Stanford University has been implementing an honor system exam policy since 1921, where there are no proctors present during exams and the university trusts students to complete the exams without external assistance. This system is known as the “honor code” and has been in place for over a century.
According to Stanford’s official website, the honor code was created by students in 1921 and is an official declaration of academic integrity. The honor code represents a shared expectation among students and faculty to establish and maintain the highest standards of academic work.
Stanford University faculty members are seeking to change the university’s honor code, which includes the honor system exam policy, to address rampant academic misconduct on campus. However, undergraduate students at the university strongly oppose this proposal, especially the idea of restoring proctored exams.
On April 25th, the Stanford Undergraduate Senate voted against a proposed amendment to the honor code by a 12-person committee known as the C-12 group, which was tasked with evaluating the honor code and student arbitration procedures. The proposal required approval from five campus governing bodies, and the undergraduate senate was the only body that voted against it. The crux of the disagreement was the issue of proctors, with the proposal allowing the university to study the impact and effectiveness of proctors. According to a member of the senate, junior undergraduate Juan Becerra, the undergraduate senate strongly opposed the measure for various reasons.
Senate members feared that restoring proctored exams would lead to a campus culture of hostility and mistrust towards students. “This would create an atmosphere where students feel like cheaters or academically dishonest. We don’t want students to feel like they are under a looming shadow and be subject to invisible pressure,” said Becerra.
Undergraduate senators also expressed concern that unconscious biases could cause proctors to unfairly scrutinize Black and African American students.
However, supporters of the revision of the honor code believe that the above concerns are precisely why studying the proctoring system is necessary. They believe that this will help the university to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of stereotypes on proctoring and what measures can be taken to avoid it. Any decisions related to proctoring made after the study will also require approval from the same governing bodies as the C-12 proposal.
Lawrence Berg, a chemistry doctoral student in his fourth year who serves as an undergraduate teaching assistant and a member of the Graduate Student Council, said, “Undergraduates have raised reasonable concerns about potential issues with disadvantaged student groups and proctoring, and I think those are concerns worth addressing, but we won’t know the answers until we have research. I think the reality is that we need to do rigorous academic research to identify the root cause of these issues.”
Becerra disagrees. “I think it’s clear to anyone who has an eye that (the study) will inevitably lead to the implementation of proctoring. We just don’t want to see proctoring or anything related to it.”
After the undergraduate vote against the revised honor code, the ball was kicked back to the half-court of the Committee on Academic Policies and Services. The latter narrowly approved a proposal by math professor Taylor to allow teachers to begin proctoring from next semester, unless the Undergraduate Senate changes its vote to approve the revised honor code.
Teachers’ resolution means that students must agree to the school’s research on proctoring, or proctoring will be implemented starting next academic year! Some teachers refer to this move as a “nuclear button,” which has shocked members of the undergraduate student council and some faculty, who are deeply concerned about this apparent abandonment of shared governance over university affairs. However, members of the academic affairs committee have discovered that the teachers’ group’s revision of the honor code without consulting other bodies is not unprecedented.
Kenneth A. Schultz, the chair of the academic affairs committee and a political science professor, said, “The academic affairs office conducted extensive historical and legislative research to determine whether the teachers’ group has the authority to revise the honor code. In addition, the committee staff consulted the legal affairs office. Based on this, we concluded that the teachers’ group has this authority. In fact, the honor code was originally developed and adopted by the teachers’ group alone.”
The undergraduate student council members feel that their votes were meaningless and question why they were asked to vote in the first place. Lawrence Berg, a doctoral student in chemistry and a member of the undergraduate teaching assistant, said, “Undergraduates have raised reasonable concerns about vulnerable student groups and potential problems with proctoring; I think these issues are worth paying attention to, but we can’t know the answers without research. I think the reality is that we need rigorous academic research to get at the heart of these issues.” Beserra disagrees, saying, “I think any clear-eyed person can see [this research] will obviously lead to the implementation of proctoring. We just don’t want to see proctoring or anything related to it.”
Reevaluating the Academic Integrity Policy
In response to the evolving culture of academic misconduct on campus, in 2019, the C-12 Panel was tasked with advising on revisions to the Stanford Honor Code and the Student Arbitration Charter, first implemented in 1997.
Technology hasbecome more pervasive and diversified and Stanford and many other colleges and universities have been forced to reassesstheir academic integrity policies. Can students use Google when taking exams at home? To what extent can they use ChatGPT when writing papers? When so many workplaces rely on open source collaboration, does it make sense to ban group collaboration in the classroom?
Brian Conrad, a Stanford math professor who chairs the C-12 honor code subcommittee, “Not just Stanford; Across the United States, how to manage learning and academic integrity in the face of AI opportunities has also become a huge challenge.”
As one of the few colleges where the honor code still requires teachers to leave the exam room during student exams, Stanford faces unique challenges. While students are used to the lack of degrees of freedom given to invigilators, teachers believe that students have betrayed that faith; They point out that cheating in violation of the honor code and ignoring fellow students’ violations are rampant. The school said,Of the 720 Honor Code violations reported by Stanford in the 2018-2020 academic year, only two came from students.
Having witnessed so much cheating in class, Bogle, a chemistry PhD student, favours a return to proctoring.
He noted that “the current honor code is not respected by anyone – graduate students, faculty or undergraduates.” He argues that cheating has become “an integral part of school culture.”
Other colleges that ban proctoring are also dealing with similar requests to revise their honor codes – though not necessarily from faculty groups. At Middlebury, where the economics department has allowed proctoring since 2014, a recent editorial in the student newspaper called for an end to the honor code because it had little effect; In Middlebury College’s annual student survey, two-thirds of students admitted to violating the honor code.
Tower, a psychology professor at Randolph College in Virginia who has studied the honor codeAccording to Holly Tatum, students are less motivated to adhere to academic integrity than previous generations.Traditional rules, such as completing individual assignments separately. She noted that” I believe there is a cultural shift going on on campus that is changing the way students think about honor and integrity. I sometimes think of this as a generation of ‘collaborative work’ students.”
In December 2021, a survey of students by Higher Education Insider found that perceptions of using technology to complete assignments were very different from traditional standards of academic integrity. Nearly half (47%) of respondents said that byIt is completely or partially acceptable to look up homework or exam answers on the study site. 53% said the same about the answer to a Google search for homework. 17% of respondents said that online examsThe use of proscribed techniques or tools is either complete or partially acceptable, although the percentage is low but not negligible.
Stanford faculty groups and graduate students are eager to reach some sort of agreement with undergraduates to move forward with invigilation, rather than automatically starting in the fall semester. But at the moment it seems impossible. According to the minutes of last Tuesday’s meeting, the Undergraduate Senate did not vote on the proposed changes to the honor code. Instead, the members of the agencyreiterated the view that its Senate resolutions violated the principle of co-governance.
Members of the C-12 panel knew all along that the proposal would be difficult to pass. After all, its job is to “reach a compromise between five communities with diametrically opposed interests,” says Fein, a sixth-year doctoral student and co-chair of the theory of mechanisms.
The C-12 survey, which included extensive contact with students, teachers and other universities, showed resistance to the idea of resuming proctored exams, but the sentiment was not widespread. Less than half of the students they contacted expressed opposition to invigilation, but C-12 members stressed that they had not conducted scientific research.
In addition to the Undergraduate Senate’s view, the students noted that most honor code violations did not occur during the exam, making proctoring a relatively ineffective solution to cheating, according to the C-12’s final report released last month.
However, some students agreed with the invigilation, thinking that it would be more convenient for teachers or teaching assistants to be present during the examination. It also eliminates the responsibility of students to monitor each other during exams and gives students more opportunities to fight allegations of cheating.
Fein said feedback from the students and teachers is why C-12 recommends a survey of invigilators. “What we did,” she says, “
Other revisions to the Code of Honour include new texts and definitions aimed at clarifying theresponsibilities of students and professors, respectively.
The C-12 also proposes amajor overhaul of the rules – a new hierarchical model based on the severity of the violation, previous convictions and other factorsinstead of a so-called one-size-fits-all arbitration system whereby students go through the same process regardless of the alleged violation.