The Princeton Honor Committee and the Committee on Discipline both wield enormous power over students. The two committees, which deal with in- and out-of-class Honor Code infractions respectively, are composed of different groups. In the case of the Honor Committee, it is completely student-composed, and in the case of the Committee on Discipline, it is only partly made up of students. They both have the ability to suspend or expel a student. If Princeton is a community, then they are the judges that have the power to impose exile. I think that letting judges have that power is not ideal. We would be better served if, as in most democratic court systems, juries, and not judges, had the power to convict.
Instead of endowing appointed members of the committees with the ability to kick us out of Princeton, why not have all students be eligible for jury duty? It would remove a lot of the confusion around how the committees actually function, and make sure that the the people in charge of suspensions and expulsions are not the kind of people who want to be in that position.
It’s a little worrying that the committees are a self-selecting group of people who are so dedicated to their idea of justice that they volunteer their time to suspend students. I understand that there have to be punishments for violating academic integrity, but I have misgivings about anyone who is so eager about it that they volunteer their time to make sure punishments happen.
Think about it this way: if you were a defense lawyer, or the defendant, would you want the jurors to be really eager about being on the jury? No, of course not. As much as jury duty would suck, that’s the point: you want people who aren’t eager to be there.
As for me, I’m focused on learning. If another student cheats, that doesn’t really affect what I learn, so while I think that cheating is bad, I’m not about to get up in arms about it. Many students may feel as I do. The student body is made up of all kinds of people, with all kinds of philosophies about punishment, and a fair system would incorporate everyone, not just the members of a couple of committees.
Further, suspending a student is a major decision. With a jury system, no one would have to make that decision more than once. I find the concept of a single committee member choosing to suspend possibly dozens of students a year a terrifying thought. That’s another issue: the number of students punished per year is secret. Why is that? If the U.S. prison system kept the number of inmates a secret, there would be protests about the totalitarian state we live in. Why do we accept a lesser standard of Princeton?
The committees should work like our jury system. People should not want to serve, since it isn’t a pleasant thing to judge others. They should be picked randomly, and after a trial, they should be dismissed, never to serve again. Incorporate everyone, and let no one have too much power. It’s not a perfect system, but no system with punishments will ever be.
Beni Snow is a junior in mechanical and aerospace engineering major from Newton Center, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.