5 , 2003:
Princeton honor code
By Jen Albinson '05
The Princeton Honor Code, which was founded by students in 1893
and may stand as the one Princeton tradition stronger than Hoagie
Haven, became a hot topic of discussion last academic year. With
a controversial student-initiated referendum to amend the definition
of intent within the code and an equally controversial proposal
by the Honor Committee to add an administrator as a procedural adviser
to the traditionally all-student committee, this code, which boils
down to the statement written on every exam: "I pledge my honor
that I have not violated the Honor Code on this examination,"
took some heat. Some students wondered why a largely un-updated,
hundred-year-old system directs the very essence of what we can
and cannot do academically. Other students questioned why we as
a community regard the Honor Code somewhat casually. Still other
students, when discussions of the Honor Code emerged, exposed their
ignorance of honor's role here at Princeton. In response to this
rise in interest in the Honor Code, student members of the Undergraduate
Student Government, the Honor Committee, and the Committee on Discipline
developed the idea for an assembly on integrity and honor. According
to Eli Goldsmith '04, Chair of the Undergraduate Honor Committee,
these committees hoped the assembly would remind students of their
responsibilities as members of an academic community, while also
"emphasizing why these values are so crucial at a University
such as Princeton."Ê
And so on Sunday, September 21, 2003, the University community
gathered at dusk on Cannon Green for the "Assembly on Integrity,"
in which President Tilghman, student Elizabeth Biney-Amissah '04,
English Professor John Fleming *63, and Senator Bill Bradley '65
spoke. Although temporary bleachers had been set up in a U-shape
around Cannon Green for seating, many students arrived early and
positioned themselves on the damp grass inches away from the speakers
perhaps hoping to gain extra wisdom from Bradley via proximity.
President Tilghman opened the assembly. While I had been under
the impression that we were mere students, squeezing in an assembly
among homework, laundry, and extracurricular meetings, she told
us that we are actually "seekers of truth." When she reminded
us that as seekers of truth, we must "give credit where credit
is due," a junior girl behind me sighed in exasperation
in her years here, she may have heard that line one too many times.
Elizabeth Biney-Amissah spoke next. She addressed the newbies
in the Class of 2007, encouraging them not only to adhere to the
Honor Code, but also to manage their time well and to take advantage
of Princeton's resources. As a part of adhering to the Honor Code,
she mentioned the importance of giving credit where credit is due.
As the girl behind me sighed again, I wondered where exactly that
phrase originated and how we should properly credit the man or woman
who first spoke it.
Professor Fleming next approached the podium and introduced himself
as the vegetarian hors d'oeuvre to the red meat entrÈe that
would be Bill Bradley and his speech. "Integrity," Fleming
said, "it's like motherhood and apple pie. I speak in favor
of it. Integrity. You all should have it. If you don't have it,
you should get it." In the course of Fleming's speech, which
also highlighted how the Honor Code enables "mutual trust"
between faculty members and students, total darkness settled on
Cannon Green. Finally, the moment arrived that those students in
the very, very front awaited Bill Bradley was to speak.
In introducing Bradley, Tilghman mentioned that he graduated from
the history department the very same department I joined
last spring. For a fleeting moment, I was hopeful that I, too, could
be a Rhodes Scholar, a professional athlete, a senator, and a presidential
candidate. We'll see.
While Bradley fed us some standard statements on the importance
of creating truly independent work, statements similar to those
that I have continually heard and read since the minute I accepted
Princeton's offer of admission, he also introduced the idea of integrity
beyond FitzRandolph Gates. "You'll need your moral compass
long after you sign your last honor pledge at Princeton," he
reminded us. He gave examples from his cumulative life experiences,
discussing a decision Larry Byrd made not to renew a contract worth
many millions because he knew he no longer played his best, his
own decision to turn down a significant book advance as he did not
yet know how it would really sell, and his choice not to serve on
Princeton's Board of Trustees while still a New Jersey senator due
to potential conflicts in interest. He also reminded us (whom he
called brilliant achievers adding to our identities as busy
students and seekers of truth) that an important part of having
integrity is maintaining our idealism.
The girl behind me no longer sighed.
When I returned to my room that evening, I heard two of my roommates
discussing both the assembly and the general philosophy of the Honor
Code. Emily was describing that kid, present in every exam, who
continues writing for a full 30 to 60 seconds after the professor
says that time is up. When this student finally completes that gorgeous
sentence that will tie together the essay in such a way that an
A+ is inevitable, he or she signs the honor pledge without pause.
"Come on. How unfair is that?" Emily questioned.
"That's exactly what I'm talking about. And what about group
work on problem sets? I really don't think the founders of the Honor
Code thought long and hard about that," Andrea responded.
Let the Honor Code continue to be a hot topic on campus. As Bill
Bradley said, it takes integrity to believe that our system can
Jennifer Albinson '05 is a history major and can be reached at