As a Princeton student, I take great pride in my adherence to the University Honor Code. In the past, I’ve looked to “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” for insights on everything from lab research to proper citation formatting. Earlier this week, purely out of curiosity, I consulted the Honor Code about an issue of a slightly different nature–an issue of familiarity, if you will. Here’s what I discovered: nowhere in the honor code does it say that two cousins–first cousins, no less–aren’t allowed to make an honest mistake.
I’ve looked over the Code pretty carefully, and as far as I can tell, the Honor Committee doesn’t really have anything to say about two cousins striking up a conversation, having a few too many glasses of chardonnay, leaving the family reunion early, and agreeing to just forget about it in the morning. I’m pretty sure if they had a problem with this sort of thing, they would have said something about it in the Code.
To be clear, it’s not like the misunderstanding between the two cousins involved any sort of plagiarism or academic disingenuousness. At no point during the confusingly enjoyable interaction did the two cousins–whose names and defining features are, incidentally, not relevant at this time–attempt to pass the work of another academic off as their own or fail to properly cite sources. And at the end of the day, that’s what the honor code really cares about, not the fact that a certain student was almost positive that his aunt was adopted and there was no blood relation between him and his first cousin. Although now that I think of it, it might actually be mom’s older sister, Miriam, who was adopted. This is all purely speculative, of course.
The Honor Code even acknowledges the right of “all members of the University community to exercise their prerogatives as citizens and engage in civic activities.” If the “civic activities” in question happen to take place in Aunt Geraldine’s guest bedroom with “Kiss From a Rose” playing in the background, who are we to judge?
Is our Honor Code too lenient? Is it a sad reflection on our academic standards that, theoretically, a Princeton student could accidentally go home with his first cousin Sharon at an increasingly awkward 2006 family reunion and the Honor Committee wouldn’t even bat an eye? What does this say about our academic standards? What would Honor Committee President Roger Rice ‘16 have to say about the fact that even though Sharon was clearly pretty into it at the time we haven’t spoken since? These are the questions we need to be asking if we want our Honor Code to be a source of truth and reason for the Princeton community.
You know what? I’m just going to say it. Nothing that might have happened between a certain Princeton student and his cousin makes that particular student any less of an upstanding figure of academia in the eyes of the University.
Bottom line: if we want to accept the Honor Code as the definitive statement on ethical standards for undergraduates, we need to come to terms with the fact that there’s nothing wrong with one little cousin-related snafu. Especially if it only happened that one time, I swear.