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Opinion

Honor Court seeks student input in revision of Honor Code

By Patrick English '15

October 31, 2013

A few weeks ago, the Honor Court spoke before Student Assembly, looking for ways to change Hamilton culture with respect to the Honor Code. They presented the administration’s argument that the Hamilton student body had become complacent with regard to the Honor Code, citing misunderstanding and the increasing use of technology for assignments.

As Honor Court Chair Mercy Corredor ’15 explained, the Honor Court, the faculty and Student Assembly believe “the campus culture surrounding academic integrity is not very strong, especially when compared to other similar, small liberal arts colleges.”

Unfortunately, we do not know how these three bodies arrived at this decison. While it is not ungrounded, the lack of evidence presented on this topic is cause for some concern. While I do not doubt that the Hamilton Honor Code could use some revisions, a little more transparency on this subject would definitely help. It is hard to go ahead with the following process without the student body first knowing the reasoning behind this perspective.

The two statements are also rather vague. A “misunderstanding” does not point to any one part of the code, and it is unlikely that students will understand the need for reform unless the administration explains where they have fallen short of following the Honor Code.  Despite its vague wording, the idea of a misunderstanding makes sense because it is safe to assume that very few students have actually read the Honor Code. Despite the fact that the code is short and readily available on the Hamilton website, it is likely that students assumed the code simply outlines rules against lying, cheating, or stealing. Even for students who have read the Honor Code, it is reasonable to propose that they might need a refresher. Also, the language can be difficult to comprehend completely and to apply to every situation.

The increasing use of technology for assignments will always be a problem for Honor Codes.The availability of a wealth of information on the Internet while typing assignments brings in temptations and rules that the Honor Code did not face before the technology era. It is hard to see a way around this problem without specifically asking students not to use computers for closed book assignments.

However, this issue was already addressed in 2010, when electronic sources were explicitly added to the code. It is hard to imagine how the Honor Court could add to changes without dramatically revamping the way Hamilton students approach assignments electronically. The “increasing use of technology” is also a general topic that covers a wide variety of problems, from students using their phones and the Internet to cheat, or lesser violations such as incorrectly citing an electronic source. These two topics are too general now; we can only hope that the Honor Court will be more specific in their surveys as they continue this process.  Rather than changing the Honor Code to account for these problems, the Honor Court would first like to get a sense of Hamilton culture. This would be done by gathering input via anonymous surveys for both students and faculty over the next few weeks. Corredor hopes this will give the Honor Court a “better feel for the campus culture surrounding the Honor Code: how serious people believe it is currently being taken and how serious people believe it ought to be taken.” Given the high level of response to surveys on Greek Life pledging decisions and changes to social spaces, the Honor Court should be able to effectively gather the needed information.

Following the survey, a possible symposium would take place in the spring to learn from comparable schools on the relationship between their student bodies and their Honor Codes. At this point, the Honor Court will not be making any changes to the code because, as Corredor explained, “The student body should have an integral part in this process.”

After these steps, the Honor Court would work with students on ideas to have a more meaningful honor code. This could be done through something like a town hall meeting in order to get input from the entire student body. However, a town hall meeting may not be as successful as the surveys. In past town halls such as the ones on housing changes and conversations on race, the number of people has clouded the conversation, making it less effective. The Honor Court would be better off with a series of smaller meetings involving around twenty or thirty students.

The administration’s feeling about the student body’s complacency to the Honor Code is not ungrounded, and I applaud the Honor Court for their response to this issue. They seem ready to take on this problem in a measured fashion that will probably result in something positive for the Hamilton community. It is the responsibility of the student body to become a part of this process because it will greatly impact their futures. With response to surveys and feedback to the Honor Court, the student body can make sure this process runs smoothly and ends with more integrity and more honor at Hamilton.

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