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Honor code violation spurs more education

Ann-Marie Woods | Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An alleged cheating incident during an Introduction to Marketing class last semester raised questions concerning the effectiveness of the University Code of Honor and the need for increased education of the academic honesty policy at Notre Dame, a member of the class said.

Danielle Guidry, a sophomore student in the class, said several students opened beers during the exam.

After students brought the incident to the administration’s attention, the department sent out a questionnaire to all students in the class, asking what they observed or partook in during the final exam.

“We were asked if we participated in cheating or if we saw people cheating during the final, if we saw anyone drinking during the final and if we felt that our testing environment had been hampered,” Guidry said. “If we didn’t answer honestly, we would be held in violation of the honor code.”

Even with the number of reported violations decreasing in the last academic year to 59, down from 89 in the 2006-07 academic year, faculty and students continue to convey concern over the implementation of the Academic Code of Honor and its effectiveness on campus.

Created as a collaborative effort by faculty and students in 1989, the Academic Code of Honor states, “As a member of the Notre Dame community, I will not participate in or tolerate academic dishonesty.”

Prior to matriculation at the University, students participate in an online orientation to test their understanding of the Academic Code of Honor and provide an avenue for students to agree to the principles, policies and procedures outlined in the handbook.

“I think across the United States, there was a growing trend for universities to adopt some kind of honor code system,” associate provost and co-chair of the University Code of Honor Committee Dennis Jacobs said. “What honor codes are really trying to do is promote an ethic across campus.”

The ethic implied in the honor code has undergone several revisions and drafts, but the current version focuses on the responsibility of students to promote academic honesty in their own work and in the work of their classmates and peers.

 “We want to put the [honor code] out there and inform students that when they join the university, they are joining scholarly community,” Jacobs said. “We are a community that is all about the pursuit of truth. So whether you do that as a faculty member doing research or a student doing course work, the pursuit of truth is what we want to keep our eyes on as the goal.”

It is this pursuit of truth that guided senior Mary Beauclair to serve on the University Code of Honor Committee as a representative from the College of Engineering.

“I think there should be a zero tolerance policy for cheating, and professors should be more available and open to discussing violations in their classrooms,” Beauclair said. “When students who cheat receive equal or better grades than students who do not, the value of those grades decreases.”

Beauclair said she dislikes cheating in the classroom and believes that there needs to be a shift in teaching to focus less on grades and more on learning.

“I think that students who cheat are not at all concerned with learning, but with producing work and getting grades,” Beauclair said. “A shift in this attitude would require restructuring of courses to emphasize learning and the advancement of understanding.”

Jacobs agreed that faculty members have a critical role in educating students about the honor code and specifying the way in which it is applied in each course.

“There are legitimate areas where students need clarification, the most common of which is collaboration,” Jacobs explained. “Students are encouraged to work in teams on homework assignments one day and then other times in the very same course, they are encouraged to work on their own. If I spell that out very clearly, you understand what the expectation is in each case.”

Professor Jeff Speaks said in the philosophy department there is a separate document he utilizes to show how the honor code applies specifically to writing in philosophy.
“I talk in length about it and give examples,” Speaks said. “I talk about using the Internet — what is good and what’s not.”

Yet, in the current technological environment with the free flow of an infinite amount of information, Internet-based cheating has become the most common type of reported violations at the university.

“It seems to me that it was less widespread [when I was a student] because people were less adapted to the Internet,” Speaks said. “It is so easy now to find stuff on the Internet, whereas it’s much harder to go to the library and find a book to plagiarize from.”

In handling reported honor code violations, faculty and students have the option to take the case to a hearing or file an Honor Code Violation Report, the latter being the most preferred option.

“We created a system so that if a student and faculty member could agree on an appropriate sanction,” Jacobs explained. “My office reviews those and makes sure the agreed-upon sanction and the whole process is in conformity with the honor code.”
Sanctions can range from a failing grade on the assignment to expulsion in the most extreme cases where multiple violations have occurred.

“There are six or seven principles to help faculty and students understand what an appropriate sanction would be,” Jacobs said. “There is no suspension or expulsion for a single offense, but [the sanction] will impact the grade in the course where the violation took place.”

Beauclair said violations should be addressed in a serious manner, and students should be aware of the consequences of academic dishonesty.

“Professors should take more action when honor code violations are reported,” Beauclair said. “Rather than saying that they can’t prove it or it is not their place to call students out, they should address students directly. If students thought professors actually cared about the Code of Honor, they might cheat less.”