Editor’s Note-Contemporary Lawrence students, by and large, seem to take the Honor Code for granted. When values are taken for granted, they risk erosion. . This reprint, then, seems quite apropos as we revisit a student’s early, interesting objection to “the so-called honor system” and its formation.
Letter to the Editor from April 5, 1963
In a recent interview, Dean Venderbush revealed that the so-called honor system at Lawrence is not an honor system at all, but is really intended by faculty and administration to be a sort of police state wherein each student proctors every other student in the room.
Ever since its inception here, many students have felt that this “honor system” is really one big, all-inclusive system of spies on everyone else. Now, for the first time made public, a member of the administration has candidly admitted it to be exactly that.
The “honor system” was voted in last spring by the faculty without consulting total student opinion first. A brief check on other schools which have honor systems reveals that the catalogs of several of these schools specifically point out that their honor systems were formed by mutual action and consent between faculty and students.
More important than who instituted the honor system is the nature of the system itself. It is contradictory for the faculty and administration to call by the title of “honor system” a system which in principle denies any honor or integrity on the part of the student. Dean Vanderbush said that a student could not, under the “honor system” here, take an exam in an empty room, for other students must be present to proctor the one student!
At Lawrence college no honor or integrity is assumed by faculty and administration on the part of the student. The “honor system” here is a complete farce.
May I remind the faculty and administration that a real honor system at a college assumes first and foremost that every student has an inborn sense of honor to not cheat, plagiarize or give unauthorized aid, and that this sense of honor operates whether or not a teacher or another student is watching.
Second, it believes that if each student is put on his honor not to cheat in any fashion and all work and exams by him are accepted unquestioningly as being free of cheating, then the incidence of cheating in the college will not rise above its level under teacher proctoring.
There is an intangible something under a real honor system called honor spirit, a sort of esprit de corps among the students. This honor spirit, which is noticeably absent under the present Lawrence system, acts as a powerful deterrent to cheating in the following way. Neither the students nor anyone else spy on or “inform on” or proctor the students.
If by chance, rather than by design or intention, a student notices that another student has seriously cheated or plagiarized and feels that such behavior is unfair to the other students in the class, or endangers the effective continuance of the honor system, that student should, if honorable himself, talk with the offender about it, and give the latter a chance to confess the violation to the instructor or honor council.
If the offender doesn’t do so, the other student should report the violation. Penalties ranging up to suspension from college may be recommended for persons proven guilty, at the discretion of the honor council.
The present hateful honor pledges should be abolished, for they are unnecessary to a real honor system. In their place should be a continuing education of new students about what the honor spirit means, plus permanent signs on campus to remind students not to destroy the honor spirit by cheating.
If we want a real honor system at Lawrence next year, we must act now. Let us move with a concerted effort to abolish the self-contradictory “honor system” which has been foisted upon us, and let us, the students, carve out a real honor system which has honor in its principles as well as in its name.