Academic honor code

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An academic honor code or honor system is a set of rules or ethical principles governing an academic community based on ideals that define what constitutes honorable behaviour within that community. The use of an honor code depends on the notion that people (at least within the community) can be trusted to act honorably. Those who are in violation of the honor code can be subject to various sanctions, including expulsion from the institution. Honor codes are used to deter academic dishonesty and should be taken seriously at all times.


The documented history of an academic honor code dates back to 1736 at The College of William and Mary[1] and is the oldest honor code in the United States. Still a tradition, students administer the honor pledge to each incoming student and educate faculty and administration on the relevance of the Code and its application to students' lives at the College. Students administer the Code through six Honor Councils and the Council of Chairs. The College of William and Mary founded the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society in 1776 and was the first school of higher education in the United States to install an honor code of conduct for students.[2] It is based upon the premise that honor is one's most cherished attribute.

In a community devoted to learning, a foundation of honor among individuals must exist if that community is to thrive with respect and harmony among its members. An honor system is an ideal mechanism to ensure such a state of affairs. With it, students and faculty are afforded a freedom that otherwise may not be available. With that freedom comes each individual's responsibility to conduct oneself in such a way that the spirit of mutual trust which sustains the system is not compromised.

The Honor Code applies to alleged acts of lying, stealing or cheating that adversely affect the College community committed by a student on campus or elsewhere.

US military service academies[edit]

Presently, some of the most notable and most stringent honor codes exist at the Federal Service Academies and Senior Military Colleges.

The military academy honor codes not only govern the cadets' and midshipmen's lives at the academies but also are deemed essential to the development of military officers who are worthy of the public trust. As such, the codes are not limited merely to academic situations or to conduct on campus; cadets and midshipmen are expected to live by the codes' ethical standards at all times. The codes are as old as the academies themselves and simply state that cadets and midshipmen do not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do. A single-sanction Honor Code, in which any offense results in expulsion regardless of severity, exists at Virginia Military Institute, which features a "drum out" ceremony which is still carried out upon a cadet's dismissal. Outside of the military, Washington and Lee University and the University of Virginia also have single sanction codes.

At three of the service academies and at Virginia Military Institute, anyone who learns of an honor code violation is required to report it.[3] Failure to do so is considered "toleration," which itself violates the code. That also holds true at schools with combined cadet and traditional student programs, such as Norwich University, Texas A&M, and The Citadel, whose honor codes specifically provide that all students, both cadets and civilians, do not "tolerate those who do." It is notable that the three Senior Military Colleges have two honor codes, one for cadets and one for civilians, whether on-campus or through distance online programs, etc.[4][5][6] The Honor Concept of the Brigade of Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy allows the observer of an honor violation to confront the accused without formally reporting. It was found that it was more constructive at developing the honor of midshipmen. A non-toleration clause, on the other hand, is believed to make enemies of classmates. Additionally, it is thought that one's true honor, if other than utmost, was not able to be formally remediated when hidden from public view. Under the academies' honor codes, violators can face severe punishment, up to being forwarded for expulsion by the Secretary of the Army, Navy, or Air Force.[7]

Stringent honor codes, however, are not limited to military institutions. The all-male Hampden–Sydney College is reputed for an honor code system on a par with military systems,[citation needed] which extends to all student activities both on and off campus (off-campus violations can be prosecuted), and also like the military system, it considers tolerance of a violation itself a violation. Like the Naval Academy, however, those who witness a violation are encouraged to confront the violator and convince them to turn themselves in before resorting to reporting the violation. Another school with a very strict honor code is Brigham Young University. The university not only mandates honest behavior but also incorporates various aspects of Mormon religious law: drinking, smoking, drug use, and premarital sex are all banned. Also, the code includes standards for dress and grooming. Men must be clean-shaven, and men and women cannot wear short shorts or other revealing clothing.[8]

Notable American academic honor systems[edit]

Many military academies have strict Honor systems, such as the following:

In addition, the following colleges with a Corps of Cadets maintain an honor code for both the cadets and civilian students:

There are also traditional liberal arts and technical universities that maintain Honor systems:

There are differences between the honor codes of different universities.

  • The University of Virginia opts for a system run by elected students and involving randomly chosen students.
  • Bryn Mawr College holds its students to a high degree of trust with their Honor Code which is revised yearly and ruled by the Honor Board.
  • Connecticut College students uphold academic excellence and high community standards by practicing responsible citizenship that protects the core principles of the College. With the privilege of having a diverse student body, students should be able to interact and learn from each other in ways that uphold community respect and personal freedom. The honor system at Connecticut College is unique in that it is upheld and presided over by a student-governed judicial process. Because the Honor Code is taken very seriously by students, there is a strong trust between students, faculty and administration. The Honor Code sets the tone for campus life and acts as a philosophy to live by through demonstrating a commitment to personal participation in improving the quality of life in our community.[9]
  • Haverford College holds an honor code which is ratified by students yearly and run by an elected body, the Honor Council. This code is concerned with an academic as well as a social component, demanding equal respect among students, in contrast to the military academies' focus on hierarchy.
  • Davidson College also holds a dual honor code. According to a legend surrounding the Davidson code, a student was put on trial for not reporting an extra can of soda dispensed by a vending machine.[citation needed]
  • Princeton University has maintained a student-run Honor Code for over one hundred years, a unique policy compared to those of other Ivy League schools.
  • Vanderbilt University has also been governed by an Honor Code since its founding. First year students attend an honor code ceremony to protect the traditions and academic integrity of the university. A plaque of the honor code is engraved in the student life center with a quote by once-Chancellor Madison Sarratt, "Today I give you two examinations, one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you pass them both, but if you must fail one, let it be trigonometry for there are many good men in this world today who cannot pass an examination in trigonometry, but there are no good men in the world who cannot pass an examination in honesty."
  • The University of Texas School of Law sets its Honor Code as a first step in the obligation of its students to the legal profession: "All law students are harmed by unethical behaviour by any student. A student who deals dishonestly with fellow law students may be dishonest in the future and harm both future clients and the legal profession."[10] In keeping with this approach to the honor code in the grand scheme of the legal profession, honor code violations are reported to the State Bar of Texas and the violator's home state bar, thus creating an impediment to licensure. UT Law School is unique in that regard.[citation needed]
  • James Madison University holds its students to an Honor Code overseen by the Honor Council. The honor code at JMU was founded in 1909 and the Honor Council is an organisation run by students. A student who violates the code, if found "responsible", may receive anywhere from a letter grade reduction to expulsion from the university for a first time offense, while second time offenders are either suspended from the university for a semester or expelled. "The Honor Council at James Madison University is committed to instilling, promoting, and upholding individual and collective academic integrity.".[11]
  • At Meredith College, an all-women's institution, all first year students attend an Honor Code ceremony, where they sign a statement promising to uphold the values of the Code. The Code places a high emphasis on integrity and good judgement. Meredith College is unique in the fact that its judicial board (the Honor Council) is primarily governed by students, including the Chair who also sits on the Student Government Association executive board, and the Solicitor General, who facilitates and investigates all incoming reports.[12] Rumors about the Honor Code at Meredith include that students are not allowed to walk on the grass and must remain on the sidewalks. Male visitation hours, or "boy hours," are a common violation at a school that does not allow men to stay overnight in the residence halls. However criticized it may be for being outdated, Meredith's Honor Code has evolved with the times and can be seen in the school's archives.
  • Washington and Lee University and its Law School feature an honor system in which all students are expected to act as gentlemen and women. The system governs both academic and social aspects of the university and is administered by the Executive Committee which includes the student body president. The honor system has a single penalty—expulsion. If allegations surface of a student violating the honor system they are given the right to a trial and appeal.[13]

Sample honor pledges[edit]

  • "As a member of the William and Mary community, I pledge on my honor not to lie, cheat, or steal, either in my academic or personal life. I understand that such acts violate the Honor Code and undermine the community of trust, of which we are all stewards." — The College of William & Mary
  • "On my honor as a student, I have neither given nor received aid on this assignment/exam." — University of Virginia
  • "Pledge: No Aid; No Violations." — Wesleyan University
  • "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." — United States Military Academy
  • "Who lives here reveres honor, honors duty; we neither lie, cheat, steal nor attempt to deceive." — United States Coast Guard Academy
  • "I pledge my honor that I have not violated the honor code during this examination." — Princeton University[14]
  • "No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community." — California Institute of Technology
  • "Sweet Briar women do not lie, cheat, steal or violate the rights of others. Therefore, I pledge to uphold all standards of honorable conduct. I will report myself and others for any infraction of this pledge." — Sweet Briar College
  • "I affirm that I will uphold the highest principles of honesty and integrity in all my endeavors at Gettysburg College and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect within and beyond the classroom." — Gettysburg College
  • "I pledge to uphold the principles of honesty and responsibility at our University." — Texas State University
  • "We have but one rule here, and it is that every student must be a gentleman." — Washington and Lee University
  • "I commit to uphold the ideals of honor and integrity by refusing to betray the trust bestowed upon me as a member of the Georgia Tech community." — Georgia Institute of Technology
  • "The members of the METU community are reliable, responsible and honourable people who embrace only the success and recognition they deserve, and act with integrity in their use, evaluation and presentation of facts, data and documents." — Middle East Technical University
  • "I have been honest and observed no dishonesty." — Guilford College
  • "All members of ASHMC [Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College] are responsible for maintaining their integrity and the integrity of the College community in all academic matters and in all affairs concerning the community." – Harvey Mudd College
  • "I do solemnly pledge my honor that as long as I am a student at Meredith College, I will faithfully uphold the principles of the Honor Code and will respect and observe the procedures and requirements of the Honor System. I also pledge my support to our system of self-government, an integral part of our way of life at Meredith College. I make this pledge in view of my fellow students thus signifying our high resolve to keep our honor forever sacred and our self-government forever strong." — Meredith College

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 24, 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "History & Traditions - William & Mary". Archived from the original on December 3, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  3. ^ "VMI Honor System History - VMI Archives - Virginia Military Institute". Archived from the original on August 3, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  4. ^ "Honor Code, Education". Archived from the original on September 23, 2015.
  5. ^ "Honor Code, Education". Archived from the original on September 14, 2016. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
  6. ^ "Honor Code, Education". Archived from the original on September 20, 2016.
  7. ^ "DoD Directive 1332.23, "Service Academy Disenrollment", February 19, 1988" (PDF). Defense Technical Information Center. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 5, 2011. Retrieved April 17, 2010.
  8. ^ "Honor Code Statement". Honour Code Office. Brigham Young University. Archived from the original on April 14, 2011. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  9. ^ "The Honour Code". Connecticut College. Connecticut College. Archived from the original on May 9, 2013. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  10. ^ "School of Law Honour Code". Office of the Registrar. University of Texas. Archived from the original on February 20, 2008. Retrieved March 5, 2008.
  11. ^ "James Madison University Honor Code". JMU Honour Council. JMU. Archived from the original on May 28, 2010. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  12. ^ "Meredith College Student Handbook" (PDF). Meredith College. Meredith College. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 27, 2017. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  13. ^ Anderson, Nick (December 14, 2012). "Honour and testing at a Virginia university". Washington and Lee honour system. The Washington Post. Archived from the original on May 25, 2014. Retrieved December 13, 2012.
  14. ^ "Princeton Honor Committee". Archived from the original on July 8, 2007.