Opinion » Column | Sept. 19
“I pledge my honor that I have not violated the Honor Code during this examination.”
Since the beginning of my short Princeton career, I have written these words on every single examination I have ever taken. Established by members of the undergraduate class in 1893, the Honor Code serves as a symbol to a student’s commitment not to cheat.
Last week, I wrote an article titled “What’s wrong with cheating?” in relation to the recent survey given by The Harvard Crimson to its freshman class, which revealed that 42 percent of them had cheated on a homework assignment prior to arriving on the grasses of Harvard Yard. In my article, I addressed the risk of exploitable gray areas created by new technologies that an antiquated honor system could not have predicted.
In a recent letter to the editor, Assistant Dean of the College Elizabeth L. Colagiuri highlighted a video posted on the Office of the Dean of the College’s website in order to spur a conversation about these issues, and I thank her for that.
However, it’s important to recognize that following the Honor Code consists of more than simply just not cheating on a test, but also includes “report[ing] a violation within a reasonable period of time.”
In his opening speech, less than two weeks ago, President Eisgruber ’83 highlighted the virtue of honor. Citing Princeton professor Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book “The Honor Code,” he warned that while honor “can help to sustain us in our pursuit of our own good,” it “can also lead to self-destructive behavior.”
As Appiah claims in his book, “honor is an entitlement to respect that’s governed by some code or other.” In particular, Appiah’s book deals with English duels, the Chinese practice of foot binding and slavery within the British Empire. With all three, he concludes that while honor had fueled these activities, even in light of moral opposition, it was also honor — the loss of respect for them — in the end that eventually led to their demises.
While Eisgruber turned his focus on the fraternity system — equating hazing rituals with English duels — I feel his focus is aimed in the wrong direction. Despite the infamy that fraternities have gained nationwide, there is a much larger, unaddressed problem within Princeton’s own gates.
As one Princeton sophomore said, “There’s a 100 percent chance that I would never report someone I know for cheating.” Another said that “only in situations seriously detrimental to the class” would he go out of his way to report someone. Let’s face it, there is a very negative stigma associated with reporting your peers, arguably even worse than cheating itself. As one student interviewed jokingly put it, “snitches get stitches” — it is just not seen as acceptable to rat a fellow student out. The same close-knit bond that Princeton builds gives you every incentive not to report someone you don’t know that well, let alone someone you know closely, for cheating.
In a sense, this very concept of honor that the University has drilled into our heads — since the very minute we stepped foot onto campus — leads to this dual nature of honor that Eisgruber warned about. The very sense of honor that we have toward our fellow students undermines the Honor Code. It isn’t necessarily bad; I think it’s a good thing for students to have that close bond. Unfortunately, I think an inherent flaw is the inability of upholding the second part of the Honor Code — a necessary trade-off.
Realistically, the status quo is not going to change. The chances for punishment are slim; after all, who has heard of a case where someone has actually been punished for neglecting to report another person’s cheating? And even if someone did, how can you gain the physical evidence the Honor Committee requires to not have the “he said, she said” dilemma that the committee tries to avoid? Nor would I expect the Honor Committee to reward anyone for doing so. In doing so, you would create much worse consequences than the current status quo.
What does this say about the culture at Princeton? In an effort to build a strong community of respect, part of the code, that Appiah refers to earlier, appears to be respecting others by remaining silent — even in the face of witnessing cheating.
Those who have read Appiah’s book may retort that we need to have a paradigm shift by creating a system where we respect those who report on others. I disagree. This is a mentality that we cannot simply turn a blind eye to. The first step we need to take is acknowledgement.
Benjamin Dinovelli is a sophomore from Mystic, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.