Class elections have descended upon us again, and — if they resemble those of the past — they’ll be uneventful. Candidates will post advertisements on Facebook. Their campaigns will be based upon the vague uncontroversial platitudes of class unity and free branded clothing. We’ll rejoice if even one of them campaigns in-person.
The average voter — who has probably never met most of the people running — will resign to indifference. They’ll vote for a recognizable name, a pretty profile filter, or abstain all together.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We could have an energetic election that keeps everyone on the edge of their seats. In particular, the sophomore and junior class president races are the two most important offices on any USG ballot, because that those officers sit on the Honor Committee.
Article I Section B1 of the Honor Constitution states, “The members of this Committee will be the presidents of the sophomore and junior classes, former sophomore and junior class presidents, [etc.].”
In other words, each class has the opportunity to elect a new Honor Committee member or to re-elect its incumbent member during junior year. The winners serve in this capacity for the rest of their time at Princeton. That’s a huge responsibility.
The student body has shown that it cares deeply about improving the Honor Code. One year ago, four referenda sparked passionate debates over concepts of justice. A fierce countermovement resisted the reform campaign. There was an outcry when the administration struck down three of them. Now, debate has resurfaced after the Academic Integrity Report Reconciliation Committee issued its recommendations for diversifying punishments, and two more Honor-related measures are on the ballot.
USG referenda come and go. Sometimes they actually change things. Oftentimes they don’t. But, in any case, Honor Committee members have a tangible impact.
In practice, they set the tone for hearings. Theoretically, they should also call out violations of standard practices, though that doesn’t always happen. Past members and defendants alike worry that the committee is too punitive-minded: it decides guilt first and asks questions second.
About two thirds of all cases that proceed to a hearing result in a guilty verdict, according to statistics released in February. While it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the evidence or confirmation bias is stronger to make conviction rates so high after hearings, we can pick people who vocalize their thoughts on procedural fairness.
Class presidents could be the chief spokespeople to communicate the committee’s activities, which includes publicly advocating for reform. Former class president Justin Ziegler ’16 went as far as to begin crafting a referendum to fix the abuses of power that he witnessed.
Elections should be the time when we ask candidates about their beliefs on justice, plagiarism, mercy, and punishment. These officers are directly accountable to their constituents, so they have to represent popular views.
It would be marvelous if we realize that our votes affect the honor system. This issue would become a wedge that divides the campus because of the strong, conflicting opinions on it. Candidates would have to gauge class support by talking to students, who would then be more inclined to vote in elections with this new engagement.
Instead — under the way that elections currently go — all that class president candidates have to do is create a funny video and write a snazzy slogan. They waltz into the solemnest duty any student could have, never to be heard from again.
Liam O’Connor is a junior geosciences major from Wyoming, Del. He can be reached at email@example.com.