Every Fall, a new group of freshmen is newly introduced to the three-point Duke Community Standard that, by their very matriculation into the University, they have agreed to uphold. Yet survey data from 2011 suggests that a significant number of Duke undergraduates are dishonest in their academic endeavors.
In March 2012, the Academic Integrity Council and the Kenan Institute for Ethics reported that, although the rate of flagrant cheating has dropped significantly since the last survey in 2005, there has been a 15 to 20 percent increase in unauthorized collaboration which put Duke behind other honor-code schools and on par with non-honor code schools.
We pondered whether the sloppy implementation of collaborative assessment could be to blame. But we also believe the large gap between honor code ideal and actual student practice can be explained by a more important reason: Students, the key stakeholders in issues related to academic honesty, have not played – or been allowed to play – a large enough role in the policy-formation and adjudication process, eroding the overall culture of honor.
In recent years, the Duke University Honor Council has experimented with essay contests and new slogans—YBTT) to get students excited about honor. The success of these initiatives begs the question on even on their own merits: Do most students even know the three stipulations of the Community Standard? The Honor Council’s very goal of “marketing” the Community Standard is ultimately misguided. A culture of honor at Duke requires structural changes in the honor system, not a snazzier marketing pitch for the current system.
The University of Virginia and Davidson College are two schools where student-led honor systems have led to substantial student buy-in. At both schools, powerful and high-profile student Honor Councils spearhead awareness campaigns and the actual adjudication. At Davidson, this has facilitated the allowance of self-proctored final exams – a convenience afforded from one peer to another as a sign of trust.
Duke, where honor is currently more a top-down than peer-to-peer matter, should align itself more with this model. At present, only 10 percent of cases brought to the Office of Student Conduct are passed on to the Undergraduate Conduct Board, which is separate from the Honor Council. First, the latter two organizations should be merged into single entity, and undergraduates should have a larger role in the adjudication process that directly concerns their peers. Second, all cases should go before panels composed at least partially of students selected from the student body at large for “jury duty.” Other ways of engaging students in the ethics of campus life include referendums on rule changes and educating them on the lesser-known but more concrete Duke Community Standard in Practice. In addition, this newly potent honor body should be elected by the students as to be accountable to and representative of its stakeholders. It is worth remembering that the Community Standard originated with Duke Student Government, itself an elected body.
As the experiences of peer universities have shown, students given trust are more capable of being trustworthy. Once students feel true ownership over the honor system, signing their name under that Community Standard will finally carry the appropriate weight.