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Know when to hold 'em...

Once in a very great while, senior administrators will backtrack on a bad decision or policy. Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta opted not to proceed with construction of his West Campus plaza this summer, an embarrassing retreat but the right decision nonetheless. Last year, former Arts and Sciences chief William Chafe quietly began the process of shrinking the faculty after a decade of growth. It now appears Director of Dining Services Jim Wulforst is sticking it to ARAMARK Corp. after years of poor results.

These difficult--and, frankly, courageous--decisions suggest that although our administrators may be stubborn, they will not willfully waltz into disaster. Given that, why have the powers-that-be not yet abandoned the University"s biggest albatross, the Community Standard?

I have experienced a course in the full Community Standard style and can attest to the cheating it permits and, implicitly, encourages. In this course, the professor had students grade their own homework and left examinations unproctored. I did not witness cheating during exams--I was pretty involved with my own work at the time--but most of the class drastically exaggerated their homework results if they did the work at all. Everyone saw it, no one reported it.

My case is far from isolated. What would Vice Provost Judith Ruderman say to me and the countless other students who view the wanton application of the Community Standard as a guarantor of dishonesty? That Duke"s 300 bad seeds all happened to be enrolled in my chemistry class? No way.

Ruderman and other Community Standard proponents have seemingly ignored research that shows academic honesty to be primarily determined by situations, not fundamental personality attributes. The Hartshorne-May experiments of the 1920s administered a battery of aptitude tests to children, first in a proctored setting and then unmonitored at home. Since the tests were standardized, the researchers used the differences between the first and second tests to determine who cheated and by how much.

The results were startling and have informed educators for decades. Hartshorne and May discovered, unsurprisingly, that students tend to cheat quite a bit when given the opportunity. Their other major finding was that although there were some predictable patterns to the cheating, the differences between cohort groups were much smaller than expected. The researchers concluded that honesty was not a unified trait, but that it was very much dependent upon the type of material on the test, how it was administered and other contributing factors. Given the right circumstances, almost anyone could be a cheater.

So if academic dishonesty is primarily situationally derived, it follows that we should create an environment where students are encouraged to follow their better instincts. We should make it hard to cheat by having teachers grade homework and proctor exams, like they did before the Community Standard was implemented. Instead, perversely, our free-for-all system makes it difficult not to cheat.

The saving grace of the Community Standard is supposed to be the 'turn in your neighbor' system of policing. Um, okay. First of all, this doesn"t happen. It is excruciatingly difficult for most students, flies in the face of everything we are taught about not being a snitch and requires the reporting student to meddle unattractively in other people"s affairs. Second, the act of reporting drives a wedge through community bonds instead of forging stronger ones. The argument that a dishonest student does not deserve to be in the community is specious because, again, almost all of us have the capacity to cheat in the right situation.

In the face of sociological research and ever-growing anecdotal evidence of the Community Standard"s failure, the system"s advocates steadfastly point to the successful application of similar community pacts at schools like the University of Virginia and Washington & Lee University. Casting aside black marks like UVa"s well-publicized 2001 cheating scandal, let"s assume for a moment that those honor codes work. Who"s to say it wouldn"t work at Duke?

Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee, that"s who. These men, de facto deities at UVa and W & L, respectively, inspire a potent if somewhat ironic adulation from students at their schools. Their advocacy of honor and dignity provided the spark to epidemics of academic honesty at UVa and W & L, which have lasted longer than ordinary trends because of the timeless qualities of Jefferson and Lee and because the schools happen to emphasize tradition and continuity very heavily. Duke, lacking a beloved spiritual forebear and eschewing tradition for dynamism, will have trouble bringing its desired honesty trend to the tipping point.

It"s not easy to admit defeat, especially on something as hyped as the Community Standard. But it"s time to take a hard look at the system"s unintended consequences and bleak prospects and realize that our administration"s best intentions are pointing us in the wrong direction. It's time to fold "em.

Andrew Collins is a Trinity senior. His column appears Tuesdays.


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