Letters to the EditorAs an undergraduate at the University of Virginia I lived under an honor code system. The code forbade anyone to commit or tolerate cheating, lying, and stealing. There was only one punishment: expulsion. The judging committee was composed of students, and the committee considered the severity of crimes. We had to sign every exam and piece of homework, saying that it was our own work.
The code worked because we were all scared to death. During the 16 months I was there, only one person was expelled. However, the system was not perfect. There were occasional thefts of clothing and other violations. In addition, the code did not find anything dishonorable about vandalism, assault, rape, and fornication, all of which are illegal in Virginia.
In some European universities, a totally different approach is taken. It is virtually impossible to cheat on mid-term exams, quizzes, and homework because these universities have no such things. The final grades are based on heavily proctored final exams, complete with picture ID checks and denial of bathroom use during the exam.
Tugrulbey Kiryaman G
Vest Restricted Speech at U. of Michigan
14]. While Vest was provost of the University of Michigan, a speech code was adopted there which restricted freedom of speech so severely that the administration later had to make exceptions for classroom discussion. Even after the speech code was loosened, a federal judge struck it down, finding that it unconstitutionally restricted free speech. Vest's claim that a student's offensive behavior in posting anti-Semitic jokes was to "prove a point," rather than being an expression of a warped sense of humor, is baseless.
In its implied linkage of those who advocate freedom of speech with those who seek to offend, Vest's position parallels Senator Joseph McCarthy's association of civil liberties advocates with the communist movement in the 1950s. In the context of campus-wide discussions of academic honesty, such misleading statements send a dangerous message that expedience is more important than the truth, a message reinforced by the MIT administration's disregard for the spirit of free inquiry from which the truth emerges.
Lars Bader G
MIT Club Invitation Harasses
I recently moved back to MIT, having spent a couple of years living in the region referred to as the Delaware Valley. I was never actually involved in the MIT Club of the Delaware Valley, but when a friend of mine who still lives in that area forwarded that club's most recent meeting invitation, I was, to say the least, rather shocked.
Picture this: In the top left corner, the MIT seal above large letters reading "MIT Club of Delaware Valley." In the top right corner, a sketch of a woman on one knee wearing ruffled lingerie, garters, and feathers, and underneath, the words "Lily Langtry's." The letter itself informs the reader that the "MIT Club of the Delaware Valley is holding its February meeting at Lily Langtry's Restaurant and Theatre." Note that this gathering is advertised as a meeting, not a social event. The letter goes on to boast of the "spectacular entertainment," including "beautiful showgirls, dancers," that can be found at that establishment. Enclosed with the letter is a tacky, glittery postcard from Lily Langtry's featuring a picture of a "showgirl" -- a woman wearing frills and feathers and a skimpy sequined bikini.
While I was personally offended by this, I feel even worse for my friend, who was the original recipient, and all her fellow alumnae in the Delaware Valley. It is obvious not only from the invitation, but more importantly from the nature of the event itself, that the participation of these alumnae was not considered very important by the organizers.
Considering that MIT is now about 40 percent women, and that MIT claims (and perhaps succeeds, at least to some degree) to foster an atmosphere of gender equality on its campus, it is very disappointing to find that there are still some MIT groups which make no such effort.
For all the men out there who are thinking, "Oh, big deal. What's all the fuss about? It's only a show!" I would like you to consider this: How would you feel if you received an invitation from your alumni club which was filled with pictures of scantily clad men, and which invited you to their meeting, to be held at, let's say, Chippendale's. Would this make you feel very welcome? Just think about it.
Samuel R. Peretz '89
Editorial Was Cynical
In both your editorial and the accompanying dissent about the proposed honor code ["Addressing Cheating Requires More than Just an Honor Code" and "Honor Code Will Solve None of the Institute's Problems," Feb. 4], the authors make the cynical claim that an honor code would be superfluous because it would not make cheating any less "profitable." Students would adapt to the post-honor code world and quickly find new ways of cheating to supplant the old ones. The dissent even objects to the fact that an honor code might impinge on a student's loyalty oath to his fraternity brothers (this strikes me as a better argument against fraternities than against honor codes). Finally, the authors insist that changes to the "academic environment" alone, such as clearer boundaries between collaboration and cheating, would better serve the community and eliminate dishonesty.
It would be helpful if instructors had clear policies on collaboration, but these policies can never be all-encompassing, and students will always confront questions that fall between the cracks. A good deal of cheating, moreover, does not fall in any gray policy area -- it falls squarely in the black: cheat sheets, whispered answers during tests, plagiarism, etc. Some would blame this kind of dishonesty on the travails of "the system." An honor code would put the blame squarely on the student, where it belongs.
No one has ever claimed that simply publishing an honor code in the course bulletin would eliminate cheating overnight. The code should form part of a larger program that includes, as suggested, clearer collaboration policies, confidential student review panels, and agencies to prevent unreasonable workloads. In the end the cheating problem is one of principle, not of crime and punishment, and the honor code should be a concise statement of that principle.
Casimir Wierzynski G