Schenectady County

College revives Honor Council to review cheating allegations

In our society, people charged with a crime have a right to a trial before a jury of their peers.

In our society, people charged with a crime have a right to a trial before a jury of their peers.

And now at Union College — for the first time in 87 years — students accused of academic dishonesty will go before an Honor Council of their fellow students.

The revival of the honor code this semester had its roots back in 2006, when a group of engineering students was accused of collaborating on an assignment, according to Robert Baker, Union’s William D. Williams professor of philosophy and director of Ethics Across the Curriculum. The students insisted that they weren’t cheating but honestly thought they were allowed to share materials.

They recommended that Union return to the honor code it dropped in the 1920s and send allegations of academic cheating before a student council for review, according to Baker.

The students concluded that such a council “would have understood that we didn’t intend to do anything wrong and we would have readily accepted any punishment given out,” Baker said.

Before, students accused of cheating would meet with the dean of students and the faculty member.

A committee of faculty and students was formed to look into the issue and made recommendations, which were then revised based on suggestions and ultimately backed by the student body. Both groups came to a common understanding of what constitutes cheating.

“If you’re going to have an honor code , it has to be something everybody agrees on,” he said.

Among the instances of cheating are plagiarism, such as stealing information from another paper and not attributing sources, according to Baker.

“Basically, representing something as your own, which is not,” he said. “The most egregious case is students buying papers and submitting it as their own work.”

Baker said faculty have strived to make their syllabi clearer with regard to academic honesty. “There’s a kind of social contract between the students and the faculty and that has to be based on trust,” he said. “When you cheat, you violate that trust.”

Barker said there isn’t a large amount of cheating at Union compared with larger institutions but estimated it is about 15 cases per trimester. “That’s too many,” he said.

Students who do not want to go before the Honor Council can instead choose to have a hearing with the dean of students.

Sophomore Chetna Prasad of Niskayuna, a member of the new Honor Council, said she believes it is a good idea to foster a sense of academic integrity among students.

“Students have more motivation to do their own work,” she said. “They’ll be judged by their peers rather than an adult giving them punishment.”

Senior Daniel Gnoutcheff of Rockland County said his father is a professor at Iona College. “He struggles a lot with plagiarism of his students,” he said.

Freshman Sabrina Kennedy of Topsfield, Mass., also liked the idea to instill the value in students doing their own work. However, she said ultimately it comes down to a student choice.

“If somebody’s going to cheat, they’re going to cheat. It’s more of a moral thing,” she said.

As part of the rollout of the new honor code , Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Laurence S. Rockefeller University professor of philosophy at Princeton University and author of the book ” Honor Code : How Moral Revolutions Happen,” spoke Thursday at the Nott Memorial.

In his talk, Appiah said that honor is about getting respect. However, in social circles, there is a tendency to just go along with the crowd.

“People want to be liked and disagreeing with a developed consensus makes you unlikable,” he said.

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