5: On Academic Honor Codes

My first encounter with a clearly defined honor code system was in my first semester at Virginia Tech and it was something that I realized, very early on, was to be taken seriously. In India, for example, an academic honor code is unheard of and even if present, is not enforced and implemented properly. Thus, we get stories of blatant state-wide cheating scandals in the country in school and college systems. I myself have come across and been a part of numerous instances of cheating in school and in college and always thought that the reprimands for people caught cheating were too light and that led to a development of a culture of cheating. I do not feel ashamed in admitting that I have cheated in exams and homework and I am sure a lot of the students who come from India have, too.

Moving to Virginia Tech made me realize why and how academic integrity is regarded to be of utmost importance. By violating the honor code, you risk devaluing the degree you are pursuing and also bringing dishonor to your university community. I had a complete change of attitude and started consciously ensuring that I follow the honor code and have been serving as a panelist on the Graduate Honor System for the past two semesters.

As part of the Indian Students Association (ISA), I interact with many Indian students who are getting ready to join Virginia Tech, every semester. I make it a point to inform them about the honor code and ask them to take it seriously as I have heard from other grad students that Indian students tend to group together and cheat in classes. I don’t know the truth behind it, but as the President of ISA, I want to change that and help promote academic integrity at Virginia Tech.

Why is there a culture of cheating in India? I blame that on the perverse incentives in the Indian education system. Marks and percentages are given more emphasis than the skills gained or the capability of a person to comprehend the subject matter. In the end, we have a system that incentivizes getting a higher percentage of marks than learning and thus incentivizes cheating. I cannot change the culture of cheating, but can make a small contribution to making sure that academic integrity is upheld at Virginia Tech.