Honor code product of student initiative

The test wasn’t even for him.The student, whose name can’t be released because of privacy rules, had run into a business school course the day before and stolen a blank test – but it wasn’t even for him – he said he took the test for his fraternity brothers.

However, whether the test was for his own benefit no longer mattered. When the senior associate dean walked through the spotless glass doors of the marketing department, this student was the one who was going to have to explain the incident.

He’d never had the chance to visit this corner office with its leather chairs and intricately hung Neeley School of Business awards, and, after today he would probably have no reason to visit the office again.

When Senior Associate Dean Bill Moncrief walked in, the student started to cry.

“It was a foolish move,” Moncrief said.

It’s instances of dishonesty like this that Ambika Sharma, a senior political science major, said prompted her and a few other students to create an honor code at TCU they say they hope will cut down on instances of cheating on campus.

Integrity Week, which ends with a movie night tonight, was meant to create a foundation of academic honesty on campus that can then be perpetuated by the honor code, which the task force is aiming to have implemented by fall 2008, they said.

“It’s about bringing a change to culture,” Sharma said, “which is a slow process.”

Punishment for academic dishonesty, Moncrief said, often depends on how blatant the cheating was. If the cheating was clearly premeditated, as was the case for the young man who swiped the test, the student is dismissed from the business school, Moncrief said.

And while professors agreed that most cases are not this extreme, this freshman business major clearly isn’t alone.

According to a 2004 Rutgers University survey, 74 percent of undergraduate business majors admitted to cheating during their previous two years as a student.

The problem, though, stems far beyond business programs as this same study found that an average of 68 percent of non-business majors also admitted to cheating.

Creating a new culture

David Bedford, an instructor of Spanish who advises the Honor Code Task Force, said students have attempted to initiate honor codes in past years, but because seniors have led these efforts, they’ve always faded after the students graduated.

This time, Bedford said, Richard Rigby, a 2007 TCU alumnus, set the task force up so when he graduated there would be students, like Sharma and others, to continue pursuing the honor code proposal.

“Students don’t come planning to cheat, but if the opportunity arises they might,” Bedford said, adding that the students on the task force were prompted because they saw cheating as a major problem at TCU.

To fix these temptations, he said, the honor code aims to create a culture of integrity through educational efforts like Integrity Week and others that will start as early as Frog Camp.

According to Donald McCabe, a professor of management and global business who researches college cheating and ethical decision making at Rutgers University, institutions that enforce an honor code typically encounter dishonesty from about one in 14 students versus the six in 14 students at universities without honor codes.

At private universities, such as Rice and TCU, the effects of an honor code can be even greater than at large public universities, according to McCabe’s research.

The results of his 1993 study show about 17 percent of students at universities without honor codes openly admitted to cheating while 10 percent at public universities with honor codes reported such behavior and 6 percent at private universities with honor codes admitted to academic dishonesty.

Even without an honor code in place yet, Moncrief said since he’s started making an effort to curb cheating in the business school, the number of incidences that come into his office have dropped from about 10 to 20 each year to only three to six.

Chancellor Victor Boschini, though, is not sure an honor code would make a difference.

Boschini said while he fully supports the idea of implementing ethics education on campus he doesn’t think an honor code would be effective.

“I don’t think cheating is rampant here,” Boschini said. He said he thinks setting up the expectation that cheating is unacceptable from the first day of any class is often sufficient.

However, Boschini said, if the honor code receives approval from both the Faculty Senate and Student Affairs, it will then be submitted to Provost Nowell Donovan for final approval – which, Boschini said, means his personal opinion of the code will not affect its eventual outcome.

That’s good news for the Honor Code Task Force, whose members say they are working with Donovan to formulate the code and said that Donovan has expressed support for the implementation for an honor code since the initiative began.

Bedford, who is also the student relations chair for the Faculty Senate, said Faculty Senate members tend to agree that an honor code has potential to positively effect students’ academic integrity, but there are others who are skeptical.

Ronald Burns, associate professor of criminal justice and director of the criminal justice program, said although he doesn’t encounter more than a few instances of cheating each year in his department, he doesn’t know that an honor code would prevent any of those students from cheating.

“I don’t think it (an honor code) could hurt, at least it would send a message that we’re concerned about it (cheating),” Burns said. “Whether it will ultimately decrease cheating, I don’t know, I think the people who want to cheat are going to.”


Bedford said the proposed honor code contains a section about students having an obligation to turn in other students for cheating, and many on the Faculty Senate think this section should be omitted because it is either unrealistic or would create a culture of tattling that professors don’t want.

Even Sharma admitted that this section might not be effective.

“I don’t see anybody turning in another person,” she said, adding that in order to have the Faculty Senate sign off on the code, sections such as this one may have to be revised.

At Baylor University, Linda Cates, director of the Office of Academic Integrity, said the Honor Code was recently revised to include a section about mandatory reporting of academic dishonesty by both professors and students. So far, she said, the addition seems to have made students more aware of the honor code and its requirements.

“Part of the code is for students to turn others in,” Cates said. “It appears to be working.”

Jeff Coffer, chemistry professor and department chair, said even without an honor code he often has students approach him who are concerned that another student is trying to copy their work.

“They’re concerned and they want there to be repercussions, which I like to see,” he said, adding that he thinks if the honor code is completely student-initiated it would be very effective because it calls students to be accountable to their peers.