Don’t ban phones during tests

Doing so would hinder students’ ability to demonstrate their dedication to holding themselves to high moral standards, no matter the situation.

Tanajia Moye-Green

On September 23, the Executive Committee convened for its weekly business meeting. Early in the meeting, Dean Robert Straughan gave an interesting update: following the concerns discussed by faculty at the annual planning retreat of the Williams School, he has decided to ban any use of phones during testing sessions in the School.

To begin with, I completely understand the reasoning behind Dean Straughan’s decision to ban the usage of phones during tests. After all, phones do facilitate numerous actions conflicting with the security the testing environment: the ability to browse countless websites within mere seconds, to communicate with others, which is especially worrisome considering students could be assisting one another during the testing session via messaging. It also provides students the ability to browse social media sites or other distractor apps.

The diverse and unrestricted functionality available to students is a reasonable cause for concern amongst faculty, as there truly is no realistic way to ensure students aren’t taking advantage of the relaxed testing environment and using their cell phones to cheat. It is difficult to ensure that students are putting forth their best work when they are constantly taking mental breaks from the material, as they use their phones and become distracted with irrelevant thoughts.

However, as justifiable as the Williams School faculty’s concerns are, I find myself opposing the decision to officially ban cellphones during tests.

Attending Washington and Lee is an experience that cannot be replicated at any other college. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I believe that the student-run honor system is one of Washington and Lee’s most distinguishable features. It has enriched the interactions of students and faculty and fostered a community of trust, reliance and transparency. The honor system affects life in various ways due to the assorted situations in which the method adapts to on a case-by-case basis. Generally, during exam sessions, the honor system proves itself through students taking their assessments exactly as the professors had intended — closed-book, open notes, no phones, within a limited time frame.

According to the university’s website, the main purpose of the honor system is to give students the chance “to do their duty” on their own accord because students making the ethical decision to  do what’s right “voluntarily” enables them to better “develop their characters.”

It is crucial that phones not be banned during testing, because doing so would hinder students’ ability to demonstrate their dedication to holding themselves to high moral standards, no matter the situation. Continuing to allow them the agency to decide for themselves whether they will keep in line with the conduct their professors expect from them during exams is essential to exemplifying the efficiency of the honor system, as well as students’ determination to maintain the faculty’s firm belief in their reliability.

I believe that instead of Dean Straughan mandating that there is to be no usage of phones during exams at the Williams School, individual professors should explicitly express how they prefer students to take their tests in regards to cellphones and general conduct. I recognize that many do this already, but I belief specific expectations regarding cellphone usage should be addressed. The difference may not seem that distinct, but I feel the honor system thrives more this way, as there is more agency bestowed upon the students to make the proper decisions and to continue working to maintain the trust between students and faculty.

To prohibit students from using their phones during tests is an admittance that the honor system is not as legitimate as everyone believes. Additionally, this move withholds the agency students must have in order for their lack of cellphone usage during tests to have any true meaning on behalf of their personal maturation and the faculty’s trust in them. I believe this ban simply teaches students how to follow instructions, instead of teaching them the importance of doing the noble thing in every situation regardless of whether they’ve been mandated to by a higher-up authority. This ban additionally introduces an unwelcome fragility in the student-faculty bond at Washington and Lee.

As stated before, I can completely understand the reasoning behind Dean Straughan’s decision to enforce the business school-wide policy of no cellphone usage during exams. But I believe that such a decision has been made at the expense of true confidence in the honor system and students’ diligence in sustaining the honor system.