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The University’s response to the Honor Constitution referenda was predictable and prudent

The backlash to the University’s decision on the Honor Constitution referenda has been growing since the January 4 announcement. There are now calls for protests in February by the Honor Code Reform campaign, and the USG Executive Committee has vowed to “[actively pursue] other avenues of action available to us.” These responses demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding both of how the University operates and of the relationship between the faculty and the Honor System. The University’s decision is consistent with its authority over academic policy and was a prudent response to a highly flawed attempt to alter the Honor System. Going forward, students should focus on participating in the work of the Honor System Review Committee, not protesting a legitimate exercise of authority.

The University’s decision was predictable because of the process that led to the referenda and substantive issues with the proposed reforms. In the email to the student body, the University highlighted the “accelerated timetable” of the referenda campaign and why “changes this significant cannot be implemented without the engagement and support of the faculty.” As an op-ed I co-authored pointed out on December 10, these referenda were proposed in less than two months by a newly formed USG subcommittee without consulting many stakeholders, most importantly the faculty and administration. Further, the immediate disparity that the change in standard penalty would have created with the Committee on Discipline (CoD) was not acceptable to the University. A proponent of the referendum argued that the burden was on the University to change the CoD penalty should Question 1 pass. As I pointed out during the campaign, however, “as someone who has sat on two different faculty committees over the past three years, I can tell you that the faculty will not react well to the student body dictating that they should support a more lenient penalty for cheating.” While these arguments were dismissed or ignored during the campaign, the University has now made clear that it will protect the right of the faculty to be involved in important changes to the Honor Constitution.


Contrary to assertions by some students, the University’s decision falls clearly within its authority over academic policy and gives the faculty an opportunity to consider these proposals. This process, indeed, circumvents the formal amendment procedure in Article VI of the Honor Constitution, and some have argued that doing so violates the University’s own rules. But this ignores how the University is governed and the origins of the Honor System. The Honor System is a contract between the faculty and students. While students can make changes to the Honor Constitution, the faculty still maintains ultimate authority over the disciplinary powers it conditionally delegated to the student body. In addition, the Administration is responsible for ensuring that students prudently exercise their delegated authority. The President of the University “is charged [by the Board of Trustees] with the general supervision of the interests of the University,” including the interests of faculty, students, and other members of the University community. After conducting a thorough review, the Administration concluded that there were significant procedural and substantive concerns raised by the Honor Constitution referenda. These included the lack of faculty and administrative input into the process. This stands in contrast to “prior changes to the Honor Constitution, which were adopted with the support of the faculty.” Judging that these changes were too important to go into effect without allowing the faculty an opportunity to participate in the policy-making process, President Eisgruber, accordingly, remanded three of the referenda to the faculty committee with jurisdiction over these matters. To be clear, this decision was not a veto of the three referenda by the Administration. Instead, it empowers the faculty to decide, in an orderly process, whether it consents to these changes and to consider other potential reforms to the Honor System.

Since it is almost certain that the University will not reverse its decision on the three referenda, students should move on and focus on how they can play a role in the formal process taking place to review the Honor System. As Dean Dolan said recently, "Change simply has to be accomplished in the right way, with the appropriate voices involved in the process." Students have a critical role in the work of the Honor System Review Committee, and I encourage my classmates to participate productively in discussions about potential reforms to the Honor System.

Connor Pfeiffer, a senior in the history department from San Antonio, Texas, is a member of the USG Academics Committee and The Daily Princetonian Editorial Board. He can be reached at