"Each Davidson student is honor bound to refrain from stealing, lying about College business, and cheating on academic work... [and] to report immediately all violations of the Honor Code of which the student has first-hand knowledge...."
-The Red Book, student handbook
In a world that lies, cheats and steals, academic honor codes vary widely in degree and consequence. The Davidson Honor Code is the real thing, and it's more than just academic. It is lifeblood, flowing since the college was founded in 1837.
On Sunday night, new students concluded four days of orientation activities by inscribing their names into living history in the Duke Family Performance Hall. The annual signing of the Honor Code spotlights the culture of freedom, trust and responsibility that comes with it. That culture includes self-scheduled exams and lost money found and returned, and it shapes lives of alumni leadership and service.
"When students sign the Honor Code, they have a sense of the kind of community that we are creating together, that this is not something placed on them, that this is theirs. They are building this culture," said Davidson College President Carol E. Quillen. "Their leadership, commitment and creativity make it what it is. Our students feel responsibility for the honor code and the distinctive community it nurtures in a way that makes them partners in the educational environment we seek to create."
The college's first formal honor system was in place by the end of the 19th century, and a student council to administer it formed in 1910. As a student, John Kuykendall '59 helped establish the form of today's Honor Council. As president from 1984 to 1997, he saw it continue to evolve, bending away from draconian punishment and toward a more redemptive ethic of justice.
Today he sees an even bigger picture.
"As a Davidson student, you are committing yourself to your own crucible of character, seeking to be the best person you can be," Kuykendall said. "As a member of the Davidson family, you are acknowledging that you have a responsibility to strengthen the fabric of an ideal by weaving yet one more strong strand into a pattern which was begun long before you–or I!–arrived in this place, and will be here long after we have moved on."
As the first week of classes launch Davidson's 182nd academic year, below are more perspectives that inform this distinctive feature of the life of Davidson College.
Honor and shame from no condition rise,
Act well your part: there all the honor lies.
Alexander Pope, cited in The Davidson Handbook, 1921-22
"What's important is a code of values, not just a code of conduct."
Hansford Epes '61, Registrar Emeritus, Professor Emeritus of German and of Humanities
"As Davidson students, acting honorably is not an option: It is required. This environment truly allows us to pursue personal and academic growth to our fullest potential."
Courtney Clawson '21
"Giving open-book, open-notebook tests in class and as take-homes, and providing study questions in advance all go hand-in-hand with the Honor Code. In my judgment, the quality of thinking in an atmosphere of trust changes into a better, more joyful kind of learning."
Gil Holland, Professor Emeritus of English
"The Honor Code is a symbol for the high character that we believe you have. It binds the trust that unites our community as a place where we are all equals, responsible for own actions and those of our peers."
Julian Bertini '19
"One of the most traumatic moments I ever had in my life was a first-year German class where it was a closed-book take-home. It was midnight in the all-night study room, and I finished studying, opened the test, and discovered it was a vocabulary test.... My grade on that test will forever prove that I did not seize the opportunity of reopening the book."
Harrison Marshall '79, attorney
"Davidson's Honor Code provides new students with two opportunities that life rarely offers. The first is a clean slate. Regardless of your past experiences and actions, the Honor Code gives you the opportunity to hold yourself to the highest standard, and to enter a community that already lives this reality. The second is an instant connection and point of commonality with others regardless of religion, race, or political beliefs...."
Ben Dunbar '19
"Most people understand it on the academic-don't plagiarize, don't cheat-level. I often feel it shapes our entire community culture. The inclusion of not stealing in our commitment to Davidson Honor allows us the comfort of leaving a bag in Nummit [Summit Outpost Coffeehouse] or the Union while we throw a Frisbee on Chambers lawn. The inclusion of not lying makes us approach our professors and other community members in times of tribulation to ask for help and find that more often than not, it is given to us."
Nick Johnson '19