Honor Code Would Face Tough Challenges in Inculcating Culture Shift

This is the part II of a two-part series on Harvard's proposed student honor code. Part I ran on April 30.

Supporters of the proposal for the College’s first-ever honor code have not been shy about their ambitions for the policy.


Members of the Academic Integrity Committee—the group of faculty members, students, and administrators who developed the proposal—have repeatedly said that they hope that the honor code, if adopted, will change Harvard’s academic culture. Much of the conversation about the honor code has centered on campus attitudes toward academic integrity. The motivation for the policy, as described in a mid-January draft, is “strengthening a culture of academic integrity” at the College.


Supporters of the proposal emphasize that inspiring student and faculty “buy-in” to the policy is necessary to create this shift in culture. They suggest that adding student voice to the disciplinary process and prompting more conversation about academic integrity issues will be key to gaining student support.

With the Faculty Council’s approval on Wednesday and a vote expected among the broader Faculty of Arts and Sciences next week, it seems more likely than ever that the proposal—one that would establish a student-faculty judicial board to hear cases of academic dishonesty and a requirement for students to sign a statement affirming their commitment to the code—will become policy.

But even if the proposal passes, the honor code will face challenges beyond faculty members critical of its contents. In their ambitious effort to change the culture of a 377-year-old institution, those charged with implementing the honor code may also encounter hurdles created by a restructured disciplinary system and a community that may be apathetic to the policy’s purpose.


If the Faculty approves the proposal next week, College administrators and others will be tasked with implementing the honor code, and with that will come its own challenges, some of them purely logistical.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris, who chairs the Academic Integrity Committee, has previously said that he expects the honor code to be implemented by the fall of 2015, leaving College administrators just over a year to put into place the mechanisms and infrastructure necessary for its operation.

That implementation process will come in tandem with a period of transition for the College and its disciplinary system. The Administrative Board, which would still hear academic dishonesty cases next academic year even if the policy is approved, will experience a change in leadership as incoming Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana chairs the body for the first time. The board will also have to adjust to the departures of longtime secretary John “Jay” L. Ellison and Adams House Resident Dean Sharon L. Howell this summer.

As the administration fills existing positions within its disciplinary system, if the honor code proposal becomes policy, the College will also be tasked with filling newly-created roles with students, administrators, and faculty. College leaders will be navigating a new disciplinary system that will involve students in the process of adjudicating cases of alleged academic dishonesty for the first time.

Although a mid-January draft of the honor code offers only limited information on plans for the student-faculty board it proposes, the draft stipulates that the body’s membership be composed of half students and half faculty and administrators.

Michael C. Ranen, the resident dean for Ivy Yard and a member of the Academic Integrity Committee, called selecting students for the board and training them properly a “major challenge.” Ranen said that making the student members “understand that they’re not just token members” of the honor board will be necessary for it to be successful.


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