An honor code or honor system is a set of rules or ethical principles governing a community based on ideals that define what constitutes honorable behavior within that community. The use of an honor code depends on the notion that people (at least within the community) can be trusted to act honorably. Those who are in violation of the honor code can be subject to various sanctions, including expulsion from the institution. Honor codes are most commonly used in the United States to deter academic dishonesty.
The University of Virginia's early years were marked by contentious relations between students and the faculty, which culminated on November 12, 1840, when John Davis, a professor, was shot to death in an attempt to quell a disturbance on The Lawn. Davis refused to identify his assailant, stating that an honorable man would step forward on his own.
On July 4, 1842, College of William and Mary alumnus Henry St. George Tucker, who had replaced Davis on the faculty, proposed that in the future, students sign examinations in the form "I, A.B., do hereby certify on my honor that I have derived no assistance during the time of this examination from any source whatsoever." The idea was a success with the students. The wording of the honor pledge has changed over time, and the definition of what constitutes an honor offense has evolved as well, at times including matters such as smoking, cheating at card games, or insulting ladies. As of 2012, lying, cheating, or stealing are never allowed. Despite the evolution of the system over the years, UVA's Honor System is rare in that it is administered entirely by the University's students. Princeton has also maintained an entirely student-run Honor Code since the beginning of their Code in 1893.
However, Jefferson's vision of a student self-governed system remains largely unrealized at other universities. Most schools adopting honor codes limit their application to the academic realm. More comprehensive systems — not unlike Haverford's and Davidson's — where students ratify and enforce social and academic codes, are rare.
At three of the service academies, anyone who learns of an honor code violation is required to report it. Failure to do so is considered "toleration," which is itself a violation of the code. However, the Honor Concept of the Brigade of Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy allows the observer of an honor violation to confront the accused without formally reporting. It was found that this method was more constructive at developing the honor of midshipmen. A non-toleration clause, on the other hand, is believed to make enemies of classmates. Additionally, it is thought that one's true honor, if other than utmost, was not able to be formally remediated when hidden from public view. Under the academies' honor codes, violators can face severe punishment, up to and including being forwarded for expulsion by the secretary of the Army, Navy or Air Force.
Stringent honor codes, however, are not limited to military institutions. The all-male Hampden-Sydney College is reputed for an honor code system on a par with military systems; this code extends to all student activities both on and off campus (off-campus violations can be prosecuted) and, also like the military system, considers tolerance of a violation itself a violation. Like the Naval Academy, though, those who witness a violation are encouraged to confront the violator and convince them to turn themselves in before resorting to reporting the violation. Another school with a very strict honor code is Brigham Young University. The university not only mandates honest behavior, but incorporates various aspects of Mormon religious law: drinking, smoking, drug use, and premarital sex are all banned. Also, the code includes standards for dress and grooming. Men must be clean shaven and men and women cannot wear short shorts or other revealing clothing.
There are differences between the honor codes of different universities.
The University of Virginia opts for a system run by elected students and involving randomly chosen students.
Bryn Mawr College holds its students to a high degree of trust with their Honor Code which is revised yearly and ruled by the Honor Board.
Connecticut College students uphold academic excellence and high community standards by practicing responsible citizenship that protects the core principles of the College. With the privilege of having a diverse student body, students should be able to interact and learn from each other in ways that uphold community respect and personal freedom. The honor system at Connecticut College is unique in that it is upheld and presided over by a student-governed judicial process. Because the Honor Code is taken very seriously by students, there is a strong trust between students, faculty and administration. The Honor Code sets the tone for campus life and acts as a philosophy to live by through demonstrating a commitment to personal participation in improving the quality of life in our community.
Haverford College holds an honor code which is ratified by students yearly and run by an elected body, the Honor Council. This code is concerned with an academic as well as a social component, demanding equal respect among students, in contrast to the military academies' focus on hierarchy.
Davidson College also holds a dual honor code. According to a legend surrounding the Davidson code, a student was put on trial for not reporting an extra can of soda dispensed by a vending machine.
Princeton University has maintained a student-run Honor Code for over one hundred years, unique in that regard among Ivy League schools.
Vanderbilt University has also been governed by an Honor Code since its founding. First year students attend an honor code ceremony to protect the traditions and academic integrity of the university. A plaque of the honor code is engraved in the student life center with a quote by once-Chancellor Madison Sarratt, "Today I give you two examinations, one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you pass them both, but if you must fail one, let it be trigonometry for there are many good men in this world today who cannot pass an examination in trigonometry, but there are no good men in the world who cannot pass an examination in honesty."
The University of Texas School of Law sets its Honor Code as a first step in the obligation of its students to the legal profession: "All law students are harmed by unethical behavior by any student. A student who deals dishonestly with fellow law students may be dishonest in the future and harm both future clients and the legal profession." In keeping with this approach to the honor code in the grand scheme of the legal profession, honor code violations are reported to the State Bar of Texas and the violator's home state bar, thus creating an impediment to licensure. UT Law School is unique in that regard.
James Madison University holds its students to an Honor Code overseen by the Honor Council. The honor code at JMU was founded in 1909 and the Honor Council is an organization run by students. A student who violates the code, if found "responsible", may receive anywhere from a letter grade reduction to expulsion from the university for a first time offense, while second time offenders are either suspended from the university for a semester or expelled. "The Honor Council at James Madison University is committed to instilling, promoting, and upholding individual and collective academic integrity.".
Washington and Lee University and its Law School feature an honor system in which all students are expected to act as gentlemen and women. The system governs both academic and social aspects of the university and is administered by the Executive Committee which includes the student body president. The honor system has a single penalty—expulsion. If allegations surface of a student violating the honor system they are given the right to a trial and appeal.
"On my honor as a University of Colorado student, I have neither given nor received unauthorized assistance." — University of Colorado
"I pledge that I have neither received nor given unauthorized assistance during the completion of this work." — University of Richmond
"The Hampden-Sydney student will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do." — Hampden-Sydney College
"Sweet Briar women do not lie, cheat, steal or violate the rights of others. Therefore, I pledge to uphold all standards of honorable conduct. I will report myself and others for any infraction of this pledge." — Sweet Briar College
"On my honor, I have not given, nor received, nor witnessed any unauthorized assistance on this work." — Rollins College
"I affirm that I will uphold the highest principles of honesty and integrity in all my endeavors at Gettysburg College and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect within and beyond the classroom." — Gettysburg College
"I pledge on my honour that during this examination I have neither given nor received unauthorized assistance, nor have I seen any violations of the Exam Code of Conduct." — Ashesi University (Ghana)
"The members of the METU community are reliable, responsible and honourable people who embrace only the success and recognition they deserve, and act with integrity in their use, evaluation and presentation of facts, data and documents." — Middle East Technical University
"I have neither given nor received aid in this examination nor have I concealed any violation of the University Honour Code." — Middle East Technical University
"Each member of the Association of Students of Harvey Mudd College is responsible for maintaining his or her integrity and the integrity of the college community in all academic matters and in all affairs concerning the community." – Harvey Mudd College
"On my honor, I have neither given nor received any unauthorized assistance on this work." — Trinity University
"On my honor as a gentleman, I have neither given, nor received any help on this assignment, nor am I aware of any breach of the Honor Code." — St. Christopher's School, Richmond
"As a member of the William and Mary community, I pledge on my honor not to lie, cheat, or steal, either in my academic or personal life. I understand that such acts violate the Honor Code and undermine the community of trust, of which we are all stewards." — The College of William & Mary
"I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this examination (paper), nor have I seen anyone else do so, except as I shall report immediately to the Honor Court." Centenary College of Louisiana