From the Community | The Faculty Senate’s shortsighted Honor Code power grab

Opinion by Kevin Li
May 1, 2023, 10:05 p.m.

I was somewhat disappointed when the Undergraduate Senate (UGS) declined to adopt the C-12’s well-considered Honor Code revisions, which would have allowed exam proctoring under the auspices of a study. As a five-time TA across three departments, I personally see no value to the Honor Code’s prohibition on proctoring. But my disappointment with the UGS was dwarfed by my dismay at the Faculty Senate’s unilateral action invoking the “nuclear option,” seizing full control over the Honor Code for itself and enacting an outright reversal of the proctoring prohibition rather than the C-12’s recommended study on proctoring. 

Prior to the Faculty Senate’s extraordinary action, judicial amendments required approval from the UGS, the Graduate Student Council, the Faculty Senate and the University President to enter into effect. This collaborative and co-decisional process between faculty and students is rare and precious among institutions of higher education. It reflects a commitment to act as collaborators in the broader academic project that we as teachers and learners partake in. Students should be able to trust when the University says student approval, through the UGS, is necessary for judicial amendments. Truly extraordinary circumstances that genuinely foreclose student input should be required as justification for the unilateral nuclear option — and surely, those circumstances do not include the mere continuation of policy that was originally approved by the faculty and has been in place for many decades.

The Honor Code begins by noting that: “The Honor Code is an undertaking of the students, individually and collectively.” It is the students’ individual and collective undertaking that gives the Honor Code more moral authority, and imposes on students more moral responsibility, than corresponding policies at other universities. The Faculty Senate’s action abandons this principle and transforms the Honor Code into an imposition of the faculty.

Stanford can do better, and has done better, than this. When I was part of a six-student team tasked by the Provost to research and recommend improvements to Stanford’s internal grievance processes, I had the honor of working with Stanford administrators and faculty who grappled thoughtfully and deliberately with difficult institutional design questions, even though it would have been easier to simply impose changes through administrative fiat. The Faculty Senate should consider taking the same thoughtful and deliberative approach, rather than rashly jettisoning decades of shared governance.

And if, as supporters of the Faculty Senate’s action acknowledge, “much cheating happens in settings other than in-class exams,” which are unaffected by proctoring, it becomes even more important for the faculty to maintain a trusting and collaborative working relationship with students to address cheating in those settings as well. Proctoring alone is not a panacea for the most significant Honor Code issues, and mutual trust will be necessary for sustained progress.

If the Faculty Senate believes (as I do) after dialogue and consideration that the UGS’s refusal to adopt the C-12’s recommendations was incorrect, it should have asked that the UGS submit the issue to a referendum or otherwise sought review from the student body. The exercise of the Faculty Senate’s extraordinary powers to strip the UGS of co-decisional authority over the Honor Code was a grossly coercive and illegitimate response to the UGS’s vote, and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth in the last quarter of my five years at Stanford. In the spirit of collaboration and shared governance, I urge the Faculty Senate to rescind its unilateral decision and reaffirm the precious co-governance principles that foster faculty-student collaboration. And if the Faculty Senate does its part, the UGS should too: voting to allow a study on proctoring will show the UGS’s sincere commitment to responsibly exercise its own shared governance functions.

Kevin Li ’22 is a coterminal master’s student in public policy in his fifth year at Stanford. He previously served as the student-at-large member of The Daily’s Board of Directors.

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