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Honor at Rice is in jeopardy

By Rodolfo Gutierrez     4/9/24 11:09pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

I decided to go to Rice in part because I was told that this university had a unique culture of honor, trust and freedom. The honor system is one of Rice’s longest-standing traditions, created by the first class in 1912. I joined the Honor Council four years ago because I believed that students, rather than faculty or administration, should keep other students accountable and that their cases be heard by their peers. 

It is a privilege that can only be maintained if all members of the Rice community — the student body and faculty — actively nurture mutual trust. As I am about to graduate, having deliberated in over 90 Honor Council cases and talked with students, TAs and professors, I can say that honor at Rice is a joke.

Many professors respect the Honor Council and the honor system. Nevertheless, too many professors do not trust their students. Professors and TAs have expressed, both to me and the Council, frustration about feeling unable to accuse students of violating the Honor Code during tests because of a policy barring active proctoring. The rise of assignments written by AI has further alarmed professors already trying to limit other avenues of cheating, such as homework forums or unauthorized collaboration. 

The student body does not give professors reason to trust them. Although the Council sees many cases, these are a small fraction of the total Honor Code violations committed based on input from students, TAs and professors. The result is that, in my opinion, academic dishonesty is common and normalized at Rice University. There is a general lack of knowledge about the Honor Code and academic integrity beyond (potentially) reciting the Honor Code pledge. Many times, students inadvertently commit Honor Code violations because of general ignorance. For example, unintentional violations have occurred because of misunderstandings on permissible aid in pledged or unpledged assignments. Similarly, confusion with academic standards of citation have resulted in false citations and plagiarism. 

I have also heard cases where students commit heinous violations that actively harm the academic environment of Rice, yet are not punished because they attempt to delete evidence or are not reported. But in nearly all cases, students do not care enough about the Honor Code until they are sitting at their hearing. This has been confirmed to me with the discourse surrounding the Honor Council and Honor Code, most recently with the many misconceptions surrounding a new policy on confidential accusations. 

Mainly, the introduction of confidential accusations is an attempt to encourage students to report suspected Honor Code violations while mitigating the possibility of social reprisal. Failure to report a violation is an Honor Code violation, and this has always been the policy (Article 3, Section 2 of the Rice Honor System Constitution) but the Council gets few or no reports every semester. Modifying this policy has been a yearlong discussion, with a feedback meeting open to the whole Rice community, attended by only a handful of students and one professor.

The Honor System only works if professors trust students, students know about and follow the Honor Code, and students keep each other accountable. None of these cases are the norm at Rice. 

I do not know or believe there is a single panacea to resolve this. The Honor System was created before electronic calculators were invented, much less wireless telecommunications, the internet and generative AI that facilitate cheating. I don’t want to accept the assertion that we can no longer be trusted to maintain honor today. 

There are many people in the student body, faculty and administration who are deeply invested in the Honor System, but we need to have active reestablishment of trust by everyone in the Rice community. Students need to trust the Honor Council to advocate for the interests of students and hold their friends accountable to academic standards to prevent violations from occurring. Professors should make their syllabi clear about permissible conduct and collaboration, and make it a greater part of their curriculum. If honor at Rice continues in this charade, the Honor System is untenable. It would be unfortunate that this privilege and freedom that has been protected for over a century can no longer continue because we can no longer trust. 

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