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Qualified Support

What faculty think of the Honor System

When cheating is observed, what do teaching faculty at the University do about it? The answer is far from unanimous. In a recent survey of faculty, only 27.6 percent said that they took action through the Honor System. The majority preferred other means of handling an incident, ranging from discussing it with the student or colleagues to academic censure, such as giving a failing grade for the course.

These and other findings, released in late November, are the result of a questionnaire conducted by UVA’s Center for Survey Research in spring 2006. Done on behalf of the Honor Committee, the survey represents a comprehensive effort to measure the faculty’s knowledge, perceptions and attitudes toward the Honor System. Graduate instructors and teaching assistants were included. The response rate was high—a total of 1,564 faculty completed the survey, or 52.6 percent—and the findings will no doubt fuel ongoing discussions about the vitality of the Honor System.

The results “primarily confirm trends that we previously suspected,” says Alison Tramba (Engr ’07), chair of the Honor Committee. Of most concern “is the faculty’s aversion to reporting cases. Prior to conducting the survey, we knew that the rate of reporting was low, but the statistical results confirming this are a clear mandate for the Honor Committee to make the process less burdensome and adversarial.”

The survey shows support for the Honor System, but also a significant level of opposition to it. More than two-thirds of the respondents expressed support for the system; 36.2 percent of that group tempered their support “with reservations.” When asked to elaborate on their misgivings in an open-ended question, 35.9 percent mentioned the single sanction. Other concerns lower on this list included student abuse of the system; selective enforcement; lenience in the system; the scope of offenses being too narrow; and lack of faculty input in the system. A total of 17 percent expressed opposition to the system; 12.6 percent said they held a neutral view.

Those faculty who reported cases to the Honor Committee were asked about their experience. Eighty-five percent said that the honor advisers were either very helpful or somewhat helpful. Of the time commitment involved, 53.7 percent considered the process “time-consuming but manageable.” Eighty-two percent of those working with the Honor Committee felt that the student involved was treated very fairly or somewhat fairly. Only 3.7 percent felt that the student was not treated fairly at all. Overall, 62.9 percent were satisfied with the process, while 37.1 percent reported that they were dissatisfied. When asked about the outcome, 45.7 percent said it was just; 32.6 percent said it was not; and 21.7 percent said they were not sure.

Nearly a third of the faculty surveyed (31.6 percent) reported that during their employment at UVA, they clearly observed a student cheating on work for their course.

How many times in the past two years have you observed a student intentionally cheating or been quite certain that a student cheated on work for your course?

Not observed 82.5%
One time 8.8%
Two times 4.9%
Three times 2.5%
Four times 0.6%
Five times 0.1%
Six or more times 0.6%

In your opinion, what are the factors that work to reduce the effectiveness of the Honor System at UVA?  [Top 5 responses]

Single sanction 16.2%
Lack of awareness/knowledge/communication 6.3%
Lack of reporting/enforcement 6%
Lack of full support (student/faculty/administration) 5.3%
Time concerns/cumbersome 5%

Source: UVA Center for Survey Research