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I want Claremont McKenna to implement an honor code, immediately.

At the very utterance of the words honor code, many students instantly get defensive. There seems to be some notion that honor is an archaic, overbearing principle, and that the implementation of any code enforcing it would mean a tightening of those steel chains that bind us to behave properly (also known as “rules”). Many have heard the horror stories of stringent honor codes like those at the University of Virginia or the U.S. Military Academies. According to the honor codes at these schools, a single guilty honor violation results in dismissal. Well, here’s a news flash – CMC is nearly as strict. Under our current policy, a first cheating violation results in either a one semester suspension or immediate expulsion “in particularly egregious cases.” Yet at Orientation each year, we stress to every new freshman class, as they sign our “Statement of Academic Policy and Statement of Academic Integrity,” that the document extends only inside the classroom, and that it is not an all-encompassing honor code.

So, why take the time to codify morality? First, there’s the more pragmatic argument – perfect for all you CMC ultra-rational minds. Statistically speaking, more students admit to cheating at schools without honor codes than those with them.* Evidence suggests that honor codes serve as a deterrent to cheating because they serve as a physical reminder of a school’s integrity policy, giving students a daily moral incentive to abide by the rules. Adding an honor code could potentially lower the amount of cheating and stealing that occurs at CMC.

Statistics aside, an honor code is important to solidify the notion that this campus is more than just a hodge-podge of young adults living with the same perimeter. In fact, we are so much more than that – we are a high-caliber society of students who care about each other and our individual well-beings. Because of its small size, CMC has an innate sense of community. An honor code would merely build upon that foundation of trust CMC already possesses. Think of it as entering an academic social contract – not with the Deans or some authority figure, but with your peers. In other words, I would pledge not to cheat or steal because as a community we have agreed that cheating and stealing is bad, not because President Gann said so.

Instating an honor code would add a new kind of tradition to CMC, and one that does not involve consuming copious amounts of alcohol. It would be nice for CMC to develop an established culture of integrity. Personally speaking, my college decision came down to deciding between Washington and Lee University, a traditional Southern school that prides itself on its honor system, and CMC, which my family knew to be an infant liberal arts college of high caliber, but with a frat boy-like reputation for pounding brews. Needless to say, CMC was not an easy sell. But it grew on us all; both my parents and I now wholeheartedly stand behind my college decision. Though my family saw past our reputation, I still worry about how outsiders view our school – a bad reputation affects us as students and could haunt us as graduates. A student-run honor code could help fix those worrisome parts of CMC’s image. Interestingly enough, many of our higher-ranked counterparts have student-run honor codes already in place; seven out of the ten schools ranked above us on the U.S. News and World Report Rankings have honor codes implemented.

To all you non-cheaters out there who chose to still vehemently fight against the implementation, remember this: signing an honor code takes a swift stroke of the pen, not the donation of an organ. It is relatively painless. So while you are prepping your clever pseudonym for your pissed-off anonymous comment, try and keep into perspective what you are fighting against. Though an honor code might not change any of your behaviors, remember that it could have a profound effect on one of your peers or the college as a whole.

**Donald L. McCabe and Linda Klebe Trevino, “Academic Dishonesty: Honor Codes and Other Contextual Influences,” The Journal of Higher Education (Sep.-Oct. 1993): 522-538.

25 COMMENTS

  1. CMC could use this, our academic dishonesty policy is far from an honor code – implementing one would be huge for the school in so many ways.

  2. a. I like the title.

    b. I like the idea of the student community as a whole deciding to increase our integrity factor. We’d do well with that.

  3. I would prefer to cheat at an equilibrium of its benefits and my perceived risk of getting caught.

  4. I would prefer to cheat at an equilibrium of its benefits and my perceived risk of getting caught.

  5. Amen. An honor code would only strengthen our community through trust and could potentially make our school that much more respected around the nation.
    What a great article!

  6. …no mention of Harvey Mudd’s honor code?? cmon now! thats the perfect example right there. i was expecting at least a sentence of recognition…

  7. How would an honor code reduce our reputation as a college that drinks a lot of beer? Wouldn’t we have to drink less beer to get rid of this reputation?
    My high school, like most all public high schools, did not have an honor code. For this reason, in my mind, honor codes seem like a preppy institution designed to turn peers against each other. We are all adults, why do we need to turn everyone into policemen?

    • If there were concerns about “Big Brothering,” we could go along with something USNA’s Honor Concept, which does not compel peers to go direct to authorities to report honor violations. This allows peers to approach the violators themselves and get their side of the story before taking action.

      • The Naval Academy’s Honor Concept does no such thing. In fact, quite the opposite. The “honor” system in place emphasizes the institution over the individual to an extreme degree. When I was at the Academy, I attended an Ethics in Leadership course which actually cited the honor system in place, and how it holds midshipmen to a high level of excellence with rules that DO NOT bend, they are rules for a reason. At the same time, I understand this. CMC is (for the most part) preparing students for the private sector (and maybe politics) not combat. Integrity is the most important quality of a combat leader, and while unnecessary at CMC, the Naval Academy’s policies work for their goals. Don’t confuse successful programs at different colleges with different ideals as an example for CMC. This is a unique institution.

        A strict honor code emphasizes the institution over friendships, because it demands friends turn on each other. I promise you kilo, the Naval Academy is not where you should be looking for advice on running CMC.

        • Thanks for the correction. “Don’t confuse successful programs at different colleges with different ideals as an example for CMC. This is a unique institution.” Wise advice. I’ll keep that in mind in the future.

          I’d heard there was a former Mid at CMC.

  8. An honor code such as the one you suggest is too intangible to have any concrete impact. I think it is naive to think that an honor code defers people from dishonorable conduct or that an honor code is necessary to enforce honorable conduct. It may improve the reputation of CMC’s name in the long run, but at what short run cost? In extreme cases, an honor code would bring out the rebellious, anarchy-smitten nature in people causing a disconnect and mistrust between the people and authority(even if were to be student run). In my experience, an honor code gives people a sense of entitlement to have a holier than thou attitude and those are not the type of people I want to be surrounded by. I like to believe that I am already surrounded by people who are mature enough to have an innate sense of integrity that they live up to, not because there is an honor code suggesting that we should, but rather because they respect their peers, their community, and most importantly themselves. If there is anyone in this community that lacks that sense of integrity, an honor code is not the solution to those questionable ethics.
    It’s not an issue of how easy it is to sign, but rather how easily it can change the dynamics of a group of people, in my opinion for the worse.

    • “… I still worry about how outsiders view our school – a bad reputation affects us as students and could haunt us as graduates. A student-run honor code could help fix those worrisome parts of CMC’s image.”

      We can all agree that we have a reputation for partying. We can all agree that some people, such as parents of prospective students, would not be impressed by such a reputation. The author proposes that as an attempt to create a more positive reputation, we could implement an honor code. She does not propose that we stop partying. So how is she a hypocrite?

      Please consider the facts before you anonymously label the author as a “hypocrite” and bring her personal life into the discussion.

    • Does this post mean you did not read the article?
      “Instating an honor code would add a new kind of tradition to CMC, and one that does not involve consuming copious amounts of alcohol.”
      The foregoing quip does not suggest that an honor code is inconsistent with drinking beer.

  9. I had an honor code in middle school and in high school. In middle school, we had to write “This is my own work” and sign it on everything we turned in. In high school, we had to write, “I have neither given nor received any unauthorized aid on this test/paper/assignment” and sign it, again, on everything we turned in. Eventually, after writing those two phrases out an infinite amount of times, I believe the honor code began to lose real meaning and rather it became something as objective as writing the date on my assignments. While an honor code theoretically sounds appealing, in practice, I believe it weakens the sense of honor on campus because instead of consciously questioning your actions, beliefs, and values toward adjustment and improvement, an honor code becomes an accepted safety net in which honor is taken for granted as something that is simple and contrived. While I appreciate various aspects of my two former honor codes, ultimately I believe us CMC students are not only mature enough to, but also, should have the right to, define and exemplify honor and integrity as individuals in the absence of an honor code.

  10. This is a terrible idea. I am one of your “non-cheaters,” and I find the current policy effective. It is plenty strict and significantly deters cheating. What would the honor code even do then? Stop people from stealing? That is a pipe dream at best. Anybody who is currently a thief at CMC is not going to stop if you get them to sign for some intangible concept. And that is what, .9% of the population, if not smaller? Most of the thefts are from townies anyway, are you getting them to sign up for the honor code? It is simply not necessary.

  11. Yes, ideally, I would like to go to a college where no one steals, everyone is fair, and I can trust the people I live around. Is this real life? No. Even if an honor code were effective, what would it teach us? That I can leave my things lying around and not be responsible for them? In the real world, you cannot leave your computer or longboard outside and expect it to still be there; you can’t leave your car unlocked, or wallet on a bench and expect no one to steal it. An honor code to me makes sense only in a privileged, sheltered, and elite community, which I guess in a sense CMC is, but we need to understand that the world does not work like that. I am NOT condoning stealing, I’ve had things taken and it SUCKS. But I’ve had times where my things do come back to me, or gotten e-mails from other students saying they’ve found something of mine. And every time that happens, I am truly grateful and feel lucky to be in a place where people have the decency to not take them and even give it back, for that is what I would do. But let’s be realistic. We already live in such a privileged community, we do not need any more sense of entitlement.

  12. Great article mam. Oddly enough it came down to W&L for myself as well. Which is why I had to laugh when you used CMC and W&L in the same sentence while describing us as fratty. W&L is about as fratty as it gets (which sadly enough is what attracted me as a senior in high school), still great article.

  13. It would be great to have an honor code that allows you schedule your own finals… so if you want to take them sunday, monday and tuesday morning so you can go home then you can. You would sign something and check your final out and go to the a designated place and take it. They do this at conn college and it works great!

  14. “Many have heard the horror stories of stringent honor codes like those at the University of Virginia or the U.S. Military Academies. According to the honor codes at these schools, a single guilty honor violation results in dismissal.”

    Not to nitpick, but this isn’t necessarily true. The West Point’s Honor Code and the Annapolis’ Honor Concept do not guarantee expulsion. After a review process by several officers on the Academy’s staff, an “Honor Board” of peers (broadly similar to CMC’s J-Board) hears honor violations within the Brigade. If the cadet/mid is found guilty by the “Honor Board,” his/her case is passed on to the Superintendent of the Academy, who “may exercise “discretion” and retain the cadet [or mid], or he may recommend separation…”

    I heartily support the institution of an honor code or concept at CMC. Are we morally bankrupt? No. If anything we’re the opposite. CMCers are a members of tight-knit community. We’re intensely loyal to each other and to the school we love. A properly instituted Honor Concept would further expand that, ensuring that this respect will carry on as long as CMC’s doors are open to students.

    Plus, numerous sister institutions like Washington & Lee, Harvey Mudd, and William & Mary all have long-standing, highly successful honor systems

    Now, the question is, what should the honor code/concept look like?

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