Departing from the other undergraduate councils, the Engineering Student Council voted 22-1 on Monday to rescind its support of a proposal calling for an academic honor code.
ESC resolved last week to create a pilot program this fall, as long as the Columbia College Student Council and the General Studies Student Council passed the same resolution. But in a reversal on Monday, ESC representatives argued that there has not been sufficient student input to make an informed decision.
They also backed out, they said, because they were under the impression last week that SEAS administrators had reviewed the resolution and supported the honor code.
The resolution—which CCSC and GSSC passed this week—would require new students to recite an honor pledge during convocation and discuss the pledge during the first few weeks of school. It would also require that exam booklets include a copy of the code and would encourage faculty to “require students to write that they have upheld the honor code and to sign their name on all examinations, papers, and other assessments.”
Mary Byers, SEAS ’13 and senior class president, motioned to rescind last week’s vote, saying that the councils should get feedback from the undergraduate student body before implementing this honor code. The motion also included a suggestion to the other councils that they do the same.
“An honor code is a great move in a great direction, but it needs to be a discussion with the students,” she said at the meeting. “Whether or not the councils passed it, the whole conversation needs to go back to all the undergraduate students. It needs to be a bottom-up thing from the student body.”
Many other council members and students present at the meeting agreed.
ESC President Tim Qin, SEAS ’13, said that “so fundamental a change on this campus” needs to be discussed further, akin to the three town halls that took place during the debate over implementing the Naval Reserve Officer in Training Corps program at Columbia.
Sheila Misheni, SEAS ’14 and ESC vice president of student life, said that it would be better to gather student feedback now, as opposed to rushing the process and then having to look at the policy later.
After ESC pulled its support for the resolution, GSSC passed a modified version on Tuesday that did not include the joint-council clause, which requires the support of the other undergraduate councils in order to proceed.
CCSC Academic Affairs Representative Steven Castellano, CC ’13, said that he thought that CCSC would vote to drop the clause at its next meeting.
Because Barnard already has an honor code, the Student Government Association is working with a slightly rephrased resolution, but still pledged its support on Monday.
ESC’s lone dissenter, first-year class representative Matthew Sheridan, SEAS ’16, said in an email that he voted against rescinding the council’s vote because “enacting an honor code is a step that will reduce cheating and needs to be implemented sooner rather than later.”
He added that “this resolution takes basic first steps to establish the honor code, and leaves room for discussion, improvement, and more extensive implementation in the future.”
Sheridan said he believes an honor code will lead to more discussion of academic integrity, fewer instances of cheating, and greater confidence in the grading system.
But most of the council had concerns about the resolution’s implementation.
ESC Vice President of Finance and president-elect Siddhant Bhatt, SEAS ’14, said that the research he had done in the past 10 days on schools with honor codes brought up issues he had not previously considered.
For example, he cited complaints at other schools that the implementation of an honor code has caused professors to become more lax and has created a snitch culture.
“People need to be educated about this in the right manner before this huge cultural change,” Bhatt said. “My point is there might be other things for me to learn—or for you to learn—so jumping into this might not be the best direction.”
Babatunde Woodard-James, SEAS ’16, said he had not heard “95 percent” of the arguments before attending the meeting.
“I do agree with you that an honor code could be amazing and increase academic integrity and we should definitely push for it,” he said. “But people, without talking about it, without bringing the conversation to the campus community, will not be taking it seriously.”
“I didn’t even realize why people were trying to push for it,” he added.
Qin also said he was concerned that an honor code could be used against students by the Office of Judicial Affairs.
OJA currently decides cases based on a “preponderance of evidence,” according to its website, and Qin is concerned that breaking the honor code could just count as one more strike against a student.
“One of the main problems with the current academic dishonesty system is that the punishments are too strict,” Tim Reichmann, SEAS ’13, said in an email. “Professors are unlikely to report plagiarism or cheating to OJA if the punishment is a leave of absence or disenrollment. Cheating is very serious and should be punished, but students are also under a lot of pressure so I think there is room to make punishment more about helping students understand why cheating is wrong and giving them probation rather than considering ending their enrollment.”
According to Castellano, one main difference between the current policy and the proposed honor code is that the former is run by the Office of Judicial Affairs, while the honor code is a movement led by students.
The other main issues for ESC members were the short time frame and the question of whether SEAS administrators supported the resolution.
An academic integrity task force began work on a proposal last spring and has been discussing the ideas in the resolution since this past fall.
The resolution for an honor code is only seven or eight weeks old. During the first month, Castellano said, various administrators reviewed the resolution. The councils have discussed it only in the last two weeks.
Council members said that when they voted last week, they were under the impression that SEAS administrators were in agreement about the honor code. They have since learned, however, that administrators had not yet reviewed the resolution as thoroughly as they would have liked.
Most council members and attendees agreed that the implementation of an honor code should be a campus-wide discussion before any decisions are made.
“It is too important of an issue to go ahead without correct implementation,” Qin said. “The proposal did not go through because all the stakeholders have not been properly included in the conversation—stakeholders referring to faculty, deans … and most importantly, students.”
Qiuyun Tan contributed reporting.