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Honor Code deserves another look

By Thresher Editorial Board     1/20/16 12:43pm

As incoming students enter Rice, many are surprised by the degree to which the university’s Honor Code extends trust to the student body. The Thresher believes the honor system has the potential to help both students and faculty, but in its current state, the system is broken: As the Faculty Senate Task Force currently working on the issue recognizes (see p. 1), cheating remains far too common and honor rules are applied unjustly and unclearly.

Potential honor code violations can stem from a lack of clarity or communication between professors and their students. Although it is a student’s responsibility to confirm the honor code policy for their courses, violations can occur despite good faith. The Honor Council does provide outlines of honor code policies for professors to implement within their syllabi, but more structure is needed. Professors must clearly indicate what level of collaboration and use of which resources is permitted on each type of assignment. A simple way for students to have coursework honor code information on hand would be to receive an automated email after registering for courses outlining the policy for each class in a standardized manner, customizable to each class. This not only clarifies the policy for students and emphasizes its importance, but also furthers the idea that there is truly no excuse for being unaware of the details of a particular course’s policy.

The honor code it grants us the freedom to have take-home exams, but students can sometimes abuse this, whether by using prohibited resources or disregarding the time limit. This is evident in courses where take-home exam scores have significantly higher averages than their in-class counterparts. It is difficult to catch this form of cheating, as students cannot report one another and there are no visible signs of cheating by extending the time limit on an exam. Take-home exams reduces test anxiety and allows students to optimize their schedule, and we should hold on to them. It is important that any changes to this system not be debilitating, lest we lose spirit of honor at Rice, which encourages mutual trust. The working group must make small changes that would decrease the frequency of this cheating, while still giving freedom to those who respect the honor code.

While the basic premise of the Honor Code must remain, the task force should incorporate input from students and professors in considering ways to improve the current system. Changes that decrease both cheating and unfair accusations against students may have to be far-reaching, but they will ultimately serve to protect the core concept of the honor system.

The privileges of the Honor Code stem from the idea that Rice’s aim is not just to instill knowledge in its students, but also help them develop moral character. This idea is fundamental to Rice’s identity: Students can and should be held to a high moral standard, and the honor system makes life easier for both students and faculty. However, in order to succeed at these aims, the system must be implemented in a more equitable and realistic way. 

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