Office of Community Standards Responds to CS106A Honor Code Violations

by Andrew Han

The Stanford Review has been following developments on the CS106A Honor Code Violations. Given the size of the concerns, the Review is scrutinizing the process for addressing Honor Code concerns as outlined in the Student Judicial Charter of 1997.

Monday, March 23, 2015 marked the beginning of spring break, a normally relaxing time for students finishing winter quarter. However, for many students in CS106A, Stanford’s introductory computer science class, break began on an ominous note. As many as 20 percent of the students in CS106A, a class that historically has in the ballpark of seven hundred students, received the following message from instructor Keith Schwarz:

The Honor Code policy for CS106A requires that all code you submit be your own work, be created without assistance from anyone other than course staff, and be created without consulting any resources beyond the standard course materials. All submissions that do not adhere to these rules are required to include a citation describing what additional assistance you received.
I am writing to you because some of the work you submitted this quarter appears not to have adhered to these policies. Accordingly, I have filed an Honor Code concern with the Office of Community Standards. You should hear from OCS sometime soon.
In accordance with university policy, I have not recorded a grade for you in CS106A. In the meantime, please direct all further communications to the Office of Community Standards. You can reach them at community_standards@stanford.edu.

The accused students did not receive any more information for the rest of the break. A week later, on the first day of spring quarter, they received an email entitled “Correspondence from the Office of Community Standards”, which directed them to the Office of Community Standards (OCS) — Stanford’s judicial office — and a Stanford Box repository with Schwarz’s letter to the OCS. The email also told them about an “Early Resolution Option” for first time violators and who do not contest the concern filed against them. According to Schwarz’s letter to the OCS, he sent out reminders on two separate occasions to the class about CS106A Honor Code policies, particularly with regard to the option for students to use citations when referencing code that is not theirs. MOSS (Measure of Software Similarity), the Computer Science department’s automated plagiarism detection tool, flagged potentially plagiarized code, which instructors later hand-reviewed.

The Student Judicial Charter of 1997 outlines the judicial process for Honor Code concerns. Formal concerns should be made within 60 days “of the date of discovery of the evidence”, and within one week, Judicial Officers should notify students regarding the nature of the concern. The Judicial Officer is a neutral party that acts as a resource to the accused student and serves as an intermediary between all involved parties to gather relevant evidence. The Judicial Officer then can file formal charges against the student. In the case in which no formal charges are filed, the reporting party may still request that a Judicial Panel be held to hear the evidence and request the Judicial Officer to file formal charges. If charges are levied against a student, then a hearing must be held within three weeks of the charges being filed. Following the proceedings, the Panel meets in a closed session to determine the position of charges and determine appropriate sanctions. The students should be informed within one week of the sanctions being affirmed.

According to at least one student, though, “I have not yet been in contact with my Judicial Officer although I have been provided with his contact information. No one has of yet reached out to me and it has been 8 days since I received formal OCS contact.” The Review, meanwhile reached out to Schwarz, CS106A instructor and Lisa Lapin, spokesperson for Stanford. Both parties declined to comment. The Stanford Review will continue to report on updates regarding these events.