Say it’s 2 a.m. and you have a 10-page literary analysis due in seven hours. You haven’t read the book and haven’t slept. Browsing the Internet, you find that someone has written about this book before. Maybe you could just copy and paste and change a few words here and there. Don’t do it. Plagiarism is a violation of the Honor Code. Better to fail the assignment than go down that road.
The Stanford community has reason to be proud of the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard, which are policies that articulate our values as a university. Together, they create the Cardinal Code, which embodies the notion that we have obligations to each other and to the community as a whole to always strive to do the right thing.
But for all their virtues, the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard suffer from a woeful lack of familiarity among students and faculty. That was the conclusion of a committee that recently reviewed the Stanford judicial process. In their 2012 report, student, staff and faculty committee members lamented, “Our evidence shows that neither is as widely understood and valued by our students and faculty as it should be.”
I find that troubling. For ours to be a culture of integrity, all members of the university community must embrace the policies’ noble intents.
So I dedicated my New Student Orientation talk to freshmen and transfer students to explaining the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard, emphasizing why both have been Stanford mainstays for generations and how both have contributed to the University’s excellence.
I did so because I believe that by accepting our invitation to attend, all students agree to become part of something much bigger than themselves. Students of the past sustained this university so that those who followed could inherit the respect associated with a Stanford degree. For that respect to continue, today’s students must do their part as well.
That means embracing their responsibilities under the Honor Code, which was established in 1921 and written by students for students, and the Fundamental Standard, which was articulated by President David Starr Jordan in 1896. Both set standards for student conduct inside and outside the classroom.
The Fundamental Standard says, “Students at Stanford are expected to show both within and without the University such respect for order, morality, personal honor, and the rights of others as is demanded of good citizens.”
The Honor Code applies the Fundamental Standard to the classroom, expressing our commitment to academic integrity. On the one hand, students pledge not to give or receive unpermitted aid or to present someone else’s work as their own. They also agree to ensure that others uphold this standard. In return, the faculty agrees to trust in the integrity and honesty of their students, until that trust is unwarranted.
Understanding the policies is one thing. Living by them is another. It can be hard. Say you’re taking a final. As required by the Honor Code, your professor has left the room. You are writing furiously, but you look up from your blue book long enough to see another student looking at notes on an iPhone. You know the professor prohibited electronic devices from the test site. It is your job to tell the professor what you saw.
Neither plagiarism as reflected in my first example nor unpermitted aid described in the second is victimless. Cheating wounds the perpetrator and poisons the culture. Moral courage isn’t easy. But the only way to ensure the efficacy of the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard is if we all take responsibility for them.
But there’s more to the Cardinal Code. We must also recognize that we are partners in the Stanford experience. Partners watch out for one another. They help each other succeed and take pleasure in each other’s success. Sometimes they save friends when they do something they’ll be sorry about in the morning.
Socrates once said, “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of– for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it, you may easily preserve it; but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”
Guard your good name and that of Stanford and take care of one another. That’s how you live by the Cardinal Code.
John Etchemendy Ph.D ’82 is provost of Stanford University