Columbia considers implementing an honor code


Morningside Heights, NEW YORK—As one of only two Ivies without an honor code, Columbia is looking to implement one this fall for incoming students, hoping to foster a culture of academic integrity. According to the Columbia's current policy, students are forbidden to cheat. Steven Castellano, Academic Affairs representative to the Columbia College Student Council, explains that they’re looking to establish a standard that “unites” students and “creates the groundwork for the conversation on academic integrity.”

A column in the Columbia Spectator written by philosophy professor Christia Mercer says the conversation surrounding academic honor at Columbia was spearheaded by the Academic Task Force, part of the Columbia College Student Council. The main goal of the Academic Task Force is “to create a culture of academic integrity on campus that requires student involvement,” a goal Mercer considers vital.

Columbia University Library. Photo by Cori O'Connor.

“Right now, the burden of motivating honesty, educating students about what constitutes dishonesty and maintaining academic trust falls on instructors,” Mercer said in the Columbia Spectator. Mercer went on to explain that educating students about academic integrity wastes “precious classroom minutes.”

“I think right now people know what the rules are, but it’s about creating a culture and a discussion,” Castellano said. He gave discussing things like “academic shady situations” as an example of a conversation could result from this.

Marianna Reis, a grad student studying Middle Eastern, South Asia and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia, said that although she sees the value of the honor code, she's not sure how much of a difference it will actually make: "People are going to cheat and plagiarize whether an honor code exists or not." Reis explained that she would like to believe that the honor code will impact behavior, however, "having graded people's papers, plagiarism is rampant," Reis said.

The current draft of the Columbia honor calls students to “pledge to value [their] ideas and the ideas of others by honestly presenting [their] work, respecting authorship and striving not simply for answers but for deep understanding.”

By printing the honor code on blue books for tests, syllabuses and making it a part of convocation, Castellano hopes the new doctrine could become part of the Columbia experience.

“This isn’t so much reactionary but saying we don’t have this framework and it could enhance our experience,” Castellano said.

The King’s College community, strongly centered around its Honor Code, also sees the importance of having a set of standards that will hold people accountable, but holds students to embrace lives of integrity in all areas of life even beyond academics.

Eric Bennett, Vice President of Student Development at The King’s College, explained how the Honor Code is bigger than words on a page: “It’s the way we want to live together,” Bennett said. He also spoke of how his idea of honor is “rooted in Scripture” and is “part of the fabric of The King’s College.”

“I think it’s appropriate for a community to have a set of standards. The honor code is a respectable way for our school to uphold our chosen set of standards while encouraging students to take responsibility for themselves and their peers,” said Clara LeFever, president of the House of Susan B. Anthony.

According to The King’s College website, behavior at the college isn’t dictated by a list of "dos" and "don'ts" but instead “[the college believes] that honor leads to noble actions. [The college calls] members of the College to know what’s right, count the cost, and do what’s required.”