September 2015


To:         All Members of the Faculty

From:     Gretchen Long
              Faculty Chair, Honor Committee                     

Subject:  Honor Code Guidelines

Academic honesty is central to life at Williams.  We are governed by an Honor Code system, the details of which you can view at  Because faculty are ultimately in charge of what is permissible in any given class, the system depends on faculty to be as explicit as possible about what is permitted and what is banned; this means providing specific examples as well as general guidelines. This helps us in cases involving students who knowingly handed in work that is not all their own as well as those involving students who were confused about where exactly the bar was.  That latter category has grown as faculty increasingly encourage students to work together in some ways but bar them from collaborating in others, or ask students to use some forms of technology but not others.  Additionally, the lines that faculty draw in Spanish, philosophy, physics and art history differ, but a given student is likely to be enrolled in all of these departments at once. 

Preventing Violations
To prevent violations, we ask that you explain to your students how the Honor Code applies to their work in each course and that you do so as explicitly as possible.  Please reiterate how it applies to a given assignment when handing out instructions for that assignment.  Please give guidelines on the following, if relevant:

Collaboration with classmates
If all papers and lab exercises are to be the work of an individual, remind students of this.  (But please do remind your students that the Honor Code applies as much to response papers, lab reports, and ungraded work as it does to term papers and exams).  If students are allowed or encouraged to work with others, do they also have to acknowledge them?  If they need to acknowledge others, does this mean simply recording classmates’ names or does it also involve identifying the shared idea?  Does working together to draft a response using the computer, then emailing the draft to everyone, violate the injunction that one’s written work needs to be one’s own?  Where exactly is that line?

Use of outside resources
If students are allowed to use some resources but not others, please make the distinction clear.  May course readings and the student’s own class notes be supplemented by classmates’ notes?  By published interpretation and criticism not assigned in class?  By talking to their mom?  By Wikipedia?

Use of technology
Please make clear whether students are allowed to use smartphones or laptops, or to check their answers using reference books or technology, before handing in homework (as well as during class and on exams).  May they use the iPhone’s clock function?  The calculator? 

Sometimes when faculty ask students to write about a specific text or phenomenon, they allow the students to refer informally to that text.  If everyone has read the same edition of Don Quixote, it might be acceptable for the student to refer to its page numbers without providing a full reference; the same might apply to articles from an assigned reading packet.  Sometimes faculty require a full, formal citation.  Making the required form clear, especially by using it to reference readings on the syllabus, is helpful.  Do online response essays need formal citations?  Ungraded responses?  If formality varies, explain when and why.

Handling a Possible Violation
An important principle of fairness is that like violations be treated in a like fashion.  This is why the honor committee, rather than an individual, determines whether violations occurred and assesses sanctions.  Therefore, if you have any reason to question a student’s academic honesty, you should not try to resolve the issue yourself but should contact me directly.  If one student in your class suspects another of cheating and contacts you, both you and the worried student should get in touch with the committee.  Do not discuss the matter with the student.    The student chair, Tyler Sparks ‘15, of the honor committee and I will then meet with you to review the problem and decide whether this should be brought forward.

Please feel free to contact me.  I’m in 214 Hollander Hall and my number is x2125.  The committee and I thank you for your cooperation during this busy time of year.