student guide was sufficient to pass the quiz,” Flint said. “Only 10 first-year students who showed up without having passed it – but I don’t know for sure what happened with them.”

DeBoer said FYS was pleased with the effectiveness of the quiz – but supplemented it with their own advising.

“We think the quiz gives heightened awareness of the Honor Code to students, but of course, [FYS advisors] cover [the code] as a topic in individual meetings with students,” he said. “Personally, I always keep the student guide on my desk as sort of a reminder that this is an important thing.”

Though this more student-friendly approach to teaching the Honor Code is aimed at decreasing the number of violations per year, Flint said he expects to see numbers go up in the near future.

In 2005, the Honor Code Committee instituted a new violation reporting policy, which allowed professors and students to settle the problem without needing a hearing in front of a departmental honesty committee, instead submitting a simple report to Jacobs. In the past, a hearing was the only official way to address violations – so, Flint said, professors were far more likely to deal with the problem themselves and not make it known to the University.

In the 2002-03 school year, 41 honor code violations were reported – 17 less than last year. A visible increase, but not as dramatic as expected, Flint said.

“Some other schools that have changed their [honor code violation] reporting policy have seen numbers go through the roof,” Flint said. “So, there is an increase in the numbers, but they’re still very low, given that we know that there had to have been far more violations last year than 58, based on a survey of the faculty we did several years ago.”

Flint said he thinks the numbers will see a spike once faculty members get used to the new system, as the vast majority of reports to initiate from them.

“It’s rare that a student would report another student for academic dishonesty, which is disappointing, because it suggests that students here don’t take the honor code here as seriously as they should,” Flint said.

For many students, however, there are unspoken rules that override any Academic Code of Honor they sign.

“I’d lose respect for the [cheater], but turning someone in is really low,” McShea said. “[But] if the person’s score was going to really upset the curve, I’d go for it.”