Every course syllabus at the University of Miami refers students to the Honor Code. Before or after exams in certain classes, students are required to sign a paper acknowledging that they’ve adhered to the code. In large test settings, students must even present their Cane Cards to verify that nobody else is taking their exam for them.
Given this culture in support of academic honesty on campus, it’s surprising that there are colleges that don’t have an Honor Code, especially at an elite university like Harvard. It may be this lack of an Honor Code that spurned last spring’s cheating scandal at Harvard and the resulting debate over how to handle the fuzzy situation.
An Honor Code is a necessary tool for establishing values of academic integrity. Even though the definition of cheating may seem obvious on the surface – copying answers from a classmate’s paper during a test is wrong – there are many gray areas of academic dishonesty.
With a take-home essay, for example, students may believe that consulting friends and sharing ideas is OK. But it depends on the policy of the professor. That’s why it’s important for the ground rules to be laid out in advance. This can go beyond even what’s defined in the Honor Code.
In the government course at Harvard in which the cheating occurred, using class notes, the textbook and the Internet on a take-home final were all permitted, but discussing the exam with other students was not. It’s the responsibility of not only the students to behave ethically, but also the professors to make it completely clear what constitutes cheating.
If a professor’s instructions are unclear, both parties are at fault. UM’s Honor Council exists to determine whether academic dishonesty has actually occurred. Oftentimes, the ruling can play out in a student’s favor. In 33 years, more than a quarter of cases investigated by the Honor Council were dismissed.
Professors must educate their students from the start about what is expected of them in the course, what behavior is considered cheating, and what happens to those students that do.
If ambiguity is still an issue, ignorance is not a valid excuse. For students who have any concerns about how they’re completing an exam or assignment, all they have to do is ask.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.