Faculty Senate moves to allow exam proctoring, ending 102-year precedent by sidestepping student vote

April 28, 2023, 2:21 a.m.

Despite opposition from the Undergraduate Senate (UGS), the Faculty Senate unilaterally approved revisions to Stanford’s Honor Code on a divided vote that would allow exam proctoring. These changes, if upheld, would be implemented starting in the 2023-24 school year, allowing proctoring explicitly for the first time since 1921, when the Honor Code established that faculty are to maintain “confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring examinations.” The Faculty Senate’s move, dubbed the “nuclear option” by Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Sarah Church, marks the end to the over 100-year precedent of “shared governance” on academic integrity between Stanford faculty and students by sidestepping a student vote on the matter.

The Faculty Senate’s motion argued that “current mechanisms are insufficient to ensure the academic integrity of our degree programs” and was the justification for not following the same process used to pass the Committee of 12’s (C12) recommended changes. The motion does not mention the proposed Academic Integrity Working Group (AIWG) study, proposed by the C12, that would have investigated proctoring and its impacts before determining whether or not Stanford should implement the practice.

These actions come one day after the Undergraduate Senate (UGS) twice declined to green-light the C12’s recommended changes to existing policies in the Honor Code related to academic integrity, including the proposed study on proctoring. Despite UGS opposition to proctoring, the Faculty Senate’s motion updates the Honor Code to include the following clause, “To foster a climate of academic honesty, effective learning, and fair assessment, instructors have the right to engage in reasonable proctoring of in-person exams.”

This Faculty Senate’s revision will not go into effect if all stakeholders listed in the C12 — the UGS, Graduate Student Council (GSC), Board on Judicial Affairs (BJA), Faculty Senate and Stanford President — approve the C12’s proposed Honor Code edits, thereby approving of the AIWG study into proctoring and removing the Honor Code clause that bans proctoring, according to Faculty Senate members.

Either, the UGS must pass C12’s proposals, allowing for a formal study on proctoring through limited instances of the practice, or faculty members will be allowed to proctor beginning in September.

The C12 charter stated that all relevant parties (the BJA, both ASSU legislative bodies (GSC and UGS), the Faculty Senate and Stanford’s President) all had to approve any proposed revisions to the Honor Code for them to go into effect. The Faculty Senate, BJA and GSC all approved the C12’s revisions, and UGS was the only relevant party to not support the revisions. The Faculty Senate’s latest motion, introducing proctoring, was passed by their action alone and justified “on the authority of the Faculty Senate.” The motion sidesteps cooperation with student bodies entirely.

The Honor Code’s history

The Honor Code originated as a statement on academic integrity written by students in 1921 and has traditionally functioned as a shared agreement among students and faculty. It has been an “undertaking of the students individually and collectively,” according to the website of the Office of Community Standards. “The faculty on its part manifests its confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring,” it also reads.

Amid increasingly frequent reported instances of academic dishonesty — cited by the C12 to be 136 reported Honor Code violations in the 2018-19 academic year, 191 reported in 2019-20 and 391 reported in 2020-21 — Stanford formed the Committee of 10 (C10) in 2019, which faced unforeseen delays. C10 was then re-established as the C12 in 2022 to update the policies listed in the Honor Code, studying how violations of it are adjudicated and how sanctions are imposed. Of the 720 Honor Code violations filed in the last three years, two were student-reported.

But students have argued that the majority of Honor Code violations do not occur in the exam room, so proctoring is irrelevant, according to the C12’s aggregation of student feedback.

“So one argument that came from the students was that a majority of Honor Code violations didn’t occur during exams, and so proctoring isn’t relevant … This isn’t actually an objection to proctoring, though,” Grimmer said. “We often implement policies that solve only parts of the problem.”

When UGS twice voted against the C12’s recommended changes to the Honor Code, many members argued that undergraduate students did not support the implementation of proctoring. With the UGS’s rejection of the proposal, revisions to the Honor Code initially appeared to be dead in the water.

Student opposition to proctoring, in part, is rooted in its implications for campus culture more broadly. ASSU Executive President Darryl Thompson ’23 mentioned that many students have been “concerned about the implications of these changes to the way students interact with their faculty, the way they interact with their [TA] and the way they talk to each other.”

Indeed, the Faculty Senate, before voting on the C12’s proposals, acknowledged the UGS’s ‘no’ vote meant their vote would not approve the recommended changes, according to the charter. It was framed to senators by psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor Laura Roberts that passing the C12 recommendation was an opportunity for the Faculty Senate to keep C12 active, allowing UGS to reconsider their decision.

But, after the Faculty Senate approved, on a nearly unanimous vote, the updated language to the Honor Code through the C12’s process, mathematics professor Richard Taylor introduced a new motion with mechanical engineering professor Juan Santiago and political science professor Justin Grimmer that would sidestep the C12’s charter entirely and permit exam proctoring starting in the next academic year. The motion, which the Senate passed by a vote of 21-12, would “allow proctoring on exams on the authority of the Faculty Senate, at least until a broader agreement can be reached,” according to Taylor. “This won’t solve all our problems, but it will be a start,” he added.

Exam proctoring

Taylor’s motion divided the senate, with some faculty members arguing that the need for proctoring was too important to consider the wishes of students while others argued that changing the Honor Code without student input would sow distrust between students and faculty.

Thompson, speaking to the Faculty Senate, said that the student body has been divided on the prospect of proctoring. “However, what I’m not conflicted about is the lack of good faith that is portrayed by this motion,” he said.

Thompson said that approval of the motion presented by Taylor, Santiago and Grimmer would mean the Faculty Senate assuming a larger stake in the University’s shared governance structure. “[It] disenfranchises all undergraduate students and is a very dangerous precedent to set,” Thompson said.

UGS Faculty Senate Representatives Gurmenjit Bahia ’24 echoed Thompson’s criticism of the Faculty Senate’s unilateral course of action and expressed concern about possible implications that it holds for student say in University decision-making.

“I am just extremely disappointed and upset by the Faculty Senate’s decision to pass this amendment because it essentially corners us just because they disagree with us,” Bahia said after the meeting. “It also, unfortunately, demonstrates a disregard for undergraduate student voices and shared governance as it is a complete abuse of power.”

Church, speaking at the meeting, referred to the Faculty Senate’s decision to unilaterally modify the Honor Code as “the nuclear option,” as it sidestepped the C12’s process that required votes by both students and faculty. Church is not a voting member of the Faculty Senate.

Every candidate who ran this year for ASSU Executive President also expressed their opposition to in-person proctoring.

Taylor remarked that “[in] 1921 the faculty delegated authority in the conduct of examinations to the students, but this was a delegated authority.”

In 1955, the ASSU Honor Code Committee acknowledged the Honor Code as a privilege that students received from the faculty. “The faculty hold the prerogative to revoke the code at any time, if they feel it is not being handled properly,” Taylor said.

The currently operating charter is the Stanford Judicial Charter of 1997. The C12 has researched proctoring in addition to several other practices related to academic integrity in the last two years, leading up to its capstone proposal, although Stanford alumni have been advocating for reforms to the judicial process for at least a decade.

Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, the Faculty Senate unanimously approved the new Stanford Student Conduct Charter of 2023, which had been already approved by Stanford’s student-led governing bodies — UGS, GSC and BJA. The new charter outlines a multi-level review process, marked as a more restorative approach that pays particular attention to a student’s potential disciplinary history and broader context to their alleged violation of conduct policies.

A question of integrity

Several members of the Faculty Senate expressed concerns during the meeting about alleged instances of academic dishonesty. The C12, in its preliminary proposals and recommendations, cited recent data saying that there were increased violations from the 2018-19 to 2020-21 academic years.

“It is difficult to arrive at meaningful comparisons with the level of cheating at Stanford,” according to the C12 proposals. However, an example provided in the document said that scaling Princeton University’s 76 cases of academic dishonesty reported from 2017-22 would correspond to 100 cases at Stanford.

Stanford saw 614 Honor Code violations formally charged over a five-year period. The proposals document acknowledged that variability in charging thresholds for an alleged violation and rates of under-reporting on the part of faculty, reiterating the difficulty of comparison and analysis.

Professor of economics and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution Michael Boskin said that instances of academic dishonesty have taken place at numerous institutions in recent years and issues of academic dishonesty might relate to societal forces. “Maybe it’s technology, maybe it’s various types of stress that are going on in various ways that young people feel that they didn’t have before. Whatever it happens to be, but I think we’d be kidding ourselves. We think that it’s all something that happens at Stanford,” Boskin said.

The GSC passed the Honor Code and Judicial Charter proposals from the C12 in a near unanimous vote Tuesday. Following its vote of approval, the GSC issued a statement in support of the Faculty Senate taking action on academic integrity. The statement asked “the Faculty Senate, in this specific instance, to reclaim its authority over the Honor Code and pass this motion,” the statement read.

“Graduate students have been observing many issues with academic dishonesty and cheating – both inside the classroom in our teaching roles as teaching assitants [sic], in the national news, and even at the highest levels of this institution,” Lawrence Berg, a fourth-year chemistry Ph.D. student and member of the GSC, wrote in a statement to The Daily. “Stanford quite clearly has a problem with academic integrity.”

Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu expressed concerns about the Faculty Senate’s moral positioning on the Honor Code and the greater context of the academic stresses under which violations may occur. He said that he was “a little bit disturbed that the faculty is so holier than thou.”

“We have to fess up that we’re not perfect either, and we’ve broken trust,” he said referencing how he felt that faculty were disingenuous by giving midterms during eight weeks of the quarter and disregarded COVID-era academic rules to give quizzes when “exams” were not allowed.

Stanford differs from peer institutions such as Princeton and the University of Virginia — as mentioned by the C12 proposal document — in that it lacks a “student governance organization devoted solely to the Honor Code.” Princeton’s Undergraduate Honor Committee has both elected and appointed members, whereas the University of Virginia’s Honor Committee is entirely composed of elected students.

In addition, Stanford is one of the only universities among its peers that does not have proctored exams. Among the 23 institutions which responded to a C12 survey, only three did not have instructor proctoring of exams.

Despite a wide range of perspectives presented by the UGS and GSC, Thompson said, “Students want to be a part of what they create and not what they are forced or strong-armed to comply with.”

Matthew Turk ’24 served as the Chief Technology Officer for Vols. 262 and 263, as well as a Grind Managing Editor, Data Director and Desk Editor in News, among other roles for The Stanford Daily. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a minor in mathematics.Sebastian Strawser ‘26 is an Opinions contributor. He also writes for Humor and The Grind. His interests include political philosophy, capybaras and Filipino food. Contact Sebastian at sstrawser 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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