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Editorial: Electing Honor Committee Representatives

The Honor Code Constitution designates as members of the Honor Committee “the presidents of the sophomore and junior classes, former sophomore and junior class presidents, a member of the freshman class to be appointed by a subcommittee comprised of four members of the Honor Committee and the Undergraduate Student Government president, and members to be appointed by a selection committee from the student body at large until the committee consists of twelve members.” The Editorial Board believes that the practice of including current and past class presidents in the Honor Committee membership should be discontinued in favor of independent elections, held simultaneously with class council elections, for Honor Committee representatives. This system would build an Honor Committee membership better suited to the organization’s particular challenges and would enhance the student engagement on which the Honor Code depends.

The qualifications of class presidents do not necessarily align with the skills required of Honor Committee members. Candidates for class president often appeal to the student body by flooding the campus with campaign posters, or by leaving candies at dorm room doors. The Board believes that the social focus of class president elections is not the most appropriate way to choose members of the Honor Committee. The importance of the Honor Committee, as well as its many challenges, make it more sensible to consider candidates specifically for spots on the Committee, rather than to choose Committee members indirectly — and based on the criteria for a different job. The Board recommends the adoption of measures to guarantee candidates’ seriousness of purpose, dedication to the Honor Code, and qualification: candidates should (1) be required to attend multiple information sessions on the Honor Code and its enforcement before being eligible for election, and (2) be allowed to advertise their candidacy to the student body solely through basic biographical information and short personal statements. The Young Alumni Trustee election, which involve similar regulations, provide a good model for Honor Committee elections to follow. Not only would such a structure give students a say in who should represent them on the Committee, but it would produce a group of candidates focused first and foremost on the Honor Committee, rather than on the role of class president.

The Honor Code is a central part of academic life at Princeton, one which students should feel they have a stake in upholding. It was students who established the Honor Code in the late 19th century, and it is students who have respected, enforced, amended and introduced new Princetonians to the Code ever since. Holding independent elections of Honor Committee representatives would go a long way toward ensuring that students remain invested in the Code’s protection and trust that the Committee and Code are responsive to their collective values and priorities. This has been a challenge in recent years; a number of opinion pieces in The Daily Princetonian have illustrated a growing feeling of estrangement on the part of the undergraduate student body. In May of last year, the ‘Prince’ reported on concerns over Honor Committee transparency, and in September the Board called for a review of Committee practices to be made available to the student community. Elections focused specifically on the Honor Committee would increase student confidence in the Honor Code system.

The Honor Committee is important enough to academic life at Princeton to be the subject of independent elections. Conflating Honor Committee appointments with class president campaigns not only compromises the focus of the Committee’s membership, but decreases the direct involvement of the student body in preserving the Honor Code. Honor Committee members should be selected by students based on the requirements of the Honor Committee alone.

The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of the ‘Prince.’ The Board answers only to its chair, the opinion editor and the editor-in-chief.

Mitchell Johnston ’15 and Kevin Wong ’17 recused themselves from the writing of this editorial.