Duke/Fuqua Honor Code: No joke.

In between a marathon session of studying this weekend, I’ve been working to setup my laptop to be compatible with all of the Fuqua websites, email, etc. After getting my Outlook email setup, I saw that I had a handful of emails, most notably one from Dean Blair Sheppard titled ‘Result of Honor Code Appeal’. #$@&^!, I haven’t even gotten to school yet, and I’ve already had an honor code violation?

Obviously, no.  When I opened the email, it was a mass distribution email about an ongoing violation that recently went to appeal.  An except is as follows; I’ve highlighted areas that I think are specifically interesting.

On Wednesday, June 24, 2009, the Judicial Board met to hear a case involving a student in the Weekend Executive MBA class of 2009.  The student was accused of cheating (plagiarism) on a graded team assignment by downloading content from the Internet and then representing it as his/her own work to his/her team.  The unanimous verdict of the Judicial Board was that the student was guilty of violating the Honor Code.  The Board determined that the penalty for the violation would be failure in the course, a one-term suspension, and a notation to remain on the student’s transcript for two years.  


This case involved a team-based case assignment.  The student submitted work to their team, representing it as their own.  However, the work turns out to have been a case write-up completed by other students at another school.  This complete write-up was found on the internet and downloaded.  The work was minimally edited to match the requirements of the assignment.   The use of outside material of this type was strictly forbidden in the course.

A core issue in determining the difference between a minor and moderate infraction has to do with the degree to which the student recognizes the severity of the action and persuades the review board that the student has learned from the event. In the view of the Board, the student did not appear to recognize the infraction or take responsibility for the action.  

First, in response to the direct question, “given the syllabus, is sourcing a case write up from another school a violation of the honor code”, the student’s initial answer was no.  Only upon follow up did the student acknowledge that even reading the alternative case write up was a violation and did so with significant hesitation.

Second, the argument that the student did not intend to represent the work as their own involves a misunderstanding of the violation – if I did not really explicitly call it my own work and if I would have eventually undone the problem then it was not really intended and not really a significant violation.  This is not just a false line of argument, but suggests a somewhat tenuous sense of right and wrong and a clear misunderstanding of the nature of the violation; any use of this material was a violation.

Finally, in several instances the student’s answers to our questions were slightly misleading. All of this could be excused as an effort to provide a defense in light of the consequences of the Judicial Board’s imposed penalty, but it also reveals an express inability to recognize the violation for what it is and leaves the question as to whether or not the student has really learned from this incident.

The first thing that strikes me about the account of this incident is ‘wow, you’d have to be pretty stupid to Google something, then turn it in.’  But at the second passage I bolded, even reading another persons work in this case was considered an honor code violation.  This seems an overly strict standard to maintain, but certainly must’ve been outlined before the assignment.

The second set of points I’ve highlighted show that not only does Duke take the honor code seriously, but even judges a defendant based on their defense.  Here, it appears that the student ‘keeps digging’ while presenting their defense, showing a tenuous grasp of ethics.  Thus, the penalty for violating the honor code was upheld as a learning opportunity for the student and the Fuqua community at large.

This email is something I will take to heart as I begin my studies.  The Duke Honor Code is no joke, and shows the Fuqua standard goes way beyond any voluntary oath.

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