The Graduate Student Council (GSC) voted in favor of a revised version of the Honor Code on Wednesday, bringing the document one step closer to implementation. Despite its ultimate approval, disagreements over a key revision that would permit the proctoring of exams, as well as the details of the code’s approval procedure, sparked a heated debate between councilors.
The new Honor Code is the result of almost two years of work by the Committee of 10 (C-10), a group of 10 community members charged by the University with re-examining the University’s judicial processes, the Honor Code and the Fundamental Standard. The revised code received seven “yes” votes, three “no” votes and one abstention. Now that it has been approved by the GSC and the Board of Judicial Affairs (BJA), the Honor Code will likely face a vote in the Faculty Senate and Undergraduate Senate (UGS) before ultimately reaching the President. If approved, the changes would mark the first revision of the Honor Code since 1977.
The proposal comes at a time of increased scrutiny of the Honor Code at Stanford. Over the past academic year, documented cheating soared across the University.
According to fourth-year Ph.D. student Jamie Fine, a GSC councilor and member of the C-10, the Honor Code “has taken priority for us, specifically in light of the virtual learning we’ve been doing and the fact that our Honor Code is insanely outdated.”
Historically, the Honor Code has expressly prohibited professors, lecturers and teaching assistants (TAs) from proctoring exams. But the revised document removes the aforementioned clause, instead stating that “assessments may be proctored to maintain the integrity of the academic process,” while also urging faculty to avoid “unusual or unreasonable precautions” to prevent dishonesty in the classroom.
Some students are concerned that such a policy reversal could harm the culture of trust and independence at Stanford.
“What the original text of the Honor Code does is set up an exchange of expectations between the University and students, where the University treats students as adults who are expected to maintain their personal responsibility, their integrity, their academic honor — and in exchange, students say that they’re going to uphold that honor,” GSC councilor Tim Vrakas ’21 M.S. ’22 said, contending that allowing instructors to proctor exams “undercuts the very concept of an honor code.”
But in Fine’s view, relying on students to hold themselves accountable is part of a “broken system” at Stanford. As it stands, the Honor Code relies on students to report any violations of academic integrity not identified by the faculty and staff who review exams and assignments. Placing that responsibility on students may discourage some from reporting cheating for fear of “ratting out” their peers, Fine said.
According to Fine, approximately 77% of student respondents included in focus groups and surveys conducted by the C-10 have indicated that they would like classes to have the option for proctored exams.
“Part of Stanford’s responsibility, as you’ve already pointed out, is to prepare conscientious people to be contributing members of the larger body politic upon graduation, and hopefully before then,” Fine said. “Not having any open conversation about it, not having anybody overseeing in any capacity how these exams have happened — they have been experiences that we’re seeing failing.”
In the lead-up and aftermath of the vote, Vrakas also raised questions about the transparency of the approval process of the proposed Honor Code. During the meeting, Fine said that the charge requires the approval of only one of the two student legislative bodies to move forward; Vrakas said that by voting on the Honor Code now, the GSC could render the UGS nearly powerless.
“It seems pretty significant to me — the risk that if the Undergraduate Senate voted not to approve this, that the President would decide to make it go into effect,” Vrakas said.
Fine responded that the C-10 is committed to taking the Honor Code to a vote in the UGS and soliciting feedback, but said that there is theoretically a possibility that the change could go into effect without the approval of the UGS. The original charge, however, may contradict this assertion, stating that revisions to the Honor Code should follow the same process as judicial amendments, which “go into effect immediately upon approval by the [UGS], the [GSC], the Senate of the Academic Council, and the President of the University.”
Vrakas also raised concerns about an apparent lack of undergraduates on the C-10. The undergraduate students who were formerly on the C-10 have graduated and left the committee, and their roles have not been formally filled because students are currently out of term.
Vrakas said he is concerned that the proposal’s timing may have resulted in a lack of meaningful undergraduate input — especially for a policy that has “the potential to harm a bunch of undergraduates,” he said.
Fine, however, refuted Vrakas’s claims, adding that there are undergraduates on the BJA and that the C-10 has reached out to undergraduate student leaders for feedback on the proposed changes.
The Faculty Senate is now considering the revised Honor Code and is expected to hold a similar vote within the next two weeks.
Councilors and other members of the student body spoke at length with representatives from Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) and UG2 leadership about students’ problems with the new package and mail delivery system.
At the beginning of September, the University transitioned from its former FedEx contract to a new partnership with UG2 — a facility services company that currently operates custodial services at Stanford — to handle mail and deliveries for students. The switch followed a long series of complaints from Escondido Village Graduate Residences (EVGR) residents, who have previously reported a myriad of problems with deliveries.
According to R&DE, flat mail will now be delivered to mailboxes within EVGR buildings. Packages will be brought to a locker system within each building’s mailroom and accompanied by an email updating the recipient that the package has arrived.
But some graduate students are still reporting problems with the delivery system.
Delaney Miller, a fourth-year Ph.D. student and the head community associate for EVGR-D, said that multiple residents have received inconsistent instructions about where they can pick up large packages, and are not receiving email notifications when their packages arrive. Miller, who personally relies on the delivery of perishable medication, also spoke about her struggles with receiving packages.
“I had to send three emails to UG2 to track down this medication — and that was 24 hours after it arrived, so the ice packs were lukewarm,” Miller said. “That’s a really terrifying experience for me, because my life depends on this medication.”
Jose Abrams, the account director at UG2, informed meeting attendees that UG2 is aware of the problems with the email notification structure, and said that once its messaging system receives the necessary “internal approvals” in the coming weeks, the issue should be resolved.
In the meantime, R&DE plans to send a message to residents about what changes they should expect and when, according to Student Housing Operations Director Imogen Hinds. Hinds encouraged GSC councilors and those in attendance to share input on the messaging to the student body while R&DE finalizes the changes.