Honor codes get a second look
Boston — SOME colleges and universities have them - most don't. But with the conservative trend among students in full swing, ``honor codes look like they are in a state of revival,'' says Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council of Education. Honor codes are ``more compatible with the 1980s.'' An increasingly competitive college climate and an ongoing national concern about public and private morality are giving honor codes a new push. And informal studies show more students are welcoming the change. ``Students are more concerned with obeying rules, and they are aware of keeping tabs and having to pay for mistakes,'' says Amy Wells, who is helping edit a guide to colleges for Times Books.
Educators say the real value of an honor code is symbolic: It reminds students and administrators of individual ideals and ethics. On a day-to-day basis, however, cheating and other types of ``honor violations'' are not unusual occurrences - in either community colleges or Ivy League schools.
So educators feel the real question is: Can such a code instill ideals of honor in students? Or does it merely threaten violators with punishment? Students say either result is debatable.
``I think it's concepts of honor, not the honor code, which keep people from cheating,'' says a law student at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
``If people abide by the honor code, it's more because they've been given privileges and freedoms and they are trying to live up to that,'' says Karen Beardslee, a senior at Rhodes College in Memphis. ``You feel respect because you've been given respect.''
At most schools, honor codes are maintained by student honor committees and are viewed as a way of advancing values among the students. In many cases, students sign a pledge of honor on all written exercises. If they see an infraction, they are responsible for reporting it. Some schools have a ``single sanction'' policy (one serious conviction warrants expulsion); others use varying levels of punishment.
Stanford University's honor code falls under its general policy called the ``Fundamental Standard,'' which includes honor, integrity, and discipline. It's ``an `I-will-be-good-at-Stanford' sort of contract,'' explains sophomore Parker Phillips.
By rule, Stanford's exams are unproctored ``to show that the students have the responsibility not to cheat and to give you the right to take a test without being policed.'' But, says Phillips, ``students are more likely to not violate the honor code because they don't want to be knocked out for a quarter.
Educators maintain that the attitudes of today's students are reminiscent of, though not identical to, those of days past. Through the 1950s, honor systems were considered by many to be an integral part of American higher education. ``We were nicely obedient and conforming,'' says Pat Reuchel of the National Association of Women's Deans and Counselors. ``We accepted authority.''
Along with the questioning of traditional values, honor codes fell by the wayside during the late 1960s and '70s. ``No one accepted anyone else's word for anything,'' Ms. Reuchel says.
The 1980s students may be similar in some respects to those of the '50s - but educators agree that today they are more career oriented and concerned with making money. For these students, honor codes offer a structured world of ``right and wrong'' outside parental or legal jurisdiction where they can develop ethical foundations for the future.
Traditionally, honor codes have thrived at military schools and small private universities where there exists a strong sense of loyalty to the school and to ideals that everyone shares. ``Without the code, there'd be no school,'' says Shane Ofrias of LaSalle Military Academy in Oakdale, N.Y. ``It definitely cuts down on the cheating,'' he says, and it also protects freshmen from hazing.
Most military schools use an honor code that complements strict discipline policies. Enforcement may range from push-ups or kitchen patrol to suspension, so LaSalle students usually have a second chance to adopt the code of ``acceptable behavior.''
At bigger schools, the fragile honor systems are usually less successful. The University of Virginia, where students say their honor code is alive and well, is one better-known exception to this rule. Last year, UV's honor code was pushed into the national eye when basketball player Olden Polynice lost his scholarship after a shoplifting charge.
UVA students say their system has become better organized in the past two years, yet the single-sanction policy and the code's effectiveness are ongoing campus debates. Some students contend that the extreme nature of a single-sanction policy discourages students from reporting violations. Others, like senior honor adviser Bill Street, maintain that ``it is a foundation for the school,'' and the policy holds.