Stanford administrators defend Honor Code in wake of Harvard scandal

Oct. 3, 2012, 12:57 a.m.

While Harvard University struggles to address a cheating scandal involving as many as 125 undergraduates accused of dishonest collaboration in a single class, Stanford administrators have downplayed the incident’s impact to date on residential advising and the application of the University’s Honor Code.

The allegations of misconduct at Harvard stem from apparent similarities between some students’ answers on a take-home final exam, despite a stipulation that class students complete the assignment by themselves. Following further review, nearly half of the students enrolled in the class will be called before Harvard investigative hearings.

“This is unprecedented in its scope and magnitude,” said Jay Harris, Harvard’s dean of undergraduate education, to The New York Times.

While Stanford does attempt to discourage procedures that create temptations to violate the Honor Code, such as closed-book take-home exams or take-home exams subject to additional time constraints, University guidelines on the subject notably fail to address the issue of prohibiting collaboration among students on take-home exams, allegedly a gray area among Harvard students. Unlike Stanford, Harvard has no student Honor Code.

“Stanford faculty can and often do prohibit collaboration on take-home examinations,” wrote Associate Dean of Student Life Morris Graves in an email to The Daily.

Graves noted that the Honor Code encourages Stanford faculty to notify students of appropriate guidelines and policies prior to the submission of such assignments, thus hopefully diminishing the risk of student confusion.

Student advisors also emphasized the central role of the Honor Code in promoting adherence to academic expectations and disputed the immediate significance of the Harvard incident to Stanford.

“The Harvard scandal hasn’t affected the way in which Academic Directors advise students,” wrote Kirsti Copeland, director of residentially-based advising, in an email to The Daily. “Academic Directors have, for the last few years, made a point of referring to the Honor Code in their opening address to freshmen– this year was no exception.”

“Advisors also refer to the Honor Code when discussing study groups and collaborative work and the appropriate limits on both of those,” Copeland added.

Harvard students accused of cheating could be suspended for a year if found guilty, and some students under investigation have threatened legal action against the University for alleged misconduct in the University’s review of the charges.

A similar offense at Stanford would result in a standard sanction of a quarter’s suspension and 40 hours of community service, though Graves noted that judicial panels retain discretion to issue different punishments based on circumstances.

An investigation on the scale of the one undertaken at Harvard would also likely dwarf any other in Stanford’s history– and possibly the resources of the Office of Community Standards– though Graves insisted that due process would still be observed in any such incident.

“The core elements of our process are the same regardless of the number of responding students,” Graves said, asserting that accused students would retain all rights guaranteed by the 1997 Student Judicial Charter. “Each student’s case would be considered on its individual merits.”

Copeland emphasized that the University’s advising system extends to issues such as cheating, noting that many such incidents result from student stress or excessively burdensome course loads.

“Some students need to talk about a judicial suspension in relationship to how it affects their course planning or they want someone outside of Judicial Affairs to demystify what they can expect to happen,” Copeland said.

As Harvard’s investigation of the scandal continues, Stanford administrators framed the incident as a means of increasing student awareness of the Honor Code’s obligations.

“The situation at Harvard has raised the visibility of issues pertaining to academic integrity and this is a conversation we are eager to continue,” Graves said. “We hope this will be the first of many conversations this year and beyond.”

Marshall Watkins is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily, having previously worked as the paper's executive editor and as the managing editor of news. Marshall is a junior from London majoring in Economics, and can be reached at mtwatkins "at" stanford "dot" edu.

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