Honor Principle

"On academic integrity"

Arthur Glasfeld, professor of chemistry

One of the wonderful things about Reed is that the Honor Principle is so clearly understood and accepted where academic conduct is concerned. Students and faculty share the expectation that scholarly interactions will take place in an atmosphere of trust. Happily, this faith in our fellow Reedies is well-placed. However, even in this environment, problems occur, but they can usually be avoided by some simple preemptive discussion.

From a purely mechanical perspective, conversation regarding the requirements in a given class is essential. It is the responsibility of faculty to lay out the standards of scholarship that will take place on each assignment in a given semester. This includes defining acceptable levels of collaboration on assignments, acceptable sources for a given piece of work, and appropriate mechanisms for attribution of others’ work. These are different from course to course and from field to field. Misunderstandings on these issues are so unwelcome that all of us should take every opportunity to talk about them. The more obvious our expectations and understanding, the less likely any confusion is to arise. If there is ever ambiguity in what constitutes appropriate academic conduct, ask! It is a simple question, and one that will be welcome because it shows a concern for academic honesty.

The second failure in communication leading to problems is more difficult because it involves personal pride rather than mechanical issues in scholarship. Academics at Reed can be stressful and frustrating. The demands of a semester can warp a person’s perspective to the point where it appears that an upcoming assignment or exam is all important—so important that the “urgent” need for its successful completion eclipses all other concerns. The solution to this problem is easy—get help when things begin to escape your control. We’re all human, even the dinosaurs around here, and there is plenty of understanding to go around. It’s a false pride in intellectual independence that causes folks to balk at the idea of asking for help. On more than one occasion this immodesty has cost Reedies a more important source of pride by compromising their personal integrity. By talking about your worries and stresses openly, you can place them in a better perspective, and your ethical judgment will remain unchallenged.

Unfortunately, Reed is in the “real” and imperfect world, and all the warnings in the world won’t prevent all academic misconduct. So, here’s one last guiding principle—honesty always wins. If the worst has happened, and you find yourself on the wrong side of the Honor Principle, the simple truth will always bring you back . Unprompted confession is horribly difficult, and for that reason it is regarded highly by others. Sadly, though, there is often a hesitation to confess even when confronted with evidence. That compounds a lie with a lie, and each subsequent lie buries sympathy and forgiveness that much deeper. Again, communication is the key. There is no problem related to academic honesty that doesn’t get worse by failing to talk openly about it.

The Honor Principle has created a remarkably positive atmosphere in Reed’s academic life, and the conversations needed to maintain it are so simple that we should all participate.