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Reinvigorating the Community Standard

Over the past 10 months, a group of students, faculty and administrators has taken a closer look at Duke's Community Standard, examining whether or not our principles match our performance and searching for ways to strengthen the language of our young honor code.

An honor code, though not set in stone, is not to be tinkered with lightly. We were cognizant of the need to avoid making change for its own sake. Yet at the end of the day, after much debate, we agreed on two major points: first, that the language of the Standard itself needed sharpening; and second, that the language of the pledge needed strengthening.

In short, we could do better.

So we worked, consulted, paid attention and played wordsmith. The committee's efforts culminated in the creation of a revised Community Standard. Yet we understood that simply implementing the new code without publicly interrogating the changes would mean the committee had walked a mile while the community might have moved an inch.

Committee members therefore successfully lobbied the Duke Student Government to place the revised version as a referendum topic in the spring student government elections. Our hope is that such a public vetting will generate reflection about the revisions and acceptance of the changes.

The proposed new Duke Community Standard reads:

Duke University is a community dedicated to scholarship, leadership, and service and to the principles of honesty, fairness, respect, and accountability. Citizens of this community commit to reflect upon and uphold these principles in all academic and non-academic endeavors, and to protect and promote a culture of integrity.

To uphold the Duke Community Standard:

I will not lie, cheat, or steal in my academic endeavors;

I will conduct myself honorably in all my endeavors; and

I will act if the Standard is compromised.

The new Community Standard's greatest strength lies in its final bullet: Students pledge to act if the Standard is compromised. This addition to the pledge empowers students to build the community they wish to live in. This change builds on the Obligation to Act, a guiding document created last year that similarly empowered students to act when they witnessed academic integrity violations.

The final bullet, along with the Obligation to Act, gives the Standard considerable purchase and backbone. It grounds principles and values in everyday actions that may range from friends confronting one another about destructive decisions; a student speaking out in disagreement with a faculty member; a classmate approaching another, or an instructor, after witnessing a violation of academic integrity. Our hope is that such a menu of choices may make the obligation to act a more robust part of our culture.

Some questions you might be asking:

Let's talk process: Who was involved in these revisions?

The work was done by representatives from the Academic Integrity Council, Duke Student Government, Honor Council, Undergraduate Judicial Board and Kenan Institute for Ethics. Students paid a leading role in the process.

Is this related to the lacrosse incident or to the Campus Culture Initiative?

Lacrosse was a conversation starter, but little more. Out of that conversation grew a by a summer's worth of close examination. When committee members-mostly students-express some unhappiness with the summer's results, a smaller group comprised of mostly students sat down to rework and reevaluate the process.

This process was not part of the Campus Culture Initiative.

Do these revisions affect judicial policy?

No. The Duke Community Standard is a statement of values and principles; it can be violated by one's actions but those actions are not adjudicable unless they also violate judicial policy.

How is this version preferable to the current one?

Accountability and engagement, as underscored by the more prominent placement of the Obligation to Act within the pledge itself. This iteration of the Community Standard expects and encourages action in both academic and non-academic domains. More, it gives students the power to choose how and when they will respond to situations they find problematic.

What can we reasonably expect a change of wording to do?

The revised language starts us down the path of building a community of mutual accountability where principles become calls to action. The language suggests in broad strokes the kind of community we can hope for, but it will be our job-students, faculty and administrators alike-to make this a living document.

We hope that the editorial pages of The Chronicle and other forums will encourage discussion about this issue. Such debate, after all, is at the core of the revisions of the Community Standard and essential to what we have set out to achieve. Thank you.

Senior Jimmy Soni is vice president of academic affairs for Duke Student Government and co-chair of the Undergraduate Judicial Board. Judith Ruderman is vice provost for academic affairs and serves as chair of the Academic Integrity Council.


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