Frequently Asked Questions

Understanding Middlebury's Honor Code means more than adhering to the policy; it means embracing the values of integrity, honesty and responsibility that form its foundation. Please review the questions and answers below to learn more about how the Honor Code functions in Middlebury's intellectual community.

What is the basic premise of the honor code?

There is a basic quid pro quo, or “this for that” arrangement at the heart of Middlebury’s honor code. Faculty agree that they will support an intellectual environment of trust and respect for students by giving unproctored exams in which they are available nearby to answer questions, but do not hover over students to monitor potential cheaters. Students, in exchange, agree to two things: 1) that you yourselves will not cheat, plagiarize, or duplicate work on separate assignments, and 2) that you will not tolerate these behaviors in other students and will take action if you become aware of other students’ honor code violations. For the honor code to succeed, it is essential that all three commitments—one from the faculty, two from the students—be upheld. If they are not, professors do have permission to proctor exams if they suspect dishonesty.

Why should I care if other students cheat? They’re only hurting themselves

Not true. The dishonesty of even a small group of students has a direct impact on Middlebury’s entire academic community in several ways. First, professors are human: when a student they trust and respect violates that trust, it can erode their confidence in the integrity of the entire class, even those students who may be conducting themselves honorably. As a result, professors become more limited in the kinds of assignments they offer. Rather than teaching in the most creative and effective ways, they must develop “cheat-proof” assignments that may be less interesting and valuable ways to explore the material. Additionally, many professors use an informal curve to grade their assignments. That is, they review each assignment, then determine which are the best, and use those top assignments to set the grading scale for the class. Students whose dishonestly produced work is deemed to be the best thereby have a direct negative impact on the grades of their fellow students. Finally, your signature on the honor code means that you have made a personal commitment to abide by this policy, which requires you to hold your peers accountable for abiding by it as well—in essence, to care.  

Who “owns” the honor code? Is this something the faculty and administration are imposing on students because they don’t trust us?

Middlebury’s honor code was initiated and developed by students, and its constitution can only be amended by students.

If I don’t understand citation practices, is this my fault? Isn’t it the obligation of the professor or the College to teach me?

Learning the rules of scholarship is a shared responsibility. It is the responsibility of the faculty to make their expectations clear, including citation style requirements; to communicate them to their students; and to clarify their policies as needed. It is the responsibility of students to take the initiative to learn professors’ expectations, to adhere to them, and to seek clarification if you are confused.

I don’t feel confident that I understand standard citation practices. What should I do?

Visit the Center for Teaching, Learning and Research (CTLR), located in Library Suite 225. A member of the staff and/or a librarian can meet with you individually to clarify the citation process and can direct you to additional on-line citation resources, including this one: http://sp.middlebury.edu/subjects/guide.php?subject=style. See the “Writing and Plagiarism” section in particular.

Why do citation styles differ for different departments? Why can’t we just have one citation style for the whole College?

Because citation policies are different for different fields of scholarship, not just for papers, but for labs, language translation, artistic work, computer programming, etc. Your professors will specify their preferred citation style(s).

What if I mess up a citation by mistake? Will I be accused of violating the honor code?

The cases that result in honor code violation charges are egregious: not one or two incorrect citations, but a clear misattribution of sources, consistent failure to note direct quotations, obvious plagiarism or cheating, submission of duplicate work, or dishonesty. Charges don’t result from nitpicky professors but from significant violations, which includes unacceptable degrees of sloppiness.

Does the honor code mean I can’t study with a friend, ask someone to proofread a paper, work with a tutor, or collaborate in other ways?

Each professor has her or his own requirements regarding the permissibility of note sharing, proofing, using tutors, sharing group-generated lab data, and other collaborative work. Some professors explicitly encourage group work, peer review, or using tutors; others expect that all work will be completed with no outside help. Professors are strongly encouraged to provide very specific information on their syllabi indicating how the honor code should be applied to their particular assignments. If you are ever in doubt about whether an action is permissible, ask your professor.

Is it ok for me to share drafts of my work with my parents?

In general, it is not. On this topic, nationally recognized ethicist Randy Cohen once observed on National Public Radio that “the purpose of college is to become an educated person.” He went on to note that although some kinds of parental input—rich discussions about topics, for example—do not compromise this goal, others, such as proofreading for grammar or accuracy, do (March 11, 2007, NPR). It is best to check with your professor before sharing assignments with parents to make sure you are clear on what kind of input is permitted. There is also an implicit assumption that all students at Middlebury have access to the same educational resources when they complete an assignment. If some students have highly knowledgeable parents providing tutoring available only to them, this violates a community principle of fundamental fairness.

Do I have to write the Academic Honesty Statement on every piece of work I turn in?

Middlebury’s Academic Honesty Statement reads as follows: “I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment.” The honor code requires all students to sign it on all exams, research papers, and lab reports, although some professors are more casual about this. Professors may choose to require its inclusion on other assignments as well.  

What is considered academic dishonesty?

Review the Academic Disciplinary Policies at the beginning of this guide. Although definitions of certain terms are offered, it is not possible to list every example of what might constitute academic dishonesty. The key concept is that “Middlebury College requires of every student complete intellectual honesty in the preparation of all assigned work.” Pay particular attention to the text found under Student Responsibilities: “Ignorance of the nature of plagiarism or of College rules may not be offered as a mitigating circumstance.” If you are uncertain about a particular situation, ask your professor.

What if it’s 3:00 a.m. and my paper is due at 8:00 a.m., and I just have to get it done? Skipping a few steps in the citation process seems minor, especially if most of the rest of the paper is original.

Students who are found guilty of plagiarism often relate this scenario: they were under pressure to meet a deadline, and either became sloppy with their citations in the rush, or felt that they just needed to do whatever was necessary to meet their deadline, even if this meant using someone else’s text without acknowledgment. If you find yourself in this situation, there are many other options besides compromising your integrity, disappointing your professor and risking academic failure and suspension. Consider the following choices: A) contact your professor first thing in the morning and ask for an extension. B) If an extension is not possible, explain that you will turn in your work late, and that you understand that your grade may be lowered as a result, and choose to take a slightly lower grade (many professors have late-assignment policies in their syllabi). C) If you cannot complete the work under any circumstances, meet with your professor and explain the situation. If you are coping with a legitimate emergency, talk with both your professor and your Commons dean; it is likely that an extension can be arranged without penalty. Students who have been found guilty of honor code violations uniformly realize in hindsight that they would have been much smarter to simply take an extra day and a lower grade.

How do professors find out if material has been plagiarized?

Professors are professional researchers in their field. They are skilled at close readings of text, and they are very familiar with the literature of their discipline. Faculty are sometimes alerted to plagiarism when a student’s written voice seems to change style within a paper; when an analysis or example seems familiar to them; or if a student is demonstrating a level of mastery of the topic that is not consistent with his or her previous performance. Specially developed electronic search engines have made it quite easy for faculty to discover if text has been taken from another source.

What do I do if I think a fellow student has violated the honor code?

Middlebury's Honor Code includes the following requirements:

Article III: Violations of the Honor Code, Procedures, and Disciplinary Actions

a. "Any member of the College community (student, faculty, or administrator) who is aware of a case of academic dishonesty is morally obligated to report it to the Academic Judicial Board through the Judicial Affairs Officer.

b. Those who cheat are morally obliged to report their own offense to the Academic Judicial Board."

We believe that the academic dishonesty of even one student diminishes the integrity of our entire community. The Honor Code relies on students holding themselves and each other to its very reasonable standards; this is the responsibility students assume in exchange for unproctored and take-home exams.

Students who believe that a fellow student has violated the honor code are encouraged to speak directly with that student to ask him or her to turn him- or herself in to the professor. We understand that this approach is neither easy nor comfortable, but it is an option that allows accused students to take the “high road” and take responsibility for their actions at the outset. If you need support or guidance before taking this step, speak with a trusted friend who can join you in your conversation (there’s strength in numbers!), or talk with a dean, staff member, or professor about the best way to proceed.

Alternatively, you may share your concerns directly with your professor, your advisor, or another member of the staff or faculty who can help you to develop a plan. We expect, however, that students who are aware of academic dishonesty will take some form of positive action to resolve the situation and bring the issue to the attention of a dean or professor.

You may also speak with your Commons dean, or with Associate Dean for Judicial Affairs and Student Life Karen Guttentag, who can provide you with advice. Again, you don't need to use names at this stage if you wish.

Whatever option you choose, we expect that students who are aware of academic dishonesty will take some form of positive action to address the situation.


If I take action to hold another student accountable for violating the honor code, will I be informed of the outcome?

In some cases. All charges of honor code violations, and their resolutions, are posted in “sanitized” version on Middlebury’s judicial log (http://www.middlebury.edu/studentlife/doc/judicial/judiciallog). However, in cases where there is insufficient evidence for an outcome to be determined, which may happen if students report violations anonymously and therefore are not available to serve as witnesses, it may not be possible to charge a student. This is why, although many students wish to remain uninvolved in holding each other accountable, it is important that students who witness other students’ honor code violations be willing to stand up for this student-generated policy in support of honesty. In some cases it is possible to maintain the anonymity of the student who identified the violation.

What if I am accused of cheating or plagiarism myself?

All professors are asked to follow a standard protocol when they believe academic dishonesty has occurred. Visit the Honor Code web page for faculty on reporting violations (http://www.middlebury.edu/ studentlife/doc/honorcode/violationsforfaculty), and visit the Judicial Boards web page to learn how the judicial process works (http://www.middlebury.edu/studentlife/doc/judicial).  

What happens if I am found guilty of violating the honor code?

Outcomes differ based on mitigating circumstances, and on each student’s cumulative disciplinary record. Sanctions may include a failing grade on the assignment, a failing grade in a class, a reprimand, suspension for a period of time ranging from several days to a year, and/or in extreme or repeated cases, expulsion. If you are found not guilty, there will be no record in your file that an Academic Judicial Hearing took place.

Why is plagiarism considered a moral violation? Isn’t it just sort of like downloading music from the Internet?

No. The music downloading controversy is about possessing something that doesn’t belong to you. Plagiarism is about claiming that you created something that you didn’t; receiving credit that you haven’t earned. It’s more like downloading music, and then telling everyone you wrote and performed all of the songs. Our expectation is that your work will be original, and that any language or ideas that are not yours will have their sources acknowledged.

Should I be afraid of the honor code?

The honor code is something Middlebury students are proud of, not afraid of. Although it is important to respect and understand the consequences of violating it, you should not live in fear that you are in jeopardy of inadvertently slipping up, or that professors are out to get you by being nitpicky. The honor code is not a landmine, but a reflection of our community values of honesty, integrity, and respect for the educational process. As long as you A) acknowledge any ideas and language that are not your own with appropriate citations, and B) ask for clarification from your professors if you have any confusion about whether working with others is permitted, there is no need to be fearful. 

Does the fact that Middlebury has an honor code mean that lots of Middlebury students cheat?

The presence of the honor code doesn’t reflect an unusually high level of dishonorable behavior, but rather is an affirmation of our community standards. Each year, approximately 10-20 charges of honor code violations are generated. Middlebury’s Judicial Log lists all charges for each year, and how each case was resolved: http://www.middlebury.edu/studentlife/doc/judicial/judiciallog.

We had an honor code at my high school, and no one paid any attention to it. How does the Middlebury community feel about the honor code?

In 2008-09, Middlebury conducted a thorough review of the state of the honor code. This process generated a great deal of input from students, faculty and staff members, as well as a comprehensive report with recommendations. All of this information can be found at http://www.middlebury.edu/ studentlife/doc/honorcode/ honorcodereview. See Appendix G for community feedback.

I’m still a little overwhelmed.

No need to be. Just remember the basic values that guide our academic community: your work should be your own when required, and should be original to each assignment; when using outside sources, their origins must be acknowledged according to your professor’s citation format of choice; and if you have any concerns about asking for help, collaborating, or how to cite correctly, ask your professor for guidance. The vast majority of our students find these parameters very easy and helpful to adhere to.