Discourse / Editorials / Honor Code Review / November 9, 2011

Response to ‘Opening Honor Code review process’

(The thoughts and opinions represented here are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of the other members on the Honor Code Review Committee. The statements herein made are also not to be interpreted as the committee’s official stance.)

How best can the Honor Code Review Committee (HCRC) serve? According to the committee’s charge, it is the committee’s job “to oversee the process of gathering relevant facts and opinions on the Knox College Honor Code, particularly from faculty and students, to assess the effectiveness of the Honor Code in advancing the value and practices of intellectual integrity within the student body.”

The committee is charged with documenting the Knox community’s relationship to intellectual integrity. This information permits one to gauge the effectiveness of one of the foundational pillars, which have structured the historical life of Knox College: The Honor Code.

The first challenge is getting people to talk. Perhaps this is how members of The Knox Student (TKS) have felt in attempting to obtain information from the committee? The main resource the committee was given to begin trying to understand trends, attitudes and ideas was a copy of the Academic Integrity Assessment Guide from The Center for Academic Integrity.

The guide puts forth Professor Donald L. McCabe, Professor of Organization Management at Rutger’s University. McCabe reportedly makes surveys aimed at collecting the types of data the committee is charged with obtaining. With evidence suggesting that surveys have been successful in the past, the committee has adopted a survey framework in response to the committee’s charge.

But this brings back the question: How can one best get people to talk? Psychology studies at Knox try their best to get people to talk. The emails sent out offer incentives with various rewards for participating in surveys: entry into a drawing, extra credit and cash.

Does the Review Committee use incentives to get people to take its survey? What incentives would be appropriate? Will such an attempt at making the survey appealing produce results representative of the entire community? In order to satisfy the charge, the committee is trying to find the best vehicle through which to promote the survey.

Putting aside the problem of participation, the question of content arises. Given the difficulty of getting people to participate in the first place, the committee needs to be sure to ask appropriate questions because a second opportunity for a broad survey seems unlikely. What then should the HCRC ask in its survey? The McCabe survey has suggested questions, but a general survey about academic integrity is not adequate for capturing a community’s relationship to academic integrity. The committee is currently in the midst of deciding questions to put forth in its survey by utilizing some of the suggested sources outlined in the committee’s charge.

In particular, the committee has had discussions with students who attended the Center for Academic Integrity’s International Conference on Academic Integrity, is examining redacted summaries of previous Honor Board cases, is meeting with current Honor Board members and is scheduling meetings with former President Roger Taylor and former Associate Dean Stephen Bailey. The aim of this research is to find out how things have happened in the past in an attempt to find out current opinions on those happenings.

To address directly the Oct. 27 Thoughts from the Embers, which appeared in TKS, the HCRC is still in the early stages of its charge. The committee doesn’t have any final reports, findings or suggestions for how the Honor Code might be changed because the committee is still in the planning stages. The committee is trying to figure out how to ask the Knox community what it thinks so that we can tell the Knox community what it thinks.

The committee is not aiming to be secretive in not talking to TKS; it just hasn’t yet gotten to the point where it has substantive things to offer. The decision to keep meetings closed at this time stems from the fact that the committee is currently in a beginning stage. Information obtained will be brought to the community.

Furthermore, having open meetings was seen as an obstacle to free discussion. The rationale is that in its discussions, the committee may say critical things or make critical judgments in trying out various ideas. Such statements are part of an exploratory endeavor and are not representative of what the committee will ultimately agree on. The wide distribution of such comments might prove to simply be inflammatory.

In closing, I think it is fantastic if students are interested in participating in the review of the Honor Code. I do not, however, see the Oct. 27 Thoughts from the Embers as constructive participation, but rather as a surface level criticism. In response, I would like to propose a challenge to the Knox community in general and TKS staff in particular:

Write about your thoughts on the Honor Code and academic integrity. What does it mean to you? Is it important? What role has it played for you? What do you think ought to be changed? Is the Honor Code effective in promoting the adoption of intellectual integrity into one’s values? Submit this essay to TKS or the HCRC.

I will write such an essay myself, and submit it in a future edition of TKS. If students are eager to have input, a reflection on one’s own thoughts is constructive and meaningful: it clarifies for oneself one’s own feelings and provides the HCRC with invaluable data so that it actually can report findings. Help the HCRC serve the community by putting forth your opinion instead of simply writing articles aimed at provocation.

Michael Kaminski

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