Widgets Magazine


Cheats at Stanford? Blame the Honor Code

To the editor:

It’s not surprising to see Stanford students making headlines for academic dishonesty. The consensus seems be that this can be remedied with the Honor Code — either by making students more aware of it or by stricter enforcement. However, the Honor Code itself is the problem, and both students and faculty should be looking to reform it.

The Honor Code creates almost the perfect set of circumstances for cheating to flourish. First, it requires that teaching staff not police the behavior of hyper-competitive Stanford students, ensuring that the probability of being caught cheating is very low. Then, it imposes draconian punishments on those who are caught violating the Code — the first offense usually results in a one -quarter suspension, effectively deporting international students whose visas require them to be enrolled full-time. This means that very few students are willing to call attention to cheating they see, for fear of ruining a fellow student’s educational career. The Honor Code creates a lot of temptation to cheat and strong incentives not to report cheating.

Criminal justice research shows that punishment certainty is more important than severity for deterring bad behavior. Stanford needs a new Honor Code that understands this. First, we need to minimize the opportunities and temptation to cheat — exams should be proctored, homework changed each year and take-home tests discouraged. Second, we need to put in place a system for fast, proportionate punishment — a zero grade in the assignment for a first offence, for instance. Both reforms would increase the chance of cheaters getting reported, resulting in more cases of cheating but less actual cheating.

As it stands, the Honor Code only benefits careful cheaters and the faculty who encourage them by giving the same homework year after year. Let’s turn it into a document that makes Stanford a fairer and more honest university.

Sam Corbett-Davies, computer science Ph.D. ’19

Contact Sam Corbett-Davies at scorbett ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • Anon

    Author wants the school to treat us more like children…

  • farah2

    Do you really assert the problem is with the honor code, and the students who cheat? The cheating problem starts with the person. An honor code, in whatever form, is only a response to the problem.

  • anon

    Writing new assignments is incredibly time-consuming and makes it impossible to iteratively improve assignments year after year. We shouldn’t degrade the quality of our classes and assignments to make cheating marginally more difficult.

  • Vernon Cook

    I have always reminded my California State University students that Stanford students were among the elite [top 3%] of students on the West Coast. The academic environment, faculty, and institution is world class. Approximately 5-6 years ago I began reviewing research on multitasking and distracted Stanford students by a member of your faculty, Dr. Clifford Nass. I believe one conclusion of his research was that some sample of Stanford freshmen were simply too distracted to adequately focus on complex academic tasks. Consequently, they were failing courses in record numbers. There was even some discussion of remedial instruction. Dr. Nass initially attributed multitasking behaviors as the reason for poor academic performances. I assumed these behaviors did not begin at Stanford but were learned in high school. Recent frightening research suggests addictive electronic distractions begin as early as 2 years of age. The highly distracted student may have decided that cheating would be an adequate substitution [a compensation] for serious thinking and disciplined focus. You may have a multitasking addiction problem on campus. Maybe on many or most campuses. I am reminded that Dr. Nass died November 2, 2013.

  • bisbi

    That’s what professors are paid for. If they find it too time consuming I’m sure it will be fairly easy to give their position to someone else.

  • bisbi

    That’s what professors are paid for. If they find it too time consuming I’m sure it will be fairly easy to give their position to someone else.