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Wake Forest has an Honor Code that all students must abide by, and which guides the behavior of our campus.  It is the University’s ethical standard and code of conduct, and it is described here:

“The honesty, trustworthiness, and personal integrity of each student are integral to the life and purposes of the Wake Forest community. This statement is embodied in one of our oldest traditions, and that is the honor system (honor code). When a student signs an application for admission to Wake Forest, they agreed to live by the honor system at Wake Forest. In specific terms that means that you and every other student have agreed not to deceive (lie to) any member of the community, not to steal from one another, not to cheat on academic work, not to plagiarize academic work, and not to engage in any other forms of academic misconduct. It means that we can trust each other, and that we willingly accept responsibility for our own conduct and activities. This is a tradition that goes back to the founding of Wake Forest, and with your participation, it continues to be a cornerstone of our community and our interactions with one another.”

When there are Honor Code violations, they are often of the academic misconduct variety, often plagiarism.  Unless you work in higher education, sometimes it’s hard to understand why plagiarism is such a serious issue to universities.  It’s just forgetting a citation, right?

Imagine for a moment that you are an inventor and you invented a wonderful new app for smartphones – something totally new and unlike any app other on the market and it is going to be The Next Big Thing.   Imagine you showed your app to some of your colleagues – who then stole the design, marketed it as their own, sold it and profited from it.  It was your invention, but your colleagues stole it, then took all the credit and the benefits that came with it.  You would likely call it theft.

Though some professors – particularly on the medical or technical side – deal in the creation of tangible products, many academics don’t create tangible products but rather ideas.  Fear of “idea theft” led to the creation of intellectual property and copyright laws.   Academics  take “idea theft” or “plagiarism”  extremely seriously and work hard to help students understand that ideas are not free “commodities” that anyone can claim.  It’s important to reference where those ideas have come from and to whom the credit is due:

Reputations in academia are made on the basis of creating new knowledge: discoveries of new facts, new ways of looking at previously known facts, original analysis of old ideas ….

A plagiarist receives credit for expression or analysis that was improperly taken from someone else.  In this view, the plagiarist commits fraud, by claiming the work of other people as the plagiarist’s own work….

Respect for these academic values is also reflected in licensing for professions (particularly law and medicine), employment on the basis of academic credentials, and esteem from one’s colleagues.”

(From “Plagiarism in Colleges in USA,” Copyright 2000 by Ronald B. Standler)

Professors’ academic reputations and employment opportunities are created via the ideas and knowledge they generate.  Faculty members have worked hard to acquire their knowledge, with years of rigorous study and discipline.  If a student takes another person’s idea and uses it as their own, it is essentially stealing that person’s idea – just as the people in our earlier example stole the recipe for the new soft drink the inventor created.

As the semester pushes towards finals and students feel the pressure to turn in papers and projects, it is important to remind your student not to cut corners and do something that might be unethical.  Cite all sources.  Be sure the work you turn in is 100% your own.  It is a lot easier to do the right thing in the first place than be caught in academic misconduct and have to face the consequences – which can be severe.

Parents and family members, you can help reinforce the Honor Code by expecting honorable behavior from your students.  You can be the University’s partner in reinforcing to your students the importance of adhering to principles of honesty and integrity in their academic work and in personal behavior.

So let’s talk about honorable actions for a moment.  While each of us may have varying definitions of what is honorable personal behavior, it is hopefully a subject on which there can be broad general agreement.  Acting honorably can come in many forms:

– Treating University property with respect (no vandalism, no breaking things, etc.)

– Standing up for someone else when they need it

– Not accepting or tolerating hurtful or defamatory remarks that are directed towards others

– Not taking advantage of someone if the opportunity presents itself

On that last point, one of the tricky parts of college is negotiating the issue of sexual consent, especially if alcohol is involved and one’s judgment might be cloudy.  There is a website called The Good Men Project and they posted a provocative letter about discussing issues of sexual consent with young men.  This is an excerpt from that letter, but one that might well fit in the topic of Honor.

“The only thing that means yes is the word yes.

Not saying no does not mean yes.
Not fighting you off does not mean yes.
Not being awake does not mean yes.
Not being sober does not mean yes.
No type of clothing – or absence of clothing – means yes.
No amount of previous partners means yes.”

Your students are ’emerging adults’ and with every action they have the opportunity to build an honorable reputation – or to hurt their reputation.  Honor can be academic, personal, interpersonal, and more.  Help reinforce the message of behaving with honor every chance you can.