Week 4: Graduate Honor System

After reading through the Virginia Tech Graduate Honor System policies and also some of the other documents about the policy, I found that overall the policy makes a lot of sense and I feel that it does a good job of trying to be fair to students. Often times academic misconduct can occur without students expressly trying to break rules or cheat. I think that it is very important to examine each case on an individual basis. Furthermore, the policies allow for students to learn from their mistakes and does not blindly expel students who violate the policy.

One of the statements in the supporting documentation that I felt conveyed the sentiment of the VT Graduate Honor System is quoted below.

“Virginia Tech’s Graduate Honor System allows that the human condition is not perfect and that a student faced with the consequences of a questionable moment has a rare opportunity to reexamine the decisions that led to the violation.”

-Hierarchies of the Virginia Tech Honor Code: Twenty Years of Case Studies of the Graduate Honor System

This reminds me of the idea of restorative justice. This is the concept that justice is served by fixing the mistake that was made and thus “restoring” the previous state of what was harmed. The decision to allow a student to reflect on a mistake and work to improve their behavior allows them to right the wrong that they committed. At the end of the day, I think that the world is better off working with people and allowing them opportunities to learn and grow. This doesn’t mean that there should not be a punishment or that violations of the Honor System should not be taken seriously.  I simply think that by expelling students, especially those with no history of infractions, we miss an opportunity to educate and improve the moral character of a student. Moreover, I think that people make honest mistakes and so systems should always be designed to allow for flexibility and to avoid absolute rules and punishments.

Another facet of the VT Graduate Honor System that I think is really important, and unfortunately not thought about as much as teaching, is the policies regarding teaching standards. I am glad to see that included in the Honor System are policies about how graduate students should conduct themselves when teaching and grading material. One of the statements that I have seen violated is the following:

“neglecting to properly grade submitted material”

– Article 1, section 3, 3. Falsification

I know that graduate students often have many commitments and people trying to get them to focus on a multitude of tasks. It is a full-time job and comes with lots of stress. However, when grading material graduate students should always think about what the proper amount of effort is always do their best to grade assignments with care and patience. As an undergraduate student, I had several graduate student TA’s that would not really read through lab reports or actually go through assignments and instead just give everyone the same grade, usually an A to avoid any complaints. As an undergraduate student I felt like I was being deprived of learning opportunities and meaningful feedback. I would work hard on writing lab reports and I genuinely wanted to know what I was doing well and what I needed to improve on. As a teaching assistant, I spent a great deal of time grading lab reports, but it was important to me to provide that feedback and do my best to help students improve.

I am also glad the the Honor System has policies that are meant to protect teachers and acknowledge that sometimes TA’s make mistakes even when they are trying their best to grade honestly and fairly. One of the statements that stood out to me was the following:

“Likewise, misconduct in teaching does not include honest disagreement over the method of presentation of instructional material to a class or in the evaluation of the performance of a student.”

– Article 1, section 3

I think that as students and as teachers we need to always remember that often there is no absolute truth. Our ultimate goal is to learn from each other and to create communities of people who can mutually benefit from the knowledge that we acquire and share. The VT Honor System is a great framework to create an environment in which students and teachers are treating each other with respect and conducting themselves with integrity. Having this type of environment is crucial to creating people who contribute to a successful society.

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