Honor Codes: Newest Pledge on Campuses

Colleges look to codes to curb rise in student cheating

JOHN TRAINOR has spent the past several years taking dozens of tests - and he's witnessed more than a few of his classmates cheat.

''I've seen people talking during tests and using calculators when they shouldn't,'' says Mr. Trainor, a senior majoring in electrical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. ''Even a little bit of cheating is destructive to everyone in the class.''

But now students at this Atlanta university may soon think twice before they plagiarize a paragraph, copy a friend's homework assignment, or peek at a peer's exam.

Last week students and faculty here voted to institute an academic honor code that requires all incoming students to sign a pledge not to cheat. The purpose of the code, which was initiated by students, is to cultivate an environment where academic dishonesty is not tolerated.

Honor codes - long a tradition at military academies and some liberal arts colleges - are gaining in popularity from New Hampshire to New Mexico. In the past year, Duke University in Durham, N.C., Harvard Business School in Boston, and Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., have introduced honor codes, and a satchel-full of other colleges are considering them.

''It's not an avalanche, but you'd have to go back before the Vietnam era before you'd see that many schools moving toward honor codes,'' says Donald McCabe, associate professor of management at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J.

Driving the increase are surveys reporting that cheating on campus is on the rise and a growing numbers of students who say they can't compete with cheaters.

Incidents of dishonesty on campus seem to be almost as ubiquitous as backpacks. In a 1991 survey of 31 selective liberal arts colleges, for instance, nearly 70 percent of students said they had cheated at least once. Mr. McCabe, who conducted the study, is replicating the research for the 1995-1996 school year. Though still collecting data, he expects to find a slight increase in cheating.

Schools with honor codes have had success in curbing academic dishonesty, however, and more colleges are looking to them as a solution to the problem. McCabe's study - which looked at 14 honor-code universities and 17 without honor codes - found that 57 percent cheated at least once where honor codes were established versus 78 percent at colleges that didn't have the codes. The study looked at all kinds of academic dishonesty - from cheating on tests to plagiarism to collaboration on assignments, an area of cheating that has seen a huge increase in the past 30 years.

AT Georgia Tech, faculty members are expected to provide specific guidelines for collaboration on out-of-class assignments and what can be programmed in calculators for use on tests. They're also expected to include a paragraph containing information about the honor code on the syllabus and report instances of dishonesty. Students are encouraged to report honor-code violations.

Honor codes, present in less than 25 percent of the nation's colleges, vary in scope. The University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, has the nation's oldest honor code. There, one incident of cheating, lying, or stealing means a student can be permanently expelled.

At other schools, the honor code is not strictly enforced. Georgia Tech's code falls somewhere in the middle, says Trainor, president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association.

Supporters of the honor code here believe the pledge will curb dishonesty over time. ''Our goal is to change the culture, to change people's attitudes that cheating is a victimless crime,'' says Gail DiSabatino, dean of students.

Though honor codes are helping students realize honesty is the best policy, they're not a panacea, experts say. ''The honor code sends a very important message, but even the schools that are adopting them are recognizing that you can't eradicate cheating,'' says Sally Coles, executive director at the Center for Academic Integrity at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

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