I really wonder about the efficacy of a college honor code.
I mean, here’s the thing: there actually isn’t a doubt in my mind that the honor code fails to deter certain people from cheating and acting like petulant, disrespectful children. I haven’t seen the former, but I know it happens because, like you, I’m not an idiot—I’ve seen the latter enough to know that. People cheat, get caught, and (sometimes) fail courses. However, they don’t always face the wrath of the Honor Board—that tends to depend on a professor’s personal judgment of an offence’s severity. If many professors govern their classrooms with individual philosophies, is the Wheaton College Honor Code all that important outside of the drilled-into-our-head promise we scribble on the bottom of our papers?
Let’s play out a hypothetical scenario. I’m a cheater, and I’m pretty good at it. What do you suppose I’d prefer? Do you think I’d salivate over the opportunity to have a proctored exam? Or would I prefer the option to take a test while my professor is reading a book down the hall?
This example touches upon the flip side of my argument. I’m not a cheater, and it’s not because of an honor code. It’s because cheating is an awful thing to do. That doesn’t make me a special human being; I’d never suggest that. Rather, it makes me like a vast majority of people. Cheaters and wrongdoers are going to cheat and do wrong. Respectful people who are truly part of our academic community are going to act with respect and academic integrity. For every person who sees the Honor Code as an opportunity to cheat, there’s probably at least one person who is more likely to not cheat because of it. On the whole, however, academic and social integrity seem like largely predetermined traits.
So, we’ve come full circle. I see the potential good in an honor code—it does touch upon the principles of trust and maturity, and it certainly doesn’t say anything that clashes with most peoples’ moral codes. It’s a nice, relatively innocuous way to tell people what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is not. At the same time, I don’t know how seriously people take the Honor Code as a single entity. Perhaps it isn’t meant to be dissected like a constitution, but to provide guidance through a general framework of what is right and what is wrong. I’m not sure. But what it seems like to me is a minor tradition—present, sure, but culturally insignificant.
Categories: From the Editor