{shortcode-b123d7b94a23092f5e880c01bae73a70aed23dca}While most students probably spent shopping week catching up with friends and hunting for that elusive gem fourth class, some no doubt noticed the roll out of Harvard College’s latest initiative, the honor code. Administrators say it is the result of years of planning, and student members of the Honor Council say it is part of the culture change they hope to drive. However, you, dear student, are still probably scratching your head and asking: what honor code?

Flyby is here to help.

What is the honor code?

The honor code is—at its most basic—a statement about the importance of academic integrity to the Harvard College “community,” and explicitly cites cheating and plagiarism as examples of academic dishonesty that violate standards at both Harvard and in the broader world. After debate, this past April the Faculty approved legislation requiring that students affirm their awareness of the honor code prior to course enrollment and before final exams and projects, including theses, and other assignments at the discretion of individual professors.

What is the Honor Council?

While the honor code is a relatively mundane paragraph that reiterates standard guidelines, the Honor Council is where things start to get interesting. Composed of 24 voting members, half of which are undergraduate students, the Honor Council is tasked with enforcing the honor code and will adjudicate what are essentially cheating cases that violate the code. The council also includes faculty and administrators, and is a rare instance of student participation in the College’s disciplinary process. Brett Flehinger, associate dean of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct, will serve as secretary of the Honor Council, and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana will serve as chair. The council will begin hearing cases this fall.

What is the history of the code?

According to the Honor Council’s website, the honor code traces its history to “the formation of the Committee on Academic Integrity in 2010.” In some ways that is true; since 2010, a group of students, faculty, and administrators has been meeting in some capacity to discuss adopting an honor code, and then business professor and Cabot House Master Rakesh Khurana was the main faculty member on the subcommittee that drafted the code. However, that’s not the full story. What gets left out from the website and most administrators’ discourse is the massive Gov 1310 cheating scandal, the College’s largest in recent memory, that required 70 students to temporarily leave campus and gave the process a huge kick in the rear.

What is the big deal?

The introduction of the honor code and Council this fall, with accompanying fanfare and a dedicated Facebook page, hyped the whole thing up as a BFD. But, students aware of the actual changes might have been left asking what all the noise is about.

This is the deal (from your very own impartial observer): While in the past, cheating cases were heard exclusively by a group of “grownups” on the Administrative Board, the shifting of responsibility to the half-undergraduate Honor Council is an attempt to involve students more in the decision making process and make academic integrity a larger part of campus discourse. Ultimately, those driving the transition are hoping for a culture change that will eliminate any future scandals, and broader student involvement is a key first step on that path.

What does this mean down the road?

At present, most everyone is focused on the roll out of the honor code, and the culmination of all the work it represents. Make no mistake, this is a big deal for a place like Harvard College where change happens very slooooowly. However, it does have implications for what might happen down the road. If the transferring of responsibility for cheating cases to a student-faculty body goes well, might the same shift be in order for most disciplinary cases more generally? On the other hand, an honor code doesn’t inoculate Harvard from any future scandals. Dartmouth is just one example of a school with an honor code and cheating problem, and there are certainly other examples. If Harvard endures another scandal with its new code in place, that would pose a stiff test of administrators’ dedication to the code as well as the resolve of students serving on the council tasked with disciplining their peers.