Students to vote on honor code for University of Florida Earlier pledge not to cheat was dropped decades ago

October 09, 1995|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Academic idealism is taking root at the University of Florida.

This week, students will vote on a new honor code for the state's flagship university.

The tradition many of their parents knew so well -- signing a pledge on tests and assignments that they hadn't cheated -- died decades ago with the arrival of the computer.

Since the university went to electronic registration, University of Florida's 39,600 students have not had to take the pledge. Paperwork doesn't matter much anymore.

Students themselves are calling for the change. "It's easy to cheat here," said law student Holly Benson, who spearheaded the campaign for a new honor code.

"They [the students] have huge classes and multiple-choice tests. When you give golden opportunities for cheating and they don't feel there are any penalties, odds are they're going to take advantage of those chances."

Under the proposed new code, all University of Florida students would have to pledge, at least occasionally: "On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment."

The honor code at the University of Florida has a long history.

It was imported to Gainesville from North Carolina's Davidson College in 1912 by an English professor. The entire university adopted it in 1914, says University of Florida historian Sam Proctor, a longtime history professor.

Until the 1950s, at the end of every test, students wrote: "On my honor as a University of Florida student, I have neither given nor received aid on this examination."

Or, after World War II, simply: "Pledged."

It worked. Professors would hand out exams and leave. Students enforced the code.

Anonymous reports of cheating were dropped into a box in the union building. The Student Honor Court and professors investigated. Students found guilty were disciplined by the honor court.

It was one of the grand honor codes, the most legendary of which still holds sway over the University of Virginia.

But these days, the Student Honor Court is almost inactive. Ms. Benson prosecutes cheating cases. Last year, only one case came in. Guilty.

Another 61 students formally accused of cheating chose administrative proceedings or a faculty review; 58 were convicted.

Nowadays, professors often deal directly with students they catch cheating, lowering their grades or making them redo assignments, rather than go through a formal proceeding. And university officials acknowledge far more people cheat than are caught.

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