Ziegler '16 leads referendum calling for disciplinary process reform| Apr 17, 2016
Justin Ziegler '16, an Honor Committee member for three years, submitted a referendum calling for the creation of a task force to reform the disciplinary processes currently administered by the Honor Committee and the Committee on Discipline.
The referendum enumerates the following three objectives for the Task Force: that it should review the current standard of punishment, determine the possibility of finer gradations of punishment and consider the role of mental health when adjudicating cases.
Despite the objectives, the referendum itself, according to Ziegler, does not advocate for any specific changes, but rather asks the administration, in a neutral manner, to re-evaluate the current ways in which the disciplinary system works on campus.
Ali Hayat '16, Chair of the Peer Representatives, noted that though it is "absolutely necessary" that the University has an honor code, some of the penalties are too high and there should be more varied formed of punishment.
Hayat is a former columnist for the Daily Princetonian.
As the referendum states, currently the standard penalty for the first violation of academic integrity is suspension for two semesters and the standard penalty for the second violation is expulsion.
Ziegler said the Committee on Discipline finds that there is an academic violation in close to 70 percent of the cases brought before the group.
Nicholas Horvath '17, former Clerk of the Honor Committee, also noted thatcurrently, neither committee is allowed to consider the role of intent in an alleged violation. In other words, the disciplinary system does not factor in whether or not the student knew that the action was an an academic integrity violation or not.
Furthermore, Ziegler noted that the Committee of Discipline does not factor in mental health at all, and, recently, the Honor Code Committee has been following that trajectory as well.
"Severe mental health conditions that might influence [one's] decision to do something that might appear as cheating, or is cheating, should be taken into account in deciding whether the person is responsible and if he/she is, how severe the punishment should be,” Ziegler said.
Just because the University has resources to help people cope with mental health conditions does not mean that mental health does not influence academic violations, said Ziegler.
Ziegler added that both Dean of the College Jill Dolan and Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan were very cooperative and spent a lot of time with him to discuss the problems he had with the system.
Nonetheless, Ziegler said he thought it was very important to make any reform as democratic as possible.
“I worked with administrators and with other people in the Honor Committee that think differently from me,” said Ziegler.
Joseph Obiajulu '17, a former member of the Honor Committee, said that though these concerns have been considered by the committee before, there is currently no standardized way of addressing them, which is an element crucial to upholding the fairness of the process.
According to Sung Won Chang '18, Undergraduate Student Government Chief Elections Manager, there is no official opposition party to this referendum question.
“I hope that the referendum gets people talking,” said Hayat. “People who do know about it are generally students who have been affected by it, but don’t really want to talk about it. We should start having a conversation about it. That the student body knows that this is a part of Princeton that needs some work.”
Horvath further noted that he hopes the resultant system would "take a more compassionate, peer-oriented and constructive approach, rather than the status quo wherein justice is a binary."
The referendum will be voted on by the student body on Monday. In order to pass, a majority vote with a turnout of at least a third of undergraduate students is required.