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Claifying the Code

The handwritten comments within the poll results and subsequent student interviews reflected significant misconceptions regarding what the honor forum does, what the punishments are for Honor Code violations, what the difference is between The Understanding and the Honor Code, and how the school distinguishes between student and teacher reported violations.  After extensive interviews and analysis of the handbook, we at the UV have tried to clarify those points below.

What is the difference between The Understanding and the Honor Code?

UV says: A number of students in their poll responses mentioned stealing a reason they don’t find the Honor Code effective.  In fact, stealing is not covered by the Honor Code.  The Understanding is the basic behavioral guideline for students.  The Honor Code specifically deals with academic integrity: mostly cheating and plagiarism.  Stealing falls into The Understanding. Punishments laid down for Honor Code violations may not be the same as punishments for violations of The Understanding. The following is from The Understanding – not the Honor Code.

Handbook says:“The following are the types of infractions that will, in all likelihood, lead to dismissal from the School:
…A single act of stealing.”

Wagner says: “To me, The Understanding defines, if you will, the code of behavior for the School.  The Honor Code is a specific part of that…I love the first sentence of The Understanding: ‘Marlborough School is a community built on honor, trust, individual responsibility, and mutual respect.’  If you live by that, you’re going to be upholding the Honor Code.”

What does the Honor Forum do? When does it meet? Who gets chosen?

UV says: The Honor Forum is made up of three seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, and two faculty members (one from the middle and one from the upper school).  They are self nominated and chosen by a faculty vote.  There is also one non-voting advisor, Reid Cottingham. The forum meets to discuss a second Honor Code violation or any time the head of school chooses to seek its advice.  Cottingham said that the “Honor Forum Procedures” mentioned below usually happen as follows: the head of school gets in contact with members, often via letter at school.  Members meet, usually at the head of school’s house, as soon as possible. They seriously discuss the incident, then make recommendations for Head of School Barbara Wagner to consider in her decision.

Handbook says: The Honor Forum…make[s] a recommendation to the Head of School regarding possible disciplinary action, following the ‘Honor Forum Procedures.’”

What is the difference between a student reported and a teacher reported violation?

UV says: Wagner emphasized the same thing that Upper School Director Laura Hotchkiss has said in meetings with students: student observed violations and teacher observed violations, when reported to the division director, are handled differently.

Two official Honor Code violations are grounds for expulsion.  If on two separate occasions a teacher reports seeing an Honor Code violation, those will be a first official violation and a second official violation, and the case will go to the head of school and the honor forum.  If a student reports observing a violation, however, it does not necessarily constitute a first official violation.  Rather, a pattern of student reports, taken together, can equal an official first violation.  Therefore, unlike with teachers, two separate student reports is not necessarily grounds for expulsion.  Wagner said that, in her experience, a student reported violation has never been proved beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Handbook says: If an occurrence of cheating, including plagiarism is observed or confirmed by the instructor… This constitutes a violation of the Honor Code…

What is the punishment for an Honor Code violation?

UV says: A first instance of cheating is not an expellable offense.  A second instance of cheating is, but it is not automatic.  The Honor Forum does not have the final say.  Though the head of school consults the Honor Forum for advice, she makes the final decision any time a student is dismissed from the school.

Handbook says: “If two Honor Code violations are confirmed as outlined above, in all likelihood, expulsion will result.”

Cottingham says: “An important factor to realize is that the Honor Board does not decide who is expelled. Ms. Wagner loves student input, and respects what they have to say, but it is not their decision.”