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The Academic Honor Code in Crisis

Over the past couple of years, there has been a significant rise in the number of academic trials at Haverford.  Given the level of trust afforded by professors to students in our system, it stands to reason that these cases represent a small of portion of the academic dishonesty that actually occurs here. This reality is not one we should be willing to tolerate.

In her column that recently appeared in the New York Times, Middlebury student Jessica Cheung cites a survey of other Middlebury students in which 35% of respondents admitted to having committed or been complicit in an act of cheating. If the incidence of academic dishonesty at Haverford is even one quarter of that indicated by the Middlebury survey, I think that the term “crisis” is easily warranted. Think about it: this would mean that about 100 of the 1,200 students at Haverford cheats every year. The extent to which this supposed cheating discredits honest students and cheapens their degrees is nothing short of appalling.

I think many Haverford students consider their campus exceptional.  Unlike the students of, say, Middlebury, we take our honor code seriously and are virtually all honest students. Although the common thought that we, as Haverford students, are exceptional is not entirely incorrect, I am sure that the students of Middlebury think of themselves (also not entirely incorrectly) in much the same manner. Belief in the code as belief in the principles underlying the honor code is a good thing. Belief in the code as dogmatic faith in its effectiveness is not.

If I am right in referring to this situation as a crisis, then it calls for more than idle internet think-pieces; it calls for action. With this in mind, I’d like to put forward two suggestions for actions that we (or at least some students) may immediately take, with an eye towards saving the code.

First, juries need to separate students from the community more frequently.  In reading some of the recently released abstracts, I was dismayed to learn of several cases in which the infraction was quite egregious and clear-cut, but the confronted student was not separated. The reason in most of these cases was that the student had taken responsibility for his or her infraction and that trust had been restored between the professor and the student. Therefore, the accountability, education, and restoration that the trial aimed for had been achieved, and a separation would not have been necessary. After all, trials are not supposed to be adversarial, so the resolutions that the jury decides on—or so the thinking goes—are not supposed to be punitive.

This justification for not separating students is not right because the notion that resolutions cannot be punitive is untenable.  While resolutions should not be used to exact vengeance on a student, punishments may serve as deterrence rather than vengeance.  A system that eschews all punishment incentivizes anyone who is inclined (and we know that some Haverford students are) to break the rules to do so. If a student is inclined to cheat, and they know that, if caught, they will have to do no more than express contrition and write a letter to the community, then they will cheat. This is not cynicism. It is a sober analysis of the incentive system juries create by being loath to separate.

Some may object that if we commit to separating students guilty of academic violations, we have abandoned the ethic of trust, concern, and respect that the code undergirds, replacing it with a traditional dynamic of crime and punishment. I do not think this is so. We can still talk and think about the code and its role in the community the same way we do now, while at the same time being less willing to tolerate its violation.

Concerns about incentives and the Haverfordian ethic aside, it’s in the very Students’ Constitution that the normal consequence of cheating should be separation.

Second, I do not think that future academic trials should remain anonymous. One of the chief aims of a trial is accountability. You are accountable to another for your behavior when you are forthright about what that behavior was and are willing to accept its consequences.  It is obvious, based on this notion of accountability, that you cannot be directly accountable to the community if you are anonymous.

My friend and teammate, Ben Cutilli ’13 understood this. That is why he broke his confidentiality in his letter apologizing to the community for cheating on exams throughout his time at Haverford.  In my opinion, the restoration of his relationship with the community was far more complete because he did so.

What, then does accountability even mean in the context of an anonymous trial? At a recent event, “Pizza, Professors, and the Code,” Professor Barak Mendelsohn gave the following interpretation of this concept: although the confronted party cannot be directly accountable to the community, they may be directly accountable to the jury. The jury, then, serves as a proxy for the community. Is is thought that when the jury takes the confronted to be restored, the community as a whole should, too.

However, Mendelsohn elaborated that this system only allows for accountability to the community insofar as juries are effective and trustworthy proxies. It seems clear to me that this is not always the case. An academic infraction violates all of us.  Whenever a professor or student feels that a trial’s resolutions do not go far enough, or that a confronted party’s letter to the community is just a disingenuous collection of platitudes, that professor or student remains violated; they have not been made whole.  It is up to each individual what is necessary to make him whole.  Ten jurors cannot possibly bear the standard for the whole community.

There’s been a lot of recent discussion about the social code, as it affects or fails to affect social justice. However, there’s been surprisingly little said about the intellectual injustice that every honest student at Haverford is facing. My assertion is simply this: that this intellectual injustice is of equal gravity, and ought to be addressed with the same sense of urgency.

The idea behind the Honor Code is that the code’s appeal to students’ natural inclinations towards honesty and respect can by itself enact an environment of academic honesty.  It is a beautiful idea, but the code cannot be justified in principle alone. The code can only be vindicated if it actually affects its aims in practice.

Editor’s Note: The sentence “35% of respondents admitted to having cheated in the past academic year” was changed to “35% of respondents admitted to having committed or been complicit in an act of cheating.”


  1. jc April 28, 2014

    Correction: The real stat is 35% of respondents admitted to having violated the Honor Code– not “admitted to having cheated in the past academic year.” “Admitted to having cheated” implies cheating on an exam, while “violation of the honor code” is more broad with breaches including failure to reporting witnessed cheating.

    • Desk April 28, 2014

      Astute… should be changed accordingly shortly.

  2. TSH April 28, 2014

    I hear your frustration but strongly disagree with the argument that students should not have the right to confidentiality. Academic violations of the honor code are rarely harmfully intended and are often a result of highly personal emotional circumstances. While the jury system is not 100% infallible, it provides a strong enough community representation while retaining a high level of confidentiality. Therefore, I am comfortable having a jury proxy for the community. I’m confident as someone who has been a jury member for more trials than I can count on my fingers that jury members are thoughtful in seeking to represent the community. Furthermore, jury members are exposed to more nuance than is visible in abstracts, and therefore their decisions do not necessarily resonate with the student body as a whole, even if they are sound. Finally, if the objective of your argument is to prevent cases, I see no connection between abstract anonymity and number of cases. In fact, I think that taking away anonymity poses a great obstacle for confronted students in feeling at home in their own community. I would be disappointed to see a resolution removing confidentiality passed at plenary.

    • Desk April 28, 2014

      Thanks, this was helpful. I have many more thoughts on this subject, probably too many to be appropriate for this forum, but in response, briefly, I’ll say
      1) I’m a Utilitarian, not a Kantian; I’m more concerned that people be held accountable for the practical impact of their actions than their intent.

      2) Nuance and extenuating circumstances matter, but part of being accountable is that if any exculpating factors are to actually exculpate you, you need to be forthright about what those are. This can be done within the context of letters to the community, individual conversations, etc.

      3) The idea behind this change is more to reduce the extent to which unsatisfactory resolutions undermine students’ and professors’ trust in the system, rather than to reduce the number of cases. When a professor reads an abstract in which they think the student should have been separated but was not, and they know it could have been any one of their students, they look on the entire community with slightly less trust. The only way they can do anything about it is if they know specifically with whom this trust needs to be repaired. But also, it may also turn out that the prospect of being publicly named disincentivizes cheating (another important distinction; I’m interested in reducing the amount of cheating, rather than the number of cases).


      • anonanon April 28, 2014

        also re you being a utilitarian– sadly quaker values keep us from just looking at the practical impact of our actions. that’s the whole point of the circumstantial portion of the trial.

        and what do you propose to the professor who reads an abstract, thinks that the student should have been separated, and then has that student in the class? what are they going to do, say to the student “you should have been separated?” how does that do anything to increase trust in the system? so the student can feel watched and looked down upon by the professor, making for an incredibly uncomfortable learning environment, even after having completed all of the resolutions proposed by a jury?

        srsly, public shaming is not part of the quaker lexicon. it doesn’t work and it’s an ugly way of trying to fix this.

        • Desk April 28, 2014

          Sorry if I was unclear. The point was not to discount the importance of the circumstantial portion. Circumstances certainly matter, and they can and should affect how we think of the confronted party and the violation (and without going into detail, I think this view can be made perfectly consistent with utilitarianism), just not to the exclusion of focus on practical effects. The point is that even if circumstances are such that the confronted party is a sympathetic character on balance, they still must own the negative consequences of their actions. If you’re walking down the street and you trip and fall into someone, causing them to spill their coffee, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; but it does mean you owe someone an apology and a coffee.

          If I am a professor, and such a student were in my class whom I didn’t fully trust as the result of an honor council trial, I would ask to meet privately with the student, with the hope that as a result of the meeting, I will see that they understand the seriousness of the infraction and that they are not liable to cheat again, thus restoring my relationship of trust with the student.

          The goal is not public shaming. The goal would be the same as it has always been: that the confronted party be able to demonstrate honestly to the community that they understand and accept responsibility for the impact of their actions, and can be trusted not to cheat again. The only point I’m trying to make in the piece is that, because of the personal nature of accountability and restoration of trust, this goal is simply unattainable in an anonymous trial.

          • anonanon April 29, 2014

            I don’t think all professors are necessarily going to care enough to do that. If I were in that position as a student, I would feel the need to have a conversation in the beginning of the semester with every single professor– for four years– in order to feel comfortable in that learning environment. I just think that at a certain point lack of anonymity becomes a lot more punitive than it should because of the time/scale factors.

            Also, how would you establish if the student is liable to cheat again? Or that they understood the gravity of the infraction? What does a professor do if they don’t trust the student? Is it just based on a feeling? What is even the point? That they’re more aware of people who might cheat? It’s not like they can take them to Honor Council again.

            In a way, I think what you’re trying to do is bring the Honor Code onto an interpersonal level– which I think is admirable, and would work if we were a school of say, 400. But it’s impossible given Haverford’s size. And we would need a much, much more intentional community.

  3. anonanon April 28, 2014

    So you’re saying that the girl from the Dora abstract (who plagiarized because she had to have an abortion) should have to have her name plastered on abstracts? Talked about in the DC? Sorry. The emotional issues that come with this stuff are way too heavy and personal to demand that someone come forward with their name. I think it’s great when people do, really refreshing– there’s an abstract about me coming out and I’m going to break confidentiality for sure– but I think it really depends on the case, and to have a blanket rule would really harm some people emotionally. Ben Cutilli was really brave to do what he did but I certainly would not expect that of anyone else, especially when the cases have to do with mental health issues. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that might be illegal?

    Additionally, as someone who has been a confronted party in a trial– it is INCREDIBLY incredibly emotionally draining. To have to answer to a group of your peers for something that you’ve done is hard enough (all the while being terrified that you will not be able to continue your college career)– to have to walk around knowing that everyone else knows about what happened? Feeling like you have to explain yourself to your peers, to people you don’t even know, who have pre-judged you based on a document (abstract) which doesn’t necessarily reflect your mindset or experience? It would be fucking miserable and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s way too much to demand that someone walk around Haverford’s community knowing that there are people who might think a certain way about them but never really be able to address that– I know I would second guess all of my interactions and casual relationships. For someone already in a fragile emotional place after a trial that would be way, way too much.

    Also really, really do not agree re increased separation. Honestly, people get separated here for things that they would never be separated for at other schools. Yeah, yeah Haverford is unique etc. etc. but something else that is (supposed to be) unique about Haverford is our trust in each other. That means trusting that the jury will be able to figure it out, and trusting that the student in question has been restored. (Also, curious about what makes you think juries are untrustworthy? I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but I suspect you think they’re untrustworthy because they’re not coming up with punitive measures that you agree with, in which case– community standards are not your standards. I would say that about 60% of people I’ve talked to don’t think people should get separated for mild academic dishonesty, ever. I would say about 20% of the student body doesn’t give a shit about the Honor Code at all. I may not agree with their viewpoints but I think it’s the reality. This is our community. Your standards are not our community standards.)

    Also, just because someone’s letter to the community doesn’t sound heartfelt to you doesn’t mean that they did not go through an introspective process. Some people are better writers than others. You don’t know anything about anybody in any of the abstracts. The jury system is there for a reason. Why not just tar and feather people in front of Founders? Forget primal scream, this could be a new community-building activity!

    • Desk April 28, 2014

      A genuine thanks for your thoughts. In response, though, I do feel the need to clarify some of the points I’m trying to make, because I do not hold all of the beliefs that your comment attributes to me.

      With respect to the statement about “minor infractions,” I am in no way
      concerned about botched citations. Don Quijote, Merry and Pippin, Chip
      and Dale, and Citizen Kane were all cases in which major violations
      occurred, and the confronted parties were not separated. As I say, even
      if accountability, education and restoration were achieved with respect
      to these students, not separating them sends a dangerous message to
      anyone else who is inclined to cheat.

      I certainly don’t think that juries are untrustworthy. I think that, as I’ve tried to explain, the notion of accountability by proxy is impracticable. Letters to the community can be a great step toward restoration. They are exactly the thing that would prevent a confronted party from having to have 1200 conversations (which I recognize is an impossibility), because a well written letter to the community will tell most people everything they need to hear to restore trust. The point, though, is that there will inevitably be some people who will not have heard what they need to hear to regain trust in the confronted party, or will still feel that they have not been made whole as a consequence of the way in which they were wronged. If the confronted party wants to have a relationship with those few people, then those are the individual conversations he will have to have.

      I certainly do not envy the situation of someone who has to explain themselves publicly to the entire community, but there is a sense in which the need to do this is a natural consequence of having wronged the entire community. Each incident of cheating (again, I’m talking real cheating, not botched citations) wrongs every student at Haverford. And in a material sense, not some abstract (no pun intended) one. When taken cumulatively, cheating puts other students at a competitive disadvantage, and thereby hurts their chances in grad school admissions or the job market. Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to have an academic record that I’m satisfied with; but just because I’m succeeding in the game doesn’t mean I don’t care that it’s unfair.

      In regard to concerns about legality, I can see how that there might be issues with retroactively removing anonymity from trials, but that’s not what I’m arguing for.

      Finally, I don’t think my point about separation and punitivity has anything to do with standards; the point is that more frequent separations will disincentivize future cheating. Although minimizing the amount of cheating is not the only aim of the academic code, if it is not considered to be an inalienably important aim, we’re putting the cart before the horse.

      • anonanon April 29, 2014

        Hi Zach–
        Thanks for responding. I’m sorry if I got a little dramatic, I just feel pretty strongly about this given my personal experiences.

        1) Re illegality– I was saying that I’m pretty sure it would be illegal to force someone to disclose issues regarding their health, mental or physical. See here Dora, any other abstract involving someone’s mental/emotional state, etc.– which are numerous. Correct me if I’m wrong? But it feels gross even if it is legal.

        And if somehow you can remove allusions to the health issue out of the abstract, then the confronted party has to try and explain themselves/their violation to the entire community without a key portion of their narrative, which isn’t helpful for anybody.

        2) If you aren’t concerned about botched citations, or say, a freshman international student who plagiarizes his first paper, then where do you draw the line? Who gets to be anonymous and who doesn’t?

        3) The notion of accountability by proxy is what Haverford is based on, in that it requires you to trust your fellow students, one of the tenets of our community. In going about my everyday life, I trust that everyone I interact with is a restored member of the community, or in the process of being restored. Removing anonymity shifts the paradigm from one of trust to one of distrust, and that’s not the kind of community I want to be a part of.

        4) Assumptions are being made here about how many people read abstracts. I think this information would spread via word of mouth as opposed to the letter to the community, if only because I know of only a handful of people who actually read abstracts. You also assume proactivity on the part of the unsatisfied community members. I’m not so sure that people would be proactive, especially if it wasn’t someone they knew personally– which creates an unfair environment of extreme doubt and insecurity for the confronted party throughout their time at Haverford.

        Also– what do you think will come out of these conversations with unsatisfied parties? If someone thinks you should have been separated, and you weren’t, then how are you supposed to resolve the issue? What if you can’t prove your restored-ness to them? I don’t necessarily see anything productive coming out of these conversations.

        5) I have to disagree with you about the standards; the Code isn’t meant to be used as a preventative tool. Council is a reactive body which deals with the reality of the community that we have right now.

        The whole point of the Code is to be able to hold yourself accountable, not be scared into it by punitive measures. I do get the impulse to try and fix a problem, but to be quite honest, I think that this issue has more to do with admissions than anything else.

  4. dwriggins April 28, 2014

    “there’s been a lot of recent discussion about the social code, as it affects or fails to affect social justice. However, there’s been surprisingly little said about the intellectual injustice that every honest student at Haverford is facing.”

    This hasn’t exactly been my experience. You may be referring to abstract discussions or “pizza & code” events, which I’ve never been to so it could well be the case there. BUT the overall feeling I get at Haverford is quite the opposite. We hear about something like the Tempest abstract, and we flip our shit. Sure, what that guy did was messed up, but Haverford students act like it’s an affront to humanity. There are things that happen at Haverford that are “nothing short of appalling.” This is not one of them.

    I’m not sure, then, if I would agree (in terms of what happens at Haverford) with your statement that “intellectual injustice is of equal gravity,” but even if this is the case, I don’t feel that we treat social violations with any “sense of urgency.” I think we do talk about academic violations as if they were crises, and it feels like a strange prioritization over social issues (instances of sexual assault, for example, which are so often swept under the rug by both students and the administration).

    If the goal here was to suggest potential changes to the academic code to curb cheating, that’s good because cheating is serious and we can always do better. Still, I think this is short of appalling — we ought not use the word without perspective.

    • Desk April 29, 2014

      Thanks for your interesting thoughts. Perhaps I was wrong in referring to the “urgency” with which people are working to address social issues. What I should have said was that academic integrity issues should be addressed with the same sense of urgency with which people like you (rightly) argue that social issues should be addressed.

      The excerpt you quoted was prompted by the discussion of ratification at plenary, and the subsequent forum on the social honor code. During plenary, several people spoke about concerns over the social code, but there was radio silence with respect to the academic code. Although at the time I was not, as the Quakers say, “moved by the spirit” to speak, this troubled me, and is what initially prompted me to write this piece.

      I can’t really make an argument that my use of the term “appalling” is warranted; it’s just a matter of convention how bad something has to be before the term “appalling” applies. But, I’m nonetheless baffled that widespread academic dishonesty could be described as anything less than appalling.

      I also think it’s important to distinguish between merely acknowledging that somebody did something odious but attributing the problem only to the individual, and on the other hand, recognizing that there is a systemic failing about which something has to be done. The sense I get is that people will grumble about particular cases, but seem to gloss over the reality that things of this sort are happening all the time, that this is unacceptable, and that something must change in order to stop it.

      I’m genuinely curious: what do you think is going on at Haverford that is worse than all of the cheating that is going on? The only things that come to my mind are sexual assault and rape. Certainly the problems we face with this sort of misconduct must be addressed with the utmost vigor and concern, but, for obvious reasons, the worst of this cannot be addressed within the framework of the honor code. Moreover, this problem at Haverford is exactly the same problem that every college and university in the country is currently facing. This is a problem that needs to be addressed by reforming the ways in which school administrators and law enforcement in general interact with students, not reforming the implementation of our honor code.

      This stands in contrast with our academic integrity issues. Even though these issues are also far from unique to Haverford, the steps we need to take to solve them are integrally related to the system we already use to address them, the honor code. Within the framework of the honor code, I think, the most pressing issues are academic ones.

      Finally, I’d like to emphasize that I’m not arguing that attention should be given to academic issues at the expense of social issues. You believe, if I’m interpreting you correctly, that there are social issues that we need to address with more urgency. I see no reason to disagree with this. But, I also think that there is enough ambition, passion, and energy on this campus, that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

  5. Chris Stadler April 28, 2014

    Thanks Zach, I really appreciate your raising of this issue.

    Two things:

    (1) I do not think it is as obvious as you suggest that the code is in “crisis.” The increasing frequency of abstract releases is concerning but could be due to many factors, most notably honor council getting their shit together. The nature of the code makes it very hard to evaluate its functioning and I would be very surprised if there has ever been a time at Haverford when many have not felt that the code was in crisis. An anonymous survey, like that conducted at Middlebury, could be useful, but also very dangerous. The econ department at Middlebury reacted to the survey by essentially throwing away the code and proctoring all exams. Would they have been satisfied if the percentage had been lower? The problem is that we have no standard to measure what an “acceptable” level of cheating is. And there must be an “acceptable” level if we are to have an honor code. We have to be comfortable saying “ok we know a certain amount of cheating is going on but we’re not going to look for it.” We don’t know though how much cheating has occurred here in the past, or how much occurs at peer institutions (with and without honor codes).

    The nature of the violations is also important: 100 students “gaming the system” by systematically cheating is very different from 100 students who looked something up once on an exam because they were under a lot of stress. I suspect that something similar to the latter has occurred among many students here, and that the guilt which follows these violations is a major reinforcer of commitment to the code. When the code is not taken seriously–when students are not given opportunities to cheat with the expectation that they will choose not to–this guilt disappears and more students adopt a calculating attitude toward cheating.

    (2) Your proposals to improve the functioning of the code focus on disincentivizing cheating, which I think is fundamentally at odds with the way the code works. You are correct that “a system that eschews all punishment incentivizes anyone who is inclined (and we know that some Haverford students are) to break the rules to do so,” but there are two ways to decrease cheating in this situation. You identify that incentives can be restructured, the first option, but forget the second: decreasing the number of people who are “inclined” to cheat–increasing commitment to the code. How to accomplish this is less than clear, but it should be where we focus when attempting to improve the functioning of the code. Disincentivizing cheating by making it riskier may limit the cheating of some, but it also decreases commitment to the code. It is only when there is no assumption of risk that we are forced to be fully accountable to ourselves and the community.

    -Chris Stadler ’14

    • Daniel Stackman April 29, 2014

      I think Zach is arguing for more than a “restructuring of incentives”. If the jury is a proxy for the community, then consistently not enforcing the code, with respect to serious incidences of cheating and plagiarism, sends a signal about how seriously the community takes the code. Punishment isn’t just about incentives: it’s also about drawing the lines between what we as a community think is right, and what we think is wrong, and it’s about protecting people on the “right” side of that line from being taken advantage of by those who stray over to the “wrong” side. For the code to function, people need to already trust that it is functioning. While some fuzziness as to the details is definitely helpful (e.g., how many students cheat? 5%? 10%? 35%?, is not information we really want), lax enforcement is not. I think it’s important to emphasize that in calling for increased separations, Zach isn’t proposing anything radical: he’s arguing for measures that are already in the code, that we already signed on to as a community, to actually be enforced. Whether this is the most serious issue at Haverford, or whether this is a “crisis” or not, (and issues about anonymity aside, because I don’t really have an opinion on that), I think this basic point is pretty much dead-on.

      • Chris Stadler April 29, 2014

        Yeah you’re right. I agree that the code needs to be enforced, and that this probably means increasing separations. I was more concerned with the language of “incentives” than Zach’s actual proposal. The goal of punishment should be to reinforce commitment to the code for all parties involved, not to deter individuals from cheating.

        • Desk April 29, 2014

          Chris, my objection to this point of view is this: insofar as we are not disincentivizing cheating, we are encouraging it. There is no third option. This is not to say that the choice is binary (resolutions either absolutely encourage cheating or absolutely disincentivize it), but it is to say that resolutions necessarily fall somewhere along a continuum between the two options.

          It is clear, I think, that there is more cheating going on at Haverford than we should be willing to tolerate. One step we may take to address this is to move resolutions a bit further toward the “disincentivize” end of the continuum.

      • Desk April 29, 2014

        Daniel, although I agree with most of what you’ve said here, I have to take exception with your assertion that fuzziness is helpful. On the contrary, I want to know as precisely as possible how much cheating occurs at Haverford. As I say in the piece, dogmatic faith in the effectiveness of the code is a bad thing, not a good one. As I’ve written already in comments, minimizing cheating is not the Code’s sole aim, but we’re going off the rails if we take it to be an aim that we can in any way sacrifice.

        Thus, whether the Code, as it is functioning at any given point in time, is any good as a system, is to a significant degree a matter of whether it is preventing cheating. If we are to take it to be any good on any more than blind dogma, we need data on this matter.

        Moreover, in contrast to what you’ve said, I do not think that belief in the Code’s effectiveness is the primary driver of it’s actual effectiveness. I think this driver is actually that it encourages a belief in the primacy of integrity and respect for one’s fellow community members. I don’t think that the academic code is currently working, so I certainly do not choose not to cheat because I believe it is. I choose not to cheat because I believe in that which the Code’s principles commit me to: doing what is right.

    • Desk April 29, 2014

      Chris, in one respect, I not only agree with you, but would go farther: I think that we’re probably doing well in comparison to other institutions with respect to academic honesty. At Haverford, I think, the system is in crisis, and needs to be reformed. At most other schools, I think, the system is failed and needs to be abandoned.

      However, I don’t think it’s necessarily useful to evaluate our situation in comparative terms. We may be doing better than other places, but this alone does not mean that we aren’t still doing badly. You’re obviously right that there isn’t some magic frequency of cheating that we could call “acceptable,” but there is, on the other hand, some level of cheating that is clearly so unacceptable that something must be done. I am firmly of the opinion that the frequency of cheating at Haverford right now meets this standard.

      The objection you raise in your second itemized point (and also, somewhat at the very end of your first) is exactly what I was trying to address in the paragraph directly after the one from which you quoted. It is often assumed at Haverford that to impose consequences for cheating would be to send the message to everyone that integrity and responsibility are not sufficient reasons not to cheat. This is not so.

      I may perfectly well choose not to cheat BOTH because of my personal sense of integrity and responsibility to my community, and because I know that I would risk consequences if I did so. The point is that the former reason is not sufficient for some people, so we ought to add another reason (a practical incentive) that might do the trick. To present both integrity and incentives as reasons not to cheat is not to talk out of both sides of our mouths; it is simply to speak a sentence with two clauses.

      • Daniel Stackman April 29, 2014


        I think fuzziness does help, for reasons I’ll explain below. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying things, we can think about cheating (or academic violations more generally), as being determined by 3 main factors:

        (1) Material incentives: I cheat (don’t cheat) because it raises (lowers) my grades, in expectation.

        (2) Personal standards: I cheat (don’t cheat) because it doesn’t violate (violates) my personal values.

        (3) Community standards: I cheat (don’t cheat) because people around me cheat (don’t cheat).

        When you write, I think you have (1) and (2) in mind, but I think you’re leaving out (3), and (3) is important. (1) we can address in the way you suggest: make punishments harsher and more likely, and we decrease the expected payoff/grade from cheating, so the behavior is deterred. Unlike Chris, I don’t think this is necessarily inconsistent with reinforcing commitment to the code. While some means of enforcement (eg, increased monitoring of students during exams, a la Middlebury) undermine commitment by taking the decision to commit out of the students hands, others (like punishing students who cheat) reinforce commitment, by demonstrating to the community, and the cheater, that we take cheating seriously. I think this is what you mean when you talk about “practical incentives”. (2) is a mix of values students bring to Haverford and values they pick up while they’re here, and, like Chris, I’m not sure what measures we can take to affect this dimension of things directly. What you call your “personal sense of integrity”, I would file under (2).

        If I want good grades and I find the work hear difficult, there is some tension between (1) and (2) – some temptation to cheat. (3) can determine whether that temptation translates into action or not. If I believe most people around me are honest, that might influence me to be honest as well. On the other hand, if I think something like 75% of students at Haverford cheat, you can bet I’ll cheat as well. I chose 75% somewhat arbitrarily: different students might have different cutoffs, past which, they will no longer stay honest (and some students might cheat no matter what/be honest no matter what). Thus, if enough people have low enough cutoffs, and pessimistic beliefs about whether others cheat, it can generate a death spiral where more and more people cheat, and eventually the code no longer functions. This is where fuzziness helps. Some degree of optimism, even if it’s inaccurate, helps, because it influences people to stay honest who otherwise would have cheated. This is why we really don’t want to know exactly how many people cheat. You might want to know, and the number might not affect your decisions, but it is not a number the whole community would benefit from knowing. There is also the danger, that Chris rightly points out, that some members of the community with greater authority (in particular, faculty and deans) will have lower tolerance for cheating that the community average, and will impose policies that are not necessarily optimal for the community, and that the community as a whole would not necessarily have chosen. There is, of course, a tradeoff between accuracy and optimism, and I do not believe I’m advocating for “dogmatic faith in the functioning of the code”. Indeed, we do receive noisy signals of how well the code functions, through abstracts and gossip, and through our own compliance/violation. And of course, some faculty have already decided to proctor exams, etc. precisely because they do not believe the code is functioning properly. But I hope you will recognize that there is a tradeoff, and that some amount of fuzziness is not only helpful, but potentally necessary for an optimal state of affairs.

  6. Desk April 28, 2014

    Thank you Dylan. This post said much of what I’ve wanted to say in favor of making names in academic trials public, but hadn’t quite found the proper words to articulate.

  7. Chris May 1, 2014

    Hi Zach, great article – I enjoyed the read. After having read the New York Times article on Middlebury’s Honor Code, I certainly reflected on how relevant that article could be to what Haverford is experiencing. I do certainly agree with you that breaking your own confidentiality as a confronted party can be very rewarding in holding yourself accountable and being restored to the community. However, I’m apprehensive to force a break of confidentiality on that front as that may isolate them from the community – though I do agree with you that it would curb academic violations of the Honor Code for fear that one would be exposed to the entire community.

    On the topic of a crisis of the academic code, while it is true that there is a stark increase in academic violations (particularly plagiarism related ones) over the past five years – it seems to me that these cases are a result of a lack of education of unfamiliarity with the Haverford Code. Bryn Mawr and international students have been vastly over-represented in Honor Council trials, not because they have malicious intent to break the code, rather when you look into these trials you see it is sourced in a lack of understanding of plagiarism, citing and the Haverford Honor Code.

    In that respect, having seen the numbers of cases, types of cases and nature of these cases – I’m convinced that the major crisis is our education of the Haverford and Bryn Mawr communities on these vital topics. Though, the fact that this has become a crisis now may suggest that technology and an increasing apathy for the code is also at fault. I also think that Honor Council has failed the student body in not reporting these trends, what we are doing to address them and generally not conducting itself with a much needed transparency – which will change over the next year.

    Anyhow, once again, really enjoyed the article.

    Chris Hadad ’17

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