Changes to honor system suggested by Faculty Senate

First-year students take the honor code pledge. (Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt needs to retool its honor system to adapt to an era in which unauthorized aid with schoolwork has become more of an issue than copying answers during a test, according to a report by a Faculty Senate committee.

Standards on plagiarism also should be clarified because of cultural changes among students who may consider information found on the Internet to be fair game and therefore fail to cite references properly, says the report by the Faculty Senate’s Student Life Committee.

“Our research indicates concern among faculty about the emergence of a campus culture that does not value or understand the honor code,” said Bobby Bodenheimer, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“Vanderbilt University can and should promote a positive culture of honor.”

The committee has released 28 recommendations based on three semesters of research and discussion led by professors Vanessa Beasley, Bobby Bodenheimer and Joy Calico. Their report is posted on the Faculty Senate website.

The first recommendation is to launch a website dedicated to the honor code to provide a central source where members of the Vanderbilt community can get a clear definition of the code and other resources, such as what to do when encountering a possible violation, information on the honor code process and links to the separate honor code websites maintained by the graduate and professional schools.

Once the site is launched, “the admissions process should be modified so that all admitted students must indicate their awareness of the honor system at Vanderbilt,” the report reads.

Among the other recommendations:

  • A paralegal to assist with fact finding in honor code cases;
  • The creation of a task force to explore how the honor code and academic integrity can be incorporated throughout a student’s career at Vanderbilt;
  • Rethinking the role of faculty in upholding the honor code and formulating a plan to involve them more in the process;
  • Giving incoming graduate students a tutorial on the honor code of their school;
  • Having members of the Faculty Senate assess progress on the honor system recommendations in two years.

Honor code verbiage currently focuses on punitive measures and processes, the report notes.

“The committee members were struck by a lack of language about living with honor and integrity as a member of our scholarly community,” the report reads. “The committee believes that the university needs to foster positive discourse about academic integrity.”