Academic honor code

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"Code of Honor" redirects here. For the Star Trek episode, see Code of Honor (Star Trek: The Next Generation). For the film, see Code of Honor (film).

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 honour 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 honour code can be subject to various sanctions, including expulsion from the institution. Honour codes are used to deter academic dishonesty.


The University of Virginia's early years were marked by contentious relations between students and the faculty, which culminated on November 12, 1840, when John Davis, a professor, was shot and mortally wounded in an attempt to quell a disturbance on The Lawn. Davis refused to identify his assailant, stating that an honourable man would step forward on his own. On July 4, 1842, UVA law professor Henry St. George Tucker, Sr., who had replaced Davis on the faculty, proposed that in the future, students sign examinations in the form "I, A.B., do hereby certify on my honour that I have derived no assistance during the time of this examination from any source whatsoever."[1] The idea was a success with the students. The wording of the honour pledge has changed over time, and the definition of what constitutes an honour offense has evolved as well, at times including matters such as smoking, cheating at card games, or insulting ladies.[2] As of 2012, lying, cheating, or stealing are never allowed. Despite the evolution of the system over the years, UVA's Honor System is rare in that it is administered entirely by the University's students.[3] Princeton has also maintained an entirely student-run Honour Code since the beginning of their Code in 1893.

However, Jefferson's vision of a student self-governed system remains largely unrealized at other universities. Most schools adopting honour codes limit their application to the academic realm. More comprehensive systems — not unlike Haverford's and Davidson's — where students ratify and enforce social and academic codes, are rare.[citation needed]

United States military service academies[edit]

Today, some of the most notable and most stringent honor codes exist at the U.S. Military Academy (see Cadet Honor Code), the Virginia Military Institute, at the U.S. Air Force Academy, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, and the United States Coast Guard Academy. The United States Naval Academy has an "Honor Concept" which is similar in scope to the honor codes at the other academies. The military academy honor codes not only govern the cadets' and midshipmen's lives at the academies, but 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. The only single-sanction Honor Code in the United States exists at the Virginia Military Institute, where a "drum out" ceremony is still carried out upon a cadet's dismissal.

At three of the service academies, anyone who learns of an honor code violation is required to report it. Failure to do so is considered "toleration," which is itself a violation of the code. However, 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 this method 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 and including being forwarded for expulsion by the secretary of the Army, Navy or Air Force.[4]

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] this code extends to all student activities both on and off campus (off-campus violations can be prosecuted) and, also like the military system, considers tolerance of a violation itself a violation. Like the Naval Academy, though, 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 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.[5]

Notable academic Honor systems[edit]

Many military academies have strict Honor systems, such as:

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

There are differences between the honour 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 Honour Code which is revised yearly and ruled by the Honour 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 honour system at Connecticut College is unique in that it is upheld and presided over by a student-governed judicial process. Because the Honour Code is taken very seriously by students, there is a strong trust between students, faculty and administration. The Honour 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.[6]
  • Haverford College holds an honour code which is ratified by students yearly and run by an elected body, the Honour 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 honour 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 Honour 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 Honour Code since its founding. First year students attend an honour code ceremony to protect the traditions and academic integrity of the university. A plaque of the honour 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 Honour 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."[7] In keeping with this approach to the honour code in the grand scheme of the legal profession, honour 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 Honour Code overseen by the Honour Council. The honour code at JMU was founded in 1909 and the Honour 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 Honour Council at James Madison University is committed to instilling, promoting, and upholding individual and collective academic integrity.".[8]
  • Washington and Lee University and its Law School feature an honour 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 honour system has a single penalty—expulsion. If allegations surface of a student violating the honour system they are given the right to a trial and appeal.[9]

Sample honour pledges[edit]

  • "On my honour 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 honour, honors duty; we neither lie, cheat, steal nor attempt to deceive." — United States Coast Guard Academy
  • "I pledge my honour that I have not violated the honour code during this examination." — Princeton University[10]
  • "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
  • "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
  • "Each member of the Association of Students of Harvey Mudd College is responsible for maintaining his or her integrity and the integrity of the college community in all academic matters and in all affairs concerning the community." – Harvey Mudd College
  • "As a member of the William and Mary community, I pledge on my honour not to lie, cheat, or steal, either in my academic or personal life. I understand that such acts violate the Honour Code and undermine the community of trust, of which we are all stewards." — The College of William & Mary

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, C. Alphonso (November 29, 1936). "'I Certify On My Honor--' The Real Story of How the Famed 'Honour System' at University of Virginia Functions and What Matriculating Students Should Know About It". Richmond Times Dispatch. 
  2. ^ Barefoot, Coy (Spring 2008). "The Evolution of Honor: Enduring Principle, Changing Times". The University of Virginia Magazine (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Alumni Assn.) 97 (1): 22–27. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  3. ^ "The Honor Committee". University of Virginia. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  4. ^ "DoD Directive 1332.23, "Service Academy Disenrollment", February 19, 1988" (PDF). Defense Technical Information Center. Retrieved 2010-04-17. 
  5. ^ "Honor Code Statement". Honour Code Office. Brigham Young University. Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  6. ^ "The Honour Code". Connecticut College. Connecticut College. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  7. ^ "School of Law Honour Code". Office of the Registrar. University of Texas. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  8. ^ "James Madison University Honor Code". JMU Honour Council. JMU. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  9. ^ Anderson, Nick (December 14, 2012). "Honour and testing at a Virginia university". Washington and Lee honour system (The Washington Post). Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  10. ^ "Princeton Honor Committee".