The Faculty Senate’s motion to permit proctoring next academic year, explained

May 22, 2023, 11:32 p.m.

At the Apr. 27 meeting of the Faculty Senate, mathematics professor Richard Taylor introduced a motion — alongside mechanical engineering professor Juan Santiago and political science professor Justin Grimmer — that would allow in-person proctoring starting in the 2023–24 academic year. If upheld, the motion would modify the Honor Code and explicitly allow proctoring at Stanford for the first time since 1921, when the Honor Code established that faculty shall maintain “confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring examinations.”

The motion is a departure from a 102-year-long precedent of “shared governance” on academic integrity issues between Stanford students and faculty — a move that was dubbed the “nuclear option” by Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Sarah Church.

The motion follows the Undergraduate Senate’s (UGS) initial rejection of proposed Honor Code changes, which the UGS has since doubled down on. The Graduate Student Council (GSC) has continued to support the motion.

The Faculty Senate’s motion, passed on a 21–12 vote, does not include the C12-recommended Academic Integrity Working Group (AIWG) study into proctoring that would have conditionally permitted the practice and only broadly permit proctoring after a two-to four-year period. The UGS deciding to vote in favor of the AIWG study would supersede the motion and stop proctoring from beginning in September.

The newly inaugurated UGS is set to reintroduce the Honor Code proposals and vote on them this coming Tuesday.

The Committee of 12 and the Academic Integrity Working Group

In 2019, the Judicial Charter Review Committee, also known as the C10, was tasked with looking into the question of whether the Fundamental Standard and the Honor Code were in need of updates or revisions. The C10’s work slowed down in 2020, in part due to disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before reorganizing as the Committee of 12 (C12), the C10 was poised to introduce its recommendations to the Faculty Senate in autumn 2021, but student objections to proctoring prompted the committee to request additional time to devise a solution that could take into account faculty concerns about academic integrity and student concerns around the perils of proctoring.

“The Stanford Honor Code is a privilege that was given to the students by the faculty in 1921,” according to an ASSU Honor Code Study Subcommittee statement published in The Daily on Feb. 4, 1955. Although this statement refers to “faculty” rather than the Faculty Senate — which would not be established for another 13 years — Taylor wrote that this distinction is “irrelevant,” in a statement to The Daily, adding that the Faculty Senate is empowered to act for the faculty.

“If the faculty is unhappy with a decision of the Faculty Senate, they can call a meeting of the whole Academic Council to reconsider the matter,” he wrote.

Taylor also noted that “proctoring is used by almost every university in the world, with a handful of exceptions,” which include Stanford University, Princeton University and the University of Virginia (UVA).

Among the 23 institutions which responded to the C12’s outreach, seven have an Honor Code: the University of California, Berkeley; the California Institute of Technology (Caltech); Harvard University; the University of California, Davis; the University of San Francisco; Princeton and UVA. Three of these — Caltech, Princeton and UVA — do not have instructor proctoring, although in recent years Caltech has incrementally shifted away from its former status quo in which proctoring was “strongly discouraged.”

Of the 720 Honor Code violations filed in the last three years at Stanford, two were student-reported, according to the recommendations document.

“It is widely recognized that the student reporting aspect of the Honor Code does not function as originally intended,” it read. “As recent examples: during 2018-19 there were 136 Honor Code violations reported of which 2 came from students, during 2019-20 there were 191 Honor Code violations reported of which 0 came from students, and during 2020-21 (remote instruction) there were 393 Honor Code violations reported of which 0 came from students.”

At Princeton, “a significant majority of all Honor Code violation cases arise from student reporting,” according to the C12’s findings, and for more than 40 years at UVA, there’s been a self-reporting system called “conscientious retraction” in which students can report on themselves before anyone else accuses them of a violation. “That idealistic approach is coupled with an extremely strong student culture of engagement with the Honor Code bearing little resemblance to the situation at Stanford,” the report read.

How do Faculty Senate motions work?

When a Faculty Senate motion is forthcoming, the Academic Secretary and the Associate Academic Secretary review said motion and determine whether it is to be introduced in a meeting. These decisions are based on an array of rules, statutes, legislation and precedent, according to Chair Kenneth Schultz M.A. ’93 Ph.D. ’96, political science professor. Sometimes, the Office of the General Counsel may also be consulted, which was the case for the motion of Taylor, Grimmer and Santiago.

An “extensive review” of the background of the Honor Code was conducted, Schultz wrote.

The shared governance model

The Honor Code was originally written by Stanford students in 1921 as a mutual agreement among students and faculty. It has been an “undertaking of the students individually and collectively,” according to the Office of Community Standards’s website.

“The faculty on its part manifests its confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring,” the website reads.

It was not until April 25, when the UGS twice struck down the C12’s proposals, that Taylor began to consider trying to get the Faculty Senate to act on its own authority.

“Time was very short — we had about 36 hours to agree the text of a motion and clear it with the leadership of the Faculty Senate,” he wrote in a statement to The Daily. “This was not easy.”

The Board of Judicial Affairs, both ASSU legislative bodies, the Faculty Senate and the President of Stanford must all approve any revisions to the Honor Code proposed by the C12 for them to go into effect, according to the C12’s charter.

“As far as I had thought about it at all, I guess I expected the C-12 proposal to pass,” Taylor wrote. “Only when I heard on the evening of April 25 that the UGS had overwhelmingly voted down the C-12 proposal on the Honor Code did I seriously consider trying to get the Faculty Senate to act on its own authority.”

Taylor wrote that he became more involved in the conversation around proctoring in mid-April, when the members of the C12 were asked to include in its proposal an “undergraduate veto” on any future change to the Honor Code, which he considered a “power grab by ASSU, to which it would be very unwise to agree.” Additionally, Taylor wrote, he was not sure that the Faculty Senate had the authority to enact such a plan, as he suspected it might contradict the Articles of Organization of the Academic Council.

So he looked deeper into the history of the Stanford Honor Code and contacted the C12 and Faculty Senate leadership. Ultimately, his insight from the research was that the revised C12 proposal explicitly needed approval from all stakeholders, including the UGS, which has repeatedly voted against recommendations brought by the AIWG, but there is no such rule in place regarding a proposed amendment to the Honor Code itself from another body.

Because of the Faculty Senate’s rules of operation, it is comparatively easier to propose a motion on a topic that’s already on the meeting agenda than to get a new topic added to the agenda. Since the C12 was already slated to present on April 27, a discussion of the Honor Code was already on the agenda, which meant for a “strong incentive” to propose the proctoring motion then and there, according to Taylor.

In the week following the April 27 Faculty Senate meeting, the GSC and UGS diverged as the former reaffirmed support for the C12’s Honor Code recommendations and the latter doubled down on its opposition. UGS co-chair Amira Dehmani ’24 called the Faculty Senate’s decision “disrespectful” and “incredibly flawed” during the latest UGS meeting.

Darryl Thompson ’23, ASSU Executive President at the time, was present at the Faculty Senate meeting when the motion took place and said, “Students want to be a part of what they create and not what they are forced or strong-armed to comply with.”

“Most of us come from institutions where [proctoring] is the norm and the expectation,” said  Lawrence Berg, fourth-year chemistry Ph.D. student and member of the GSC, in the same meeting. “I think as [the] Faculty Senate, it is within your purview to exercise your power at this point to enable your graduate students to do a proper job when helping educate the students here at Stanford.”

Jewish studies and Slavic languages professor Gabriella Safran acknowledged sentiments from the ASSU and agreed with Church, also calling the motion “a nuclear option.” She added that passing the motion would drive a deeper wedge between faculty and students.

Safran then spoke from her experiences studying in high school and college in countries outside of the U.S., which she said revealed to her that “in places where student culture has historically been highly oppositional to faculty, strict proctoring does not eliminate cheating … cheating becomes a challenge, in fact, an art form.”

UGS Faculty Senate Representative Gurmenjit Bahia ’24 said that the C12 offered an Honor Code that would allow for a study of proctoring, whereas the Faculty Senate was motioning to allow proctoring prematurely, beyond the intentions of the study and without oversight.

“We value our involvement and collaboration but find it unacceptable that our academic integrity is being questioned,” she said.

In passing the motion, Bahia said, the Faculty was “ignoring students” and “completely dismissing” the shared governance model. “The University prides itself in a shared governance model and has continued to ensure that students are included in decision making,” she said. “Such a change would completely obliterate the trust between faculty and us.”

“​​I think the UGS is unwilling to consider any changes to the Honor Code that include a removal of the prohibition on proctoring,” Berg wrote in a statement to The Daily. “The reasons given about issues with study design are inaccurate at best, and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the C12 proposal.”

Students who have not closely followed the intricate details of the C12 developments may not appreciate that the recommendations have been years in the making, Schultz wrote in a statement to The Daily. “The proposal to form the Academic Integrity Working Group was the result of a years-long process to forge such a compromise,” he wrote. “So a great deal of time, effort, and outreach, by a committee composed of faculty and students, went into this proposal before it came to the votes in the GSC, UGS, and Faculty Senate last month.”

A shifting landscape of academic integrity

While presenting the proctoring amendment, Taylor referenced senior exit surveys by The Harvard Crimson and The Daily Princetonian, which found that 20% to 30% of anonymous respondents admitted to some form of cheating on an assignment or exam during their undergraduate careers. He later wrote in an Op-Ed with Grimmer and Santiago that the status quo of cheating on exams at peer institutions and Stanford alike is “dire, and with the advent of new technology can be expected to get worse.”

“How torn many honest students must feel between doing the right and the wrong thing when they see the significant numbers of their classmates cheating,” Taylor said while introducing the proctoring amendment. “If we fail to take action, we’re sending the message we don’t really care and that we’re effectively encouraging this cheating.”

The professors used an example from an offering of CS 161: “Design and Analysis of Algorithms” last year in which almost a third of the 465 enrolled students retracted their 48-hour midterm exams, believing they might be found out for unpermitted collaboration.

This course’s midterm exam “turned out to be harder than expected,” Taylor, Grimmer and Santiago wrote, and was carried out as a 48-hour take-home. Subsequently, the instructors of CS 161 “heard that there was a lot of breaking of the rules,” according to computer science professor Moses Charikar Ph.D. ’00, who spoke on the matter at April 13’s Faculty Senate meeting.

In correspondence with the Office of Community Standards, Charikar offered students the opportunity to retract their midterms without further penalty — at which point 30% of students retracted them.

After the retractions, Charikar said, he solicited student opinions with an anonymous poll, “And some of them said, ‘You know, the exam was so difficult, … you guys created an undue temptation to cheat,’ and we were to blame.”

“Some wondered how we could be so naïve so as to assume that students would not cheat. And some students relieved their struggles with following the rules, while they were fully aware … their classmates were cheating,” Charikar said. “I do really worry about the students … whose moral compass actually prevents them from breaking the rules and they suffer.” 

The proctoring amendment

Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu — also a member of the Faculty Senate — wrote an Op-Ed in The Daily following the April 27 meeting, where he argued that the unilateral motion “blackmailed the Undergraduate Senate (UGS) into either accepting the C-12 proposal it had unanimously voted down or accepting the Faculty Senate resolution.”

He argued that this violated the principles upon which the Faculty Senate and Honor Code originated and expressed concern over “how ready many senators were to lump all undergraduates into one criminal class.”

Taylor acknowledged student concerns that proctors could disproportionately surveil students based on race or other characteristics of identity, due to unconscious bias or some other factor, noting that “this is something to which we should remain alert.”

However, he wrote that he personally did not see why faculty or graduate student proctors would be any more likely to exhibit these biases than undergraduates monitoring each other might.

In the C12’s research and correspondence with a handful of other universities, none detailed in its report examples of bias on the part of course staff.

What comes next?

The UGS meets this Tuesday and will reintroduce a vote on the C12 proposals. If they approve the C12 study, the C12’s version of the Honor Code — which allows proctoring only for researching exam conduct — will supersede the amended April 27 Honor Code motion — which would allow proctoring in general.

Berg wrote that he, as well as the GSC as a whole, remains open to compromises aside from just the C12 recommendations, but so far “the UGS has not produced any solutions to the presently ineffectual honor code system.”

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne is still considering the C12’s proposed proctoring study. Even in the event that Tessier-Lavigne approves, though, the study will not move forward without approval from the UGS.

Sebastian Strawser contributed reporting to this article.

Matthew Turk ’24 is a Data Director for The Stanford Daily and is majoring in computer science with a minor in mathematics. He has previously served as a desk editor in News, managing editor of The Grind and Chief Technology Officer. This past summer, he was a Software Engineering Intern at Apple. His novels, An Invincible Summer (2021) and Baba Yaga (2022), are in stores. Ask Matthew about astrophysics, football and the automotive industry. Contact him at mturk ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

Login or create an account