Thursday, January 30, 2014

Honor Code Snippets from Cambridge to Colorado

 “I attest to the honesty of my academic work and affirm that it conforms to the standards of the Harvard College Honor Code.” -- Draft Harvard College honor code, as reported by the Harvard Crimson, January 30, 2014. "Jake N. Matthews ’16 later suggested that faculty members, like students, should be required to sign a statement indicating their commitment to the honor code."
“We really want everyone to be honest,” said Sietse K. Goffard ’15, a member of the Academic Integrity Committee and the Undergraduate Council vice president. “That’s the whole point...of an ‘honor code,’ for everyone to be very open and candid about what they think.” -- Harvard Crimson, January 28, 2014
"As part of his professional work, [psychologist Fred Malmstrom] has surveyed almost 50 years of [Air Force Academy] graduates, asking them, among other things, how often they had broken the academy honor code vow not to 'lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.' The results of his surveys show a steady increase in proportion of cadets admitting to violating the code, from 28 percent in 1962 to 65 percent in 2010." -- Colorado Springs Gazette, January 10, 2014. 
"The worst cheating scandal in nearly 20 years at the Air Force Academy has prompted the Air Force to suspend the cadet-run system of discipline for honor code violations pending a thorough review of the academy's strict honor system. 
"The re-examination of the academy's honor code, in which cadets pledge neither to lie, cheat nor steal nor to tolerate those who do, stemmed from evidence of large-scale cheating on a senior-class physics test last spring. In June, 19 seniors were suspended for a year and the cadet-run Honor Boards, which investigate possible violations of the code, were suspended." -- New York Times,  September 15, 1984.
92 Air Force Officers Suspended for Cheating on their Missile Exam -- New York Times, January 31, 2014.

Should be an enlightening discussion on Tuesday.


  1. Whenever I read that cheating has increased (e.g., from 28% in 1964 to 65% in 2010) I always wonder how much of that is people being less shy to tell an survey (even an anonymous one) than they used to be. So we might be measuring another phenenomena- people no longer having shame when they cheat. Of course, that would also lead to more cheating.

    1. Fair point. Could be.

      Here is a rather more troubling question along the same lines. Was there a time, when the social class system was better understood and more accepted by everyone, when the upper classes prided themselves on being more honorable than the lower classes? I think of those old stories about the pride people took in "amateur athletics," really the athletics of the British upper classes. Tennis games were played without linesmen and it worked fine -- the aristocrats would tell their opponents about their own foot-faults and so on. Is "honor" really a Victorian anachronism, kept alive on life support by pledges like this? -- Or, on the other hand, were the upper classes always as dishonest as everyone else, except they made a show of honor when social convention demanded it?

      (Collegiate squash still works that way, I believe, at least for ordinary matches.)

  2. On that Air Force missile exam scandal:

    "Ms. James said that during her visits to all three bases last week, crew members — while not admitting to cheating — told her that they felt pressure to score 100 percent on the proficiency tests. While 90 percent is considered a passing score, they said that their commanding officers would not promote them unless they scored 100 percent."

    As it stands, everyone gets an A is the same as pass/fail in creating powerful incentives for cheating. Are you going to cheat for the small difference between a B+ and A- in traditional grading? Are you going to cheat for that difference in a grade-inflated system?

    This is the grade inflation problem in a nutshell, if everyone gets an A, an B+ is quite a cudgel. People don't want to be cudgeled.

    Since devaluation of the grade currency seems out of the question, the only option is to add additional grades in higher denominations, AA, and AAA. (Is that what happened to Wall Street bond ratings, inflation?) The only way then to prevent another round of grade inflation is to limit the number of AA and AAA grades, with + and -, on a strict percentage basis.