As Peer Representatives, our role during Honor Committee hearings is to advocate for students accused of violating the Honor Code.
But these mammoth productions of seven Honor Committee members, two investigators, the student in question, professors, preceptors, and a couple character witnesses begin outside that room, about a week before the hearing.
Our job really starts then, once the Honor Committee Chair and two investigators determine a hearing is warranted after reviewing evidence and speaking with the student in question, also known as the SIQ. From that moment, Peer Representatives are defense attorneys, peer counselors, advisers, and ombuds, all at once. We help students through all sides of an Honor Committee investigation, from gathering evidence and representing the SIQ at hearing to supporting them in whatever ways — large and small — that are necessary during the investigation period.
Honor Committee hearings are not pleasant for anyone. For SIQs, the specter of being punished is daunting in itself; however, if we as Peer Representatives do our jobs correctly, the SIQ can go into the hearing with confidence that their story is heard fully and fairly. In many ways, we are a live check on the power of the system, ensuring that the Honor Committee follows the Honor Code Constitution down to the last comma and that students are given a fair shake. Our perspective in this process emphasizes the need for a change in how punishment is assigned.
We write to express our support for the first referendum, which lowers the punishments at each level of violation. In our experience, violations of the Honor Code fall under three buckets: writing overtime on exams, infractions that violate course policy due to lack of proper attention (like accidentally bringing in a calculator), and more intentional infractions (like looking up answers). Today, the standard punishment for writing overtime is disciplinary probation, while the punishment for the latter two situations is a one-year suspension. We believe that in the middle case — cases of error due to lack of sufficient diligence — a one-year suspension is too excessive a punishment.
We would like to be clear, however, that this solution is far from ideal. The referendum would establish a baseline punishment that would apply to all first-time offenders equally. Punishments, like their associated violations, belong on a spectrum. With this reform, students who write 45 seconds overtime will be punished the same as students who deliberately violate course policy; we do not think this is reasonable. However, despite its flaws, we think this reform is a necessary one, as the good done by appropriately rescaling the punishment of those who made an unfortunate error more than outweighs our qualms with the proposal. We want to live in a community where we assign to students the most charitable interpretation of events when bringing down the heavy, blunt hammer of the Honor Committee.
The opposition highlights the disparity between the punishments assigned by the Committee on Discipline and the Honor Committee, arguing that a change in only one brings about legal challenges to the University. We hope that this first referendum serves as the catalyst for change across the disciplinary regime at Princeton. This is not an academic issue; the future paths of many of our classmates are fundamentally impacted by the decisions made in this reform. We cannot afford to let perfect be the enemy of good enough, especially when good enough may inspire change in other parts of the system.
As a fundamentally impactful part of student life here at Princeton, changes to the Honor Code Constitution require careful thought. There are many more improvements we can think of, specifically dealing with how mental health issues are handled, how appeals are structured, how punishments are gradated, and how to involve the Peer Representative earlier in the process. We hope to bring up these issues in the upcoming Task Force on Honor Committee Review, and we are glad the student body has taken a keen interest in the various clauses of the Honor Code Constitution. Even within the Peer Representative pool, we disagree on how these proposals should be implemented, and we encourage everyone to consider all sides of these proposals carefully. Part of our jobs as Peer Representatives is to ensure people understand their rights before they have to exercise them, so we encourage students to contact us with any questions.
Omid Abrishamchian, Chair of the Princeton Peer Representatives
George Kevrekidis, Peer Representative