Sunday, January 9, 2011

Taking the pledge

No, not that pledge. I am not sure there is ever a good time for temperance and sobriety, but the eve of a new semester isn't it. I refer to the Academic Honesty Pledge, which (as of this semester) all students taking a course in my department are supposed to sign.

I dunno. I do believe in academic honor codes, and I think students should experience rituals that reinforce them every so often. It's how I came up: both the Beloved Alma Mater and the University of Basketball were old-school Southern gentlemen's universities, and as problematic as that heritage is in some respects, they did know how to impress upon students that the honor code was a Big Deal. But I kind of think that a culture of academic integrity has to come from the students, not imposed on them from above; and I doubt that one department, without institutional backing, can do much to create that culture.

I also suspect that to make an honor code really stick, you have to trust your students enough to let them be the enforcers -- and I'm not sure anyone at my institution does. (Misnomer U. began as an old-school Southern ladies' university, you see, a heritage that comes with a strong tradition of in loco parentis. While both of my alma maters have had a student-administered honor court since time out of mind, I can't really imagine the young ladies of prior generations at Misnomer being allowed to run anything of the sort, given everything else I've heard about the Old Days. And the paternalistic attitude still persists, even after coeducation; I was rather shocked, in my first year, to learn that dorms here have curfews.)

And I wonder, too, if we can sustain a culture of anything, considering how many students transfer in or drop out and are only on campus for a year or two. And how many of them live off campus and show up only for classes. So many of our students inhabit a different world from the one where I went to college, and where I taught as a grad student, and I don't know yet what that world looks like.

But it's a start, I guess, and it means that the students in our classes this semester will at least be aware that the university has an honor code. And maybe that's something.

No comments: