Ah, yes. Honor. That word, that system, that we debate so often (for better or worse).
UVa prides itself on its Honor System; it had a violent and unexpected beginning and has remained largely unchanged and student-run since its inception. It’s quite impressive. But I question how seriously we actually take it.
My experience with honor (the ideal, not the system) over the past 3 1/2 years has not been very convincing to that end. Having had things stolen out of my dorm during my first year, heard stories of what I would call an “Honor raid” involving over 100 students, and witnessed the large number of anti-cheating protections that are implemented during exams, I have to wonder whether we’re actually holding ourselves to the standards one would expect from a system with as much history and resilience as this one.
This is only compounded by the widely varying approach between professors. Some are adamant that everyone have different test versions, sit spaced apart, or turn in phones before leaving to use the restroom (or any combination of the those). Others could care less about these precautions; when a student asked whether he could leave the room during my Calculus III final, the professor had such confidence in the system that he responded with “you can go to the moon and back!” To take that conviction even further, one student in a another class was told not to bother pledging his exam because it was “implied when [he] walked in the room.”
There’s also been the lingering question about the usefulness of the single sanction policy. Some argue it’s unnecessarily harsh and deters reporting for fear of ruining a student’s academic career; others value its history and would rather not have convicted violators remain at the university. I happen to fall in the latter camp, but this isn’t really my concern at the moment.
Differences of opinion are to be expected. But the disparity of our practices and ideals warrants some skepticism. This lack of cohesion seems to me to trivialize the value of the Honor System (or any such system for that matter). Certainly not to a point of insignificance, but it simply doesn’t carry the weight I would like it to. It feels more like a mediocre mission statement – attractive to outsiders, preached enthusiastically by its proponents, but not especially meaningful beyond a vague and superficial general acknowledgment.
The particulars of the system are less important to me than our relative agreement on the matter. If we as a university community value Honor (the system), we ought to start putting more faith in it. We ought to have the moral courage to, at the least, cut back on safeguards and require students to hold themselves to existing standards. A few will fail, possibly spectacularly, but it would do us good to dig our heels in and reaffirm our confidence in the ideals set by our predecessors. That, or be frank about our reservations and fundamentally rethink the purpose of the system. I’m not sure which of those would be more appropriate at this point, but the present state of things is really not satisfying to me.