An Honor Code FAQ for Faculty
These questions and answers were generated in a faculty development sponsored session on the Honor Code in March, 2004. People at the session included the student co-chairs of the honor board and a number of faculty and administrators. The written answers were drafted by Penny Gold, Faculty Development Coordinator, and revised in response to comments by session attendees and others. This FAQ is intended as informal peer-to-peer advice. It is a supplement to the college's official publication, "The Knox College Honor System," a publication available from the office of the Associate Dean of the College, in the Student Handbook, or online at: http://www.knox.edu/honor-code.
1. How much leeway do I have in deciding whether or not to bring a student before the honor board if I do suspect dishonesty?
Faculty have no leeway in this matter. We are obligated by Faculty Regulation II.B.4 "to call the facts of a potential violation of the honor Code to the attention of the Honor Board." Disciplinary action for academic dishonesty is entirely in the hands of the Honor Board; faculty members are not to decide a case or apply a penalty on their own. Though this may seem a diminution of faculty autonomy, it insures evenhandedness across the college, maintains the integrity of our student-governed honor code, and (blessedly) leaves the faculty member free of the responsibility of judgment and punishment. Just as students are bound by the Honor Code when they come to Knox, we are too.
2. If something raises my suspicion in some student work, but I'm not certain it's a matter appropriate for an honor board case, how do I decide?
Some things are too minor to bring to the Honor Board--a missing footnote or a single short familiar phrase that echoes in an exam or paper. But it's often more difficult to judge if something is over the line. The easiest way to decide is to ask for help. Contact a member of the honor board, even if you're not sure the case is appropriate; a person experienced in honor board cases in the best position to advise as to whether the case is worth pursuing or not, and if it is, how to proceed. They will not encourage you to proceed with a case if they think evidence of dishonesty is lacking and not obtainable. The current members of the Honor Board are listed in the back of the College Directory. The student co-chairpersons are a good place to start; they are seniors who have served on the board for three years. Or you can contact one of the two faculty members on the board; Steve Bailey (as Chair of the Academic Standing Committee) is an excellent resource as well.
For a case to proceed, you'll need to have substantiating evidence. If the case involves suspected plagiarism, you're expected to make a good faith effort to find the source. (See next question for how to proceed with such a search.) If you have strong suspicion, but no evidence, talk with a member of the Honor Board about how to proceed.
If you suspect plagiarism from web or published sources, you can sometimes find the source by doing the following:
If these searches turn up
nothing, or you suspect plagiarism from another Knox student, whose
work you don't have access to, you can also talk with the student, tell
them you are considering an honor board case for plagiarism, and ask
them to describe their work process; you can also ask them bring in
their notes and/or an early draft. Not
being able to produce such materials is not sufficient evidence to
bring a case, but if the student does have these, it may reassure you
that plagiarism did not take place. If you
do speak with the student, presume innocence, as you may indeed be in
error in your suspicions. Try not to let
your suspicion taint your relationship with the student.
5. What should I do with evidence I've gathered?
Make a copy for yourself and give a copy to one of the Honor Board co-chairs. It is best to hand deliver rather than use campus mail; usually a co-chair will meet with you in your office to discuss the case, and you can go over the evidence with them then. If no co-chair is available (as can happen after the end of a final examination period) give a copy of the evidence to the Associate Dean of the College.
6. Should I talk with the student before I begin a procedure with the honor board? If so, what do I say?
You are not obligated to talk with the student, but there are a few reasons you might want to do so:
7. How should I deal with a student who is distraught or aggressive?
Know that you will have help with this, particularly from the Honor Board co-chairs. Assure the student that they will have ample opportunity to defend themselves before their peers. Assure the student that you will consider them innocent until proven otherwise, and that this will not affect how you will treat them in class or how you will consider the rest of their work in the course. (If the case comes in the midst of a term, the student should continue in the course, as they might be found innocent of charges.) If you are concerned about a student's emotional state, and/or uncomfortable talking with the student because of their aggressive behavior, be sure to let others know and they will handle the student from there: the Honor Board co-chair who is handling this case and the Associate Dean of the College. If the student becomes hostile or threatening, you should end the interview.
8. I am bringing a case before the honor board for the first time. What can I expect at the hearing? When in the hearing do I speak? What questions will be asked of me? Should I bring any materials with me? Am I required and/or allowed to stay for the rest of the hearing?
After a brief statement by the chairperson in charge of the hearing, you will be asked to explain your reasons for bringing the case and the nature of the evidence. Yes, you should bring your copy of the evidence. The student will then be asked to respond. The hearing is then open to questions and responses from all present. Members of the Board will probably have a number of follow-up questions for you to clarify the nature of the assignment, its place in the course, your interaction with the student, or whatever else they need to get a good idea of exactly what happened. When the questions are done, the accuser is dismissed. The accused is then given the option of making a personal statement, after which s/he is dismissed. The Board then deliberates, reaches its decision and informs the accused of its verdict. The faculty member is informed in a timely way and has access to the written account the presiding co-chair provides to the Associate Dean. For further details, see the section on "At the Hearing" in "The Knox College Honor System." (See top of FAQ to find locations of this document.) You can also expect that the Honor Board co-chair will go over all this with you before the hearing.
9. What do I do about the end-of-term grade if I discover the suspected dishonesty in the final work of the term, and some grade has to be turned in before the honor board will be meeting?
When using computerized grade submission, do NOT enter a grade for that student. This lack of entry will be reported to the Registrar as NR (no report). An e-mail note to the registrar with an explanation of the absence of grade would be helpful. (If you submit the grades on paper, enter "NR.")
10. Given a consideration for confidentiality, can I discuss a case with a colleague or administrator?
Yes, you can discuss the case with a colleague or administrator. Just don't name the student unless you are speaking with the Associate Dean of the College or a member of the Honor Board.
While all of these reasons may be understandable, none of them is sufficient grounds for not bringing a case where we have reason to suspect dishonesty and evidence to back up that suspicion. (See question #1.)
12. What are some of the ways I might design assignments and exams that might make academic dishonesty less likely?
a number of ways to design assignments and exams so as to make academic
dishonesty less likely. Here are some
• Have oral exams rather than written exams.
• If giving a multiple choice/short answer exam, make up the test in multiple formats (e.g., same questions, but different order; same choice of answers, but in different order).
• Hand out sample exam questions ahead of time and go over answers in class; this helps reduce the anxiety that can contribute to cheating.
• The Honor Code allows you to set special conditions for the taking of a particular exam, though you must consult first with the Associate Dean of the College and a co-chair or faculty member of the Honor Board. This would typically be done in a course where you have before experienced difficulty with cheating. With permission as indicated, you could, for example, require students to stay in the room and/or you could yourself stay in the room. If you have made such arrangements, you should explain them to the students, perhaps saying something like: "I've had trouble in this class in the past, and I'm concerned for fairness to all students."
• If you assign a take-home exam, be sure you make clear what would constitute academic dishonesty on such an assignment. Faculty expectations vary widely with respect to student-to-student consultation, for example.
• Design the exam to fill up all time available, thus cutting back on the time that might otherwise be available to cheat by looking up answers.
• For longer research papers, set up a staged process whereby students talk to you or hand in material on multiple occasions (e.g., description of a topic/question, preliminary bibliography, preliminary findings with annotated bibliography and an outline, rough draft). This can be as simple as having students periodically complete a 3x5 card noting progress (topic, points of argument, pro and con, etc.) Besides making plagiarism less likely, this is really helpful to the student as a way to learn a research process. (With thanks to Cynthia Desrochers, Director, Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching , CalState-Northridge.)
• Even for shorter papers, require that you see an early draft, or that an early draft be turned in with the final draft. Again, revising is good for writing in any case.
• Change paper topics regularly; don't use the same stock assignment year after year.
• Assign topics that are less likely to be available in term paper banks. Topics can be tailored specifically to the course (e.g., an analysis of Jane Eyre using the work of theorists assigned in the course, or a comparison of Jane Eyre to other novels assigned in the course).
• If a student's paper is based on a small number of articles, ask them to turn in photocopies of the articles along with the paper.
• Have the class assist in setting criteria according to which papers will be assessed.
• Have students do projects, rather than standard papers, and write about what they've done.
• Have students do a critique of professional research papers instead of their own research.
• Include a module in the course on good practices in choice of research material (e.g. dangers of the web) and in citation. Discuss plagiarism and why it is to be avoided. Some problems come from lack of understanding about how to use and cite material; others come from intentional cheating. The nature of the web makes this all the more challenging to explain. (See next question for helpful resources for teaching on these issues.)
13. What resources are available for explaining the Honor Code to students, and for teaching students more generally about citation, plagiarism, etc.?
• The pamphlet on "The Knox College Honor System." This publication is available from the office of the Associate Dean of the College, is in the Student Handbook, and is online at: http://www.knox.edu/honor-code
• "Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices." This is an excellent essay/brochure from the Council of Writing Program Administrators. It underscores the importance of distinguishing between plagiarism and misuse of sources, and has extensive suggestions for teaching about issues of academic dishonesty. Download in pdf format here.
• Nick Carbone, "Thinking and Talking about Plagiarism"; this essay is very good in itself, and includes references to other resources as well. http://bedfordstmartins.com/technotes/techtiparchive/ttip102401.htm
• A sample exercise on paraphrasing, quotation, and citation from Karen Kampwirth. Karen passes out this worksheet in class, with examples drawn from books the students have read for the course. Students, working in pairs, have to generate the logic for why one usage is right and one is wrong.
14. What contributes to the frequency of honor code violations?
• Some students really don't understand that copying something is wrong.
• Some international students may come from cultures in which there are quite different practices with regard to the use of authoritative material. (This is a matter that is receiving special attention at international student orientation.)
• The ease of cutting and pasting on the web and the obscuring of authorship on the web greatly facilitates plagiarism. It is a characteristic of the web that material is repeated, linked, and passed on—in some ways a great feature of the web, but one that militates against understanding clear boundaries of authorship.
• Students may not understand why documentation of sources is important.
heard that some fraternities keep files of old exams and papers? Isn't this a breach of the Honor Code?
Nothing can be done about a fraternity keeping files. Not all use of old papers is necessarily inappropriate. Many of us tell students exam questions from previous years, and/or share exemplary student work. To minimize the inappropriate use of files of student work, see question #12 (things we can do to make it more difficult for students to improperly use the work of others).
16. My advisee has asked me to accompany him/her to the honor board hearing. What's expected of me in this role?
The Honor Code allows an accused student to come to the hearing "accompanied by an adviser of his or her choice." The adviser must be a current full-time student, a faculty member, or other employee of the College. The adviser is there as a support person for the accused. You are not a participant in the hearing, but if you wish to give the student some advice (e.g., a reminder of an relevant information), you may ask that the hearing be stopped momentarily to speak with him or her. An advising role is just that--to advise the student at the hearing. Offer what assistance you can to help them tell their story in the most honest way possible. An adviser is not an attorney, but one who helps the student through the process of the trial and who advises the student for their best interests, but ultimately allows the student to decide for themselves.
You are not obliged to take on this role. If you do, be sure to talk in detail with the student before the hearing, going over the charges and the student's defense. Anything the student tells you should be held in confidence. If you would like to accompany the student, but have questions about your role, you are free to talk with the Associate Dean of the College (and to request confidentiality).
17. Why should we continue to work with an Honor Code that some students seem to ignore and that is difficult to enforce?
The merit of the Honor System is that it values integrity. It honors the majority of our students who have integrity and it encourages other students to develop integrity. Other reasons this system is worth continuing:
• Systems that leave the faculty member to decide also leave the right of appeal with a senior administrator, which means a faculty member may be overruled. Such systems also appear to be more open to external review in the courts.
• When cases come to the Board, the Board deals with them thoroughly and does not hesitate to impose penalties where it has been shown that there was academic dishonesty .
• Many students as seniors cite the Honor System as having had developmental benefit for them (and as having made sense in a college that encourages independent thought).
• No system of justice (academic or otherwise) is entirely effective. Other systems for dealing with academic dishonesty (with no honor system) apparently lead to even higher rates of infraction.
18. If I've had a bad experience with the honor board in the past, what avenues do I have for improving procedures?
The Honor System can be amended and has been amended in recent years. The Academic Standing Committee or the Honor Board are the places to go; you might want to meet first with the Associate Dean of the College or the co-chairs of the Honor Board. You can make a proposal in writing to the Academic Standing Committee, and/or you may ask for a place on the agenda of the Committee to speak in person.
Suggestions for additional questions to add to this document or for revisions to the answers would be much appreciated. Send comments to Penny Gold.