Columnist Conversations: Does the Honor Code Need Revision?


Recently, the Editorial Board suggested that the punishment for taking extra time on exams is too severe and that the punishment should be reduced to a zero on the exam and academic probation. Are there other aspects of the Honor Code that could use revision?

Kinnari: The biggest problem seems to be that we don’t know the Honor Code well enough. Perhaps I’m just speaking for myself, but I couldn’t tell you what the punishments for specific offenses are at all. I think most of us sign the pledge and do our work. So, realistically, I couldn’t tell you which aspects of the Honor Code need revision. It works in the sense that it is a deterrent to cheating. But if you were to ask me if the punishment seems to fit the crime under the new revisions, I would have to tell you that I didn’t even know new revisions were made. The Honor Code seems to work more as a looming blanket punishment.

Chelsea: I agree. Obviously, we are all expected to read the Rights, Rules, and Regulations to understand the Honor Code and I could tell you generally what constitutes cheating but I definitely don’t remember the specific details as to what gets the most severe punishment. I will say though that a year-long suspension for going a few seconds over time seems a bit much. In all honesty, you could be putting your name at the top of the page or writing out the Honor Code. I think there needs to be some sort of statement from the professor like, “You have two minutes to write any technical things and then you must put down your pens” rather than a simple, “Pens down.” And perhaps that happens more often than I think but I do believe it should be a uniform practice.

Kinnari: It would make sense to have everyone fill out the Honor Code before the exam begins, to make sure that everyone has the exam and that they write the simple line. That way you can do a definitive, “Pens down.” at the end. If you come in late, you can simply write the Honor Code in front of a TA or professor at the end of the exam. These are obvious policy fixes to exam-giving that would clear up any “possible confusion.” But I would also agree that a year long suspension for going a few seconds over time seems to be a bit much. The real problem is when students take minutes, as everyone else is handing in their exam, and continue to work. But again, we can’t even give students a few extra seconds because we wouldn’t know where to draw the line of cheating.

Becky: Though I do think it makes sense to lessen the punishment for writing over on an exam, my pragmatic side has to admit that I don’t think much will change if the Honor Committee revises this policy. Like you said Kinnari, many students aren’t familiar with the punishment as it currently stands, so they- and myself included before I read the Editorial- do not know that writing over time is a one-year suspension. I suspect that the revision (if it happens) will get momentary press and be quickly forgotten. Students will continue to squeak out a few extra seconds on exams. Do you guys think that teachers should be more strict about the time limit?

Kinnari: There is another major problem with the way the Honor Code works. It’s not enforced by the professors/TA’s themselves. And we as students are told that we are expected to turn in someone who we see taking extra time. Realistically, none of us are going to do this. Or at least most of us won’t, even if the punishment now seems to fit the crime. This should be the proctor’s responsibility to both know the punishments and enforce them. And, like Becky said, despite these changes we are still going to see students taking a few extra seconds here and there. This puts the person who has to enforce the Honor Code in a difficult position. Are they going to punish several more students than they otherwise would have for taking a few extra seconds? If you want students to really follow these rules, you need a better way to show them that this is going to be taken very seriously. But how can you show them that without, at least in the beginning, ending up with several students on academic probation?

Becky: This is where the Honor Code gets tricky. Because the point of the Honor Code is that students will police ourselves, but often at the end of the exam – when the proctor comes back in – the policing ends. We hand over responsibility to the proctor to enforce the ending time.

Chelsea: The Honor Code is predicated on the fact that students will do the right thing. And technically, the right thing includes handing the exam in on time. Unfortunately, I think students tend to have a looser definition of how “wrong” a few extra seconds is. The gray area is the problem. However, I would hate to suggest that we can’t bear the responsibility of taking exams without a proctor. The policy is something Princeton prides itself on.

Kinnari: True, but have you ever been in an exam where the professor or TA wasn’t there for the last minute to tell you that time was up? I haven’t. I’m alright with giving up that last minute and having someone in the room to enforce the rule rather than being told that I have to do it. But, again, I can’t see how a professor or TA would really be more comfortable reporting a student than I would for this offense.

Becky: I definitely am not advocating that proctors sit in for the whole exam. But I do think that proctors need to take more responsibility at the end of the exam. For example, in my Econ class it is made very clear that writing over on the exam will cost students points. A big deal was made of the policy in class which reminded people that (at least in this class) writing over on the exam would cost a certain amount of points per minute. I think teachers have the efficacy to decide how to punish writing over on an exam as long as it is consistent for all students taking their exam and the policy is explicit at the start.

Kinnari: Again, you fall into the problem of the gray area. How were students penalized? What separates being penalized for five minutes versus ten seconds? I agree that that would be a better solution, but the implementation of it is tricky and you run into the same sorts of problems. I’ve seen exams where you could take a deduction for an extra fifteen minutes or so, but is that where the problem lies?

Becky: If the teacher decides that 15 minutes is the absolute cutoff, lays out the policy clearly at the start, and enforces it strictly for all students I don’t see a problem with that. The problem isn’t that there is inconsistency between classes but within classes.



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