Last week, the Academic Integrity Task Force recommended that all four undergraduate schools adopt an honor code to improve student adherence to the values of honesty within academia. Task Force members proposed that incoming students take an oath at convocation and, eventually, that the University print a copy of the code on the back of every blue book that students use for exams. While it is unclear whether this condemnation of plagiarism and declaration of values—namely, honesty and respect for peer work—would really change attitudes toward cheating on campus, or reduce the counterproductive focus on grades, an official honor code could provide an opportunity for the student body to recommit itself to the worthwhile principle of academic honesty.
Columbia and Harvard are the only two Ivies still without an honor code. We should join our peer institutions by ensuring that each student is reminded of shared community principles and the values that everyone recognizes as central to our education, even though they are sometimes pushed aside. While University policy already explicitly prohibits students from plagiarizing and cheating, and many have been punished under the current system, the suggestion of an honor code provides an opportunity for us to refocus our attention on what truly matters during our four years at Columbia: learning.
Moreover, Columbia students should be held to the same standards as our neighbors across the street, who have recited an academic honor code at convocation each year for just over a century. Columbia and Barnard students sit next to each other in classes. They should share the same values—both in statement and in practice. And even if they’re not aware of it, Columbia students enrolled in Barnard courses are already subject to the Barnard Honor Code.
Enforcement of the existing policy should also be considered by the task force. While Columbia students accused of cheating are faced with the mysterious Office of Judicial Affairs and Community Standards, Barnard’s Honor Board takes a much more visible role on campus. Composed of both faculty members and students, the Board “has the responsibility for developing and following its [the code’s] rules of procedure and for educating the community about the Honor System,” serving not only as an intermediary between the administration and any student accused of cheating, but also as the primary educator regarding the policy. Barnard’s system is therefore more transparent and more focused on prevention, rather than retribution.
Whether or not the administration decides to implement an honor code for undergraduates, the task force’s very suggestion calls attention to the need for more active discussion. The student body should review the role academic honesty plays at Columbia and ensure that campus discourse appropriately conveys Columbia students’ academic integrity.
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