Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/180

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176
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
THE HONOR SYSTEM IN AMERICAN COLLEGES

By Professor W. LE CONTE STEVENS

WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY

A CRITIC who was fond of unusual statements once declared that ignorance and unconsciousness are the best tests of good health. The man whose digestive powers are unimpaired has no conclusive evidence of his possession of a stomach. Hunger may be referred to as an aching void, but the discomfort is not localized until the digestive machinery gets out of order and pain tells the victim that in some way he has abused an internal friend whose unknown presence has been a source of quiet serenity.

In American educational circles the honor system in colleges has been a subject of discussion only since the close of the civil war. Prior to that time, like the unobtrusive stomach, it had long performed its function peacefully in some parts of our land, while the general public was ignorant of its existence. Of late years there has been enough internal disturbance to suggest the presence of a collegiate organ that demands recognition.

It is not possible to say just when or where the honor system had its birth. It had indeed no birth, but was merely a manifestation of social conditions at the south. During recent years the annual catalogues of the University of Virginia have contained the statement that in June, 1842, after the system of surveillance in written examinations had been found ineffectual, Judge Henry St. George Tucker, professor of law, induced the faculty to adopt the following resolution:

That in all future written examinations for distinction and other honors of the university each candidate shall attach to the written answers presented by him on such examination a certificate in the following words: I, A. B., do hereby certify on honor that I have derived no assistance during the time of this examination from any source whatever, whether oral, written, or in print, in giving the above answers.

The editor of the catalogue adds 'this was the beginning of the honor system.' Such a conclusion is warrantable if understood to mean that this was probably the first formal adoption of a college code of examination ethics that had been previously in existence without formal legislation. The South Carolina College has within the present year celebrated the centennial anniversary of its organization, which occurred twenty years before the incorporation of the University of Virginia. In a sermon delivered on January 8, 1905, the chaplain of the college, Dr. Flinn, declares that 'in the very beginning of the his-