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Chapter 9: Honor System

The Vanderbilt Honor System was instituted in 1875 with the first final examination administered by the University. A student’s personal integrity then, as now, was presumed to be sufficient assurance that in academic matters one did one’s own work without unauthorized help from any other source. The Honor System presumes that all work submitted as part of academic requirements is the product of the student submitting it unless credit is given with proper footnoting and bibliographic technique or as prescribed by the course instructor. The Honor System is not a panacea for all acts of academic dishonesty, nor does it automatically ensure the honorable behavior of all students in academic matters. It is a spirit–an ideal–that permeates the entire educational process at Vanderbilt University. As Chancellor Emeritus Alexander Heard has noted, the Honor System represents the deliberate choice of the University to value Honor integrity (honesty, accuracy, logic)–over learning, over skill, over understanding.

The Honor System is administered by the Honor Councils. The Undergraduate Honor Council has jurisdiction over all undergraduates, while the Graduate School and each of the professional schools have their own Honor Councils to administer the Honor System for their respective students.

Faculty members have an important role in the Honor System at Vanderbilt. Although the Honor Councils undertake each year to educate students in the meaning of the Honor System, it falls to the faculty to make the Honor System an integral part of the academic life of the University. Faculty members can accomplish this in four ways:

1. At the start of the semester’s work in a course, a statement demonstrating the faculty member’s support of the Honor System is most beneficial. In this statement, the faculty member should explain what constitutes a violation of the Honor Code in the course, including the limits on collaboration with other students and the use of outside sources. If such matters are stated explicitly, misunderstanding about assignments may be reduced.

2. The faculty member should remind students of the Honor System throughout the semester, especially before assignments and tests.

3. Although the primary responsibility for academic honesty is in the hands of each student, the faculty member is expected to make every effort to provide a classroom atmosphere that is conducive to effective operation of the Honor System. For example, during a test, it is quite in the spirit of the System to seat students in a manner that minimizes the possibility of a student’s accidentally seeing another’s paper. Likewise, faculty members might avoid giving identical examinations to different sections of a course, thus decreasing the opportunities for passing information either intentionally or unintentionally.

4. Faculty members can help to keep the Honor System uppermost in their students’ minds by requiring them to sign the Pledge on every assignment. The pledge states, “I pledge on my honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment.”

Honor System Violations

In spite of these precautions, violations may occur. A faculty member should neither punish nor excuse Honor Code violations. If a faculty member has reason to believe that the Honor Code has been breached, they/she/he is obligated to take action in one of the following ways:

1. Issue a personal warning to the student(s) suspected of academic dishonesty that, unless the action which led to the suspicion ceases, the incident will be reported to the Honor Council,


2. Report the incident to the appropriate Honor Council.

The flagrancy of the violation determines which course of action the faculty member is expected to follow. The option of warning the student personally is open to the faculty member only in the event of a minor suspicion or if evidence is not available. If suspicion is strong or if evidence is available, the faculty member is obligated to report the incident to the appropriate Honor Council. It should be understood, however, that the faculty member need not have evidence in hand before notifying the Council–just suspicion well founded. The Council will investigate all cases.

To report a violation in the schools with undergraduates, the faculty member should notify the president or the advisor of the Honor Council. To report a violation in the graduate and professional schools, the faculty member should notify the applicable Honor Council through its president, chair, or other appropriate person designated in the school. An investigating committee from the Council will then call on the faculty member, discuss the case, and receive whatever evidence is available. The investigators will then interview the accused and make arrangements for a hearing.

The faculty member need not consult or discuss the matter with the accused either before or after the Council has been notified. Vanderbilt students recognize the Honor Council as the judicial branch of the Honor System. It handles all matters pertaining to a case, including, if the instructor wishes, the notification of the accused student.

Additional information concerning procedures may be obtained from Honor Council members or from the advisor. Additional information is also provided by a booklet, Role of the Faculty in the Honor System of Vanderbilt University, on file with department chairs. Faculty members may wish to call students’ attention to the chapter on the Honor System in the Student Handbook, Policies and Procedures in Co-Curricular Matters. The chapter includes a definition of and examples of plagiarism in the section titled, “The Honor Code Applied to Preparation of Papers.”