In the coming weeks, the Board of Control Representatives in each House will entertain their freshmen with BoC talks. Soon, the frosh will also take their first midterms, and in doing so will be fully entrusted with Caltech's Honor Code.
For the frosh, and the upperclassmen as well, it might be useful to learn a little about where the Honor Code came from. Perhaps a little history will help us understand more about what the Honor Code means, which isn't as simple as it seems.
We know the Honor Code today by the phrase, "No one shall take unfair advantage of a member of the Caltech community." It sounds like an adage passed down from the ivory towers of Caltech's past. However, that phrase did not enter the Caltech vernacular until 1980 (Note: I later found out this what not true. Although it entered the ASCIT Bylaws in 1980, the phrase existed in 1972 and various forms of "unfair advantage" concepts existed in the 60's). Before that, Caltech simply had an honor system with no formal axiom. The 1970-'71 little t editors claimed, "Because one of the main benefits of the Honor System is a vast freedom from rules, attempts to state it explicitly are futile. Just respect the rights of others and expect them to respect yours."
So how long has Caltech had an honor system? According to early records, the honor system was established at Throop Polytechnic Institute in 1910. In 1913, the school was renamed the Throop College of Technology, and the Associated Student Body created a committee called the Board of Control.
The Board of Control was given "Complete jurisdiction over the conduct of all students according to the rules." In 1913, there were exactly 5 rules, and they were listed in the Associated Student Body Minutes:
It's interesting to note that maintaining the honor system is only one part of the duties entrusted to the Board of Control and that the honor system applied only to exams at that time. Over time, the Board of Control became synonymous with the honor system. It was not the BoC taking on more responsibility, but the honor system slowly adopting everything that was under the BoC's control.
From 1913 to World War II, the honor system expanded to all academics, including problem sets, lab reports, and essays. After the war, with perhaps some influence from the military, the treatment of Institute property and the theft of personal belongings became an important part of honor at Caltech. After women arrived in 1970, many aspects of personal behavior and interpersonal relationships became part of the honor system. Courtesy towards other students, pranks, and initiations all became part of the honor system in the 70's, setting the stage for the catch-all phrase of "unfair advantage" to be coined in 1980.
Today, the honor system applies to every aspect of behavior on the Caltech campus. Most simply, this means not cheating on exams and not stealing from others, but that is a far too narrow view. The honor system means we can pull pranks as long as we leave a note, we can have wild initiations as long as the participants feel comfortable, we can take food and drinks from the kitchen at our leisure as long as we don't bottle it and store it away, and we can trust our student leaders to work in the best interest of the student body, for it would be taking unfair advantage of my positions if I did not.