“The Community Standard is kind of like a dark prison tower–we don’t really know what it is, and we can never look inside the guardhouse [Conduct Board] to see who’s watching”.

A fellow student used this analogy in a philosophy class this week when describing Jeremy Bentham’s “Panopticon”: a model of how the most “efficient” prison would center around a single watchman in charge of observing all the inmates, whose quarters surround the guard tower in a circle. Bentham argued that this approach effectively regulated inmate behavior by leveraging the risk of getting caught to neutralize a prisoner’s likelihood of engaging in illicit activities.

Hearing a student apply this logic to the city-state of Duke University conjures up images of a single teacher watching over a class of 100 students taking an exam or a mysterious conduct board overseeing the student body. Better not cheat–someone’s watching.

But our classmate’s comparison misses the mark. The Community Standard might be an institution, but it is enforced by individuals. While Bentham’s “Panopticon” suggests that rules gain their legitimacy from fear, Honor Council hopes that the norms of our community draw their strength from accountability.

When discussing this dilemma in Council this week, members raised the opaque issue of academic collaboration, which is the driving force for academic misconduct cases nationwide, more than doubling at some peer institutions. Yet in many STEM courses with open problem sets, students are encouraged to collaborate. In fact, collaboration at its best can lead to increased learning, as students expand their knowledge by both teaching others and receiving feedback from other people who are going through the same learning process. Collaboration can also teach communication techniques useful in future professions, such as how to give credit to those who help you along the way.

So where does the line blur between collaboration and cheating? 

The answer to that question is based on whether we define learning as a form of questioning or a search for answers. Collaborative learning becomes detrimental when answers are given directly rather than teaching steps needed to arrive at a conclusion. For example, if two students are working together on homework and one needs clarification on the subject matter, such clarification may be beneficial for both parties. However, if checking homework turns into copying down the correct answer from a friend’s assignment in fear of getting a bad grade, then the sanctity of collaboration has been broken.

Parsing out these subtleties is difficult. Academic integrity has always been branded in terms of right and wrong, with most shying from blatant copy/paste to a cheating they believe they can justify. Imagine this scenario: you’re working on coding for a computer science class when your best friend asks to see your code. Theirs doesn’t seem to be working, and they fear it may be something as small as a punctuation placement error. Do you share your code? Part of this challenge stems from confusion about the rules, while the other half stems from what students consider a breach of loyalty to their friend. Does keeping this friend justify cheating on an assignment? This subversive thinking takes away from the very heart of academic integrity: a successful college campus where cheating itself is what breaks the norm of citizenship and virtue in the university. 

One misguidance in courses at Duke may be syllabi that simply hyperlink to the Community Standard without explaining why it’s important and how it can be contextualized to the subject at hand. We believe rhetoric should match reality when it comes to integrity on campus, which is why we’re working on trying to develop better resources and tools to better define the line between individual and collaborative work. But in the interim, all of us as individuals should be taking the initiative to fill in the gaps when we see them. That means asking professors about their personal policies, talking with peers about the importance of academic integrity, and truly taking ownership of the community standard.

Our greatest challenge remains apathy–the idea that “if it doesn’t hurt me, then it’s not my responsibility to stop it.” Passivity is fatal to systems of community enforcement–and it depends on all of us to abide by the Community Standard’s call to action–to “act if the Standard is compromised.” Integrity at Duke isn’t a “dark tower”; it’s a mirror where our actions as individuals are reflected on our institution.

So look around, let us know what you see, and join us as we work to change campus for the better.

Duke Honor Council's column runs on alternate Fridays.