The Honor Code

Honor is something we take very seriously at Wake Forest. We have 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 Wake Forest Undergraduate Honor Code (the “Honor Code”) is grounded in a fundamental commitment from each member of our community to honesty and integrity. Adherence to the Honor Code enables our community to live and to work together with a shared sense of trust and respect. Violations of the Honor Code are treated with the utmost seriousness because they undermine both personal integrity and community standards. Specific offenses under the Honor Code include cheating, plagiarism, stealing, and deception in both academic and social settings.”

Honor Code violations are often related to academic misconduct: mostly plagiarism, or taking someone else’s work (in whole or part) and claiming it as your own. Unless you work in higher education yourself, it may be hard to understand why plagiarism is such a serious issue.

Imagine for a moment that you are an inventor and you invented a wonderful new soft drink – something totally new and unlike any other on the market. Imagine you shared a taste of it with some of your colleagues, and then you find out later your colleagues stole the recipe, marketed the drink 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 call that 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. Faculty take idea theft or plagiarism extremely seriously and work hard to help students understand that ideas are not free commodities that anyone can claim. You have to acknowledge where those ideas came 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

Professors’ academic reputations (and employment opportunities) are created via the ideas and knowledge they generate. Faculty members worked hard to acquire their knowledge via 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.

Aside from the unethical issue of plagiarism is the fact that students who plagiarize aren’t truly learning on their own. Ronald B. Sandler explains it this way:

A fundamental goal of education is to produce students who can evaluate ideas – both analysis and synthesis – and who can produce significant original thoughts. Plagiarism is simply repeating words or thoughts of other people, without adding anything new. Therefore, submitting a plagiarized paper – in addition to the wrongful conduct – does not demonstrate the level of understanding and skill that an educated person is reasonably expected to have.”

From Plagiarism in Colleges in USA 

The internet is filled with vast amounts of information (often with varying levels of quality). Students can use the internet, as well as traditional libraries and books, as they research papers for class or other academic projects. The key is to reference those ideas or quotations properly and give credit where it is due. There is a wonderful class available to students called Library 100 – Accessing Information in the 21st Century – which helps students learn how to efficiently find information on the Internet and verify its accuracy. If your student has not taken it, I highly recommend it.

During their time at Wake Forest, students will be turning in papers and projects during crunch times with lots of other obligations and responsibilities. It is important to remind your student not to cut corners and do something that might be unethical: cite all sources and 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.

Wake Forest expects its students to know and abide by all aspects of the Honor Code. 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 personal behavior.

The ZSR also has a good tutorial about plagiarism.


— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)


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If Your Student Has a Problem

One of the best ways parents/families can help their students is to let them handle their business as independently as possible. Use the Stop, Drop, and Roll method when your student contacts you with a problem, a decision to make, etc.

Orientation 2021 presentations