The Academic Integrity Task Force has proposed an honor code for the undergraduate schools at Columbia to improve academic integrity.
Bruno Rigonatti Mendes, CC ’14, initiated this proposal as the Columbia College Student Council’s academic affairs representative last year. Mendes said that the honor code would improve academic honesty on campus because it would be a pledge that students take themselves.
“The honor code would be one of several strategies we would have to pursue in order to have a better-established culture of academic integrity on campus,” he said. “It was one that required a sizable effort coming from students themselves.”
Students in support of the honor code said that it would count on students to be responsible for their own academic integrity and create a community culture that cherishes academic honesty.
“We want to make it a cultural thing and not about a discipline,” CCSC Academic Affairs Representative Steven Castellano, CC ’13, said. “If you make it the professors’ responsibility, students will just find more ways to cheat.”
Task force members first hope to create an honor pledge that students take at convocations, and eventually, they plan to print one on the back of blue books for students to sign at every exam they take.
Castellano, who is spearheading the initiative, said, “There have been so many studies that suggest that if you sign off on that, if you write out the words even as simple as ‘I did not cheat,’ you are much less likely to cheat because the idea is reinforced.”
Jeri Henry, associate dean of judicial affairs and community standards, said that she was very supportive of the project.
“If properly implemented, it would establish the values of the community, thereby shaping the development of students’ awareness of expectations and academic culture at Columbia,” she said.
Barnard has upheld an honor code since 1912. According to students on the task force, Columbia and Harvard are the only two Ivy League schools without an honor code. The cheating scandal at Harvard last year drew national attention to issues of academic integrity and has since intensified discussions of plagiarism and cheating.
Kathryn Yatrakis, Columbia College’s dean of academic affairs, said that professors often view cheating as a betrayal.
“They themselves are scholars in their fields,” she added. “They understand well how it is to rely on the work of others—as sociologists talk about standing on the shoulders of giants—but what you always do is give proper credit to that. They also know that they would not get to where they were if they do not do their own work.”
Christia Mercer, former chair of Literature Humanities, said that she was very concerned about students cheating on Lit Hum exams and plagiarism in papers.
“To have to worry about that just adds the burden to our responsibilities,” she said. “When students are dishonest, it changes the dynamic of class, especially a small class like Lit Hum.”
She added that while some older professors may believe that their students would never think to cheat, a study showed that one out of 10 students is going to plagiarize on a paper at some point in his or her time at Columbia.
Although largely advocated by faculty members, the effectiveness of an honor code has been questioned by students.
“I don’t think it would make a difference. If people are going to cheat, they’re going to cheat,” Sarah Forthal, CC ’15, said. “It already says on the syllabus that cheating isn’t acceptable.”
Besides the code itself, the task force also plans to organize discussion sessions for incoming students to discuss the cheating issues openly. In addition, it aims to reinforce the code by incorporating it into core classes, course syllabi, and departmental meetings.
“These two things, honor pledge and extended sessions for the new students next year, we hope to implement on a full scale by the fall,” Bob Sun, CC ’14 and a member of the Committee on Instruction, said. “This semester, in the coming months, we plan to run a pilot program with freshmen this year.”
“In the end, it’s really that the students’ individual sense of who they are decides their own integrity about whether they’re going to cheat,” Yatrakis said.
Sun, a Spectator opinion columnist, said that while he was uncertain of the effectiveness of the honor code, he hoped it would make a difference.
“After doing all that, will it make a noticeable difference in the culture?” he said. “One year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, we don’t know, but we really hope so.”