Cheating meets its match


Photo by Candace diCarlo


Let’s get things straight up front: Rikki Tannenbaum (C’01) is no tool. All she wants to do is make honesty cool.

“I was no honor code avenger type,” said the political science major and president of the University Honor Council. “I just came at a time when the Honor Council was latent, and thought it would be a fun activity to revitalize it.”

And revitalize it she has, taking it from its low-profile status during her sophomore year to a high level of visibility this year, as evidenced by the recently-
concluded Academic Integrity Week.

Tannenbaum had transferred from Haverford College — a small school with a strong honor code — to Penn in her sophomore year and was shopping around for an interesting extracurricular activity. She found the Honor Council, which she described as “a group of juniors and seniors who had been on [the board] a long time, and they would just sit around and pontificate.”

So she and a group of students she helped recruit set out to change that by getting involved. “We had to pretend that the Honor Council was a viable entity, so we put on our power suits and took ourselves seriously.”

They also made some serious proposals, such as one to the provost suggesting the creation of an Academic Integrity Task Force, and launched some serious educational efforts, such as a guide distributed to incoming freshmen during New Student Orientation.
The efforts paid off. Now, the Honor Council is a 25-member body that plays a major role in raising awareness of academic integrity on campus. “We created this renaissance by marketing the hell out of the product,” she said. (For an example of how they marketed honesty, see “Ethics,” page 3.)

What the Honor Council does is educate students about ethics and compile information about honesty and cheating on campus. What it does not do is discipline students who cheat. That is left up to the Office of Student Conduct (OSC), which does name two Honor Council members to disciplinary panels in academic-integrity cases.

The Honor Council also contributes members to disciplinary panels that hear violations of the Code of Student Conduct, a role it took on when it assumed the duties of the University Conduct Council, which never got off the ground when in was created in 1995.

Tannenbaum, who hails from Dix Hills, N.Y., on Long Island, notes that cheating does take place at Penn, but the problem is no worse here than at other large schools. A survey the Honor Council conducted last year showed that the incidence of cheating at Penn is in line with national trends and that faculty are reluctant to report violations of the Code of Academic Integrity to the OSC.

Academic Integrity Week is an effort to fix those problems, as were the programs on academic integrity the council ran during this year’s orientation.

If the efforts have not yet reduced the frequency of cheating on campus, they have put Penn on the map as a school that takes the issue seriously. “We are a thought leader on the issue,” she said.

And that role will be acknowledged on a national level this month when Tannenbaum delivers the keynote address at the National Student Conference on Academic Integrity in Colorado Springs, Colo. She’s looking forward to the trip, but not the speech. “What’s really ironic about this is I loathe public speaking.”

Originally published on November 9, 2000