Possible changes to the Honor Code and the committee behind them

April 5, 2023, 11:03 p.m.

Stanford’s Honor Code was last updated in 1997, before computers and artificial intelligence resources were prevalently available to students. After calls for reform from the Stanford community, the Vice Provost for Student Affairs (VPSA) created the Committee of 12 (C12), a group of 12 Stanford-affiliated students, faculty and staff, to provide recommendations on the Honor Code, Judicial Charter and Process and Fundamental Standard based on the needs of students in the present day.

Originally created in 2019, the Committee of 10 (C10), composed of four students, four faculty and two staff voting members, was charged to update the Honor Code. Due to unforeseen delays, including the pandemic, a 2022 charge was made to re-establish the committee as the C12. C12 now consists of five students, five faculty and two staff voting members in an effort to “diversify representation, decrease the workload on individual committee members and increase flexibility.”

The change in personnel numbers arose from undergraduates feeling underrepresented with the original C10 during the pandemic. According to C12 student co-chair Jamie Fine, a sixth-year PhD student in Modern Thought and Literature who served as the non-voting Board of Judicial Affairs (BJA) liaison during C10’s charge, the original committee’s four student members consisted of two undergraduate and two graduate students. Now, the C12’s five full-time students include two undergraduate and three graduate students. However, concerns of representation remain from the committee continuing to have only two undergraduates when other Stanford community representatives increased in number with the overall growth in the committee size.

All members were selected by Nominations Commission (NomCom), a group of undergraduate and graduate students that appoints students to various university committees.

As C12’s work came to a conclusion during the Winter quarter of 2023, the committee prepared a handful of recommended amendments to the Honor Code. This list will be brought before the Board of Judicial Affairs (BJA), Undergraduate Senate (UGS), Graduate Student Council (GSC) and Faculty Senate for approval during the first two weeks of April before going to University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

Many of these recommendations emerged from ideas that came up in meetings with students, faculty and peer institutions over the past few years regarding the implementation and interpretation of the Honor Code, according to C12 member and Math Director of Undergraduate Studies Brian Conrad. The C12 compiled a large amount of potential recommendations, a list long enough such that “it’s not the case that all the recommendations [being made] are going to be put up for a vote this year,” Conrad said.

C12 hosted consistent office hours for the duration of the winter quarter to learn more about community members’ thoughts about the Honor Code. The committee also organized student focus groups to facilitate discussion about the Honor Code, judicial charter and process and Fundamental Standard in a group setting. Fine hosted all the focus groups and described them as “amazing.”

“They’re scheduled to be an hour long, [but] we’ve had focus groups go for two and a half hours with people really interested in sharing their thoughts, because these are conversations that don’t really have a place elsewhere right now,” Fine said. “And our hope is that maybe that’s a piece of Stanford culture that we can look towards changing.”

In addition to recommended changes to the Honor Code to reflect advanced technology and resources, C12 members have discussed the discrepancies between how Stanford and peer institutions report academic integrity. According to Conrad, cases at Stanford are summarized every year, but aren’t publicized.

“Speaking for myself, one of the recommendations is going to be that [academic integrity cases] should be publicized,” Conrad said. “If cheating is going on here, it should be something that’s public-facing… If these things are kept out of view, there’s less pressure to improve the situation.”

Proctoring is also a topic that is often disputed and is discussed in the Interpretations of the Honor Code. Currently, course instructors may not be present in the room during a written exam unless at the beginning of the exam time to distribute and explain the test, share extra information and answer questions infrequently throughout or collect exam papers at the conclusion of testing time. Instructors and teaching assistants are also allowed to enter the testing room if students report specific cheating incidents in order to investigate.

By having the Honor Code in tandem with un-proctored sit-down exams, Conrad said that “the basis for the Honor Code was [to have] student-reporting of peers, but this doesn’t happen.”

Alyna Lu ’26 said that the possibility of student-reporting, combined with student stresses about individual work, can dissuade students from cheating and facing scrutiny from peers in a visible space.

“I think everyone is just stressing about their own exam. They don’t have time to think about cheating or looking up information because we’re [often in] an auditorium where you see everyone and everyone sees you,” Lu said. “So that heightened sense of fear of if you cheat, that others are going to know, [bars cheating].”

Fine acknowledged the tension revolving around the topic of proctoring and student-reporting: “There’s a lot of question marks regarding why we would want a community culture [where] students are essentially being asked to snitch on each other. So I can say that what we are looking to recommend is not an immediate solution to that particular question, but instead, more research.”

As such research may reveal perspectives that oppose — and support — proctored exam environments, Lu said that she appreciates the feeling of autonomy drawn from unproctored exams and also advocates for its continuation. She said that the presence of instructors in examination rooms might heighten test anxiety so that some students aren’t able to perform to their full potential.

“I feel like at Stanford, a lot of our autonomy has been taken away in aspects of social life, [but] college is supposed to be a place where we’re allowed to become adults and experience that type of that adulthood,” Lu said. “So to add in proctoring, it feels like you’re putting us under strict surveillance and treating us like high school students [again].”

On the other hand, student concerns with the prevalence of cheating have led some to support the implementation of proctoring, since “there’s a lot of cheating at the school,” according to Austin Bennett ’25.

Personally, I don’t really see a downside to [proctoring], but I do think there are downsides to not having it,” Bennett said. “That being said, I’d like Stanford to explore options for reconciling [proctoring] with issues like [test anxiety].”

According to Conrad, C12’s primary goal is to find a balance between effective penalties that advocate for academic integrity prioritization and reasonable consideration for the immense pressure students may feel during exams.

“The fact is, just because somebody feels a lot of pressure is never a valid excuse to cheat,” Conrad said. “At the same time, there could still be the feeling that the playing field is not level within a given class and people can make mistakes that they regret right away, and the future of their life should not be completely distorted because they make some mistake.”

In the interest of leveling the playing field across departments, Bennett said that he advocates for greater standardization and clarity regarding how potential Honor Code violations are addressed.

“Some departments will report students without any kind of intermediate measure, which I don’t think is right. I think it’d be nice for instructors to have a conversation with accused students first, because sometimes it’s just a miscommunication,” Bennett said.

Bennett said that cheating is “toxic” to the Stanford community and should be addressed in a fair, standardized manner.

“Issues as cut and dry as cheating on a test should be reported,” Bennett said. “I think that a culture of cheating is fundamentally toxic to the university and puts students who are working hard in the classes at a severe disadvantage.”

Given the breadth of perspectives and views on the Honor Code, the C12 has also worked to bring in student voices by working closely with the BJA and UGS, according to UGS Co-Chairs Aden Beyene ’24 and Amira Dehmani ’24.

“Our goal as the UGS is to ensure the fairest path for students. We want to reduce stress while increasing support from faculty and university resources,” Beyene and Dehmani wrote. “We very much believe students should be met with grace and care and that there should be a holistic process when addressing instances of academic dishonesty with an ultimate goal of learning from mistakes and receiving the support needed to succeed.”

C12 has worked on garnering feedback from the Stanford community to understand what recommendations can be made to best address Honor Code concerns for students, faculty and staff. Through this recommendation process, the committee also hopes that discussions about the Honor Code can become more open among students and faculty alike.

“I would love for us to have policies and procedures that students believe in and they feel are actually going to serve them and are going to educate them in the ways that they want and need to be educated,” Fine said. “Rather than viewing them as either something to avoid or something to make fun of or ignore or more to the point something that they think is purely punitive. And I can say, as a student to other students, that this is much better than what we had before.”

Kelly Wang is the vol. 264 Music desk editor for the Arts & Life section. Contact Arts & Life at arts 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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