On Thursday, the Faculty Senate tackled the Honor Code and the Fundamental Standard, Stanford University’s longstanding standards for academic integrity and conduct, to consider whether they were adequately serving the campus community.

Discussion centered around how to increase awareness and understanding of the standards among students and faculty, how to instill the values of the standards into the campus culture and whether the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard should be revised.

Mark Di Perna speaking

Mark DiPerna, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Community Standards, speaking to the Faculty Senate on Thursday about the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The Fundamental Standard was developed in 1896 and articulates the university’s standards of conduct for students, who 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, written by students in 1921, articulates the university’s expectations of students and faculty in “establishing and maintaining the highest standards in academic work.” It specifies that students will not give or receive aid in examinations or class work and will take an active role in ensuring that other students uphold the code. For their part, faculty express confidence in the honor of the students by refraining from proctoring exams and taking unusual or excessive precautions to prevent dishonest behavior.

Honor Code survey

Ross Shachter, associate professor of management science and engineering, and undergraduate student Cat Sanchez, co-chairs of the Board on Judicial Affairs (BJA), gave a brief presentation on surveys of students and faculty about the Honor Code that were conducted in 2016-17.

Among the findings, 10 percent of students surveyed admitted to committing Honor Code violations and 50 percent had observed other students in violation of the code. Forty percent of faculty reported suspecting an Honor Code violation in the last five years.

Shachter said that respondents identified a variety of circumstances where Honor Code violations occur. “Students admit to violations mostly on problem sets and computer code, while faculty are more likely to detect them on exams and papers,” he said.

Students were asked about how they felt and what actions they took when they observed Honor Code violations. The majority of students polled agreed they were “offended” and “harmed” by those violating the Honor Code, but they were hesitant to report violations. Sixty-five percent of students reported taking no action after observing a fellow student violating the Honor Code. Among the reasons given for their reluctance include the belief that the violation was too minor, uncertainty about whether an infraction occurred and concerns about harming the violator.

The survey also identified a need for increased awareness and understanding of the Honor Code and the judicial process for code violations. Faculty Senate members suggested several ways to increase awareness, including regular discussions of the Honor Code by faculty in their classes, presentations to student and faculty groups, faculty and teaching assistant training and regular discussions in the dorms.

Sanchez said the motivation for bringing this issue to light was to help the Stanford community reach its standards. “We suggest this be done by fostering cultural change – where students take pride in a healthy honor code and take ownership of it,” she said. “We want to restore faculty confidence in students’ adherence to the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard so that we can build a trusting learning environment.”

Adjudication process

Mark DiPerna, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Community Standards (OCS), gave an overview of the judicial process. He shared data with the senate on how OCS processed the 207 cases referred to the office in the 2017-18 academic year, involving either the Honor Code or Fundamental Standard or both.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of these cases (98 percent) were referred by faculty, teaching assistants and lecturers, although DiPerna said some of these cases may have involved a student reporting the observation of a violation to a faculty member. Of the 180 Honor Code cases handled by OCS, 131 were charged. Twenty-six Fundamental Standard cases resulted in 14 charges. One case involved charges of violating both the Fundamental Standard and the Honor Code.

OCS cases are resolved through the early resolution option (ERO) or by judicial panels. ERO applies to all cases involving uncontested first-offense Fundamental Standard and Honor Code violations. Judicial panels are composed of trained students, faculty and staff who conduct hearings and determine whether a violation occurred and, if so, determine sanctions.

Of the 131 Honor Code cases charged in 2017-18, 109 were resolved through ERO, 12 were resolved through a judicial panel and 10 are still pending. Ten of the 15 Fundamental Standard cases charged were resolved through ERO, three through a judicial panel and two cases are still pending.

A wide variety of sanctions can be applied to redress student misconduct, ranging from community service to expulsion, as outlined in the Penalty Code.

Discussion highlights

In the discussion that followed the presentations, some comments were focused on the reasons why students violate the Honor Code – calling attention to the intense pressure they feel to succeed at Stanford. Changing the campus culture so that the focus is on valuing learning rather than earning high grades was a sentiment shared by several senate members.

A number of senate members expressed their belief in the importance and continuing relevance of the Honor Code and the need for the entire campus community to fully embrace it.

“I don’t think our Honor Code is broken,” said Andrea Goldsmith, the Stephen Harris Professor in Engineering. “I think we have a very good Honor Code. What’s broken is the education around it. We need to inculcate it by talking about it … and infuse it in our culture.”

Some of the discussion also centered around whether the standards and/or the judicial process needs to be revised. While opinions differed on this issue, there was consensus among senate members that students need to be engaged in any discussions about how to make improvements.

Other business

In other business, Provost Persis Drell noted the recent announcement that Patricia Gumport will be stepping down as vice provost of graduate education at the end of the academic year. Drell announced the formation of a search committee, which she will chair.

The full minutes of the meeting, including the questions and answers that followed the presentations, will be available soon on the Faculty Senate website.