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The Daily Tar Heel

Honor codes put in spotlight

Major cheating allegations at one of the nation’s top universities have sparked a national conversation about the necessity of honor codes.

Harvard University announced last week that about 125 undergraduate students might have inappropriately collaborated on a take-home final exam in a large lecture class last semester.

And at the forefront of this scandal is Harvard’s lack of a formal honor system or code.

The allegations have prompted the university to consider implementing an honor code, according to a statement in the Harvard Gazette, the university’s official newspaper.

“These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends,” Harvard President Drew Faust said in the statement.

Faust said the university will deal with the incident in a “deliberative process” and educate Harvard students about the school’s values.

At UNC, the Honor Code is prominent both in and out of the classroom.

Amanda Claire Grayson, UNC student attorney general, said an honor code brings a strong set of benefits to any university and student body.

“The purpose of any honor code is to provide a set of community standards,” she said. “We expect members of that community to be aware of what those rules are.”

Grayson said the honor system handles an estimated 200 cases per year. About half of those cases are academic-related.

“The largest number of offenses we see are related to plagiarism and cheating,” Grayson said.

She said the Honor Court has a strict system in place to hear violations.

Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University who has researched issues of cheating and student integrity, said he expects Harvard to implement an honor code.

But he said in order to establish a rigorous honor code — like that of UNC — it would require commitment and sustained effort.

“To establish and get an honor code working takes a lot of resources,” McCabe said.

“It also requires maintenance to keep it going — in times of budget crunches and cuts, this is not always a high priority.”
But McCabe said the advantages of an honor code are worth the effort.

“Instilling principles of integrity, as well as knowledge of the judicial process, are invaluable advantages,” he said.

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