Letter to the Editor: Concerning amendments to the constitution of the Honor System| Jan 6, 2018
In the December Undergraduate Student Government election, four referenda on the Constitution of the Honor System passed by a three-fourths majority. On Jan. 4, the undergraduate student body received an email from Deans Dolan and Kulkarni and Vice President Calhoun informing us that the four referenda will not be taking effect at this time. However, as per Article VI of the Constitution of the Honor System, “The Constitution may be amended … upon the initiative by petition of 200 members of the undergraduate body, followed by a three-fourths vote in a student referendum as conducted by the Elections Committee of the Undergraduate Student Government.”
As I understand it, the undergraduate student body correctly followed this procedure as prescribed by the Constitution, and therefore successfully amended the Constitution. The deans and vice president outlined their thinking to the contrary, stating, “these proposals represent a significant departure from prior practice and exceed the scope of the responsibility delegated to the student body by the faculty concerning the Honor System. The proposals would also place the penalties for violating the Honor Code for in-class examinations out of alignment with academic integrity violations adjudicated by the faculty-student Committee on Discipline in cases of plagiarism and other out-of-class academic infractions.”
Regarding their first point, prior practice has no bearing on amendments to the Constitution. Further, the changes cannot exceed the scope of the responsibility delegated to the student body by the faculty concerning the Honor System, as the Honor System is entirely the domain of the student body. Regarding their second point that the proposals are out of alignment with the Committee on Discipline, the two committees are distinct and have no bearing on each other. Though it could be argued it would be preferable if the two committees were in alignment, there is no requirement that they be. To quote the Honor Committee website, "jurisdiction over violations of academic rules and regulations rests with two distinct committees at Princeton. All written examinations, tests, and quizzes that take place in class are conducted under the honor system. All violations of the honor system are the concern of the Undergraduate Honor Committee. Violations of rules and regulations pertaining to all other academic work, including essays, term papers, and laboratory reports, fall under the jurisdiction of the Faculty/Student Committee on Discipline. Should there be any uncertainty regarding which body is responsible for the adjudication of a particular case, clarification should be requested from the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the chair of the Honor Committee.”
From what the administration has presented the undergraduates, this seems to be a clear case of overreach and the administration does not actually have the power to block these changes. Regardless of one’s position on the changes to the Constitution of the Honor System, it is imperative that the University follow its own rules. If President Eisgruber and the Board of Trustees view the amendments as inappropriate or deficient, they must now amend the Constitution themselves by either (1) seeking ten of twelve members of the Honor Committee to put forth a vote at a meeting of the Undergraduate Student Government and achieve a three-fourths vote of the Undergraduate Student Government members present at the meeting, or (2) gain the signatures on a petition from 200 undergraduate students and achieve a three-fourths vote in a student referendum as conducted by the Elections Committee of the Undergraduate Student Government.
The Princeton Honor System is successful and effective because students respect it and its Constitution. The Princeton administration must respect it as well.
Gordon Moore is a senior in Computer Science from New York, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.