Community Responsibility – Bryn Mawr Honor Code

Bryn Mawr Students

By Megan Fortgang

By Megan Fortgang
Unigo Campus Rep at Bryn Mawr

The Bryn Mawr community believes that students should have a voice in their educational experience and student life on campus. At the most basic level, the Bryn Mawr Honor Code is an extension of the student governance policies and serves as a community set of values and provisions for student behavior. According to the BMC website, the Honor Code is a, “Set of principles that stress mutual respect and academic integrity. Students ratify the code, agree to adhere to it, and enforce its provisions.” Students “take responsibility for the integrity of their research and scholarship.” By enrolling at Bryn Mawr, all students are expected to be familiar and uphold the provisions of the Honor Code.

bryn mawrThe primary “enforcer” of the Honor Code is the Honor Board, which is separated into two panels, with one focusing on academic issues and the other on social issues. The academic board is composed of the Dean of the Undergraduate College, three members of faculty, and eight students. The Social Honor Board is made up of students only – four permanent member s who are re-elected each year and four rotating members. The Academic Honor Board holds hearings on issues such as cheating and plagiarism. Each hearing is confidential and appeals are made to the President of the College herself.

The Social Honor Code dictates rules on the personal needs of students on campus. The policies include a student’s right to have guests and a student’s responsibility to acquaint the guest with the Honor Code, to follow dormitory rules, and follow the alcohol and drug policies. If students get into a disagreement, the Honor Code provides the provisions for resolving the conflict beginning with confrontation between the students and ending, in the most extreme, a hearing procedure where the Social Board resolves the issue.  All hearings of the Honor Board are dealt with privately between the student(s), faculty, and the Board. Results of hearings are rarely heard around campus. Out of the students and professors polled, no one can remember a case from the last year and a half. The goal of the Board is to resolve issues before they happen and not to reach the point where a hearing is necessary.

One of the most visible effects of the Honor Code is the testing policy. For midterm and final exams, there are three options: in class/scheduled, take-home, and self-scheduled. All three options can be open note at the choice of the professor – often professors allow an index card for notes during an exam. In class/scheduled exams are just like high school , except the professor may only remain in the exam room for fifteen minutes at the beginning of the exam and may only return to collect papers at the end. For quizzes (shorter, more frequent evaluations) the professor may remain in the room. However, some professors choose not to use scheduled exams.

Mathematics professor Victor Donnay says that he often chooses the take-home route. Take-home exams are passed out by the professor during class with a specific length of time the student has to take it and a date to turn it in. Occasionally, there is a designated location the exam must be taken in. Donnay said that take-home exams, “Can ask more detailed questions without time pressure. For that reason, I think they are a better measure of student’s knowledge and ability to function in the real world.” He does acknowledge one drawback, however. “In graduate schools and on GRE exams, they have high pressure, high stakes tests that are closed book and timed. If students do not have practice taking that type of test, they might not do well in those situations. I would prefer that these tests and grad schools move to a more enlightened approach to assessing what people know.”

The Academic Honor Code dictates that students will not discuss the exam, help one another, or go beyond the limits set by the professor. Self-scheduled exams are similar, but are specific to final examinations. The Dean’s Office provides students with a list of times for examinations over the course of exam week. Students may elect to take their exams in any of these time slots in any of the designated classrooms. Whenever the student is ready to take the examination, she may pick it up in the designated location, take it to the specified classroom, and return it at the end of the three-hour period.

The testing policy is one of the “selling points” of Bryn Mawr for many students who always felt that the anxiety of the usual testing setting greatly impacts their achievement. “I take my tests when I’m ready,” said Danielle Menard. The testing policy takes into account the differences in student’s testing and learning needs in a way that encourages the learning for the sake of learning rather than just for testing and passing.

Cheating is obviously the major issue that arises from this type of testing situation, which is dealt with in private by the Honor Board. If students are found cheating they should be reported to the Academic Honor Board for a hearing. Although it may appear to outsiders that cheating can be rampant due to the lax setting, this is not the case at all. A Bryn Mawr student is chosen for her honesty. Danielle Menard stated that, “you just don’t do that [cheat] here!” Professor Donnay agreed. “I never worry about cheating,” he said. “I have had 1 honor code case in my 18 years here.”

In the spirit of the pervasiveness of the Honor Code, Bryn Mawr is not alone. Haverford, a nearby small liberal arts school which is part of the Tri-College Consortium with Bryn Mawr, has a similar policy. Bryn Mawr students are expected to be familiar with and to uphold the Haverford Honor Code when on Haverford’s campus. Reciprocally, Haverford students must uphold the Bryn Mawr Honor Code when on the Bryn Mawr campus.  Swarthmore, Tri-Co’s third institution,  does not have an Honor Code, but Bryn Mawr and Haverford student are expected to abide to Swarthmore regulations when on Swarthmore’s campus. Bryn Mawr women do not feel that the Honor Code restricts them, but provides an environment where they feel safe and are free to learn.