Survey kicks off honor code revival

First the good news: Cheating is a violation of their personal honor code, said 93 percent of Penn students who responded to a University Honor Council (UHC) survey on cheating.

Next, the bad news: Nearly half of respondents didn’t think that copying homework was cheating. And even worse, nearly 40 percent believed fabricating lab data was OK.

Hello-o. Fabricating lab data OK?

Not that Penn students are more benighted than anyone else. According to U.S. News & World Report (Nov. 22, 1999), in these days of instant computer copying, modern students aren’t sure of what is cheating and what isn’t.

Now for some more good news: The survey was one of several steps the UHC — run by and for students — has undertaken taken this year to reawaken student interest in and understanding of the University’s Code of Academic Integrity.

Spearheaded by UHC Chair Rikki Tanenbaum (C’01) and her predecessor, Kevin Hodges (W’00), all the behind-the-scenes hard work will soon start to show in a couple of ways:

a breezy, student-written “Guide to Academic Integrity,” for undergraduates; and

a workshop for freshmen at orientation on the honor code.

Here are some more reasons why these steps are needed, as shown by the survey:

Only six percent of respondents reported they were “very familiar” with the honor code. And nearly half said they had never read it at all.

When Tanenbaum arrived on campus her sophomore year after transferring from Haverford College, a school with a strong honor code, she joined the UHC only to find it short on energy. Hodges had great ideas, she said, but no people to effect them. But this year, she said, the two of them were “able to get things moving.”

They sought help from across the University. David Millar in Computing Security, for example, is helping with the orientation workshop. Career Services contributed to the guide with advice about resume honesty and the long-term effects of honor code violations on life after graduation. And Deputy Provost Peter Conn, who chairs the Academic Integrity Taskforce, is also assisting with the guide.

Tanenbaum herself is pretty modest about her own contributions to these changes, although she’s proud of the UHC as a whole. “I’m just a student and I’m new here so I’m hardly qaulified to do this,” she said.


Originally published on May 4, 2000