Confucius talked about tone at the top

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 6:20AM

Since the introduction of the honor code at The College of William and Mary in Virginia by Thomas Jefferson in 1779, military academies, colleges and universities in the USA have widely adopted this self policing system.

This honor system of management requires students to take an oath to uphold honor at all times ensuring they do not steal, cheat, plagiarize, and so on. It is implemented not just to ensure safety on the campuses, but also to instill in the students a sense of virtue and moral integrity. At campuses like Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, students are entrusted with swipe card access to all the laboratories and are given take home examinations which they are expected to complete within a self imposed time limit.

It is a system Confucius would applaud. He asserts "that governing by laws and regulations is ineffective, whereas inculcating a sense of moral integrity and virtue, rules will not be broken even if they are out of sight."

A self reporting system is in place for students who violate the oath. Hence, if one has cheated on a test by exceeding the time limit or having referred to the text, one can confess and ask to be marked down. If however, one fails to self report one's infringements, other students can blow the whistle and report on their behalf, in which case disciplinary action will follow.

The onus is therefore placed on one to uphold moral integrity and to correct one's fault which is in line with the teachings of Confucius. He said, "To have faults and not to correct them - is indeed itself a fault." The faults referred to are not academic mistakes but moral flaws and the responsibility and duty is on one to remain upright at all times.

Such a system promotes a healthy culture on campus, an unwritten standard of behavior by which everyone must abide. Likened to a football or a baseball game, there are rules by which everyone on the team must obey. It is also noteworthy that whistle blowers are not rewarded for their actions.

How would banks, industrial corporations and institutions in rest of the world benefit from this culture? The discussion continues.