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Letters to the Editor

Online registration a matter of effectiveness, not trust

I would like to express my agreement with Seth Wikas' April 4 column in the 'Prince' with regard to the need for an online registration system at Princeton. While the article was long overdue, I feel that Wikas' focus on Princeton's lack of trust in student planning missed the point — that the registration system is indicative of the Registrar's techno-phobia and inefficiency in maintaining and providing accurate course information.

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Every semester I hear the same complaints. One of my friends, an electrical engineering major, was registering for an ELE elective. The registrar insisted that the course met at 2:30 p.m. while his professor informed him that the course definitely met at 3:30 p.m. The registrar's solution? He had to forgo signing up for the course, only to fill out an add-drop form later, and get it signed by his advisor. Only after he returned and convinced the registrar that the new time was correct, did he officially add the course to his schedule. That makes about as much sense as a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals "all-you-can-eat" veal luncheon.

Another friend — a molecular biology major — somehow signed up for the same class twice for this semester, but has been attending his correct slate of classes. The registrar insists that he is not really in the class he has been attending (Dan's "My Academic Record" says he is taking MOL 342 twice this semester). Dan's professor confirmed that he has been attending the correct class. How did Dan slip through the advanced system of advisors and sign up for a course twice?

A third friend's last meeting with his advisor consisted of a 45-minute wait, a quick glance at his course card, the standard "are you on track?" and a friendly pat on the back. Sinbad walked away wondering whether next time he should just send his parrot, Polly. Of course, he has to teach him to say "Hello," "Fine, I'll wait," and "Yep, I'm right on track!" Similar stories of forged advisor signatures and closed course sections that filled up while students were busy obtaining signatures are commonplace.

An online registration system would eliminate all these difficulties. Wikas' article is flawed in the assumption that "online registration would eliminate advisor involvement." Implementing an online system where professors and advisors could approve course selections at their convenience — and thus still be involved in advisees' planning — would be about as hard as finding a blond girl at Ivy. Is a system where advisors can approve or disapprove student courses online really too much to ask? Michael Schidlowsky '01

Disputing quotes in Yale student unionization article

I am writing to correct any possible misunderstanding left by a statement attributed to me in your April 3 edition regarding the settlement agreement between Yale and the NLRB General Council resolving unfair labor practice charges against Yale.

The article correctly notes that the agreement does not resolve the issue of whether Yale's Teaching Fellows are "employees" under the National Labor Relations Act. It then quotes me as stating, "We were happy to put up a notice because it has no relevance to graduate students." I do not recall making that precise statement as part of what was an extensive conversation with the 'Prince,' and that is not Yale's position with respect to posting of the notice required under the settlement agreement. In fact, the notice is intended to be viewed by graduate students and to inform them, as well as others, of Yale's commitment to respect employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Lawrence Haas Director of Public Affairs Yale University

Honor Code process works, but could still use reforms

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As an attorney, Princeton alumnus and preceptor in the politics department, I believe the readers of the 'Prince' may appreciate learning from my recent experience with the Princeton Honor Code and its enforcement by the student-faculty Committee on Discipline (COD). I wish to express my respect and admiration for all the members of the COD. During the "hearing" on the matter — the charge of plagiarism by a student in one of my precepts — I was impressed by their truth-seeking questions (tenacious but respectful), their teamwork (faculty and students at ease with each other in a tense situation) and, in the end, their wisdom (the ultimate outcome was firm but fair).

Second, I was much impressed by the eloquence and candor demonstrated by the three students and the faculty member who testified as "character witnesses" on behalf of the student who was charged with plagiarism. Their participation was at times spell-binding and at all times both eye-opening and, to coin a phrase, heart-opening.

Third, I congratulate the student who was charged with plagiarism. That student, who did not try to find a loophole to justify what was done, was contrite but not self-pitying and accepted responsibility for the violation in a statement to the COD. I believe that student will do well in the future because of this difficult experience.

Finally, I wish to propose "two reforms" which, in my view, would help to prevent future Honor Code violations, which is everyone's goal. They are as follows:

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1) Teach the Code. After the Watergate scandal of 1973-74, when so many attorneys in public office (including the president), were found to have violated the public trust, teaching the lawyers' "Code of Professional Responsibility" became a part of law school curricula and a component of the bar exam to obtain a license to practice law. Given the extraordinary importance of the Princeton Honor Code — and all that it portends for one's life during and after Princeton — it should be taught here as well, perhaps as a preliminary part of a required freshman year course.

2) Publish the results of the COD decisions, provided the "accused" is not identified. Again, the legal parallel seems useful: Just as state bar journals publish lawyer disciplinary proceedings I believe that the results of COD proceedings should also be published. In this way, a "common law" on the code will evolve, giving concrete examples to general themes and providing "feedback" for everyone's guidance (e.g., to close "loopholes" or to provide more room for discretion, etc.). Under the heading of "COD Proceedings," the 'Prince' could list the case as "In the matter of alleged violation," followed by a summary of the charges, the defense or mitigating factors offered and — most important — the COD's detailed answers, along with whatever discipline was meted out. This approach would protect the privacy rights of the students, even as it informs the public and helps to guide decision makers.

In conclusion, my experience with the COD — my first after precepting various courses since the 1980s — was very positive, if time-consuming and emotionally draining. I gained an understanding of the "state of mind" (forgive the legal term) of the student charged; I came away convinced that this student is a gracious, responsible and honest person who made a mistake — as conceded to the COD — which I am confident will not be repeated. Everyone involved certainly learned much from a difficult experience; and with the reforms suggested above in place, I believe that all students will be better informed and, thus, better equipped for their Princeton years and beyond. R. William Potter '68