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Justin Chan for Spectator

Columbia College Student Council Academic Affairs Representative Steven Castellano discusses the honor code proposal—which has been controversial among the undergraduate councils—at a CCSC meeting.

This article is part of a special issue looking back at the 2012-13 academic year. Read the rest of the issue here.

A year that saw widespread debate over academic integrity and a proposed honor code was capped off by a high-profile cheating scandal at Barnard and the distribution of revealing information before Friday's Literature Humanities final.

Information about the identification section on the Lit Hum final was leaked by a professor and widely distributed among first-year students before the exam. As a result, the ID section will be excluded from grading.

Lit Hum preceptor Ivan Lupic gave his students a handout identifying 10 passages in sections of the books he said were likely to appear on the exam. The handout did not identify the exact passages ultimately used, but every passage on the handout was within a page or two of a passage that appeared on the exam.

Lupic gave his students the handout on the last day of class and told them to study the pages surrounding those passages, according to Daniel Friedman, CC '16. Friedman was not in Lupic's class but received a copy of the handout from a friend in the class after the exam.

All non-tenured professors teaching Lit Hum must administer the same exam. In an email to all Lit Hum students sent almost two hours after the exam had ended, Lit Hum chair Gareth Williams said that an instructor had released the approximate location of the IDs before the exam, and that students had distributed the information at Orgo Night early Friday morning.

The ID section will be excluded from grading, Williams said.

"We have no other choice at this time but to take pragmatic measures to ensure the integrity of the grading," he said in the email. "We intend to do everything possible to make sure that this does not happen again."

In an email to Spectator, Lupic defended his actions, saying that he "did not disclose any part of the exam to my students." Lupic noted that while his handout "contained a number of passages from the sections or chapters included in the exam," it did not include any passages on the exam.

"Its purpose was to guide our discussion, not to reveal the content of the exam," he said. "As my students can testify, our discussion ranged widely and covered entire works; it was in no way conducted in a way that would provide ready-made exam answers."

Meanwhile, Major English Texts II—a Barnard literature class with 123 students, taught by Margaret Ellsberg—is under review after allegations of widespread cheating.

The alleged cheating, which has received national attention, involved students using their phones during exams to look up answers on the Internet and copy each other's work.

Ellsberg, a senior lecturer who has taught at Barnard since 1998 and who teaches the class without teaching assistants, also allowed students to grade each other's work. A student in the class, who asked not to be named, said that her peers often passed the quizzes to friends and added points despite incorrect answers.

Ellsberg will not count the reading quizzes toward students' final grades, instead adding an exam that will count for 70 percent of their students' final grades on the first day of reading week.

Students, however, were given the option to pass/D/fail the course in light of the incident.

Barnard Dean Avis Hinkson and English department chair Peter Platt administered the final exam.

Barnard Vice Provost Hilary Linkcq said in a statement that "in this particular situation, college procedure was followed in that the professor, in consultation with relevant committees and her department chair, discounted quizzes because of a serious concern that academic integrity may have been compromised. In accordance with college policy, the professor supplemented the course assessment with a final exam."

JungHee Hyun, BC '13 and outgoing president of Barnard's Student Government Association, said that despite news of the Major Texts cheating scandal, she believes in working to preserve standard that the honor code sets.

"I think, as a student government member and as a Barnard student, it's important to uphold the standards of the honor code. The honor code is something we have to continue to work on and promote as a student body," she said.

The Lit Hum and Major Texts scandals came after a year during which student council leaders moved forward with a proposal for an academic honor code.

Both the Columbia College Student Council and the General Studies Student Council passed the resolution with overwhelming majorities last month. Since Barnard has had an honor code since 1912, Barnard's Student Government Association unanimously passed a modified version of it.

The Engineering Student Council, however, shocked CCSC members when it voted nearly unanimously to rescind its support for the honor code resolution a week after it had approved it.

The resolution would require students from all four undergraduate schools to recite an honor pledge during the New Student Orientation Program convocation. It would also print an honor code on Columbia blue books and encourage faculty to include the code on syllabi and exams.

Tim Qin, SEAS '13 and outgoing president of ESC, said the main issue that led members to rescind their votes was the lack of student and administrative input on the proposal.

"When the resolution was first presented, it was presented in a way that all administrative offices had been involved," he said. However, he added, "The dean of our school had not heard about it until Friday," three days before the council voted on the matter.

Some CCSC members said that ESC's sudden flip-flop did not make sense.

"Since most administrators agree with the philosophy of the idea, I don't see that as an obstacle for ESC voicing their support for it," said outgoing CCSC academic affairs representative Steven Castellano, CC '13, who has spearheaded the proposal.

Castellano also questioned why ESC's objections came at the 11th hour.

"We've been talking about it all year," Castellano said. "It was surprising that after all that discussion, that's when the objections came."

"I don't understand where the surprise [in ESC] is coming from," Liam Bland, CC '15 and CCSC class of 2015 representative, said. "It doesn't seem to have an origin."

Qin, though, said more student input is needed.

"There hasn't been substantial discussion among students," he said. "Discussion among council for one year does not equate talking to students."

Meanwhile, the other councils are moving ahead with the resolution without ESC's support. CCSC and GSSC both passed new resolutions without a clause requiring the support of all undergraduate councils.

Bland said removing the clause was unfortunate but necessary after ESC's vote.

"We were thinking that there's no point in having an honor code unless the four of us are all together," he said. "I think it's a shame that we have to go back on that and revisit this from another angle. This is a lesser option."

Qin criticized CCSC and GSSC's decisions to pass new resolutions without the clause.

"I think it's very telling of the process," he said. "Instead of trying to pretend that you care about all four councils, you're just going to remove the clause."

Castellano said the Academic Integrity Task Force, which had been planning the policy's implementation, will reassess which NSOP events are feasible after the ESC vote.

"It would be a shame to call all of that off and let it go to waste, so we're trying to figure out what makes sense," he said. "Obviously, we're not going to give a four-school pledge united on integrity if the four schools are not united on integrity right now."  |  @ColumbiaSpec

academic integrity honor code cheating Literature Humanities