In December 2017, four referenda concerning changes to the University’s Honor System were proposed and voted on by the student body. The subsequent remand of three of these referenda to the Committee on Examinations and Standing in January 2018 sparked a full year of conversation on campus, and numerous University committees met during that time period to evaluate Princeton’s academic integrity system. Throughout the process, representatives from the student body, faculty, and administration came together to improve academic integrity practices across the University, while keeping the intentions of the student referenda and the clear desire for reform they expressed in mind.
This year of diligent reflection and conversation culminated in Wednesday’s release of a report by the Academic Integrity Report Reconciliation Committee, a group which brought different campus constituencies together to finalize recommendations for improving the Committee on Discipline (COD) and the Honor Committee (HC). The report reaffirms the importance of academic integrity while identifying areas where the academic integrity structure at Princeton requires significant improvement. Since October, we have served as the undergraduate members on this committee and have been substantially involved in the formulation of these recommendations. We strongly encourage all students to read the report in its entirety, but we write to provide students with an explanation of its major changes and to highlight the next steps in the reform process.
The report recommends that important changes to the HC and the COD be undertaken “with all due speed,” and specifies steps that must be taken by students, faculty, and administrators. The implementation of these recommendations is already being discussed by the relevant parties, and we expect them to be enacted in the next few months. The most notable body of recommendations in the report details three key changes to the penalty structure available to both disciplinary committees.
The first change establishes a new “reprimand” penalty for minor first offenses (such as writing overtime) that would not appear on a student’s disciplinary record unless they committed an additional infraction. The second alteration expands the range of probationary periods that can be given as penalties and gives the HC and the COD more flexibility in issuing penalties for different infractions. The third change establishes a one-semester suspension as a new penalty for violations of academic integrity adjudicated by the COD or HC; this means that many violations currently receiving a one-year penalty would likely be assigned a one-semester penalty under the new system. All three changes to the disciplinary system’s penalty structure were designed to directly address the concerns raised by students in the 2017 referenda and to allow fairer responses more commensurate to the range of academic integrity violations.
The report also recommends several important changes to the composition and procedures of the Honor Committee. First, it calls for increasing elected student membership. USG and the Honor Committee will be collaborating over the coming months to determine how best to include more elected representation, but both parties agree that this reflects the 2017 referenda’s desire to make the Honor Committee more accessible and accountable. Second, in order to align the HC’s practices with those of the COD, the report calls for incorporating professional investigators into the investigative process. We believe this will improve turnaround time on Honor Committee investigations while reducing its workload. Lastly, the Committee is also being asked to reform its communication and hearing practices to mitigate potential negative impacts on student mental health, including improving its initial contacts with witnesses and students in question and issuing guidelines on the use of non-confrontational language in hearings. We believe that each of these recommendations responds to the clear student desire for a less confrontational and intimidating process.
Moving forward, we will continue working with the administration and faculty to implement the aforementioned recommendations, and we plan to address the proposed changes to the academic integrity system before the end of the spring semester. We are conscious of how difficult it was for many students that these recommendations were delayed and remanded by the University, and we shared your frustration at this turn of events. In order to expeditiously implement the report’s recommendations, the USG and the HC will be working with other campus stakeholders to compose a series of resolutions and referenda to reflect these changes in both bodies’ constitutions during the spring term. We have already taken steps to address many of these changes, and expect that they will be formally implemented during the next few months.
We also want to emphasize that we welcome student feedback on the report and on the wider topic of academic integrity at Princeton. Disciplinary reform will continue to remain an ongoing and open-ended topic of conversation, and we hope that the campus community continues to engage with this issue. We encourage students and other University stakeholders to share their thoughts on this topic and are currently planning several initiatives during the spring semester that will give students the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback to USG, the HC, and the University. If campus community members have immediate feedback or thoughts on this issue, we encourage you to contact us via the emails provided below and to reach out to the other members of the Academic Integrity Report Reconciliation Committee.
On a final note, we want to reiterate how thankful we are for the continual student engagement on this issue. Because of the clear and resounding message the student body sent to the campus leadership, students have been able to drive a profound and positive transformation in the way that our Honor System operates.
Ben Press is a junior History concentrator from Vienna, Virginia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dina Kuttab is a sophomore from Amman, Jordan. She can be reached at email@example.com. Olivia Ott is a junior Wilson School concentrator from Ketchum, Idaho. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ling Ritter is a senior Politics concentrator from Salt Lake City, Utah. She can be reached at email@example.com. The authors are members of the Academic Integrity Report Reconciliation Committee.
These views are their own and do not represent the positions of the Academic Integrity Report Reconciliation Committee, USG, or the Honor Committee.