The four referenda passed in a landslide during the winter 2017 Undergraduate Student Government elections usher in sweeping changes to a 124-year-old Honor System, but, for members of the subcommittee that spearheaded the referenda, the work is far from over.
“My initial thought, the whole time we were doing this, was that we knew that the students wanted reform,” said USG academics chair Patrick Flanigan ’18, who chaired the subcommittee that put forth the referenda. “But, when I saw the turnout, I was blown away by just how much the students support the reforms.”
Sixty-four percent of the undergraduate student body voted in the election, according to the elections results released to the student body on Dec. 16 through an email from USG president Myesha Jemison ’18. In the winter 2016 election, only 46 percent of students turned out to vote on the sponsored referendum calling for eating clubs to release demographic statistics.
In the case of the four Honor Code referenda, at least 87 percent of voters voted for each referendum.
“Every referendum, each referendum, got so many votes that each referendum had a majority of all Princetonians — not a majority of those who voted. But a majority of all Princetonians voted in favor of each one,” Flanigan emphasized.
The referenda passed will reduce the standard penalty for violations of the Honor Code from a one-year suspension to a disciplinary probation, require that two pieces of evidence be presented to bring a case to a hearing, allow a professor’s testimony that a student’s actions did not violate course policy to dismiss a case, and necessitate that Honor Committee investigators disclose a student’s status as a witness or the accused upon initial contact.
Flanigan had formed a subcommittee earlier in the fall on the Honor System with the goal of putting referenda on the December ballot.
Honor Committee chair Carolyn Liziewski ’18 and Honor Committee clerk Liz Haile ’19, part of the official opposition to the referenda, declined to comment. Louis Tambellini ’18, a vocal opponent of the referenda, declined to comment as well. U-Councilor Ethan Marcus ’18 and former Honor Committee member Stuart Pomeroy ’18, who both signed a Letter to the Editor opposing the referenda, did not respond to requests for comment.
Class Senator Soraya Morales Nuñez ’18, who helped campaign for the referenda, noted that she had seen enthusiasm for the referenda while tabling in Frist Campus Center.
“A lot of students told us, ‘Thank you so much for having this on the ballot. This is a conversation that we’ve been having with each other for a really long time now,’” Morales Nuñez said.
Morales Nuñez, who did not serve on the subcommittee, explained that it is important to note that discussions on the Honor System predated the subcommittee.
“[The referenda] wasn’t something that came about over the past two months. It was a conversation that the student body was having for years, probably before I even got here,” Morales Nuñez said.
These changes to the Honor System, however, may not be the only ones in the next few years. The University has charged a task force of faculty, administrators, and students to review the Honor System in the upcoming semester. Both Liziewski and Flanigan received the official charge for the task force before the release of the referenda to the student body on Nov. 28.
Flanigan, Morales Nuñez, and Liziewski will serve as three of the members on the committee, which Flanigan said will be an opportunity to reevaluate procedural elements of the Honor System. The referenda, he explained, aimed to fix issues that the subcommittee felt could be best improved through constitutional changes.
“There are many procedural things in the Honor Code’s procedural guide that could be looked at,” said Flanigan. “Some, I’m sure, are doing excellent. And some, I’m sure, could use a reevaluation.”
U-Councilor Diego Negrón-Reichard ’18, who was also a vocal proponent of the referenda, noted that the recently passed reforms are just the first “among many.”
“Moving forward, [the subcommittee] is going to be providing support to the upcoming committee,” continued Negrón-Reichard, “to ensure that they have us a resource when they’re crafting any kind of policy or collecting student feedback.”
To Negrón-Reichard, reforms such as statistics on the types of Honor Code violations, greater transparency, and diversity on the committee itself are essential.
The last referendum regarding the Honor Code was passed in 2013. It required the Committee to release anonymous statistics on case, hearings, and outcomes every year for the previous five years and gave a penalty of academic probation for overtime cases.