This may sound good in theory, but how can we integrate an emphasis on honesty into everyday campus life? I’d like to propose three practical ways to bridge the gap from theoretical ideals to tangible expression.
No matter the school, every syllabus across the country includes a notice about academic honesty. Usually, these are identical copy-and-paste, boilerplate paragraphs. The syllabus and the opening class session provide a natural juncture to discuss the importance of honesty and its role in academic life. This doesn’t need to be an entire class period of philosophical inquiry or inspirational monologues. Simply encourage faculty to move beyond threats of the consequences of plagiarism to a thoughtful, nuanced discussion of honest discourse and academic integrity.
The traits we choose to focus on as a community will grow. The attributes we neglect will recede. From the reasons we give everyday compliments, to the topics we write about in articles, to the people we recognize with awards, we are shaping an institution’s identity. Like a bonsai tree patiently pruned over years, values are inculcated into a community one moment, one interaction at a time. A sustained emphasis on the significance of character starts with key stakeholders and builds to influence an entire campus. Identify a manageable number of specific steps you can take and build from there. This isn’t Pollyanna optimism, but a candid recognition of what matters.
Leading by example
The most important way that faculty, staff, and administrators can cultivate character is by modeling it. When you model trustworthiness, the effects will be significant and sustained. Far too often, our consideration of truthfulness focuses only on the negative aspect. Honesty is more than not lying or getting caught. There is a positive benefit felt in our relationships when we are people of our word. This is manifested in countless small ways, from following through on promises, to being generous and respectful when discussing others’ viewpoints, to keeping confidences. The effect on campus life is powerful and positive.
A renewed emphasis on character will contribute to more holistic development, which will enhance the student experience. This adds to the value of college, at a time when people are rethinking the role and worth of college. More importantly, it will enhance your culture and community on-campus and equip your students to thrive in their lives after graduation.