Jaggar DeMarco: Making the honor code part of GW culture

At the start of each semester, professors spend the first few minutes of class going over the syllabus. It’s a routine, almost an afterthought, that every student comes to expect.

But as GW raises its academic ambitions by hiring better faculty and recruiting smarter students, academic integrity should not be an afterthought, as it is in almost every syllabus. It should be front and center. The University should greet new students not only with hype about internships, research and student organizations, but also about a campus culture that exudes academic integrity.

Right now, we have work to do to build that culture. GW reached an all-time high of 145 cases of academic integrity violations last year – a 45 percent rise that The Hatchet reported in the fall. While there is a general understanding that cheating is unacceptable, beyond that, many students do not know the specifics of the Code of Academic Integrity, let alone whether or not we have one.

As administrators plan how to inform next year’s freshmen during Colonial Inauguration and Welcome Week, the University should consider some key changes that elevate academic integrity.

GW could, for example, follow the lead of Davidson College in North Carolina, where the honor code is an integral part of the college experience. Davidson has a two-paragraph pledge that covers everything from academic integrity to theft which students must sign before enrolling. This is a policy that GW should look to implement.

GW’s Code of Academic Integrity is long and drawn out, spanning 10 pages and five articles. Therefore, the meaning is lost on many students. The detailed set of rules and punishments may help curb cheating, but it’s not making enough of an impact.

Handing out a short, direct and concrete pledge in students’ first week at GW would help to build a culture of academic honesty on campus by etching those words into our minds as we start as Colonials.

Tim Terpstra, director of the Office of Academic Integrity, told me in an interview that schools with an integrity code have lower incidents of cheating. And research shows he’s right: Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University and a leading scholar in cheating, verifies this in his 2005 study, “Cheating among college and university students: A North American perspective.”

But McCabe also argues that students must feel some sense of ownership over the code. “It is the peer culture itself…that appears to be the most significant factor in influencing the level of academic dishonesty,” he wrote.

The honor code at Davidson is more than just a pledge – it is a larger part of the culture there.

A representative from the college’s Honor Council is assigned to each freshman hall to facilitate dialogue about academic integrity, and all students are given a book of detailed information about the honor code and Code of Responsibility.

The reason this works is because it engages students in a dialogue – which is not something GW does right now.

Administrators have tried to balance the entertainment of Welcome Week and Colonial Inauguration with a message that promotes academic excellence. But it hasn’t gone all the way toward demanding that students remain devoted to academic integrity.

In an effort to elevate his office’s visibility on campus, Terpstra has spoken to numerous students and faculty groups.

Unfortunately, academic integrity has not been a part of Colonial Inauguration programming in recent years. Terpstra told The Hatchet in an article last year that the University thought he was a “downer” at a time when students are supposed to gain enthusiasm about coming to the University.

And a pledge we all sign would expose students to the Office of Academic Integrity before even enrolling in courses.

There is no cure-all to cheating. But engaging students with the code from day one would be a way to prevent cheating going forward.

Jaggar DeMarco is a freshman majoring in political communication.

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