Academic Misconduct - Honor Code

On March 17, 1896, Williams students voted 247 to 42 in favor of inaugurating a campus-wide Honor Code. While it has evolved over time, this Honor Code remains, to this day, a critical component of our academic community. The Honor Code is only ratified by Williams students, and as such, only student members of the Honor and Discipline Committee can vote on cases.

  • As an institution fundamentally concerned with the free exchange of ideas, Williams College has always depended on the academic integrity of each of its members. In the spirit of this free exchange, the students and faculty of Williams recognize the necessity and accept the responsibility for academic honesty.

    A student who enrolls at the College thereby agrees to respect and acknowledge the research and ideas of others in his or her work and to abide by those regulations governing work stipulated by the instructor. Any student who breaks these regulations, misrepresents his or her own work, or collaborates in the misrepresentation of another’s work has committed a serious violation of this agreement.

    Students and faculty  report alleged violations of this agreement to the Honor and Discipline Committee. The Honor and Discipline Committee is made up of eight students, eight faculty, and the Dean of the College.  The Dean designates one student as chair. The Faculty Steering Committee designates a Faculty Chair.

    A case begins when a member of the community comes forward with evidence that a violation of the Honor Code might have occurred. This person normally brings the suspected violation to the attention of the Student Chair (SC) or the Faculty Chair (FC). If the Chairs decide that there is sufficient evidence to proceed, the SC meets with the concerned student(s) as soon as possible, informs them of the allegation, and presents them with copies of the supporting evidence. The SC listens to what the student(s) has to say and provides instruction/guidance concerning their rights and the Honor Committee’s standard procedures. The conversation between the student and the SC may become part of the evidence at a hearing at the discretion of the SC. The SC should make clear during the conversation with the student whether the discussion is confidential or not. The SC encourages all students to meet with a dean who can offer them advice and support as they prepare for the hearing.

    Students who are brought before the Honor Committee have the right to be accompanied by an advisor. The advisor must be a member of the College community (i.e., student, faculty or staff); students may not be accompanied by or represented by an attorney. During the hearing the advisor and the accused student may speak to one another, but the advisor may not address the committee or question witnesses.

    1. Login to PeopleSoft with your Williams ID and password.
    2. From the Self-Service menu, select the section “Williams Honor Code.”
    3. Read all sections of the Honor Code and check the available boxes to affirm your complete understanding of the Honor Code and to assert your agreement to abide.

    Note: You must go through the above steps to remove the “Honor Code” hold placed on your PeopleSoft account. If you do not follow the above steps, then your access to PeopleSoft, including class registration, will be restricted.

  • If a student is unsure how the Honor Code applies in a particular situation, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to find out from his or her professor how the Honor Code applies in that situation. An open and highly individualized system can last only as long as both the students and the faculty work together to create a true academic community.

    In all written material, including ungraded assignments and drafts, students are expected to avoid the possibility of even unintentional plagiarism by acknowledging the sources of their work. Careful observance of accepted standards of reference and attribution is required. The basic rules are summarized below. Students are further advised to consult a recognized style manual to learn how to acknowledge sources correctly.

    The basic rules of attribution for all academic assignments, including homework, require that:

    1. A direct quotation (whether a single word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, or series of paragraphs) must always be identified by quotation marks, by indenting and single spacing, or by reduced type size of the quoted material, and a note must be used to state the exact source.
    2. A paraphrase of the work of another must be acknowledged as such by a note stating the source.
    3. Indebtedness to the specific ideas of others, or the summarizing of several pages, even though expressed in different words, must be acknowledged by a note stating the source.
    4. In every instance, the use of another student’s laboratory reports, computer programs, or other material must be acknowledged by a note.
    5. Even the use of a student’s own previous or concurrent work must be acknowledged; thus, a student must obtain the prior permission of both the previous and current instructors before submitting all or part of the same paper in more than one course.

    NOTE: Attempts to gain academic advantage by misleading a professor are violations of the Honor Code. For example, if a student claims to have handed in an assignment, that work must actually have been submitted.

    For Students

    Resources on when to cite

    If you are at all unsure about how to properly cite your work, you should always go speak to your professor first. They will know what they expect better than anyone else. These other resources are also available if you would like additional help:

    1. The Eph Survival Guide
    2. The Williams College Library

    For Faculty

    Assembling your syllabus and course packet

    When faculty do not provide any citations to the required course readings, either on the syllabus, on the title page of copied articles, or on a table of contents, then students are unable to provide the citations themselves, and might reasonably think that they may be held to this same low standard. Please model good citation practice by providing in at least one place in your course materials the complete references that students should use when drawing on the course readings for essays.

    Decisions to make while writing the Honor Code section of your syllabus

    Collaboration with classmates
    If all papers and lab exercises are to be the work of an individual, remind students of this. Please do remind your students that the Honor Code applies as much to response papers, lab reports, and ungraded work as it does to term papers and exams. If students are allowed or encouraged to work with others, do they also have to acknowledge them? If they need to acknowledge others, does this mean simply recording classmates’ names or does it also involve identifying the shared idea? Does working together to draft a response using the computer, then emailing the draft to everyone, violate the injunction that one’s written work needs to be one’s own? Where exactly is that line?

    Use of outside resources
    If students are allowed to use some resources but not others, please make the distinction clear. May course readings and the student’s own class notes be supplemented by classmates’ notes? By published interpretation and criticism not assigned in class? By talking to their mom? By Wikipedia? By assigned readings that they have completed for another class the same semester?

    Use of technology
    Please make clear whether students are allowed to use smartphones or laptops, or to check their answers using reference books or technology, before handing in homework (as well as during class and on exams). May they use the iPhone’s clock function? The calculator? Dictionary?

    Citation style
    Sometimes when faculty ask students to write about a specific text or phenomenon, they allow the students to refer informally to that text. If everyone has read the same edition of Don Quixote, it might be acceptable for the student to refer to its page numbers without providing a full reference that includes the author, publisher and edition; the same might apply to articles from an assigned reading packet. Sometimes faculty require a full, formal citation. Making the required form clear, especially by using it to reference readings on the syllabus, is helpful. Do online response essays need formal citations? Ungraded responses? If formality varies, explain when and why. Please help get across to students that the style of a citation is not as important as the fact that the citation is provided. Using the wrong style is not an honor code violation. Failing to provide a citation is.

    Common knowledge
    Students increasingly claim that they neglected to cite something because the ideas they drew from it were “common knowledge.” This is hardly ever accurate. The common-knowledge rule of thumb applies to public facts–the US has 50 states, the Archduke was assassinated in 1914–not to interpretations, statistics, or even to particular formulations/phrasings of those facts. The content, for example, of Wikipedia and Sparknotes is proprietary, not common knowledge, and data drawn from the statistical handbook that the US Census Bureau puts out every year are the product of specific work, though they are in the public domain. Communicating this to students would be a big help.

  • Reporting potential violations of the honor code is essential to our academic integrity. If you have any reason to believe that the honor code has been violated, even if the suspected violation would be minor, the best thing to do is to inform the Student or Faculty Chair of the Honor Committee as soon as possible. It is the committee's responsibility alone to determine whether or not an honor code violation has occurred.

    For Faculty and TAs

    If you have any reason to suspect one of your students has violated the honor code on any assignment, you must contact the Faculty Chair of the Honor Committee.

    For reasons of equity across the student body, suspected infractions must be taken to the Honor Committee and may not be dealt with by individual instructors.  The College decided many years ago that a decentralized process would be fundamentally unfair: different instructors might interpret an identical case in wildly differing ways, so the same infraction gets, in one class, a failure on the assignment, on another a talking-to, on a third the benefit of the doubt and a chance for a do-over, and so on. In addition, faculty cannot know if the student already has a long record of disciplinary problems and is even, in fact, on probation, or does/not have a turbulent family life as claimed.

    Basic equity means that like cases are treated alike. Only the Dean's Office and the Honor Committee have the context and track record to determine which cases are alike.

    Please keep in mind that TAs and faculty members are only responsible for reporting potential infractions. Faculty are not responsible for determining innocence, guilt, or even whether a hearing should be convened. As a result, you do not have to be completely sure whether an infraction has occurred, but you are obligated to report any suspicious assignments or behavior. It is up to the Faculty Chair, in cooperation with the Student Chair and the Dean of the College, to determine whether to proceed with a hearing.

    For classmates

    If you suspect that someone in your class has violated the honor code, you should contact either your professor, the Student Chair, or the Faculty Chair of the Honor Committee as soon as possible. Once the chairs are notified (by you or by your professor), they will meet with you to go over the evidence or story to see whether your concern is something that should be brought to a hearing. Your professor does not need to have witnessed or otherwise been aware of the suspected infraction in order to report your suspicion to the committee.

    You don’t need to be completely sure that the honor code has been violated to report your suspicion, it is the committee’s responsibility alone to decide whether or not an infraction has occurred.

    For other scenarios (roommates, strangers, etc.)

    If you are aware that another student may have violated the honor code, it is your responsibility as a Williams student to report it. Our honor code specifically describes this obligation. Many students have come forward to report potential infractions made by other students whom they did and did not know. It is a difficult responsibility, but one that is essential for maintaining our integrity as students and as an institution.

    To report an infraction, contact either the Student or Faculty Chair of the Honor Committee.

  • Before a Hearing

    A case begins when a member of the community comes forward with evidence that a violation of the Honor Code might have occurred. This person normally brings the suspected violation to the attention of the Student Chair (SC) or the Faculty Chair (FC). If the Chairs decide that there is sufficient evidence to proceed, the SC meets with the concerned student(s) as soon as possible, informs them of the allegation, and presents them with copies of the supporting evidence. The SC will ensure the student is informed about their rights and the Honor Committee procedures; while the SC can instruct the student on what is allowed and not allowed in the process, they may not advise the student as to what the best course of action is. The SC will also ask the student if there are any members of the panel (student or faculty) who the student believes cannot hear the case fairly. Requests for the recusal of a panel member must be based on a specific and substantial conflict of interest, not a general or unspecified impression. The SC and FC will decide on any such requests.

    The conversation between the SC and the accused may become part of the evidence at a hearing at the discretion of the SC. The SC should make clear during the conversation with the accused student whether the discussion is confidential or not. The FC will meet with the members of the faculty or staff who will be appearing at the hearing to acquaint them with hearing procedure and guidelines.

    When the case is ready to move forward, the SC, FC, and Dean decide on a time for the hearing. The members sitting for that case will be asked beforehand if any member of the committee has a significant reason to doubt their ability to consider the case fairly; they may ask to be recused. Acquaintance or friendship with a participant alone are not grounds for recusal; the committee chairs will need to hear strong and convincing reasons. The SC and FC will decide on any such requests. The SC informs the accused student(s) of the time and place of the hearing.

    In preparation for the hearing, the Dean’s Office will have prepared sufficient copies of all written evidence for committee members and the accused. Accused students have the right and responsibility to present any relevant evidence. They have the right to call witnesses on their behalf. Students presenting written evidence should bring sufficient copies for the committee; if they need assistance in preparing evidence, they may call on the Dean’s Office for help (photocopying, providing internet hook-ups, etc.) Accused students have the right to be accompanied by an advisor. The advisor must be a member of the College community (i.e., student, faculty or staff). An accused student may not be accompanied by or represented by an attorney. During the hearing the advisor and the accused student may speak to one another, but the advisor may not address the committee or question witnesses.

    During a Hearing

    The Honor Committee must have at least three-quarters of its student (voting) members on campus at the time of the hearing. If fewer than five student members can be present at a hearing, both the accused student and the Dean must agree to proceed with the hearing.

    The individual who has brought the case forward presents his or her evidence and explains why s/he suspects an Honor Code violation. Members of the committee, as well as the accused student may ask questions for clarification at any time. After the presentation, committee members and the accused student may ask any additional questions. If there are additional witnesses to the alleged violation of the Honor Code, they are brought in one at a time and questioned first by the committee and then by the accused student.

    Next, the accused student has the opportunity to respond to the charges: this could include providing an explanation, presenting exculpatory evidence, offering an apology, or whatever else the student wishes the committee to hear. The student may choose to call witnesses on his or her behalf. Witnesses are brought in one at a time. The committee and the individual who brought the case forward questions the accused student and any witnesses in turn.

    Once questions have been asked and answered, the individual who brought the case forward and any remaining witnesses leave the hearing. The accused student may address the committee or answer any final questions. When finished, the accused student leaves the room.

    The committee then deliberates over three questions:

    1. Is the alleged behavior an infraction of the Honor Code?
    2. If it is, did the accused student commit the infraction?
    3. If s/he did, what penalty is recommended to the Dean?

    All members of the committee present at the hearing participate in the deliberations; however, only the student members can vote. A vote of three-quarters of those present and voting is required both for finding the student responsible for violating the Honor Code and for recommending a sanction to the Dean. In the event that a three-quarters vote to recommend a sanction cannot be reached, one or more students may endorse separate recommended sanctions. A recommendation for dismissal requires a unanimous vote of the student members present. The dismissal is carried out only upon approval by both the Dean of the College and the President of the College.

    Immediately after the hearing, the SC lets the accused know what the committee decided. The FC relays the same information to the person who brought the case forward.

    If the committee does find the accused responsible for violating the honor code, then the dean will relay the decision formally, in writing. In a letter to the student (copied to the person who brought the case forward, the SC, and the FC), the dean will let the student know the sanction imposed, the reasons for this, and the committee’s particular concerns.

  • Requirements &Sanctions

    The panel may assign any of the following requirements/sanctions (individually or in combination) in response to a violation of the Honor Code.  Students who are found responsible for violating the Honor Code are expected to learn from the hearing, finding, and requirement/sanction. Subsequent infractions of the honor code (after an initial incident) will almost certainly result in more severe sanctions.

    • Warning: A warning is intended to educate the student about the Honor Code and community standards, and to serve as notice that continuation or repetition of prohibited conduct may be cause for additional disciplinary action. A warning does not become part of the student's permanent record. Students who receive a warning can answer negatively if they are asked if they have been subject to College discipline. A warning remains in a student's file until graduation, when it is removed.
    • Mandatory educational tutorial: This Instructional material is designed to educate students about the importance of academic integrity, and to serve as a guide for proper practices around collaboration, citation, quotation, and more. This educational sanction does not become part of the student's permanent record. Students who receive this sanction can answer negatively if they are asked if they have been subject to College discipline. Notation of an educational requirement remains in a student's file until graduation, when it is removed. Students who fail to complete the tutorial by the end of the semester in which the infraction occurred will automatically be placed on disciplinary probation.
    • Failure in the assignment: The student will automatically receive an F for the assignment in which the infraction was committed. This sanction does not automatically become part of the student's permanent record unless it is accompanied by disciplinary probation or suspension. Students who receive this sanction can answer negatively if they are asked if they have been subject to College discipline. Notation of the hearing outcome remains in a student's file until graduation, when it is removed.
    • Failure in the course: The student will automatically receive an F for the course in which the infraction was committed. This sanction does not automatically become part of the student's permanent record unless it is accompanied by disciplinary probation or suspension. Students who receive this sanction can answer negatively if they are asked if they have been subject to College discipline. The failing grade will appear as an E on the academic transcript. Notation of the hearing outcome remains in a student's file until graduation, when it is removed.
    • Disciplinary Probation: To be assigned for a specified period of time. This sanction becomes part of the student's permanent record, and remains on file for seven years. Students who receive this sanction must answer affirmatively if they are asked if they have been subject to College discipline. Subsequent violation of the Honor Code will normally result in suspension or expulsion from the College. The student meets regularly with a dean during the probationary period. As a general matter, parents/guardians are notified about disciplinary probation.
    • Suspension:Separation from the College, and exclusion from College premises, and from other privileges and activities. Readmission to the College after the term of suspension is not automatic but requires an application to the Dean of College. This sanction becomes part of the student's permanent record, and remains on file for seven years. Students who receive this sanction must answer affirmatively if they are asked if they have been subject to College discipline. Subsequent violation of the Honor Code will normally result in suspension or expulsion from the College.  As a general matter, parents/guardians are notified about suspension.
    • Expulsion:Permanent termination of student status, and exclusion from College premises, privileges, and activities. This sanction becomes part of the student's permanent record, and remains on file permanently. Students who receive this sanction must answer affirmatively if they are asked if they have been subject to College discipline.  As a general matter, parents/guardians are notified about expulsion.
    • Other Actions:In addition to or in place of the above actions, the hearing panel may assign such other penalties, as it deems appropriate.

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  • The accused student may request a reconsideration of the Committee’s decision on the basis of substantial new evidence or improper procedures. A request for reconsideration must be made in writing to one or both of the Committee chairs within a week of the Committee’s decision, or the decision is considered accepted. The request for reconsideration will only be granted if a majority of the Committee members who heard the case agree. The Committee may choose to reconsider either the case in its entirety or just one or more aspects of the case, and in doing so may receive or review any information it determines is relevant to the reconsideration. Following its reconsideration, the Committee will refer its decision to the Dean for the Dean’s action, if any, as appropriate. After a rehearing, the Dean’s decision is permanent. The student does not have any right to contest the rehearing’s decision and sanction.