Adhering to the Honor Code versus passing the class

The College’s Honor Code is found in all campus classrooms. (Emma Carter / McDaniel Free Press).

At McDaniel College, the Honor Code is displayed on a plaque in every classroom to discourage students from cheating. Unfortunately, this does not stop students from doing just that.

“If you’re cheating, you’re still going to write the Honor Code,” said Erin Watley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of communication at the College.

In order to assuage this problem, it is important to understand why it is taking place.

At the College, depending on a student’s major, he or she is required to take pre-requisite classes and pass with a C or better to move on to the next class. As a result, this leads some students to look at one aspect: passing the class.

When students only focus on their grade, it causes professors to become concerned whether students are retaining information from their classes.

“I, as a teacher, am less concerned with you just getting [the assignment] done,” said Watley. “And [I’m] more concerned with knowing that you actually understand it.”

Kathy Mangan, Ph.D., who has been teaching at the College for more than 40 years, said she agreed. She explained that because of the McDaniel Plan, she will get students in her classes who are there as a result of the Plan. Her goal is not for them to fulfill the McDaniel requirement — it is to leave her classes with certain life skills.

“As long as they’re applying what I’m trying to teach them,” said Mangan, “I am a happy teacher.”

Even though some may have a better understanding of why students cheat, how does the College handle cheating?

Dean Stephanie Madsen, who is the associate dean for sophomore students and the chair member of the Honor Board, explained that it is a multiple step process.

“When a faculty member suspects a student may have violated the Honor Code,” said Dean Madsen, “[the faculty member] will submit an Honor Code violation [form].”

This form is submitted to the dean of the faculty, who will then decide if there is enough evidence to conduct an Honor Board hearing.

Madsen’s role before the hearing begins is to be a mediator for the student and answer any questions they have. Once the meeting begins, her role is to make sure the hearing runs smoothly.

“We want this to be a process that is fair to the student,” said Madsen, “and allow them to learn from that mistake.”

She also explained that when a student violates the Honor Code, it does not always result in a meeting with the Honor Board. This is known as an alternative adjudication process.

This was started two years ago, and it allows professors to handle minor offenses with their students. It eliminates students having to meet with the Honor Board unless they want to.

Despite the College implementing processes like this, it does not resolve the problem of students wanting to pass a class versus understanding the material.

No matter how personable professors make their course material, there are still a handful of students who will cheat, especially if they are not interested in the material.

In order to lessen this issue, it is important that the College combats it by formally speaking about it. As a liberal arts college, the administration and professors emphasize the importance of being a well-rounded student. But they do not talk about the dangers of just passing a class.

By starting a new initiative to speak out about this mindset, it will challenge students to critically examine their goals and incentives in the classroom.