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Student Honor Council History

The University of Maryland pioneered the concept of “modified” honor codes—academic integrity systems that incorporate many elements of traditional honors codes, but involve closer collaboration and partnership with faculty members and administrators.

The impetus for Maryland’s honor code (the Code of Academic Integrity) came from students, including student members of the Board of Regents. Beginning in the early 1980s, student leaders expressed the view that Maryland should consider some kind of honor code. Administrators and faculty members were skeptical, arguing that Maryland lacked an honor code “tradition.” Eventually, in 1986, three student affairs administrators: William L. Thomas (Vice-President for Student Affairs), Richard Stimpson (Director of Residential Life) and Gary Pavela (Director of Student Conduct) traveled to the University of Virginia to study the Honor Code there. They concluded the Virginia Honor Code had many admirable qualities—especially in terms of student involvement—but that the “single sanction” of automatic expulsion distorted the fact-finding process in hearings, and was inconsistent with the University’s educational mission.

Later in 1986, Gary Pavela prepared the first draft of the Code of Academic Integrity. A description of the Code and early reaction to it was published in a front page story in the Sunday May 24, 1987 Baltimore Sun: “UM grappling publicly with 'honor code'” (written by staff correspondent Amy Goldstein):

University of Maryland administrators have dreamed up an unusual way to approach cheating. The basic idea, said Mr. Pavela who devised the plan, is to “change the culture on campus,” instilling pride in academic honesty. 
The strategy? To turn responsibility for handling cheaters over to students themselves.

Under the proposed “Code of Academic Integrity,” as the system would be called, the campus would create an all-student Honor Council with a variety of responsibilities, including presiding over . . . hearings into allegations of cheating.

The code, which is to be debated in the Campus Senate this fall and would require approval of the chancellor and the Board of Regents, contains some features of a traditional “honor code”—a system ingrained at U.S. military academies and the University of Virginia . . .

[S]o far, the [proposed] integrity code is being greeted enthusiastically. “I think it’s great,” said Dr. Arthur Levine, [president] of Bradford College, who is a former senior fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. While nearly 20 percent of U.S. Colleges and universities have some kind of honor code, he said, “there is nothing like this one.”

He praised both its reliance on students and its attempt to improve violators' sense of morality, instead of simply punishing them. “The notion of being able to work the ‘X’ grade off by studying ethical principles is wonderful,” he said.

In 1989 the Code of Academic Integrity was finally adopted by the University Senate, after review by four different Senate committees. Toby Linden, a graduate student in philosophy (and a graduate of Oxford University) was a key figure in encouraging adoption of the Code, and became the first Chair of the Student Honor Council in 1990.

The original Honor Council consisted of 25 members, holding the positions of Presiding Officers, Board Members, Review Officers, and Presenters. There was an Executive Board and three standing committees — Education, Public Relations, and By-laws. In 1993, after the Code was reauthorized by the University Senate, the Honor Council established the 'XF' Petition Review Committee.

In 1999, Rutgers University researcher Donald L. McCabe included the University of Maryland in an academic integrity survey of 2,100 students at 21 campuses across the United States. McCabe’s findings were published in the September-October 2000 issue of Change Magazine (McCabe and Pavela: “Some Good News About Academic Integrity,” p. 32):

We’ve shown on other occasions that schools with traditional academic honor codes have lower rates of academic dishonesty than schools without such codes . . . 
With a few notable exceptions, such as the University of Virginia, traditional academic honor codes are typically found at private schools with small to moderate enrollments. Conventional wisdom suggests it is more difficult to develop and nurture a strong sense of campus community at large universities—an important foundation upon which an honor code tradition can be built.

In their [1996] Change article [“What We Know About Cheating in College: Longitudinal Trends and Recent Developments”], however, McCabe and Trevino suggested that the modified honor code approach then being implemented at the University of Maryland at College Park might be a viable alternative for schools that feel a traditional academic honor code would not work on their campus. While the Maryland code lacks such traditional elements as unproctored exams and a non toleration clause, it mandates a major student role in the judicial system. Perhaps more importantly, it encourages significant student involvement in promoting academic integrity through such strategies as working with faculty to reduce student cheating, serving on judicial panels, and making presentations to their peers about the importance of integrity.

Interest in such approaches has grown significantly in the last five to 10 years, and elements of a modified code approach have been introduced on a number of campuses, including Kansas State University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Georgia. Also, the University of Minnesota faculty senate recently endorsed a modified code in response to concerns raised by incidents of cheating involving the school's men's basketball team.

While we strongly support this movement, until now, much of the data about the success of modified codes has been almost completely anecdotal. That changed this past fall, however, when three large state universities with modified honor codes Kansas State University, the University of California Davis, and the University of Maryland at College Park participated in a survey of academic integrity involving over 2,100 students on 21 campuses. This project, conducted under the auspices of the Center for Academic Integrity and funded by the John Templeton Foundation, included a cross section of schools one community college, seven state universities, and 13 private institutions. In addition to the modified codes at Kansas State, UC Davis, and Maryland, there were nine private institutions with academic honor codes (eight were traditional codes). The remaining nine schools did not employ any form of honor code.

The major finding of this new research was empirical confirmation of a relationship between modified honor codes and lower levels of student cheating, even on large campuses where student cheating is generally higher. While the survey showed cheating on the three large campuses with modified codes was more prevalent than on the smaller traditional honor code campuses (as prior research would predict), it was significantly less pronounced than the level found on campuses with no honor code.

Don McCabe elaborated upon his findings about the impact of Maryland’s Code of Academic Integrity in the following interview:

In 2001, building on the growing national reputation of Maryland’s Code of Academic Integrity, student leaders (including Osama Olabi, Mark Tosso, and David Klein) persuaded the Student Government Association and the University Senate to approve an “Honor Pledge”—a short statement students are asked to write and sign on assignments and exams affirming their commitment to the core value of academic integrity. See: 

The following year, John Zacker (Director, Student Conduct) and Honor Council Chair Andrew Canter played key roles in implementing the Honor Pledge. Andrew Canter also created the Honor Council web page, designed to become a national resource on academic integrity policies.

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