Community Standards office director reflects on her first year at Stanford

The Honor Code articulates Stanford's expectations of students and faculty in establishing and maintaining the highest standards in academic work.

L.A. Cicero Susan Fleischmann

In her job as director of Stanford's Office of Community Standards, Susan Fleischmann seeks to improve understanding of the Honor Code among students and faculty.

Since her arrival at Stanford a year ago, Susan Fleischmann, associate dean of student life and director of the Office of Community Standards (OCS), has been talking to students and faculty members about the Honor Code.

She has focused on outreach and collaboration to improve student understanding and communication, and to determine how her office can work with faculty more effectively. As part of that outreach, the Board on Judicial Affairs, a 15-member committee composed of students, faculty and staff, in May hosted an open forum, "The Honor Code in the 21st Century." 

The OCS, which is part of Student Affairs, administers the student conduct system through which alleged violations of the Honor Code – as well as the Fundamental Standard, which sets the standard for student conduct – are heard.

At Stanford, the Honor Code, written by students in 1921, defines standards for faculty and students with respect to the integrity of academic work. The code underwent various changes through the years, most recently in the spring of 1977.

Regarding students, the Honor Code says:

"The Honor Code is an undertaking of the students, individually and collectively, that they will not give or receive aid in examinations; that they will not give or receive unpermitted aid in class work, in the preparation of reports, or in any other work that is to be used by the instructor as the basis of grading; and that they will do their share and take an active part in seeing to it that others as well as themselves uphold the spirit and letter of the Honor Code."

The Honor Code also stipulates that the faculty "manifests its confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring examinations and from taking unusual and unreasonable precautions to prevent the forms of dishonesty mentioned above. The faculty will also avoid, as far as practicable, academic procedures that create temptations to violate the Honor Code."

Fleischmann recently shared with Stanford Report some of the insights she has gleaned from listening to students and faculty members over the past year.

What have you learned through your outreach and communication with students?  

While students are generally supportive of the Honor Code, there is a lot of room to improve student understanding of what the Honor Code means.  Students don't really discuss the Honor Code with each other, and it's not generally part of their daily thoughts and lives. Typically, they only think about it when they sign their names under the Honor Code statement on the front of exam blue books.

Some students do not realize that the Honor Code requires them to report violations. We need to remind those students of their responsibility. And for those students who do understand that this is part of the Honor Code, they often do not think it is a realistic requirement because they feel that the social cost for reporting peers is too high.

Many students think the Honor Code as written is not applicable to current courses and teaching methods and is difficult to follow, given the collaboration that is encouraged in many of their classes.

Students feel that it is difficult and/or impossible to avoid being found responsible for a violation of the Honor Code once it has been reported to the OCS.  They are unaware that they can act on their own behalf in the process, that the OCS staff are objective and thorough in their approach to cases, and that if they contest the allegations a panel of students, faculty and staff will decide their case.

We can do a lot to supplement the information about the Honor Code that students receive during New Student Orientation (NSO). 

In essence, the Honor Code asks Stanford community members to practice several important values: honesty, integrity and accountability. By fulfilling the Honor Code, students learn to speak up for what is right, which is a valuable lesson that extends beyond their time at Stanford.

In the wake of an unusually high number of academic dishonesty cases in one introductory course last winter, Provost John Etchemendy sent a letter to faculty members and teaching staff reminding everyone of our role in helping students understand the seriousness of academic dishonesty. What have you learned from your outreach and communication with faculty?

Faculty members sometimes find the OCS process burdensome, particularly when reporting multiple cases of cheating, such as plagiarism, copying, collaborating beyond the accepted limits and unpermitted help.

Some faculty members find the prohibition against proctors to be arbitrary given the other restrictions they are able to place on students.

While some faculty members are strongly supportive of Honor Code and our current approach to it, some faculty members feel that this approach needs to be reviewed, given the changes in teaching and research methods and the ubiquity of electronic devices and the Internet in our lives.

Given what you've learned in your first year as director of the OCS, what will you focus on in 2015-16? 

The OCS is producing a video featuring students talking about the Honor Code and what it means in the context of life at Stanford. The plan is to have resident assistants play the video to small groups of students in the dorms and then guide a discussion afterward about the points raised in the video.

I would like to establish a liaison between the OCS and the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) in order to enlist the help of student leaders in educating the student community about the Honor Code, as well as dispelling some of the more prevalent myths about OCS and the judicial process. 

I am also working on a survey that will go out to all faculty asking for detailed input on how the Honor Code might be handled differently and how the OCS can improve its process to encourage more faculty members to bring cases forward and to participate in our judicial panels.