Campus / News / October 22, 2014

Faculty weigh in on Honor Code

The Honor Code has now undergone its first major review since its inception and initial review 63 years ago. The changes are designed to create a more open, supportive system that gives the Honor Board more options and places less of an emphasis on prosecuting students. Professors, now capable of engaging in an informal resolution with students who violate code, have an expanded role to play in the Honor Code.

Professor of Biology Judith Thorn, a member of the Honor Board for the 2013-14 academic year and for a portion of the 2012-13 year, said that the evaluation of the code took place alongside other standard reviews Knox was undergoing at the time, such as reaccreditation. The review process was extensive, with feedback from Honor Board members, faculty, students, the Academic Standing Committee and alumni.

A full list of changes was recently sent to the student body in an email. Perhaps the most significant one is that standard penalties for infractions are no longer in place; penalties are decided on a case-by-case basis. Prior to this year, if students were found to have violated the Honor Code the standard penalty was failure of the class for the first offense and expulsion for the second. Associate Professor of Philosophy Daniel Wack, who is a member of the Board, explained that there were instances when the Board felt that the standard penalty was too harsh.

“The changes that the college have put into place give the Board more flexibility in the penalty phase,” Wack said. The Board has always been able to apply non-standard penalties, but in the past they had to apply specially to do so.

Associate Dean of the College Lori Schroeder said that students frequently appealed to President Teresa Amott for a reduction in their penalty. If Amott accepted the appeal, she would often reduce the penalty of failure in the class to an “F” grade for the category belonging to the assignment in question — for example, a student found to have copied a lab report might receive an “F” on all lab reports. An “F” grade in the assignment’s category is now an official option for the board to impose itself.

Schroeder said the changes in sentencing policy will “bring [more] integrity to the Board itself … by allowing it to use its judgment.”

In addition, the burden of proof for finding a student to have committed a violation of the Code has been changed from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “clear and convincing.”

Wack said the Honor Board wanted to move away from legalistic language like “beyond a reasonable doubt,” adding that Board hearings do not function as “criminal cases.” He also suggested defining the official burden of proof as “beyond a reasonable doubt” may have discouraged faculty from bringing forth cases because they believed they did not have enough evidence, when in reality they did not need as much evidence as the policy suggested.

“[This change] is a way for … faculty members to come before the board with problematic cases without feeling like they have to be Sherlock Holmes,” Wack said.

In addition to changes in hearing and sentencing policy, faculty members submitting a report to the Honor Board now have the option of requesting to deal with the infraction themselves in a non-punitive manner that would involve educating students on how they violated the Honor Code and could avoid doing so in the future.

“Many faculty were a bit upset that … over the years there [wasn’t] a really good avenue for education as a response,” Schroeder said. She believes the new option for an educative response will allow faculty to use the Board in a way that’s consistent “with what we think about as our job here, which is to educate students.”

Schroeder, Wack and Thorn each expressed belief that the changes to the Code will make the Honor Board better able to promote a culture of academic integrity on campus from both a student and faculty standpoint.

“I think that the changes will be good … for making things more equitable,” Thorn said.

Editor’s Note: It was initially thought that this was the first review since the Honor Code was created. It has now been corrected that this is the first major review since its inception, but it has gone through a few minor reviews through the years.

Tags:  Daniel Wack faculty failing grade honor board honor board cases honor code Judith Thorn lori schroeder Teresa Amott

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