Calling for repairs

Non-proctored exams will not remedy the problems of the honor system

On Sunday the Honor Committee voted to put a non-binding question on the ballot in the upcoming election, asking students if they would prefer exams to be non-proctored. Non-proctored exams were customary at the University in the past, but presently many undergraduate exams are proctored at the discretion of the professors.

Honor Committee Chair Evan Behrle said that this change would only be implemented if the Faculty Senate voted in favor of it or if the Provost’s office decided to execute it. Putting the question on the ballot would only serve the purpose of gauging student opinion on the matter.

The Honor Committee is grappling with several issues, the most prominent of which are inconsistent verdicts and low reporting rates. Last year’s proposal for jury reform was meant to directly solve the former and perhaps indirectly solve the latter, but the student body rejected the proposal to eliminate random student juries or mixed juries.

Putting a non-binding question on the ballot for the election may be a good way to measure the opinion of the student body on the matter, assuming that voter participation is at its optimum level. With only about 40 percent of students participating last year, there is cause for concern about not garnering a representative sample.

But leaving aside issues of participation, we must examine the value of the proposal laid before us. The important question here is not really whether students prefer non-proctored exams, but rather will non-proctored exams solve any of the problems that the Honor Committee is now facing?

The prominent argument in favor of non-proctored exams is that they would place more trust in the students — both to abide by the Honor code and to take an active role in holding their fellow students accountable to it. But since Honor reporting rates are already low, there is no good reason to think that by eliminating the proctors from exams, reporting rates will start to go up. The circumstances of the test may be altered, but the consequences of reporting an incident of cheating remain the same.

Non-proctored exams could only feasibly increase reporting rates if the Honor code was restored to its original form that included the non-toleration clause, which would hold a student accountable for an Honor offense if he witnessed an offense and did not report it. But the inclusion of the non-toleration clause is a matter that cannot be discussed until the system is improved. Non-participation is a vital diagnostic measurement of whether or not students have faith in the principles and procedures of Honor. To punish students for non-participation would be to undermine our democratic principles, and to ignore the problems that students are signaling need to be addressed.

Students must want to take an active role in the honor system, not be compelled to do so. The Honor Committee should focus on proposing concrete solutions that will restore University students’ confidence in the community of trust. Only when we see that trust return will it be time to think about matters like non-proctored exams. We need to reach a point where everyone feels comfortable engaging with this code of conduct before we shuffle the burden for it onto jaded shoulders.

Published February 11, 2014 in Opinion

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