Honour Codes
Supporting Academic Integrity and Values

James Brown, Calumet College
Volume 12 Number 2 (January 2003)

This article discusses an adaptation of the idea of an "honour code" as a way of helping students understand-and make an initial commitment to-the principles of academic integrity. As developed here, this idea of a class "honour code" is similar to discussions which already go on in lots of York classrooms around a "code of conduct" for the class; it just extends that discussion into the underlying values.

There has been considerable research (McCabe and Trevino, 1996 et. al.) on honour codes, and much of it has suggested that such codes may be effective in reducing academic dishonesty. This is principally survey research which depends on students self-reports on "one or more instances of serious cheating." So in fact, the difference, (54% on campuses with honour codes, 71% without) may be partly a measure of willingness to disclose. However, one very encouraging finding (McCabe, Trevino & Butterfield, 1999) is that students at universities with honour codes tend to conceive the academic integrity issues differently and are less likely to argue a view which seeks to rationalize plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty.

The history of "full" honour codes lies in some American universities which have incorporated not only a kind of formal oath by students to uphold principles of academic integrity but also an enforcement mechanism which involves students monitoring and reporting on one another. York is not ever likely to move toward such a program and the "turn in your neighbour" aspect is particularly unattractive; however, it may help reduce instances of academic dishonesty in your classes if you incorporated a unit something like the following into an early/introductory meeting of the class-perhaps the first meeting.

Class Discussion of Purposes & Values of Education

Introduce a discussion of the central values involved in the academic work which will be done by students in your course. In general, the goal would be to make clear what it is that we are defending with the rules and procedures around citing sources and not engaging in practices which are academically dishonest.

You could start with an open question to students like: "What purposes does the university serve in society?" and lead through that to discussion of "What values do you think the university needs to uphold to achieve these purposes?".

Alternatively-and at the other end of the spectrum-you could start with a short presentation on values you think are central to a university. In fact, I would do the former and hope to lead the discussion, but in either case, I'd want to end up with a list on the board of some of the values which a university must uphold.

Develop a List of Values on the Board

In leading the discussion or making the presentation, you will develop a list of values. Your lists will vary, of course, according to what comes up in discussion from students and makes sense to you, so the following is just illustrative.

In order to achieve its social purposes, York, and we in this class, must govern ourselves so as to uphold the values of:

At this point, you might encourage discussion of how these values translate into your students" lives or how they are understood according to their cultures and backgrounds.

Develop Statements Connecting Values and Practices of Academic Honesty

You would next develop some links between the values and academic honesty. Again, this could be done in discussion with students, or you could be more directive and presentational.

For sample ideas about how these values and academic honesty can be related, please refer to York's academic integrity website.

Incorporate a Commitment to these Values

Incorporate a commitment to these values into your class by:

  1. Making it part of the classes "code of conduct," and/or
  2. Having each student sign some such statement of commitment, and/or
  3. Having students commit to it verbally in discussion or other form.

Sample ideas for linking values and academic honesty, as well as class "codes of conduct" and "honour codes" can be found on York's Academic Integrity website <www.yorku.ca/academicintegrity/honourcode1.htm>.