Despite being an honors college, St. Mary’s lacks something many colleges in the United States take for granted: an honor code.
Honor codes deal primarily with academic integrity and in turn the consequences of academic dishonesty, such as cheating and plagiarism. According to President Joseph Urgo, they are common at many small colleges.
“The motivation [of the honor code] is to put more trust in students and give them greater say in academic experience.”
According to Robert Paul, Chair of the Faculty Senate and Associate Professor of Biology, most cases of academic dishonesty are currently handled as a matter between the student and his or her professor.
These “in-course penalties”, as outlined in the “To the Point” student handbook, may be a final grade of “F” for either the assignment in question or the entire course. In the most flagrant cases of academic dishonesty, or in cases of appeal, students are brought before the academic judicial board, a body consisting of four faculty and three students which finds the student not responsible or responsible for misconduct based on a preponderance of evidence; an appropriate censure is then handed down by the Provost.
Although these policies have been present in the student handbook and its faculty equivalent for years, Paul said that it puts both discretion and enforcement more in the hands of faculty than students. “It places faculty in policeman’s role to take care of [academic dishonesty], and that’s not a good role.”
The major difference between this policy and the proposed honor code is that the latter would be written by, maintained, and enforced primarily by the student body instead of faculty. Urgo said this would show that “students value academic integrity highly and students want a share in preserving it.”
Paul said, “the honor code is not something faculty can impose on students,” but added that the faculty senate would support an effort to implement the honor code.
Urgo said that the honor code would also come with other benefits, primarily the ability to have unproctored exams (i.e. exams where professors and/or teacher’s assistants would not have to be present) and a review process of the policy every few years.
Urgo further added that at many colleges students also receive a session during an orientation explaining the honor code, though the specifics of this policy have yet to be implemented in anything the college has currently developed.
Despite these changes, however, Urgo said, “I don’t see it changing in a fundamental way the academic experience… just making us more aware of academic values.”
Although no one is against the tenets of an honor code, Student Trustee Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall said that some students have noted that an honor code is somewhat unnecessary. He added, “I don’t think there’d be any discernible difference in what we do…we already have an unwritten, unspoken honor code.”
Student Parliamentarian Joshua Santangelo said he had heard some of the same concerns, and added, “some people said that one thing that makes [what we have now] so special is that it’s unspoken.”
Santangelo said that the Student Government Association (SGA) has no cemented position as of yet.
“There hasn’t been too much staunch support so far [either way]. It’s kind of been dead even.” He also said that the SGA’s future actions would likely be an attempt to gauge student interest in the honor code and, at some point, pass something either in support of or against it.