A new honor code for UC Berkeley

Charlotte Passot/Staff

UC Berkeley has a new honor code. The wording is brief and to the point – “As a member of the UC Berkeley community, I act with honesty, integrity, and respect for others.” Although college campuses across the country have adopted various forms of honor codes, Berkeley is the first UC campus to do so.

Why now?

Berkeley already has a lengthy, detailed and rather legalistic-sounding Code of Student Conduct, covering various forms of undesirable behavior ranging from theft to sexual assault to cheating on exams. We also have our Principles of Community, an elegant set of aspirational statements that few of us can recite and fewer still see as a binding declaration. In comparison, the UC Berkeley honor code is a simple statement of, and a personal commitment to, the bedrock values of our academic institution ­— honesty, integrity, and respect — in a form that will be easily remembered and repeated. The honor code will serve as a constant reminder of who we are and who we are committed to be as a community of scholars, teachers and colleagues.

The idea of an honor code at Berkeley is hardly new. However, as new technologies have led to increased collaboration in students’ coursework, the boundaries that define cheating have become increasingly blurred. We are therefore trying to create more awareness about issues of academic integrity and respect for others by creating a consistent message across various departments and disciplines. There are also increasing public demands for educational institutions to instill a greater sense of personal responsibility and integrity. It was several years ago that a distinguished group of faculty from the College of Letters and Science recommended that the campus consider adopting an honor code, along with a number of other reforms of the undergraduate experience at Berkeley.

Subsequently, the Academic Senate, the senior administration of the campus, the Graduate Assembly and the ASUC came together and endorsed the above wording of our new honor code, with the ASUC enthusiastically taking the lead on efforts to generate campus awareness and hasten implementation.

How will the honor code become part of UC Berkeley’s culture?

In the coming weeks, you will see a general campus email announcement from ASUC President Connor Landgraf and Chancellor Birgeneau, and all incoming undergraduate and graduate students will be asked to click a box on their online Statement of Intent to Register forms, agreeing to abide by the UC Berkeley honor code. The deans of the College of Letters and Science and their colleagues across the campus will be circulating a succinct one-page statement elaborating on how the honor code can play out in courses of instruction. Recognizing that the nature of coursework and testing varies according to department and discipline, this explanatory statement will serve as a template designed to be adapted by campus faculty for inclusion in their course syllabi.

Moreover, all instructors, including graduate student instructors, will be urged to use the honor code as a springboard for conversations about cheating, the boundaries of plagiarism, issues of originality that may arise in collaborative assignments and other questions related to academic and personal integrity. Instructors will also be encouraged to ask students to sign statements on their written examinations certifying that, e.g., “I have neither given nor received any assistance in the taking of this exam” or similar statements as may be appropriate for different types of courses and teaching methods. Expect also to see signs, posters, placards and other visual reminders in classrooms and residence halls, reminding us all of our highest values as scholars and members of the UC Berkeley community.

The ASUC has set up an honor code website, complete with FAQ, to serve as a resource for the campus (asuc.org/honorcode). We invite you to join the ASUC as well as the Graduate Assembly, the Academic Senate and the chancellor in making the UC Berkeley honor code a proud new tradition of our campus community.

Connor Landgraf is the ASUC president. Mark Richards is the executive dean of the College of Letters and Science.

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