Two wrongs make a right

An open appeal to the Honor Committee and Board of Visitors to uphold the ideal of Honor

There are times when doing the right thing means following the law, or performing a task. But there are other times when doing the right thing means defying the law - because justice is, in some sense, removed from the sphere of what is necessarily "allowable."

To understand the first definition of good behavior is to understand that it is right for students to turn in papers on time, and that it is right for University community members to align themselves with sound reason and social convention. To understand the latter definition, one need look no further than the honor case of Allison Routman, and to what the Honor Committee "cannot" - but should - do in responding to her unusual circumstances.

As Routman's father explained Sunday night, her case is one without parallel at the University, and so it should be reevaluated and potentially dismissed. With the sole exception of Mark Gruntz, who like Routman was dismissed during a summer 2008 Semester at Sea voyage for allegedly plagiarizing Wikipedia, there has not been another student dismissed by the Committee under the same conditions since perhaps the modern honor code's inception in 1977. Routman and Gruntz were dismissed by faculty members, were non-University students at a distinct disadvantage and had little support aboard a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea. The trial procedures in the summer 2008 Voyager's Handbook, moreover, could be seen as being in direct conflict with the Committee's constitution, as they did not guarantee the same protections afforded to students on Grounds. The fact that Routman and Gruntz signed away these rights, and the fact that the Committee's bylaws state that all SAS procedures are contained within the handbook, is nothing but a contrived means to skirt alarming issues such as constitution-bylaw agreement and the invalidation of basic guarantees. The mere thought that SAS participants must sign a waiver of rights - simply because of the program's uniqueness and the inadequateness of the Committee's efforts - but then are held to the same principles of governance and called University students, should strike any reader as perplexing. And so it should be concluded, once and for all, that the Committee did not handle these cases correctly, because the procedures in place at the time were written in error and poor judgement. In short, the Committee did the wrong thing.

To reopen the 2008 cases, however, is not allowable under the Committee's constitution. To quote former Committee Chair Jessica Huang, "Once an appeal is denied, that's it." There is no formal procedure to reconsider a closed case - and so to a certain extent, even if current Committee members feel the past convictions were made wrongfully, they can claim their hands are tied. Likewise, the University's Board of Visitors, which ultimately has some authority over the Committee, can do the same. Conveniently, the present procedures allow the Committee to dismiss any of the aforementioned problems without batting so much as an eyelash.

But are anyone's hands really tied? Tied by insignificant bylaws and complex amendments, all of which the Committee already violated to a degree in Routman and Gruntz' very circumstances?

To dismiss Routman and Gruntz' charges is not a question of whether the pair plagiarized their papers. By all accounts, and considering the amount of evidence, it would seem clear that what occurred was at the very least ignorant plagiarism. The SAS procedures in play, however, made it such that neither was given a fair trial and both were almost assumed guilty of intent, because of an intent clause still in need of revision. What is at stake, therefore, is not a reevaluation of dubious papers, but a reevaluation of how the Committee acted and responded to concerns later brought to light.

On the one hand, the Committee and Board of Visitors could do the "right" thing, and follow its rules strictly and without discretion. On the other hand, these institutional bodies, these bastions of University thought and moral standards, could do something even greater: Ignore the rules. Recognize their errors. Forgive and rectify. Hold themselves not just to the procedures of honor, but to the ideal of Honor, with a capital H.

Because sometimes, two wrongs do make a right.

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