Archive for Thursday, May 6, 2004

KU studying campuswide use of honor code

Student-policed systems already in place in business, law schools

May 6, 2004


Each time David Brown completes an exam in one of his business classes, he signs a pledge saying he didn't cheat on the test and didn't know of anyone else who cheated.

In an era when the words "Enron" and "WorldCom" are synonymous with corporate fraud, the oath -- part of the school's honor code -- is a constant reminder of the standards expected of students in the Kansas University School of Business.

"Ethics has been at the forefront of business in the last few years," said Brown, a senior from Overland Park. "In light of recent events, the honor code has become even more visible."

The KU business and law schools both have honor codes, which allow students to self-police academic misconduct and recommend punishment for miscreants. And it's a philosophy that soon may expand to the entire university.

The codes are similar to policies in other schools. They define and ban plagiarism, cheating and other forms of academic misconduct. But professors and students in the schools say the codes put ethics in the forefront of thought. And in the business school, the system puts students in judgment of their peers when ethical violations are alleged.

"The biggest thing is accountability," said Brown, who sits on the business school's Honor Council, which oversees the code's implementation. "The Honor Council is primarily student-run, and it's supported by students. You realize if you do something, your peers are going to hold you accountable."

The business code has been in place about six years, said Murray Levin, the professor who advises the student-run Honor Council.

The code spells out proper conduct for students in business courses. For example, "directly quoting from a source without citation," falsifying information on resumes and stealing materials from the school all are violations of the honor code.

Student involvement

One big difference between the business school honor code and other academic policies across campus is that failing to report violations of the code is a violation in itself.

The other major difference is how the policies are enforced. In most campus departments, faculty members can punish students -- for example, giving a "zero" on a test as a punishment for cheating -- and students can appeal to department chairmen.

In schools with an honor code, the violations are reported to an Honor Court, which is a group of students with a faculty adviser. The court hears arguments on both sides of the issue and recommends a sanction to the school's dean.

In the business school, there have been about five cases of reported misconduct this school year. The number has ranged from two to about 30 a year, the larger number occurring when an entire class was suspected of using common data on an assignment.

Possible punishments range from an oral reprimand to expulsion from the school. Levin said he wasn't aware of any expulsions.

The School of Law's code has been in place for decades, said Webb Hecker, the associate dean who oversees the code's implementation. Hecker said the school usually had fewer than five alleged violations each year.

He said students sometimes recommended punishments that were more strict than professors might have handed down.

"From the cases I've seen, I've been at least initially surprised and impressed with the student involvement," he said. "They do not take these charges lightly. They do not laugh them off."

Universitywide code?

The honor code system may expand to the entire university as early as fall 2005.

A committee of student senators this semester started studying the possibility of creating a universitywide honor code, which could go to a student vote in spring 2005. Colin Brainard, a freshman from Overland Park, said at least four Big 12 Conference universities -- the University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech University, Texas A&M; University and Kansas State University -- already have universitywide codes.

"Obviously with this we're not going to be able to eliminate all cheating," he said. "But this way, it will be in the forefront of everything. I'd follow it word for word, and I'd hope other students would, too."

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