Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

November 5 , 2003:
Keeping it honest
The 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."

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 be improved.

Jennifer Albinson '05 is a history major and can be reached at albinson@princeton.edu