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Task force seeks honor system input

By Elizabeth Myong and Drew Keller     1/20/16 11:29am

The Faculty Senate Task Force on the Honor System will hold student focus groups this week as part of its ongoing effort to evaluate and recommend changes for the implementation of Rice University’s Honor Code.

The Task Force will use the focus groups to help gather information as part of a yearlong process, which also included an online survey given to faculty and students at the end of the fall semester, according to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, who co-chairs the Task Force. 

The Faculty Senate unanimously created the task force, which includes faculty, undergraduate students and Hutchinson, at its public meeting last April in response to concerns about whether students were abiding by the Honor Code. The Senate’s speaker, James Weston, said it had been a long time since the effectiveness of the honor system had been assessed.

“The honor code working group was deliberately created as a completely collaborative group with the participation of the administration, faculty, Honor Council and Student Association,” Hutchinson said.

While the number of reported Honor Code violations has been relatively constant even as the student population has increased, surveys have shown a decline in the confidence of the student body that the honor code is being followed, according to Hutchinson. One area in which violations have increased is in courses involving computer programming, where Hutchinson said student sharing of code and access of online code have led to plagiarism.

Alex Byrd, a professor of history and the other co-chair of the task force, said major structural changes to the honor system are unlikely, though the group is still in the process of deciding on recommendations. 

Hutchinson said the task force hopes to address a desire, expressed by both faculty and students, for the faculty to be more engaged in the investigation and sanction process of the honor system.

“Students are concerned about the detachment of the faculty [during investigations],” Hutchinson said.

According to Hutchinson, another aim of the task force is to reduce the workload of Honor Council members, the number of which has not increased along with the student body. Hutchinson said the task force was also discussing change to the length of time cases take. Currently, many accusations are made long after the alleged violation, and there is no time limitation on when an accusation can be made.

A final area of focus is on the insufficient faculty training and student orientation with regards to the Honor Code, according to Hutchinson.

“The honor code represents a shared value and we all have a stake in its success and assuring its success,” he said.

Byrd said the input of the focus groups could affect the decisions made by the task force. The groups will be held Jan. 21, Jan. 25 and Jan 27.

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