Let me be very upfront here. I love Bluffton’s Honor Code.
As a student, the idea that profs would leave the room during tests – in effect saying, you are adults, you know right from wrong, we are going to trust you to make good decisions – was very powerful. And the way that the honor system – this expectation that we will make good decisions – enveloped campus life in general, helped create the person I am today.
Now did we always make good decisions – well… no. But we learned from those not-so-good decisions.
To be faced with a real, flesh and bone example of where the Honor Code was a disservice, where the honor system failed one of our students, completely caught me off-guard.
A few years back, there was a campus-wide discussion about the validity of the Honor Code in today’s world. Students and members of Student Senate actually initiated this discussion. Students and faculty were concerned about the ease of cheating with cell phones in everyone’s pocket, about standard processes being followed in all classes, and about graduating unprepared students into the world and how that reflects on a Bluffton University degree.
Now I understand their concern.
The honor system is what you make of it. It can be an extremely effective tool to teach ethics and personal responsibility. Or it can be just another system to be worked, as this graduate admitted to me last night. “You know the honor system. I worked the system. I did whatever I had to [in order] to graduate.”
So sad. Yes, he has that piece of paper and he can say “I am a college graduate.” Unfortunately that only gets him in the door. It’s going to be his drive, his knowledge, his initiative, his trustworthiness that gets him the job and helps him keep that job. He also shared with me that he lost a job earlier in the week for sliding by, for doing just enough to get by, for working the system. So sad.
In recent years, faculty have strengthened the Honor Code. Policies have been clarified to make sure it is presented the same in every classroom, in every discipline; a revised version of The Pledge to be signed on essays and research papers has been added. The goal remains for all students to embrace the spirit of the code which was established by chemistry professor H.W. Berky in the early days of Bluffton University.
It is my belief that the vast majority of students today do embrace the honor system. They learn from it, grow because of it. Unfortunately though, as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”