Every semester, as we go through the process of enrolling in the University through WesPortal, we sign an agreement to abide by the Honor Code. But have you ever thought about the importance of this signature? It is the Honor Code, along with its supporting institutions, that uphold and regulate how we understand academic integrity and how we, as a community, deal with those who violate this understanding.
The Wesleyan student handbook for 2018-19 elaborates on the role the Honor Code plays at Wesleyan.
“In an academic community learning and evaluation require explicit and shared agreements on intellectual honesty and academic integrity,” the handbook reads. “At Wesleyan, these values and the standards of academic conduct they imply constitute the Honor Code.”
By agreeing to abide by the Honor Code, students work to preserve the academic integrity of the University–and therefore, the validity of the degrees it issues. In order to enforce the Code, a four-student Honor Board is created each year. A member of the Board, Henry Martellier ’19 outlined the group’s responsibilities.
“The Board wants students to understand the importance of academic integrity and how it improves the Wesleyan experience,” Martellier said. “Students apply to be on the Board during the spring of their sophomore year and, if selected, have to serve on the Honor Board for two years.”
In addition to Martellier, the Board consists of Taylor Dillon ’19, Bright Palakarn ’20, and Roshni Patel ’20. The group is advised by Dean Louise Brown.
Though the Board is not a court of law, there is a set of judicial processes in place for handling cases. The procedure usually begins with a faculty member reporting a suspected violation to the clerk of the Board, Jill Mattus, who is also the executive assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs Michael Whaley. The student who has allegedly committed the violation is subsequently notified of the charges. Mattus then organizes a hearing, where Board members hear testimony and make a decision on the case.
Martellier explained that students undergo training in order to ensure the fairness of proceedings.
“All Board members are trained before adjudicating any cases and take time to understand each situation and discuss the details of the case in order to give a fair sanction,” he said. “I chose to join the Honor Board not only to uphold the Honor Code but also to ensure that students receive a fair hearing.”
During hearings, both the student and faculty members involved have the opportunity to make opening statements and to provide their perspective on the situation. In some cases, witnesses can also take part in hearings, and Board members reserve the right to direct questions toward parties present at the hearing.
At the end of the hearing, the Board discusses possible sanctions if members discover that an Honor Code violation has occurred. Typically, the Honor Board hears around 25-35 cases a year, and most of the violations brought before the Board are regarding different forms of plagiarism and cheating. In the past, sanctions on students have ranged from simple warnings to expulsion.
The rich history of the Honor Board truly represents the spirit of Wesleyan students. The Board was founded in 1893 by a group of passionate students interested in being a part of the academic process. This investment in academic integrity has been reflected in the handbooks published each year, somewhat notably in the handbook from 1968-69.
“[The Honor Board] is one of the basic elements of the mature atmosphere of the Wesleyan community,” the 1968-69 handbook reads. “It is founded on the belief in a society in which each man faces his own responsibilities, carries them out honorably and is capable of regulating himself accordingly.”
Despite these ambitions, there have been periods in the history of the Board when its ethics and usefulness have been questioned. On Feb. 28, 1975, an editorial was published in The Argus with the headline “Keeping the Present Honor System is Unnecessary and Unwise.” The piece reflected a time during which the effectiveness of the Board was in question. The author demanded the restructuring of the organization, particularly a refinement of adjudication procedures and methods of communication. Similarly, in the year 2002, there was a task force organized to examine the Honor Board due to a rise in the number of infractions being reported.
Despite these challenges to its validity, though, the Board’s policies remain much the same. Brown highlighted the peer-to-peer adjudication that takes place on the Honor Board as vital to its functioning.
“Academic integrity is paramount in the production of any intellectual work, and especially in a community that is built around that enterprise,” she said. “That the Honor Board was founded by students in 1893 and continues to be run by students to this day is evidence of their commitment to this principle.”
Tanvi Punja can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.