In the wake of Harvard scandal, Wellesley honor code fosters integrity
THE WELLESLEY NEWS STAFF EDITORIAL
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 18:10
The Harvard cheating scandal resulted in about 125 students being accused of cheating in the Spring 2012 course entitled “Introduction to Congress,” which had 300 students in total. The University claims that the students cheated and plagiarized on the take-home final exam. The gravity of such wide-scale cheating raises serious concerns over the state of moral integrity in higher education but serves as an opportunity to strengthen and reinforce Wellesley’s own honor system. As an integral part of the mission of Wellesley College, the Honor Code encourages a sense of mutual trust and respect among students, faculty and administration. A mutual understanding is the imperative on which an honor system is built. Every Wellesley student has the right to enjoy the privileges of the Honor Code as long as she takes full responsibility to preserve and uphold the essence of trust.
The Honor Code states, “As a Wellesley College student, I will act with honesty, integrity and respect.” Wellesley College, therefore, strives to build a trusting and integrated student community. At Harvard, the students involved in the scandal reported that they found the take-home exam of the government course to be close to impossible to complete. Such claims of academically-challenging classes that set impossibly high standards are nowhere near unheard of in college, especially among Wellesley students. These claims raise concerns that students at Wellesley might choose not to abide by the Honor Code, which negatively affects students who do not cheat. The concerns are that the equality of education can no longer be ensured, and that respect for one’s peers is no longer upheld.
Some argue that while the Honor Code system may have operated well in the past when less advanced technology made cheating harder, the system may be outdated in the Internet age, where the dissemination of information makes surveillance difficult and cheating easy. The challenges posed by the role of technology point higher education towards a privileging of an honor system. Students and faculty alike must be reminded of the mission behind the Honor Code as well as the possible repercussions a breach might have for a student and the Wellesley community.
However, the Honor Code system’s most basic purpose is encouraging the Wellesley community to trust and rely on their own integrity without the need for surveillance. As a key building stone towards constructing a society characterized by trust, integrity and solidarity, the Honor Code system must be maintained. Students tend to forget that the Honor Code system applies to aspects of life beyond the academic arena. Under the Honor Code system, students are not only allowed self-scheduled exams and take-home exams, but may also entertain guests in the residence halls without supervision, access all circulated library materials and use all college resources without restriction. Another important value that the Honor Code system encourages, therefore, is respect. Certainly, blasting music at 3 a.m. on the grounds of entertaining guests is not a sign of respect for one’s neighbors. With the Honor Code, students are expected to be considerate of others, which builds this sense of respect that affects students, even after graduation and entrance into society.
Furthermore, treating students as mature and respectable adults, as does the Honor Code system, gives students more independence, and encourages students to think of themselves as responsible members of society. As a leading liberal arts college, Wellesley educates a class of women who are not only intellectual, but also trustworthy and respectable members of society. The Honor Code system lies at the heart of such an education.
Furthermore, Wellesley College has small class sizes, dramatically reducing the likelihood of large-scale cheating. Since each student receives a greater share of the professors’ attention, she feels a greater sense of care, and closer ties to the class in general. A smaller number of students may be the key to prevent the type of massive cheating scandal that Harvard encountered last year. Since high anonymity is unlikely on a smaller campus, Wellesley’s Honor Code is more easily enforced. That is to say, the successful Honor Code system that Wellesley enjoys creates a sense of community and trust that prevents large scale cheating and plagiarism.
The Honor Code fosters social cohesion and helps build a more integrated Wellesley community. The Wellesley community should have faith that this institution educates responsible individuals who will adhere to the Honor Code. The continuation of the Honor Code system is crucial not only for the preservation of the Wellesley community’s solidarity and trust, but also for a complete liberal arts education that cultivates honest, responsible and respectable members of society.