The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Co-Chairs, the Opinion Editor, and the Editor-in-Chief. It can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University is, first and foremost, an academic community. It strives to maintain an atmosphere that is conducive to intellectual achievement and discovery. To accomplish this, the members of the University rely on a shared ethos of academic honesty, as expressed in the Honor Code. The enforcement of this code is vital to the success of this University, and students should take great interest in any proposed changes to the Honor Committee.
Two amendments concerning the Honor Committee were recently proposed to the Undergraduate Student Government. The first amendment, which has already passed, amends the Honor Committee Constitution to expand the committee from 12 students to 15; two of the new slots will be filled by freshmen each year. The Editorial Board supports this amendment, as it will reduce the burden placed on individual members of the Honor Committee and allow for increased institutional memory and academic diversity. The second amendment, proposed by USG Class Senator Andrew Ma ’19, would change the USG Senate Constitution to require a supermajority, rather than a simple majority, of the USG Senate to confirm nominees to the Honor Committee. Furthermore, the amendment would require that the Senate vote on Honor Committee nominees in a closed session. The Board opposes this amendment, as it unnecessarily raises the bar for membership confirmation and reduces transparency.
Each Honor Committee member performs a vital job for the University; a student’s academic record, and, furthermore, our academic community, is at stake in each Honor Code decision. It is, therefore, essential that the Committee is able to operate to the best of its ability. The Board believes that increasing the committee size from 12 to 15 members will better allow the committee to investigate and adjudicate cases. With this expansion, individual members will have fewer responsibilities, thus allowing for better attention to detail and increased efficiency in the deliberation process.
Furthermore, the Board supports the initiative to increase freshman representation on the Honor Committee. This will allow more members to serve on the committee throughout their four years at the University, giving them more experience and enabling them to better mentor future committee members. The importance of institutional memory should not be understated; it allows a body to maintain its precedents and standards and will ensure that Honor Code deliberations remain consistent for years to come.
Additionally, the Board urges the committee to emphasize increased academic diversity during the selection of new Honor Committee members. The Honor Code operates on a “reasonable student” standard, a standard that can vary from department to department. Subject-area expertise can be crucial in deciphering exam content in order to understand the details of the evidence in cases. As such, it is beneficial for the committee to be composed of members across a range of academic departments, so that committee members are better informed of what could constitute a reasonable action in a given class.
In his USG Senate amendment, Ma proposes both that the bar for the confirmation of an Honor Committee nominee be raised from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority and that all Honor Committee confirmation votes must take place in a closed executive session (preceded by an open discussion session). The Board believes that a two-thirds confirmation threshold is too high and gives too much power to a minority of the USG Senate (only a third) to deny committee nominees who have already undergone a rigorous nomination process. Ma argues that the supermajority would ensure that nominees are qualified and that they are “in line with the student body’s opinion.” However, the opinions of USG members on individual committee nominees are not necessarily indicative of the opinions of the broader student body; most members of the USG Senate were not elected based on their views on the Honor Committee. Further, the Honor Committee selection process already carefully vets potential members before sending them to the Senate for confirmation. As an alternative, the Board encourages increased USG participation in the Honor Committee selection process, which will give senators more say without unnecessarily raising the burden for confirmation. While Honor Committee members are best qualified to assess applicants given their own personal experience with how the committee operates, it could be beneficial to add a third USG member to the selection committee (in addition to the president and academics committee chair, who currently participate) to contribute additional outside perspectives to the selection process.
The Board strongly opposes the executive session requirement in Ma’s amendment. An open session allows for increased transparency in the confirmation process, thus ensuring Honor Committee nominees are fairly considered before being either confirmed or rejected. Ma argues that his amendment would “allow voting members to speak and vote freely without fear of retribution.” This hardly seems to be a sufficient reason to mandate a closed session; Senate members ought to be assured enough in their beliefs and their votes that they can defend them without feeling the need to hide them from the students they represent. For a body that views itself as representative of Princeton undergraduates, it seems counterintuitive that members of the USG Senate believe it is necessary to discuss the confirmation of nominees in executive session away from student scrutiny.
The Honor Committee is a crucial component of academic life at Princeton. The Board supports increasing the size of the Honor Committee to reduce the burden on individual members and to better preserve institutional knowledge. However, the Board believes that requiring a closed session and a supermajority vote of the USG Senate to confirm committee nominees will unduly restrict a transparent and fair confirmation process. We strongly urge the USG Senate to reject this amendment.
Carolyn Liziewski ’18 recused herself from the writing of this editorial.
William Pugh ’20 abstained from the writing of this editorial.