The Undergraduate Students Government Academics Committee Subcommittee on the Honor Constitution has sponsored four referenda on which students will vote from Dec. 12 to Dec. 14. We write, as students with a connection to the Honor Committee, to express our opposition to these four referenda. We are not opposed in principle to Honor Code reform; indeed, we believe strongly that the Honor Constitution is a living and evolving document with which students should continually engage to ensure that it is reflective of our community values and norms. Our opposition to these referenda pertains to the process by which they have come about, which has not allowed for the kind of comprehensive discussion with faculty, students, administrators, and legal counsel that reforms of this magnitude require. This is the first in a series of articles in which we will outline our concerns about the language and substance of the proposed reforms and advocate for a more thorough Honor Code reform process which effectively engages all relevant constituencies over the coming semester.
The second referendum proposed by the subcommittee would require that a case brought to hearing must have at least two separate pieces of evidence, each of which indicates that a violation occurred. We are not opposed to the substance of this reform as it codifies a strong working norm for the Committee; however, the language of this referenda, specifically the phrase “each of which indicates that a violation occurred,” is highly problematic. At the conclusion of an investigation, the two investigators, in consultation with the Chair, determine if a hearing is warranted. If the investigators and the Chair must determine whether two pieces of evidence “indicate a violation occurred” before the hearing, they are making a pre-hearing judgement on responsibility. As the Chair acts as an adjudicator on every hearing, this is bias. We encourage students to vote no on this referendum so we may work with University Office of the General Counsel and the USG Senate in January to amend the language of this referendum to eliminate potential grounds of bias by Chairs.
The second part of the third referendum is especially problematic. This part, which would require the Committee to find a student not responsible if a professor explicitly states the student was not in violation of course policy, has the effect of decentralizing discipline at the University. As students, we are unified by our affiliation to the University and our acceptance of the Code upon matriculation. The same is not true for professors and preceptors, who may have been educated at different undergraduate institutions and have different notions of what constitutes academic integrity. Allowing a professor to determine a student’s outcome at a hearing undermines a system for student-to-student accountability. While the policy will almost certainly benefit some students, it will be at the cost of other students who committed fundamentally similar violations of the Code but did not benefit from what is, in effect, a professor veto. The Committee must honor precedents across cases to be consistent in its penalties, and this consistency lends itself to transparency about what students can and cannot do under the Code.
Finally, we are firmly in the opposition to the fourth referendum, which would require the Committee to inform a student of their status as either a student in question or a witness upon initial contact. The Committee’s first contact with a student is over the phone, at which point investigators inform the student that the Committee would like to speak with them and invite them to the Honor Committee office. The Committee’s current policy is to inform a student of their status as soon as they arrive at the office, allowing us to control the environment in which a student in question is informed that they are under investigation. We cannot imagine a scenario in which a student learns of their status at late meal, in a dining hall with friends, or at an extracurricular activity meeting. Furthermore, if a student adversely reacts to the news that they are under investigation, it is extremely important for Committee to be able to connect that student with the appropriate University resources. We encourage students to vote no on this referendum out of compassion and concern for the health and wellbeing of students in question, who should never find out about their status via phone.
Carolyn Liziewski ’18, Chair, Honor Committee
Elizabeth Haile ’19, Clerk, Honor Committee