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UA Discusses Possibility of Student Honor Code

By Sabrina Kwon
Associate News Editor

At Wednesday night's Undergraduate Association Council meeting, Associate Provost Sheila E. Widnall '60 presented several ideas on the issue of academic honesty and the possible implementation of an honor code at the Institute, including a proposal to create a student honor committee.

UA President Stacy E. McGeever '93 said that the UA's discussion on academic honesty was intended "to look for a set of standards from the students who are concerned about the policy of academic honesty for the student body to at least be aware of, if not adhere to."

McGeever said she realized that students' ideas of an honor code would vary considerably, and said she would support the creation of a structure to make academic honesty a more obvious concern at MIT.

"While an honor code can come into play just as a statement, we want to develop programs that will alleviate conditions which foster cheating," she said.

Widnall opened a discussion about honor codes by saying that academic honesty at MIT is a "complicated, long-term issue." She emphasized that the entire issue is still under discussion and would probably not be resolved in the near future. She expressed concern over the terminology being used in discussions of academic honesty, saying that she objected to the association of the word "cheating" with MIT students. Widnall also stressed that the outside world must view academic honesty as a concern at MIT if an MIT education is to retain its value.

`Gray areas'

When Raul R. Shah '92, student representative to the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, expressed his concern about the "gray areas" of academic honesty -- including the use of course "bibles" and other collaborative methods of students -- Widnall said that faculty need to make clear to their students their expectations and standards on questions of cheating and collaboration the first time a class meets.

McGeever expressed concern about the widespread decay of academic honesty which follows enrollment at MIT, specifically during freshman year. "It is too easy for freshmen to fall into the habit of copying problem sets ... something which stalls learning as well as fostering a lack of self-esteem," she said.

Widnall concluded by suggesting that the UA create a student honor committee or "honor court" to inquire about academic honesty from the student point of view. Such a committee would meet with instructors, thus reducing the problem of miscommunication between between students and faculty.

Code questioned

Some students at the meeting were unsure of how successful an honor code would be at MIT. David J. Kessler '94 said that an honor code would not be an effective solution to the problem of excessive collaboration, saying that many students would disregard such a code if implemented. UA Vice President J. Paul Kirby '93 said that the honor code could not guarantee that students would not "improperly collaborate" in some way.

Jun B. Lee '94, an IFC representative, said cheating is unavoidable because of the high-pressure environment at engineering schools such as MIT. Other council members said it is unrealistic to expect an honor code to work at a place as competitive as MIT. If students were given the choice of doing work themselves and getting a lower grade or copying a problem set and getting a better grade, many council members felt most people would choose to copy.

Other discussion

Gregory M. Lubiniecki '94 told the council about an anonymous letter addressed to the MIT administration, chaplains, and UAC which spoke about the intolerably high levels of stress at MIT and the lack of effort being put forth to alleviate suicidal tendencies that result from stress. Lubiniecki urged council members to let other students know that counseling is available at the Institute for times when the stress "gets to be too much."

Raajinish A. Chitaley '95 was nominated for the position of UA Council Vice Chairman.