The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Honor Charges Spike at Finals

4 min read


The end of the semester is approaching, a time when honor code violations tend to spike.

Last fall, 21 cases of honor-code violation were reported to the UMW Honor Council, with 12 of the cases from fall semester reported during or immediately following finals week alone.

Honor councils at other Virginia colleges, including the University of Virginia and the Virginia Military Institute, have seen the same trend.

“People do not necessarily want to cheat,” said UMW Honor Council President and senior psychology major Sarah Spangler. “People are just stressed and overwhelmed.”

Freshman Mason Moorman provided thoughts on why students cheat.

“People get into a habit of cheating in high school, where it is extremely common, so it’s just a continuation of that behavior.” Moorman said. “Students who also fail to properly manage their time may see cheating as the only way to get their work done.”

In a recent review of reported honor-code violations at UMW, the number of reported cases held steady from last year.

Eight cases were reported in 2009, the same amount reported in 2010.

Some of the sanctions this year include loss of course credit and 50 hours of community service.

At the University of Virginia, Charles Harris, the chair of the honor committee, said, “We do receive more reports after exam periods like finals or midterms.  This certainly makes sense, however, as during these periods of the semester significantly more students are completing academic work.”

Thomas Baur, superintendent’s representative to the Honor Court at Virginia Military Institute said, “At VMI the trend is to see more cases at the end of the semester, although not necessarily during exams. It seems that the end of the semester projects, papers and tests create pressures that lead to cheating.”

In comparison to some Virginia schools, the honor code policy at UMW is relatively lenient.

The honor code tradition at UMW, which was based on the University of Virginia’s honor code, is not a one-sanction policy but rather a four-sanction policy. The four sanctions at UMW include academic suspension, community service, loss of course credit, and expulsion. The severity of the violation dictates the type of sanction a student receives which the Honor Council determines.

At colleges with a one-sanction policy, any breach of the honor code warrants expulsion. According to Baur from VMI, if cadets are found responsible for violating the honor code, they are dismissed with no regard to the severity of the offense.

Harris, said “The University of Virginia has one sanction for students found guilty of violating the Honor Code, expulsion from the University if they are a current student or revocation of their degree if they have graduated.  This policy has been in effect since the inception of the Honor System at UVA in 1842.”

“I understand that the drug policy at UMW is one strike. In my opinion, cheating and stealing is worse than smoking a joint,” Provost Jay Harper said. “If I was to give anyone a second chance, it wouldn’t be for cheating and stealing. Especially when you agree to abide by the honor code. When you break that, it is saying something about who you are as an individual.”

Last year UMW, with approximately 4,000 undergraduate students, had 49 reported cases of honor code violations. UVA, with 20,895 students, had 47 reported cases.

“I think that people live up to expectations. If you set the standard for dishonesty and mistrust, they will live up to that. If you set the standard of honor, they will, too,” said Angela Pitts, associate professor of the Department of Classics, Philosophy and Religion.

The UMW Honor Council recently underwent several changes to streamline the process including the exclusion of jury hearings, Spangler said.

“We want to be more transparent to the students on campus,” Spangler said. “The majority of students fear being expelled when most are not sanctioned with expulsion but rather another sanction like loss of course credit.”

When asked if she noticed any changes with honor-code violation cases Spangler noted, “Most of the cases we have heard this year have been review and sanction which means the students accused have plead responsible. Most show a great deal of remorse. I think it speaks highly of the integrity of the student body.”

Students are not guilty as in court; at the Honor Council, they are found “responsible” or “not responsible,” for the accusations.

Some UMW teachers leave the classroom after they administer examinations but require their students to write the honor pledge on the top of the test.

Professor Pitts recently changed her policy on take-home quizzes.

“I was noticing a huge discrepancy between quiz and test performance. It’s not even that I’m mostly concerned about the cheating,” she said. “I’m more concerned that students actually learn the material.”
Spangler suggests time-management classes as a possible future sanction for UMW students found responsible for violating the honor code.

“We try to make the honor code a learning experience,” Spangler said.

Brian Marx, Christina Rivituso, Doug Schultz and Chris Young contributed to this report.