Before they took their final examinations this semester, students at the University of Maryland had to turn to a page of the test booklets and sign their names. "I pledge on my honor," each student signed, "that I have not given or received any unauthorised assistance on this examination."
The pledge was part of a crackdown on a surge in cheating fuelled by internet-aided plagiarism. "Having the pledge out there helps to send the message that the university is committed to academic integrity," said Andrew Canter, a Maryland senior and chairman of the Campus Honour Council that pushed for the pledge.
The council heard a record 250 cases of cheating this year, a fourfold increase in ten years, though administrators insist that this is because such incidents are being reported more reliably.
In a survey by the Center for Academic Integrity at Rutgers University, as many as 40 per cent of US students admitted to cheating using the internet.
But there are questions about the effectiveness of honour codes. "On my honor as a student, I have neither given nor received aid on this assignment/exam," the University of Virginia's honesty pledge reads.
Despite this, Virginia is in the middle of the largest cheating scandal in its history, with 157 students under investigation for plagiarising term papers. So far, 41 of those have dropped out or been expelled, one had his degree revoked, and 93 have been exonerated. All were caught by a software program that identifies repeated phrases.