Although he has no regrets about his choice to go to Duke, Honor Council Chair Dave Chokshi, a junior, readily admits, "My experiences in my first semester at Duke weren't exactly what I was looking for. The academic atmosphere wasn't what I expected. I came to college expecting all these students to be really into learning for learning's sake, and that would be the difference between a place like Duke and a place like a state university. And I didn't really see that, necessarily."
Chokshi's disappointment over Duke's academic climate motivated him to become involved in an organization that could potentially change it. During the second semester of his freshman year, the chemistry and public policy major was chosen as a member of
the Honor Council. He was elected vice chair as a sophomore, and then council chair earlier this year.
"A lot of people are confused about what the Honor Council is," he says. "That's one of our biggest problems in terms of PR. We're the group that is sort of responsible for promoting the honor code and having discussions on academic integrity and just ethics in general." Chokshi is quick to point out that the Honor Council is separate from the Undergraduate Judicial Board, which handles judicial cases.
As chair, Chokshi has been involved in programming and policy. The council coordinates the signing of the honor-code ceremony during freshman orientation, as well as dorm programs that inform students about the code and present
scenarios about how to make ethical decisions regarding it. This year the organization sponsored an "Ethics of Racial Profiling" forum and an address on the ethics of foreign policy, given by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the chair of the United Nation's terrorism committee.
Collaborating with Duke Student Government's Academic Integrity Council, the Honor Council is working on a proposal to allow for unproctored exams by strengthening the honor code's clause on reporting fellow students observed cheating. Another proposed policy change involves replacing the system that requires a dean's excuse for illness; students having to miss class would write a memo to the professor, signing it under the honor code. And the council would like to establish a "sliding scale" system for judicial sanctions to replace one that could potentially give the same punishment to students who commit very different offenses.
As Chokshi prepares to step down from his position as chair and sets his sights on medical school, he sees a major problem for the council: Duke's honor code is a relatively young nine years old. "The seniors don't take it seriously so the freshmen don't take it seriously," he says. "And it's really hard to break that cycle--that's the main challenge that we face in everything that we do."
Besides his Honor Council involvement, Chokshi has been editor of Vertices, the undergraduate science and technology publication. He says he hopes to develop it into "a journal that reflects the nature of Duke as both a research university and an institution committed to the liberal arts. To that end, we try to include feature articles that pique the interest of the scientist and the layman alike, essays exploring the influence of science on society, and research articles describing original work undertaken by undergraduates."
Chokshi, who also chairs the campus Red Cross Club, has earned national recognition for his Duke doings. In April he received the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which rewards students who excel in mathematics, science, or engineering by partially funding graduate school. Then he learned he had earned a Truman Scholarship, which provides educational funding for students who have made a past and future commitment to public service.
After all the time that he has volunteered while at Duke, Chokshi recognizes that it's a tough, slow process to change the climate of a community.
"I think that the difficult part about being on the Honor Council is that you know that, when you graduate, you're not going to see very many tangible changes in the academic integrity system at Duke. You still have to work toward it because there are gradual changes that are made."