The Honor Code is Falling Apart – We are the Solution.


“Students run for the Board of Control so that they can acquit their friends of Honor Code violations.”

“Faculty think I’m lying when I say I’m sick.”

“Houses send out answer keys so that everyone can get the answers.”

“Students sit down in large groups and collaborate on exams.”

“Professors intentionally create tests and problem sets which are impossible to finish.”

“Administrators are actively working against students.”


These rumors, which the Board of Control (BoC) Leadership has heard from faculty and students, are indicators that some Caltech Community members believe that other community members inherently operate against the Honor Code. What does this say about the state of our Honor System? Can we have an Honor Code where only some people believe in it? Do we have an Honor Code if no one believes in it? No.

Caltech Faculty members have begun reevaluating the relevance of the Honor Code in their classrooms because they are losing faith in the ability of the student body to fulfill their responsibilities to the Honor Code. Students are worried about the state of the Honor Code because they think they are the only ones following it, believing faculty and administrative offices on campus are not held accountable for honor code violations. The number of reports of honor code violations has been elevated since the 2015-16 academic year, but during the year of online learning, reports of honor code violations further increased to 3 to 4 times the baseline case load. While the number of reports of honor code violations has fallen to the 2015-16 level, the stress placed on the Board of Control pushed it to the verge of failure. The BoC system implemented almost 100 years ago was not built to process this high case load, not built to withstand the ire of distrustful members of the Caltech community, and not built to protect a community, who, whether due to disinterest, fear, or overworkedness, is in some part negligent of the implications and applications of the Honor Code.


In order to survive, the Board of Control turned to the Dean’s Office for support and further illuminated its proceedings and philosophies to faculty. This necessary and important transparency has come at the cost of the BoC remaining fully autonomous and student-run. Though all decision-making continues to lie in the hands of student leaders, the Undergraduate Dean’s Office and the Faculty Board have issued requirements for the continued existence of a student-run BoC, which have been implemented as of this term (fall 2023). These changes include alternative resolution processes, such as the Early Resolution Option (ERO), which decrease the urgency for assembling full boards for hearings. We have also developed new methods of evidence collection and dissemination to the BoC representatives and designated roles for faculty within the Board of Control process. As a result of this, BoC cases are now almost always resolved within 1 term and generally in ~5 weeks. Additionally, the BoC has updated its reporting procedures such that whomever submits a report or concern of an honor code violation is now always notified of the outcome of the case (previously this was only opt-in), to further increase the transparency of the BoC’s proceedings.

On top of these changes to the proceedings of the BoC, there are more widespread changes being considered by faculty at the department level regarding course policies as a result of inflated concerns of “widespread” cheating and decreasing faith in the Honor Code at Caltech. (Students are left out of many of these discussions). We’ve already seen the beginnings of these changes in our classes. Course syllabi are becoming more stringent about the rights of students. More and more exams are becoming in-person and proctored, to the detriment of both students and faculty. While in-person exams are not an honor code violation, their increasing presence highlights the decreasing faith in the honor code. Moreover, if these proctored exams are not implemented properly, e.g. taking into consideration scheduling conflicts of students and TAs, accessibility concerns, and temporary illnesses & other unforeseen events, they can easily give some students an unfair advantage over other students. All of these additional considerations waste the time and energy of faculty, students, and TAs, and most notably, these considerations are unnecessary with take-home exams. By implementing changes such as moving to in-person, proctored exams, we move towards a system which sacrifices the autonomy we hold dear in order to protect the Caltech Community.

It should be noted that there exists a subset of the current undergraduate body which has proclivity for cheating, a small, but non-negligible portion of current students. The BoC is working to publish its case statistics on Donut (, but in the last academic year, there were ~45 cases in which an undergraduate student(s) was convicted of an academic honor code violation. Assuming that each case has only one respondent, this constitutes ~5% of the student body who were convicted of academic honor code violations during the last school year. 45 reported cases is far too many! That’s 1 out of every 20 Caltech undergrads committing an honor code violation, and this statistic does not account for cases with multiple respondents. Any intentional honor code violation is a serious injustice done to the community. We should all be striving towards having Zero Honor Code violations. Faculty (and students too!) feel that they have an obligation to protect the Caltech community against the devaluation of a Caltech education. Faculty (rightly) will continue to take matters of academic integrity into their own hands if we do not have a serious reckoning with what we want to see out of ourselves and our community.


You, a member of the Caltech community, must be involved in protecting the Honor Code. We must protect the privileges that we currently experience under it, such as:

  • The ability to leave doors unlocked and access buildings after-hours,
  • The freedom for faculty to focus on research and teaching and not have to monitor students or proctor exams,
  • A collaborative and non-competitive approach to research and academics,
  • Flexible work hours for research,
  • Take-home exams,
  • Collaborative problem sets,
  • The ability to walk around campus and not fear for our safety,
  • And the assumption that everyone is operating in good faith – to name a few.

In short, we are privileged to have the space to focus on what matters - learning and doing cool science - not wasting energy being vigilant in protecting your ideas from being taken, your belongings from being stolen, or yourself from those who would undermine you to further their own careers.

The BoC leadership needs you, yes you, to enthusiastically recommit to adhering to the Honor Code.


First, re-commit to having faith in the Honor code. The privileges that are fundamental to Caltech’s success as a scientific institution can only exist if everyone buys in. The vast majority of students are following the Honor Code. The vast majority of faculty are following the Honor Code. Administrative Offices want to help you, not penalize you. Trust that everyone around you is trying to act in good faith and report suspected honor code violations to the BoC and CRC! Have faith that the new changes outlined above and more have made the system robust enough to handle all reported cases. The BoC and CRC prioritize the protection of student privacy, and have confidentiality agreements and procedures in place to protect reporters from the potential harassment of respondents. Students, do not be afraid to hold your fellow students accountable! If they violate the Honor Code, you (and your friends) are being disadvantaged by their behavior. Faculty, the changes that have already been implemented by the BoC make it so that we can fully process all cases in which you think students have committed an Honor Code violation in your classes. The BoC provides a fair and equitable process for resolving Honor Code violations with a reversal of any advantage gained and real consequences for students who violate. The BoC is equipped to fully gather information regarding the context of a situation to provide an unbiased investigation, a right to which every student and faculty member is entitled. When faculty take suspected academic honor code violations into their hands, they risk generating an inequitable system where certain students are unfairly persecuted. Additionally, the BoC and the Dean’s Office can identify repeat offenders for removal from the Caltech Community,_ a unique ability that faculty take away by trying to resolve Honor Code violations by themselves. _

Second, do not violate the Honor Code_._ This does not just mean “don’t cheat”. The Honor Code states that “No member of the Caltech Community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech Community”. This philosophy means that _ALL _members of the Caltech community, undergraduate students, faculty, administrative offices on campus, etc. need to operate in good faith and not take advantage of anyone else’s time, energy, or work. The beauty of the Honor Code is its simplicity, but a hidden downside to this is that it is possible to take advantage of someone without realizing it. _Seriously ask yourself what it means to take advantage of your fellow Caltech community members. _Are you, unintentionally or intentionally, taking advantage of your students, peers, professors, or TAs?

Students, for goodness sake, Do. Not. Cheat. Our actions are under a microscope, and every fracture in the system is another strike against the viability of the Honor Code. At this point, if you cheat, you are choosing to risk every student’s autonomy at Caltech for a short-term gain that will be harmful to you in the long-run. If you are in the trenches, reach out for help – your fellow students, the BoC leadership, faculty, and the Deans can help support you. Do not take what looks like an easy way out at the expense of your future self and your peers.

Third,** students, run to be a BoC Representative at the end of Winter Term. **Being a representative of the BoC can no longer be a bottom-of-the-barrel role relegated to frosh who don’t even have two full terms under their belts. The BoC representatives need to be a diverse subset of the undergraduate community from all years who will apply themselves to the position, seeking out ways to be of service, as opposed to hesitantly doing the bare minimum at the forcing of BoC Leadership. We need to prove that as a student body, we are committed to fulfilling our responsibility of regulating the Honor Code, and to do this we need a vibrant BoC.

Fourth, faculty, we need you to be more involved in the BoC process. Report all instances of suspected honor code violations to the BoC. We also need your help in collecting evidence in cases of suspected Honor Code violations. The BoC has reached out to faculty for more evidence regarding their cases and has received no reply for at least 7 cases just this term. Submit fuller reports which directly point to the responses you want investigated and provide enough evidence to support your allegations (solution sets, gradescope reports, canvas access reports, lecture notes, etc). Real violations without sufficient supporting evidence will unfortunately be dismissed. This helps no one. We want to identify Honor Code violations occurring, adjudicate them quickly and properly, and ultimately allow you to get back to what you want to be doing - research and teaching - not dealing with academic misconduct. We need your help to make this a smooth and efficient process. In addition to this, the BoC is implementing a new role – the Faculty Liaison. The Liaisons will work to establish transparency with the Faculty about the BoC and will help procure expert testimony for BoC cases. The BoC Leadership wants your opinion and expertise to help guide our procedures. When the time comes around, apply to be a Faculty Liaison.

Fifth, everyone should attend events held by the BoC! In the past, the BoC has held trainings and seminars throughout the year to engage the Caltech Community with the philosophies of the Honor Code and the Board of Control. We are going to bring back events like these, but this requires the attendance of students AND faculty to be worthwhile. Keep these events on your radar and show up! If there’s something you’d like to see, maybe a training on a specific topic, or a discussion of a particularly gray area of collaboration, let your BoC reps and the BoC Leadership know ( We want to cater to the needs and interests of all members of the Caltech community.

Finally, educate yourself and your community about the Honor Code! You don’t need to wait for the BoC to do something to “reinvigorate” the Honor Code – we need you to be actively asking questions about the Honor Code and discussing them with your community members. Ask your BoC reps why they ran. Ask your peers and colleagues about their views on the Honor Code and its implementation in academic matters. Come up with hypothetical honor code violations and tease out their nuances in your houses, classrooms, and labs. The workings of the BoC should not be and are not a secret! The information about how the BoC is run is on Donut ( - go see how it operates. There you can see how the BoC processes cases, its procedures, the BoC caseload statistics for the last decade, and answers to frequently asked questions. The more educated we are as a community about the Honor Code, the easier it will be for us to recommit to it.

Student leadership hopes that this article has made clear the current fragility of the Honor Code. We, every student, faculty and staff member, are the manifestation of the Honor Code. Therefore, we must be the solution to strengthening it. The current trajectory of the Honor Code is dismal. Student leadership hopes that through a re-commitment to the mandate of the Honor Code, everyone can uphold and protect its value. It’s not too late. You must take charge! The viability of the Honor Code and the continuation of its numerous benefits are in your hands.

The University of South Africa has the following statement by Nelson Mandela inscribed on the entrance to their campus:

“Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examinations by the students.

Patients die at the hands of such doctors.

Buildings collapse at the hands of such engineers.

Money is lost in the hands of such economists & accountants.

Humanity dies at the hands of such religious scholars.

Justice is lost at the hands of such judges…

The collapse of education is the collapse of a nation.”

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