If Harvard does go the honor code route, it could help create a culture where students and professors are more trusting of one another and cheating is less likely to occur.
Honor codes vary in form and are relatively rare, with probably fewer than 100 around, said Donald L. McCabe, a professor of management and global business at Rutgers University who has conducted research and surveys on student cheating for more than two decades. Honor codes generally include at least one of four components: a pledge students sign to affirm they won’t or didn’t cheat on an assignment; a non-toleration clause in which students promise to turn in students they see cheating (these are rare); a judiciary board controlled evenly or mostly by students; and unproctored exams.
McCabe’s surveys have indicated honor codes do reduce rates of cheating, but by how much varies. In three surveys of about 30 small- to medium-sized liberal arts colleges, slightly concentrated in the East, fewer students at colleges with honor codes than those without reported copying exam answers from one another. 13, 19 and 8 percent reported cheating at “code schools,” compared to 31, 32 and 14 percent at “no-code schools.” The surveys are from the 1990-1, 1995-6 and 2005-6 academic years.
“I’m a great believer in honor codes, and if I were [Harvard] I would look at how I might be able to implement an honor code,” McCabe said, adding that faculty and administrators who resist honor codes – as seems to have been the case at Harvard – tend to do so because it means surrendering control to students via a student judicial board or unproctored testing.