Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Literature Review

The leading scholars of research on academic integrity and honor codes are Donald McCabe, Linda Treviño, and Kenneth Butterfield. They have conducted numerous studies since the 1990s on the influence of honor codes at higher education institutions across the United States, and their findings are numerous. One of the most significant, which went into the creation of the Harvard College Honor Code and Council, is the idea that cheating occurs on a U-shaped curve;that is, people with extremely low grade point averages and extremely high grade point averages are the most likely to cheat (McCabe et al., 2012).

Also relevant is the idea of motivation: as Davis et al. found, students who are extrinsically motivated are more likely to have higher rates of cheating than students who are intrinsically motivated (2009). McCabe, Treviño, and Butterfield found that schools with honor codes have students who are “less likely to cheat...less likely to rationalize or justify cheating behavior that they did admit to, and were more likely to talk about the importance of integrity and about how a moral community can minimize cheating” (2001).

However, as Whitley and Keith-Spiegel found, schools with honor codes do not entirely solve the problem - in fact, over half of students at honor codes were found to have violated the honor code at least once (2002). The fact that honor codes seem necessary (according to McCabe et al.) but not sufficient (according to Whitley and Keith-Spiegel) led the Harvard College Committee on Academic Integrity to think carefully about how to best create an Honor Code and the body that would enforce it. What they settled on was heavy student involvement, and instead of just making it a body that heard cases of academic integrity, its mission would be primarily pedagogical and not disciplinary. Student Academic Integrity Fellows would be charged with supporting their peers going through the Honor Council process and with stewarding the culture change by conducting outreach to make the theoretical Honor Code be a living and breathing document in practice.

In compiling this mini-literature review, I am drawing on some of the literature that was compiled for the Harvard College Committee on Academic Integrity by Alexis Brooke Redding at the Harvard Graduate School of Education when the committee was deciding on how to think about these issues on our campus. If you're interested in learning more, check out Redding's original literature compilation here.

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