On the verge of a Special Plenary, a look at the history of the Code
By biconews On 29 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Sonia Dubielzig
Guest Writer

Part one of a two-part series

Haverford College students have a terrible collective memory. Every year one-fourth of the school leaves and another one-fourth arrives, making it difficult to recognize our college as a historical and changing institution.

This is especially true of the Honor Code. How many times have we heard that the Honor Code is a document “written by dead white men,” as if it has never been revised in its 102-year existence? How many times have students said that “our community doesn’t live up to the Code,” as if this was a new problem?

At my job in the Haverford College Archives, I sometimes come across documents that reveal the many forms the Honor Code has taken since 1897. In this two-part history of the code, I hope to show that many of the values we think of as central to “The Code” are not those of dead white men, but in fact, of white men (who are still alive) in the early 1980′s. I also hope that any effort to revise the Honor Code takes its history into consideration.

The following article covers the first 30 years of the Honor “System,” as it was called then. For my sources, I drew heavily on a history written in 1992 by Bill Ambler (a retired professor), entitled, “The Haverford Honor System: The First 35 Years.” His notes and this history can be found in the Haverford College Archives, located in Magill Library’s Special Collections.

Underlying Values of the Original Honor System

First, I will address the common misconception that the Honor Code is a “Quaker” document. According to Bill Ambler, “In all of the information available about the first 35 years of the Honor System, the word, Quakerism, does not appear.” Many current students associate the Honor Code with Quakerism, but there is no evidence to suggest that the primarily Quaker students who adopted the Honor System ever considered it to be an outgrowth of Quaker principles. Neither does the word “Quaker” appear in our present code (although the words “the spiritual quality of this institution” do suggest it in the Introduction).

Secondly, the system was a product of an administration seeking to prevent students from rebellious and unruly behavior. When Isaac Sharpless arrived at Haverford in 1875, he described it as “a college more or less at the mercy of a group of ungoverned students.” As president, Sharpless sought to eliminate petty rules and laid down broad principles, and fostered a sense of common interests and common loyalty. He envisioned a system of student self-governance and discipline, encouraging the students to establish standards of behavior among themselves. His slow and gentle prodding toward student government paid off in better discipline, and finally took a definite form in 1897, when the freshman class (of 1900) petitioned for, and was granted, “honor examinations” at midyear.

Finally, the Honor System DID grow out of the concepts of honor and gentlemanly duty. A 1910 News editorial provides a good example of this justification for an Honor System: “Every class, so long as it wants to be called a class of men, is in duty and honor bound to stamp out all kinds of dishonesty … because common decency and honor demand honesty among men in all paths of life.”


The Honor Code’s history is one of increasing extension and meaning to all areas of college life.

The first 1897 system applied only to mid-year examinations, That Honor System and the subsequent Systems of the first 13 years were administered solely by “Committees of 5″ appointed in each class (out of a class of 20-40 students).

Increasingly throughout those 13 years, the Students Association assumed disciplinary responsibility for student behavior, such as disturbances during unproctored exams and dining hall food fights. The effectiveness of student government waxed and waned until 1910, when the separate class “Committees of 5″ decided to form a Student Council made up of representatives from each class. According to a News article, the Council would have the right to deal with “any case among students where the welfare of the College is concerned”; it would also have the final decision (after Faculty and administrative recommendations) “in cases that may arise in the honor examinations”. At this point, the Student Council took on a disciplinary role. According to Ambler’s history, the new 1911 Council “flexed its muscles that winter by suspending 11 upperclassmen from the dining hall for a week for “throwing baked potatoes and other mashable missiles.”

Despite its wider jurisdiction, the student government of that time acted primarily as a “policeman” for the Faculty. A News editorial expressed this sentiment in 1925: “If we are to have student government, let it be student government and not merely a ratification of faculty policies.”

The concept of a “social code” would not be included in the Honor System for many years. Different sections of the Honor Code governed academic and behavioral violation, separately addressing issues like alcohol, women guests, and library use. 1948 saw the first time that “any act” lay within the jurisdiction of the Honor Code. The broad definition remains in the current Code in Section IV, Process: “if it becomes clear…that either our academic of social conduct represents a violation of community standards, we are obligated to report this breach … .”

Even 30 years after the first honor pledge was signed, the academic jurisdiction of the Honor System remained limited to written quizzes and exams. It did not extend to papers, theses, and written assignments, and would not until 1944.

The issues surrounding a “Reporting” clause has persisted from the very beginning. The Class of 1901, following upon the heels of the first class to take unproctored exams, proposed an Honor System without a “reporting clause” that required students to report on another’s violation. This clause, however, was essential to approval by the Faculty, who rejected their petition.

Students showed continual reluctance to report, however. In 1930, four students who objected to the reporting clause refused to sign the honor pledge: the college arranged for them to take proctored examinations. In 1974, 44 years after the College made these accommodations, a freshman who refused to sign the pledge as forced to withdraw.

As a result of student unwillingness to “peach” on other students, the Honor System in 1931 contained the first version of what we now call “confrontation”: “Students who know of a violation should speak to the violator himself. If he does not report himself within 24 hours, then he should he reported.” In this way, students complied with the demands of the Faculty, but creatively avoided having to tell on their fellow students.

Trust, Concern, Respect.

We must make a distinction between the perceived role of the Honor Code of 100 years ago and today. It began as an administrative tool to enforce college policy and promote student self-regulation. Although the Code still serves this purpose to some extent, it has become infused with many other meanings and powers. In the next installment of this brief history, I will examine the Code over the past 30 years. During this time, the concepts of “diversity” and “trust, concern, and respect” were added to the Honor Code as the community struggled to be more inclusive to the growing number of women and minority students.

SIDEBAR: A timeline of the Honor Code at Haverford

1897 - Honor System for final exams started by Freshmen.

1901 - First time all classes under Honor System for final exams. Administered by class committees (appointed by the President).

1903 - Faculty supervision of exams resumes for one semester. (Not for cheating but to control disruptive exam room behavior.)

1905-1910 - Continuing problems with exam room behavior.

1910 - Student Council established.

1914 - Faculty claim Honor System not working, propose college-wide board to administer system. Students reject proposal, agree to elect (rather than appoint) class administrative committees.

1926 - Class administration committees abolished in favor of a college-based system. After repeated requests, Faculty agrees to permit make-up exams under Honor System.

1928 - Honor System extended to all written quizzes, but not to papers.

1929 - Proposal to include alcohol consumption under Honor System rejected Council administers College rule prohibiting drinking.

1930 - Honor System not working. Students reluctant to report violations.

May 1931 - Students approve report of Commitce chaired by William E. Cadbury Jr. ’31 including provision that violators should report themselves after being approached by a witness (instead of witnesses reporting directly to the Council). Practice of automatic one-semester expulsion for first offence, expulsion for second continues.

1933 - Council gives up administration of alcohol rule.

1944 - New comprehensive Honor System adopted. Includes sections on alcohol, women guests, library use and attendance at Meeting.

1948 - First year for “any act” provisions of Honor System.

1962 - Self-scheduled exams begin.

1967 - Board reluctantly approves no time limit for women guests.

1968 - Honor Council established (as distinct from Student Council).

1970 - Jury system established.

Early 1970′s - Drug use and minority issues undermine atmosphere of mutual trust.

1973 - Administration briefly assumes control of Honor system when Plenary cannot get quorum for renewal approval.

1974 - Faculty requests students sign honor pledge card, one Freshman, unable to sign, withdraws from College.

1982 - Joint Student-Faculty Committee, chaired by Colin McKay reports Honor Code in weakened condition; resolutions too lenient. Calls for renewal of commitment and suggests changes in Code. At spring plenary, revisions to the Code emphasize trust, concern, responsibility, and respect.

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