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Faculty Guide to the Honor System




The successful operation of the Honor System at Vanderbilt requires the solid support of the University. This support should be based on a sound knowledge of the System and each faculty member’s responsibility to it.

The Honor Council has always sought to establish a close rapport with the faculty. The Council seeks not only active faculty participation in the Honor System, but also the constructive criticism that instructors may offer from their unique perspectives.

The Honor Council is not a panacea for all acts of academic dishonesty nor does it automatically ensure honorable behavior of all students in academic matters. It is a spirit – an ideal – that permeates the entire educational process at Vanderbilt University. Emeritus Chancellor Alexander Heard summed up this spirit in an address to a freshman convocation:

At Vanderbilt as I have said before and as you may hear me say again, our first concern is the human intellect, but our ultimate concern is the human being. If we had to make a choice among human values we would choose Honor over learning, over skill, over understanding. Our concern for Honor – for integrity (honesty, accuracy, logic) – extends beyond the classroom to all things students do.

Students look to their teachers for guidance in their academic endeavors. If instructors do not give full support to the workings of the System, it is understandable why some students might attempt to violate it. Without faculty support of the System, students are led to feel that is an anachronistic bit of idealism to which everyone merely pays lip service.

To help the student understand his or her responsibilities under the Honor System, the Honor Council conducts a thorough orientation program for all freshman and transfer students at the start of the fall semester and ongoing programs on academic integrity throughout the year. The many efforts of the Council, however, are not enough. The Council needs each faculty member’s help and support. Academic Honor is a quality that must be continually enhanced during a student’s four years at Vanderbilt. Faculty understanding and endorsement of the Vanderbilt Honor System are essential.



From the very first, the Vanderbilt faculty has played an important part in the operation of the Honor System. In 1875, the first year Vanderbilt administered final examinations, the Honor System, was proposed by Professors Edward S. Joynes and Milton W. Humphreys. They gave to Vanderbilt the simple pledge “On my work and honors as a gentleman, I have neither
given nor received help on this examination.”

This extension of trust to the students immediately became a jealously guarded privilege. Editorials in the Vanderbilt Observer of the eighties and nineties show that offences against it were few and aroused great indignation. Investigations were handled by the officers of the class.

A strong feeling soon arose that proper administration of the Honor System required a special body of officials. In 1900 the Honor Committee was established. In 1905 a constitution and bylaws were written, providing that Committee members, selected from the four classes, be specifically pledged to the execution of the duties of their posts. The Committee was to act principally as a tribunal to judge those accused of breaking the Honor Pledge.

Expulsion was the first penalty and the only one available to the Council in its early years. Eventually, the penalty structure was altered to provide a range of moderating penalties for less serious violations of the Honor Code.

Since the early 1900s the Honor System has weathered many storms – from cheating rings to the involvement of campus politics in the election of Council members. Today the strength of the Vanderbilt Honor System lies in the fact that it has overcome the many obstacles of abuse and apathy in its past. It has today one of the most flexible and fair penalty structures of any system in the nation.



The Vanderbilt Honor System is administered by the Honor Council. The Council is composed of fifty-seven members selected from the rising sophomore, junior, and senior classes of all four undergraduate schools under the Council’s jurisdiction.

The purpose of the Honor Council is to preserve the integrity of the Honor System. The Council bases its action on the philosophy that no institution or government can survive where one person’s stealing is a good as another’s hard work. The Council does not function primarily as an instrument of punishment. Its aim is to secure justice for any student under suspicion of dishonesty, and this will take the form of vindicating the student’s Honor if he or she is innocent.

All students taking a course or courses in the College of Arts and Science, the School of Engineering, George Peabody College of Teachers, or Blair School of Music, including transient students or students cross-registered from a neighbor institution, are under the jurisdiction of the Honor Council. The System applies to all class work, laboratory assignment, tests, themes, computer programs, papers, and special assignments.

At the beginning of every semester, each instructor is expected to establish a clear understanding of the application of the Honor Code in each course, including the limits on collaboration with other students and the use of outside resources. All work handed in for credit is considered to be pledged unless specifically excepted by the instructor.

If a student has reason to believe that a breach of the Honor System has been committed, he or she is obligated to take action in one of the following ways:

Issue a personal warning to the suspect, or

Report the incident to the Honor Council, or

Inform the instructor in the course of the suspicions and identify, if possible, the person(s) suspected.

If a faculty member has reason to believe that a breach of the Honor System has been committed, he or she is obligated to take action in one of the following ways:

Issue a personal warning to the student(s) suspected of academic dishonesty that, unless the action(s) that led to his or her suspicion ceases, the incident will be reported to the Honor Council, or

Report the incident to the Honor Council.

The flagrancy of the violation determines which course of action the faculty member or student is expected to follow. The option of warning the student personally is open to the instructor only in the event of a minor suspicion or if there is not evidence available. If suspicion is strong or if evidence is available, the instructor is obligated to report the incident to the Honor Council. It should be understood, however, that the instructor need not have evidence in hand before notifying the Council – just suspicion well founded. The Council will investigate all cases.



When suspicion of an Honor Code violation is reported to the President of the Honor Council, the President immediately appoints two or three Honor Council members to investigate the case and report their findings. The investigators gather as much evidence as possible by calling on the person or persons who reported the violation, interviewing all persons who may have observed the suspected violation, and talking to the student who is suspected of having violated the Honor Code.

The President considers the completed report of the investigators and determines whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a hearing. If the President determines that there is insufficient evidence to continue, he or she shall inform the accuser. If a member of the faculty, the accuser may nevertheless request a pre-hearing. If insufficient evidence is found to warrant a hearing, the President shall send a letter of warning to the accused student.

In the event that an accused admits guilt during an investigation, that student shall have the right to request a small panel hearing. A small panel consists of a member of the Faculty Advisory Board, the President of the council, and another member of the Council selected by the President. The chair of the Faculty Advisory Board shall select the board member to sit on the small panel. The small panel serves only to levy penalty for students admitting guilt. If the panel is unable to reach a unanimous decision or if the panel believes that the penalty for the accused student should be more severe than suspension for one semester, the case is referred to a full panel hearing.

If sufficient evidence exists to warrant a hearing and the accused does not admit guilt, a large panel hearing is held. A large panel hearing consists of twelve members of the Council including the President and one non-voting member of the Board of Faculty Advisors to the Honor Council.

A large panel hearing begins with the presentation of all evidence by the investigators. Following this, the Council determines by majority vote whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant a hearing. Investigators do not participate in any votes.

The Council hears individually from the character witnesses for the accused, from all material witnesses involved including the accuser, and from the accused student. The accused may ask any person who has not had legal training to serve as an advisor. The Council trains several students to serve as advisors. The accused and his or her advisor are present during the presentation of all testimony, but not during the Council’s discussion or votes.

A vote of ten of the twelve Council members is necessary to find the accused guilty. If a verdict of guilty is reached, the necessary penalty is levied by considering three criteria: the flagrancy of the violation, the degree of premeditation, and the truthfulness of the accused throughout the investigation and hearing.

Penalties that may be imposed by the Council are as follows:

Penalties range from the minimum of failure in the course to the maximum of expulsion. Expulsion must be approved by a vote of at least ten of the Council’s twelve members. Other penalties require only a majority vote of the Council’s members present.

If mitigating circumstances are found regarding the commission of the violation, the Council may, by a vote of ten members present, elect to suspend the minimum penalty of failure. This action does not, however, alter the finding of guilt by the Honor Council.



A student wishing to appeal a decision of the Council may direct a request for review of the case to the Vanderbilt Appellate Review Board through its Chairperson. The Board may either reaffirm the decision of Council, send the case back to the Council with recommendations of modifications, or overturn the Council’s decision and impose its own ruling.



Professor Emeritus Dewey Grantham said in an address on the Honor System:

The Honor System has contributed to the health and vitality of another tradition at Vanderbilt – the emphasis on and the continuing quest for understanding teaching. Where faculty members are genuinely committed to the ideal of excellence in teaching, and where the administration is willing to make that objective a priority, as at Vanderbilt, the Honor System greatly enhances the process of teaching and learning. I am convinced that it facilitates professor and student working together in pursuit of answers and solutions and new questions. In short, the two traditions – Honor System and superior teaching – are mutually supporting and reinforcing.

The Honor System frees the instructor from the responsibility of policing students, but the instructor has the responsibility for fostering in students a respect for the Honor System and the observance of the principles embodied in the System.

A general orientation of new Vanderbilt students in the meaning of the Honor System is undertaken by the Honor Council each year. It falls to the faculty, however, to make the System a day-to-day reality in the classroom. An instructor may accomplish this task in four basic ways:

At the start of the semester’s work in a course, a statement demonstrating the instructor’s support of the Honor System is most beneficial. In this statement, the instructor should make it clear what constitutes a violation of the Honor Code in the course. If such matters are stated explicitly, cases resulting from misunderstanding about assignments may be eliminated (See Below)

The instructor should remind students of the Honor Code policy throughout the semester, especially before assignments and tests.

Although the primary responsibility for Vanderbilt’s academic honesty is in the hands of each student, the faculty member is expected to make every effort to provide a classroom atmosphere that is conducive to effective operation of the Honor System. For example, during a test, it is quite in the spirit of the System to seat students in any manner to minimize the possibility of a student accidentally seeing another’s paper. Also instructors might avoid giving identical examinations to different sections of classes, thus decreasing the opportunities for passing information either intentionally or unintentionally.

Instructors can help to keep the Honor System uppermost in their students’ minds by requiring them to sign the Pledge on every assignment. The pledge states, “I pledge on my honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment.



“Vanderbilt Honor Code governs all work in this course (e.g., tests, papers, homework assignments).”

Here a faculty member could insert examples-specific to the course-of actions that are (a) impermissible (e.g., a failure to properly credit sources in a research paper, copying homework solutions from previous semesters’ graded homework) or (b) permissible (e.g., student cooperation on homework or lab assignments, discussing paper topics with other students).

For each assignment in this course, I will explain how the Honor Code applies. If you have any doubts, please ask me – not another student or the T. A. – for clarification. Uncertainty about the application of the Honor Code does not excuse a violation.