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Change the Honor Committee membership

Last month, a USG subcommittee introduced four referenda to make the most sweeping changes to the Honor Constitution in a generation. After a riveting election, they passed in a landslide victory. Last week, administrators rebuked three of the four referenda. But a complete review of the Honor System by a University task force will occur this spring.

At December's Whig-Clio senate debate on the referenda, I was shocked to learn that all current and former class presidents of the sophomore and junior classes serve on the Honor Committee. This responsibility is out of place. The class presidents' jobs primarily consist of distributing free gear, organizing parties, and maintaining alumni connections. As the University’s task force considers additional reforms to the Honor System, I urge them to change the membership of elected Honor Committee members from the sophomore and junior class presidents to the sophomore and junior class senators.

The role of class government isn't to create or execute school policies, so its officers shouldn't be on the Honor Committee. The Class Government Constitution states from the beginning that the purpose of class government is to, "create substantive and class-specific programs" and, "establish distinct class identity." 

But Sec. 8. (a) sticks out like a fly on a wedding cake from the rest of the constitution. Amid jovial clauses about, "foster[ing] class unity," Sec. 8. (a) obliges sophomore and junior class presidents to serve on the Honor Committee, the solemnest responsibility that any Princeton student could have. 

This is absurd. The power to suspend and expel students is vested in the school's chief social organizers. Nobody talks about serving on the Honor Committee when running for class president, and I'd wager that most class president candidates don't even know about this responsibility until after they're elected.

Honor Committee Chair Carolyn Liziewski ’18 said in an e-mail that the class presidents had been on the Honor Committee since its founding in 1893. While she said that she did not know the original intent of picking the class presidents for this job, she emphasized that, “We assume they believed it’s important to have elected voices on the Honor Committee. We believe the same to be true today.”

Class senators are more attuned to serve in this role. The Senate Constitution says that the purpose of the Senate is to, "exercise leadership in any activity affecting undergraduate life" and, "provide services for the University." Article III, Section 309 of the Senate Constitution specifies that the USG Senate is the sole authority on issues of undergraduate life and interests, and Sec. 3. (a) of the Class Government Constitution prohibits class governments from engaging in campus policy unless it pertains only to one class.

In other words, if students have complaints about the Honor System, the USG Senate officially represents students on the matter — not class presidents, even though the presidents are the members of the Honor Committee. The only time that class presidents have an impact in USG Senate affairs is on the rare occasions that they serve as substitutes for voting members during Senate meetings.

Clearly, given the structure of the Senate and Honor System, class senators should become the ex officio Honor Committee members — not the class presidents. Beyond structure, there are two benefits to making this change.

First, having senators on the Honor Committee duly ensures that it treats everyone fairly and is not prejudiced toward students of a particular class. Class presidents are elected by their class to serve their class and no one else. Although class senators are also elected by their own class, the Senate Constitution states that Senate members must represent all undergraduates. As Class of 2018 Senator Soraya Morales Nuñez ’18 recently wrote in an op-ed, "I have a commitment to the student body, and this commitment is not limited to the Class of 2018."

Second, it reinforces the class governments' independence from the Senate. A 2014 referendum severed class governments from the Senate by creating a separate constitution for them. Its goal was to eliminate the Senate's power to, "affect the events held by one class government for a particular class" by Senate members of another class.

But — as a loophole in the referendum — the Senate still has residual power to do this. The Senate appoints new members to the Honor Committee. If the Senate has a disagreement with the sophomore or junior class governments, it could appoint people to the Honor Committee who will undermine the class presidents' decisions or vote to dismiss them. 

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While such a scenario seems implausible due to the recent placidity in USG politics, it’s not impossible. The USG Senate has had members who played "take-no-prisoners" politics in the past, including Eliot Spitzer '81 and Ted Cruz '92. They exploited every opportunity to advance their own agendas and strengthen their powers while in USG.

Further, current USG Senate members have expressed their intentions to appoint more diverse students to the Honor Committee. If they have a desire to choose Committee members based on identity, then there's little stopping them from clandestinely selecting members by petty political biases against class presidents.

The inclusion of sophomore and junior class presidents on the Honor Committee doesn't make sense. Class senators should replace them due to their work on school policy and representation of students’ opinions. Class presidents should be focused on bringing fun and unity to their classes. Suspending a student for cheating is the exact opposite of that. 

Liam O’Connor is a sophomore from Wyoming, Del. He can be reached at lpo@princeton.edu.