The Honor Code, Revisited

By Alejandra B. Salinas

Every semester it starts out the same- you head on to class, a notebook and a textbook in hand, most likely the earliest you’ll ever arrive to class for the semester. Why? It’s the first day of the new semester. That first day where we finally see the professors that we so analytically chose through the hectic registration process, and that first day where we simply sit and listen to syllabus after syllabus, awaiting to hear which classes will hold priority during hell weeks while mentally preparing ourselves for what lays ahead.

One aspect that always seems to be over-shadowed on that special first day is the small paragraph towards the end of any syllabus, titled "Academic Integrity". Written within it is the student honor code that holds us responsible as students of the University of Texas at Austin, to abide by the core values of the University and uphold academic integrity. Most of us believe we do uphold academic integrity, so as this last paragraph goes unnoticed as professors shuffle through the last page and proceed with a brief lecture, while we fail to ask ourselves what academic integrity truly means.

The Office of the Dean of Students webpage contains the description of what this principle requires of us as students: acknowledging the contributions of other sources to our scholastic efforts, completing our assignments independently unless expressly authorized to seek or obtain assistance in preparing them, following instructions for assignments and exams, and observing the standards of our academic discipline; and to avoid engagement in any form of academic dishonesty on behalf of ourselves or another student.

Yet, if you micro-analyze this paragraph, would you consider sharing or comparing homework answers a violation of this principle? Or exchanging past semester exams even if your professor provided practice exams themselves? What about giving a friend an old lab notebook? One of my professors held students who engaged in any of these events accountable of collusion. He recalled an event in which he saw one of his students sitting on a bench typing vigorously away after an exam, and after approaching her, realized that she was typing every question and answer from the exam that he had just administered. Receiving an automatic F, this young lady served as a reminder for every class there onward that even sharing old assignments for a given class with a friend was a violation of academic dishonesty. 

The situation really becomes shocking when a classmate or friend cheated on an exam and is at risk of being expelled. Although we have all heard of the consequences, witnessing someone go through it is a different story and a rare occurrence. I recall an overheard conversation between three residents in line at Jester City Limits during my time as an resident assistant (RA). One had asked two other girls how their biology final had gone, and the two replied, “Oh it went okay, we just sat next to each other and copied whatever we didn’t know.” I was utterly shocked; I knew their faces from past programs of mine and had never suspected them of cheating on an exam. If they had done this on a final, then they could have just as easily had done this on every exam, or even class finals.

In addition, I recently received an email from my professor notifying us that a TA had found a sticky note with problems and notes written on it in one of the examination rooms, and that further action was being taken to distinguish the hand-writing to identify the student responsible.

With all these events in mind, I cannot help but think these students would do better if they simply spent their effort towards studying and becoming better prepared rather than writing cheat sheets. More importantly, the possibility of being expelled would no longer be present. Professors at times avoid such situations by allowing formula sheets on exams. A few even administer open-book exams to ensure that their students truly learn to apply the information, rather than memorize and regurgitate formulas and random facts.

What’s really mind boggling is to imagine how often events of academic dishonesty occur. We have heard of classmates acknowledging that they had old exams, but are we really upholding our academic integrity by being bystanders as we witness these events?

And as you think to yourself, remember those words read to us during Gone to Texas, those words that were written on our beloved Tower by stone carver Wood Hall in 1935:

“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”  

Does knowing the truth really set you free? Would knowing how often academic dishonesty occurs really encourage you to report students in violation of the honor code? Most of us rationalize to ourselves and say, “Oh, it’ll catch up to them one day,” or are simply too afraid to be the ones responsible for a student becoming expelled. Just remember that any student in violation of the honor code is solely responsible for any consequences that occur, but those who witness events of academic dishonesty are instead in violation of failing to uphold the academic integrity of this University. Not only must we do so individually, but we must ensure that as a student body, we uphold the integrity of our professor’s courses. So as you look back at a syllabus, take a moment to ponder on what academic integrity truly means to you.

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