Over the past year and a half, students have clearly expressed their desire to reform the Honor System. Beginning with the four referenda passed during the 2017 USG elections cycle, students have repeatedly called for increased transparency, improvements in communication practices, and changes to the elected composition of the members of the Honor Committee, among other things. Students have thoroughly engaged with administrators and faculty members on these topics in numerous forums since the University initially halted the implementation of the referenda’s proposed reforms in January 2018.
Among the numerous areas of the Honor System discussed over the last 18 months, its current inflexible penalty structure for academic integrity violations has received considerable attention, and the so-called “standard penalty” of a one-year suspension is the item that students have most emphatically insisted must change. We are excited that students now have the opportunity to vote during next week’s USG elections cycle to eliminate a standard penalty and create an Honor System with penalties that are more commensurate with the severity of violations.
Referendum No. 3 is designed to dramatically change the Honor Committee’s penalty structure. It transitions the Honor System from a “standard penalty” paradigm to a graduated system that allows for increased flexibility and penalties more commensurate to violations. Under this new structure, the Honor Committee would be able to assign penalties from a range of options instead of generally being required to issue one-year suspensions for most first-time violations. These options would also include three new reduced penalties: a one-semester suspension, a reprimand, and disciplinary probation in increments of months (rather than until graduation).
In short, Referendum No. 3 eliminates the standard penalty and develops a new range of graduated penalties that make the Honor System more flexible. Students would receive penalties more commensurate to the severity of their violations and would be better able to learn and grow from their mistakes under this new system. It represents a critical first step in the process of implementing important changes to the Honor System and seeks to directly address student concerns that have surfaced over the past two years in various forums on campus.
However, we recognize that students have questioned the effectiveness of promoting institutional change through the referendum platform since University administrators halted the implementation of the December 2017 referenda on the Honor System. We shared your frustration at this turn of events and understand why students may doubt their ability to use referenda to accomplish change on campus as a result.
At the same time, we also believe that it is important to recognize that the December 2017 referenda did create change by advancing an important series of conversations on campus and by revealing the strength of the student body’s desires to reform the Honor System. While their actual implementation was delayed, the passage of these referenda served as an effective mechanism for revealing where students stood on these academic integrity issues and emphasized the urgent necessity of pursuing reform.
Referendum No. 3 is a direct product of the months of conversation between students, faculty, and administrators on three University committees. It comes directly from a report released by the Academic Integrity Report Reconciliation Committee in February and has been discussed in numerous forums over the past several months. As members of USG and the Honor Committee, we have worked extensively with different campus stakeholders to develop the contents of this referendum and other important changes to the Honor System over the past few months; and we strongly believe that faculty, students, and administrators are generally in agreement on the point that developing a more flexible range of penalty options is critical to improving academic integrity at Princeton.
Because this referendum has been the product of these discussions and direct engagement with various relevant parties, we are confident that it will be implemented in the fall of 2019, with the support of University faculty and administrators, if it passes during next week’s USG elections.
Next week’s voting represents a vital opportunity for students to reaffirm their active and central role in shaping the Honor System. Students have been advocating for reform for years. Voting yes on Referendum No. 3 in next week’s election cycle is our opportunity to improve the Honor System to ensure that it continues to both take academic integrity seriously and to operate with compassion, fairness, and understanding.
Elizabeth Haile is a senior Operations Research and Financial Engineering concentrator from Manhattan Beach, California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dina Kuttab is a sophomore from Amman, Jordan. She can be reached at email@example.com. Camille Moeckel is a junior sociology concentrator from Cromwell, Connecticut. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Olivia Ott is a junior Wilson School concentrator from Ketchum, Idaho. She can be reached at email@example.com. Ben Press is a junior History concentrator from Vienna, Virginia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.