Honor Code Talk
Clay Splawn, Dean of Academics
It is my great privilege to stand before you this morning to
talk to you about Berkshire School’s Honor Code. Our collective commitment to
the Code provides the backbone of our community and the community’s proper
functioning hinges in large part on it. The Honor Code demands of all of us
that we live our lives here in the right way, with honor and integrity. It
should be obvious that in a community like ours, there is no single quality
that is more integral to our community’s success than living life honorably.
The preamble of the Honor Code states the matter succinctly:
And I quote: “The cornerstone values of Berkshire School are honesty and
integrity. The Honor Code codifies and symbolizes our collective commitment to
these values. We believe that it is every community member’s personal
responsibility to uphold them by adhering to the spirit and the letter of
Berkshire School’s Honor Code.”
How do you “adhere to the spirit and the letter of Berkshire
School’s Honor Code”? First, you have to be familiar with the code itself. You
have to read it. You have to understand it. In essence, the code is pretty
simple: it requires that you be honorable with respect to all aspects of your
life here at Berkshire. The Honor Code prohibits Academic and Social
dishonesty. In the academic realm, it prohibits plagiarism, cheating, and lying
with respect to academic matters. In the social realm, it prohibits theft,
vandalism, and lying with respect to non-academic matters. The mechanism for
addressing violations of the Honor Code fall to the Honor Committee and to the
Discipline Committee, but the responsibility to forge a community founded on
honesty and integrity falls upon us all. Violators of the Code will be
appropriately addressed, yes, but I want to challenge us all, faculty and
students alike, to make a serious commitment to honesty during the 2010-11
School year. It is not impossible for me to imagine that we stand here again,
at the end of the year, congratulating you all for making proper choices and
avoiding putting your integrity in jeopardy.
After you’ve read and understood the Code, what do you need
to do next? I am going to encourage you all to think – carefully – whenever you are confronted with a difficult
situation. Of course it’s true that sometimes we all get pretty stressed out
here. Your class schedule is tough; your sports schedule is demanding, and
sometimes it just feels like you don’t have the time to get done what you know
you need to get done. What do you
do in such a situation? There will be many options available to you – and some
of them come along with a significant risk of jeopardizing, not only your
status as a member of our community, but, even more importantly, with
jeopardizing your personal integrity.
- When it feels easier to cut and paste a source
into your English essay without attribution – think carefully about whether that would really be easier than talking to your parents about violating the
- When it feels easier to prepare a cheat sheet
for your history test – think carefully
about whether that would really be
easier than explaining your transgression to future college admissions
- When it feels easier to skip the citations and
claim an idea as your own – think
carefully about whether that would really
be easier than answering questions put before you in an Honor Committee
- When it feels safe to check your iPhone during
an exam for a math equation you can’t seem to remember – think carefully about
whether it’s really worth it to put your reputation on the line for a few extra
- When you’re unsure whether your collaboration
with a classmate on homework or a lab report crosses over the line -- think carefully about whether ignoring
your instincts would really be easier
than making the phone call to your parents to try to explain.
- When it feels OK to tell a little white lie
about sending your paper via email when you know you didn’t – think carefully about whether that would
really be easier than the explaining
you’ll have to do when your teacher double checks and doesn’t find any evidence
that you sent it after all.
Please, I implore you, think
carefully when you find yourself in these and similar situations. No test,
no quiz, no exam, no paper is worth the irreparable harm that you can and will
do to your reputation and your scholastic future if you decide to violate the
Honor Code. Think about this: if you perform poorly on a quiz that you weren’t
quite ready for, there will always be another quiz. If you just don’t have
enough time to get that final revision done on your English essay, there will
always be another essay to write. But if you choose to make a decision that
puts you in violation of the Honor Code, you put a negative stamp on your one and only reputation. You simply
do not get another chance to make that moment right. Protect your honor and
your integrity; guard it against any possible threat; shield it from all
possible sources of suspicion.
I’ve spent some time now detailing a number of things that
the Honor Code prohibits you from doing. And there is no need to debate those
things: All of us agree that a community without cheating, stealing,
and lying is a better community. But what can we all actually do to protect the
integrity of our community?
- Students can take pride in work honorably
performed and sign, with that proper pride, the honor pledge on their work.
- Student leaders can model the virtues contained
in the Code and become ambassadors for it.
- Teaching faculty can continually remind students
about the importance of honor in their scholastic work and can consistently
insist that students sign the pledge.
- We can all live life here in the way that we
know to be appropriate and encourage others to do the same.
In closing, let me just say that I and the rest of the
faculty firmly believe that all our kids here are good kids. Even those among
you sitting in the audience that have already run afoul of the Honor Code in
your previous years here are still, despite that transgression, good kids. We all understand that good people
sometimes make bad decisions. And that’s almost always what happens when
someone violates the Honor Code. A good kid makes a poor decision and must then
face the consequences for that decision. Just know that your teachers, your
parents, your advisor, your prefects, your friends are all people that are
available to you here to help you make the proper choices. Solicit their help
in times of need; lean on people whose judgment you trust; step
back, take a deep breath, think carefully,
and make the right decision. Imagine walking across that stage at graduation.
If you consistently make the right decision here, when you accept that diploma,
you’ll know that you earned it – and you’ll be rightfully proud of your
Thank you very much.