Opinion | Columns

An imperative for honor

Two years ago, when I was chair of Literature Humanities, I wrote an editorial on academic honesty for Spectator (“Cheating and Dante’s hell” Mar. 31, 2011). I suggested that we have “an honest conversation about the grave dangers of dishonesty” and asked, “What will you students do?”. My hope was that students would begin to take ownership of the problem and devise a solution. I suggested instituting an honor code. Last spring, the Columbia College Student Council initiated a serious conversation about academic honesty. Its Academic Integrity Task Force has recently made thoughtful recommendations, including student-run sessions about integrity and an honor code. I write to endorse these. I also write to offer my help next year, when I will return as Lit Hum chair to do everything I can to support the implementation of these recommendations. The task force’s main goal seems exactly right: to create a culture of academic integrity on campus that requires student involvement. Why is this so important? Right now, the burden of motivating honesty, educating students about what constitutes dishonesty, and maintaining academic trust falls on instructors. We waste precious classroom minutes educating students about plagiarism and valuable prep time devising assignments immune to plagiarism. We fret about catching—and not catching—cheaters, while concerned students have no opportunity to do anything at all. In this bizarro world, the onus of maintaining the honesty of students falls entirely on instructors. The task force’s recommendations are excellent and grounded in an obvious truth: real academic integrity must begin and end with students. Students must be the ones responsible for educating, promoting, and protecting themselves. Although instructors should offer support, only students themselves can create and maintain an environment of trust. The proposed changes will not miraculously rid our world of cheaters. There will always be some students immune to the ideals of their community. But the recommended policies would make an immediate and significant difference. Studies are clear: When students sign an honor pledge and actively commit themselves to honesty, they are less likely to cheat. As soon as Columbia students take up the responsibility of creating and maintaining a community of honesty, they will have shifted the culture: A violation of trust is no longer merely between the cheater and instructor, but between the cheater and the entire student community. The task force’s recommendations should be adopted. They will have the immediate effect of shifting the primary maintenance of academic integrity from instructors to students. They will probably make a long-lasting difference by encouraging a culture of trust among students. This will benefit students and let instructors get back to practicing and encouraging the highest standards of academic work. Christia Mercer is the Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy. She will return as chair of Literature Humanities next year. She is presently on leave in Europe, where she is researching and writing a book. To respond to this professor column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com

Comments

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Heisenberg posted on

"Studies are clear: When students sign an honor pledge and actively commit themselves to honesty, they are less likely to cheat." What study is this??? If you read Dan Ariely's The Honest Truth about Dishonesty he actually found out that the opposite is true. Ironic that in an article about plagiarism you don't even cite the study. Whatever, another meaningless gesture so that people can justify their salary I guess.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Don't think so. http://danariely.com/tag/cheating/. Cheating went down from 69% to 41%. Read the studies you cite.

+1
+1
-1
This is an embarrassing editorial posted on

Ms. Mercer, please actually address the arguments of others when when you make your own argument. Spectator, when you publish editorials, please make sure they weren't literally copy-pasted from that person's last screed.

Ms. Mercer, which studies? As a commenter below mentioned, there is actually some debate on this issue. Which proposal do you even endorse? Do you think that students should be obligated to snitch on each other, as recent drafts of the proposal suggest? Would OJA be involved? Do you think the religious/philosophical objections make this proposal worthless? Did you even read the proposal? Are you familiar with any of the reasons the ESC chose to rescind it? What do you think of them? I'm sure we will never know.

+1
-9
-1
Anonymous posted on

Yo dumbo,

This was written back when ESC supported the proposal, so how exactly can she go back in time and address the synthesized controversy?

Signed,
A normal person

+1
+5
-1
Dear normal person posted on

Thank you for your helpful comment. I assumed that people posting this again meant that this was a new. Now I see that this is more of their desperate attempts to promote a false consensus around this issue.

Additionally, thank you for responding to none of the other points I made. You are truly a scholar.

+1
-4
-1
Anonymous posted on

All your arguments are contingent on this being up to date. I agree that maybe this isn't timely to post, but it is also just a single faculty member showing her support for the initiative at that point in time. Many of her arguments do apply to the concerns that appeared out of nowhere recently though, but I do think that this is further evidence ESC should have at least known the slightest bit about what was going on and expressed their concerns sooner. Sorry for calling you dumb.

+1
+3
-1
CC student posted on

I wish students had the luxury of conceptualizing cheating the way this piece does, but sometimes, only the bottom line is important. An honor code is nothing but a gimmick, a prop that distracts from the real issues at hand: lazy individuals, overwhelming courses, and other "real" factors that are systematically sidelined and left to simmer.
I think it would serve the Columbia community far better to focus on the problems that exist rather than on nice ideas that may to a certain degree affect how a certain number of people feel about a pervasive problem.

+1
-6
-1
Anonymous posted on

Professor Mercer underrates how insulting and counterproductive the assumption of guilt is. Appropriately understanding that element would only strengthen her argument. Students cannot be trustworthy if they are not trusted.

+1
+5
-1