Past, present, and future all converge today on Founders’ Day, as we remember the Duke family’s role in our university’s origins while ushering in a new era under the leadership of President Price. Anniversaries such as these are quirks of the human imagination–we remember a past that we’ve never experienced, while collectively celebrating a future that has yet to arrive. 

Even as we authored a new chapter of Duke’s history through yesterday’s inauguration, the only words most of us will remember writing this week will be the answers to our midterm exams. Even as we are told to remember the roots of our institution’s past, what we really want to recall is the complex physics formula for a test that seems so crucial to our individual future. After all, for students, history is a major, not a moral reminder–which is why it’s so easy for the present to supersede the past. 

For that reason, today’s column is about “foundations” rather than “founders.” Our campus’ physical foundations have certainly evolved over the years, from Gothic stone (West) to Georgian brick (East) to architectural accidents (Central) and to the glass-paneled modern day (Vondy). Likewise, our ethical foundations have also been rebuilt with the passing of time, with the memories of our codes of conduct old enough to be forgotten but young enough to keep coming back. Today, we’d like to celebrate a specific cornerstone of our campus’s history – the Community Standard

Unlike other “foundations” at Duke, the Community Standard doesn’t have a named “founder.” It’s a community creation (hence the name)–one proposed, and later revised, by us. All first-years should know it by now, having signed it at O-Week and at the top of their first midterm exams. Hopefully faculty inscribed it into their syllabi and discussed it during the first day of classes. And for the rest of us, integrity by now should be a routine. 

And that’s the problem. 

Morals, like memories, are malleable. We remember the world, and ourselves, the way we want to–as good, honest people. It’s easy to get tired of the moralizing message of “don’t cheat.” Duke students don’t cut corners–we work hard. Duke students don’t lie or steal–we build each other up. And as a general rule, we are in the right for these black-and-whites of good-and-bad. But life, especially in a school, is messy, and the data tells us a different story. 

Nearly a third of students report acting dishonestly in the classroom. The primary culprit appears to be unauthorized collaboration–with the number of students entering the gray area between individual and group work increasing by 20 percent. This challenge isn’t unique to our university. For example, the “Duke of the North” experienced a doubling in misconduct cases associated with “inappropriate collaboration” last year. 

In situations like these, there are two possible explanations. The first is behavioral: students, for whatever reason–whether it’s the stress of competition, the convergence of multiple deadlines, or (hopefully not) malicious intent–are pushed to cross ethical lines. The second is structural: systems of learning might be outdated from how education occurs in practice today (e.g., more technical, more group-based). Addressing the first begins with each of us–thinking critically about what we’re doing and why. Resolving the second starts through conversations–like the ongoing dialogue in the Computer Science Department about the best way to orient students around process rather than outcomes. 

On the Honor Council, we’re working to parse out the subtleties of this cause and effect. We hope our programs, from “Integrity Week” to speaker series to Faculty-in-Residence Nights, can help remind all of us about our community’s ethical foundations. We also hope that our policy work with Duke Student Government and administrators can help correct flaws in our current system–because communities begin with individuals, and at Duke, we create our own codes of conduct. 

We don’t hold all the answers–in part because ethics, like education, is not an endpoint. But as summer fades to fall and the long night of midterms begins, we hope that the memories sparked by Founders Day can serve as a reminder of a different kind of foundation at Duke–one set by students rather than developed by donors. The onus is on us to make integrity a tradition worth celebrating.

Duke Honor Council's column runs on alternate Fridays.