A Question of Honor

By Chris Baucom
October 30, 1998


Honor Advisors Molly Palmer, James Clawson, David Durovy, Melissa Byrd, and Chris Young discuss ways to improve upon the Honor Code. The Honor Advisory Council attempts to promote honor awareness on campus.

In the fall of 1996, entering freshmen were, for the first time, required to sign a statement indicating they had read the newly approved Academic Honor Code. Two years later, some contend the Honor Code has had no significant impact on the quality of education at Tech.
Students witness Honor Code violations throughout their careers at the Institute. Many members of the Georgia Tech community question whether the Honor Code is having the desired effect.
"I don't think the Honor Code is working, and I question whether there is a real concern on campus for making it work," said Dr. Russell Shackelford, a professor at the College of Computing.
When the Honor Code was first proposed, there was much discussion over whether the Institute even needed such a code. After all, each section of the Honor Code already existed in some form in the Institute Rules and Regulations published biannually in the General Catalog. However, advocates of the Honor Code felt that more of an emphasis needed to be placed on academic integrity, and that by making students and faculty more aware of these issues, they might foster a community of trust and respect.
Dr. Karen Boyd, Senior Associate Dean of Students, believes that the Academic Honor Code is vital to the well-being of the institute.
"It outlines what you expect of each other and your basic core behaviors," Dean Boyd said. "If you can learn the basics, then you can apply that to any situation that comes up. Quite frankly, Tech is [about] growing leaders. It's not just educating students or doing research in the labs."
"We have people here who are going to be leaders of tomorrow, who are going to be building bridges, who are going to be making policy, and I think integrity is going to be of the utmost importance," agreed Melissa Byrd, Chairman of the Honor Advisory Council.
While there is a consensus among most people at Tech that the Honor Code has the potential to be beneficial, not everyone is impressed with what it has accomplished so far.
"There is a marginally better atmosphere on campus so far as honor is concerned," said Dr. Bob McMath, Vice Provost of Academic Affairs. "It's time for us-all of us, faculty, students-to re-examine the way we look at honor. Not the Honor Code, not just a piece of paper, but honor as a whole."
Few people are willing to dispute the intrinsic value of an honor code, but persuading students to uphold the code can be difficult. Dean Boyd says she would like to think that most students do not cheat at all, and most observers agree that the average student does not cheat his way though Tech. However, most students do witness violations of the Honor Code and many students to not know how to handle the situation.
Experts say a key part in a functional, easy to understand honor code is a clear definition of what is considered acceptable behavior. As with many issues of ethics and morality, different people have different ideas about what constitutes cheating. The Honor Code allows faculty members to use their own discretion when determining exam and homework policies.
"In some classes, [professors] want everybody to talk to each other about everything, and you can almost turn in a group project, and that's exactly what they're looking for," Dean Boyd explained. "But in other classes, you really shouldn't talk to each other about anything, because you need to learn this information independent of one another. [Students] have to follow what your professor's version of cheating is. Part of that is he needs to articulate it, and part of it is you need to be listening."
Although most Honor Code violations are brought by professors, students are charged with the responsibility of monitoring their peers. The Code requests that students either confront the perpetrator directly, talk to the professor, or seek the guidance of an Honor Advisor. Unfortunately, many people feel very uncomfortable confronting students about academic misconduct.
"You're talking about going against human nature in a lot of respects," Boyd said. "If you really are a leader, you do things that aren't within your nature sometimes because you know its the higher responsibility. Challenging students to step up to that plate is essential. We as an institute have a responsibility to continue to foster that kind of strength of character. I do think that's a learned skill. I don't think it comes out naturally."
"What I would love to see happen is if a student who is with another student knowing that they're collaborating inappropriately, for the student to say right then, 'This is not a good idea, this is a bad call.' If you do it there, then you don't have the cheating in the first place. The curve is not injured, everybody has a fair playing field, the grades truly reflect what actually has happened in that student's mind and in that classroom, and nobody has an injury on their record. Isn't that really what it's supposed to be about?"
"It's because we don't think in those phrases," Boyd continued. "We think that anything that [involves] confronting someone is hard. Sometimes confrontation is very good if it's done for the right reasons."
If grades for an exam are artificially high because one or more people cheated, then students who did not cheat are certainly at a disadvantage in a class graded on a curve. Some suggest this should serve as an effective motivation for honest students to confront cheaters. According to the Honor Code, confronting the perpetrator "is most likely to enact widespread change in attitude and behavior among students, because violators would understand that they are violating the trust of their peers and not some abstract body of people."
Boyd suggests that students who violate the Academic Honor Code may ultimately end up cheating themselves.
"You go into the real work world, and you're going to work as teams," Boyd said. "But coming to the team, you have to have a basic core level of skill, and unless you've learned those skills in your classes here, specifically, you're not going to be a valuable part of that team. You're just going to be perpetrating each other's mistakes."
Since Dean Boyd's arrival in July, she has heard almost one hundred Honor Code violations. When a student is charged with academic misconduct, he may either be tried by Dean Boyd alone, or by the Honor Committee, which is a panel composed of faculty and students. All but one offender has chosen to be tried by the Dean.
Boyd has high hopes for the future of the Honor Code: "I hope it becomes second nature. I hope it becomes part of the fabric of the community; that it will be an expectation you have for yourself. I hope that you see good examples and role models in your own student leaders and in your faculty and staff."
For this to take place, Honor Advisors say they will have to work more closely with faculty to increase communication between faculty and students, and also to improve awareness among the student body.
According to Byrd, the effort to instill the Honor Code into the fabric of the Tech community will be an ongoing project. "Changing the mindset is still something that we're going to have to do, and we're going to do it by all means possible."

The text of the Georgia Institute of Technology's Academic Honor Code can be found at Also available on the Georgia Tech Honor Web site are the names and e-mail addresses of the members of the Honor Advisory Council.

Honor Advisory Council
Melissa Byrd, Chair
Neil Arner
Koushik Chatterjee
James Clawson
Michael Dickey
David Durovy
Travis Hale
Mark McClain
Michael Mohseni
Andy Ozment
Molly Palmer
Laura Sassaman
David Skinner
Chris Young
Dean Gail DiSabatino, Advisor

Copyright © 1998 by Gregory S. Scherrer, Editor and by the Student Publications Board

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