Do your friends take advantage of you? Will you let them talk you into getting suspended or getting a notation on your transcript that says “Censure: Violation of Honor System” or some other mark in your permanent record? A sad part of my position as the faculty chair of the Honor Council is talking to many students to which this has happened.

Some students talk their friends into letting them use their old papers. Other students let their friends copy their homework. Professors who discover this happening in their course often feel anger, betrayal, disappointment and many other emotions. But they will not be harmed. Other than the offender, the people who are harmed are other students in the class. If a plagiarized paper is not discovered, it may change the curve in that class, resulting in honest students receiving lower grades than they deserved. Similarly, students copying other students’ homework may result in lower grades for some honest students. Even if the grades aren’t lower, it devalues the grades other students have earned.

In some courses, students know that other students are turning in plagiarized papers or helping each other with their homework. Basically, honest students may come to think that the only way they can compete is also to plagiarize or work with a friend on an assignment. Thus, not only does cheating hurt the grades of honest students, it actually encourages them to cheat. And in many cases, it is the honest student that can get caught and end up with an Honor System sanction. These Honor System sanctions seriously decrease the value of that student’s Georgetown degree.

Why does cheating go on? Because many students are afraid to tell friends that they won’t share their homework.

Another reason cheating continues is that honest students are afraid of reporting other students. The Georgetown Honor System does not require students to turn in other students. But if you don’t say anything, the cheating will continue. There are alternatives. You can tell the professor what is going on, without giving names. That helps protect your grade and your work and will encourage the professor to change how assignments are given. You can tell someone on the Honor Council what is going on, and he can talk to the professor. This way, you can keep your name out of it.

Be forewarned. We are educating faculty about how to catch cheating and plagiarism. The Internet is actually making it quite easy to find out if a student plagiarized a paper and how much of the paper is plagiarized. See, a “detection” service to which the university plans to subscribe.

The goal of the Honor Council is not to punish but to create an environment where true learning can occur and where grades are given fairly. If professors believe they can give take-home exams and larger projects, they will move away from in-class exams that test only specific facts and move toward grading based on creativity and independent research. A successful Honor System allows professors to treat students responsibly and to make students partners in their own education.

James Sandefur is a professor in the Mathematics Department.

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