Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Committee explores revamping honor code

If a roommate bought an essay online, put their name on it and submitted it as original work, would you turn them in?

Under a proposed change to DU’s Honor Code, students would be expected to report any Honor Code violations to the Office of Citizenship & Community Standards. But that’s not the only change under consideration. The Honor Code Task Force Committee also is exploring changes in hopes of simplifying the language and providing more concrete examples of violations — an element currently missing.

“The main goal is to put the Honor Code in plain language,” says Kristin Olson, director of the Office of Citizenship & Community Standards.

A group of DU students, staff and faculty established the Honor Code almost a decade ago to keep DU’s academic honesty and behavior in check.

Virtually all American colleges and universities have an honor code, but enforcement varies.

The committee researched 20 colleges and universities, and found that while some placed only a minor emphasis on their codes, others integrated them very well. Mike Kerwin, co-committee chair, cited Ohio State University — one of the largest schools in the country — as a school with a clear and organized code.

“Ohio State has an outstanding honor code,” Kerwin says. “Students promote it and share it with their peers. They say ‘It matters to me to act with integrity and not to cheat.’”

Kerwin says the effectiveness of DU’s code is better than some private universities but falls behind others. The Office of Citizenship & Community Standards and its website advocate the code, but some students have little awareness of it.

“One senior said she had the honor code read to her and signed the banner during Pioneer Passage,” Kerwin says. “She hasn’t heard the code mentioned since then, and she’s about to graduate.”

To gather input about the code and its effectiveness, the committee recently sent an online survey to all DU members. The survey received responses from 110 faculty, 176 staff and 590 students.

The responses showed that the majority of DU students, faculty and staff know about the code and what it declares. However, some faculty did not know how to report violations and about half felt DU needed to provide more education and accountability with the code.

Using feedback from the survey and recommendations from DU’s Center for Academic Integrity, the committee discussed what should change and what should stay the same.

In addition to a survey, the committee received feedback from a community luncheon and presentation held April 28. A group of 60 students, staff and faculty voiced their opinions on the recommendations.

Based on the group’s comments, the committee decided the code needs changes beyond student academic misconduct. The community members wanted to see more changes regarding nonacademic misconduct and see the code extended to apply to faculty and staff in addition to students.

The committee also will consider comments and questions from student government and the faculty senate before finalizing any recommendations.

Should Provost Gregg Kvistad approve the eight recommendations, incoming students will sign a new Honor Code during Pioneer Passage this fall. The committee has also considered asking faculty and staff to sign the code as well.

Beyond instating the changes, Olson says the committee wants to emphasize the Honor Code in new areas of University life. Students may be required to sign an electronic document stating they have read the guidelines before they can register for classes. It may appear in class syllabuses. And the freshman seminar might dedicate a day to dissecting and clarifying the guidelines for students.

Olson believes more reminders will enforce better behavior.

“DU gains academic credibility from the code,” Olson says. “We’re expecting people to do their own work and learn while they’re here, and [the code is] a way we help to ensure that.”

The Honor Code Task Force recommends making a number of changes to the code. Here are a few of them:

• the existing Honor Code Statement be distilled into clearer language summarizing the importance of academic honesty with specific examples of honor code violations.

• all members of the University community be obligated to report any student Honor Code violations.

• faculty, staff, and administrators be informed about technology tools available for detecting plagiarism.

• all students receive, in variety of media, the Honor Code Statement, definition of plagiarism, specific examples of conduct prohibited by the Honor Code, and an explanation of how violations will be adjudicated.

• the University of Denver redouble efforts to embrace and promote the Honor Code by marketing the changes to the code in various media, and forming a group of students to promote the advantages of academic honesty.

• each academic unit require new students to complete an educational training component focused on the Honor Code.

• all faculty, staff, and administrators be offered training on the details of the Honor Code in addition to the procedures for reporting violations.

• all student Honor Code violations be reported to the Office of Citizenship & Community Standards to ensure centralized recordkeeping and a consistent response from the University.


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