Give Me an Honor Code, Please!

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.