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A flawed proposal

Students should vote against the Honor Committee's proposed reforms

In a month, students will have the opportunity to vote on a proposal that would drastically change the honor system. We recognize and embrace the fact that one of the paramount ideals of the University is student self-governance. As former Honor Committee members and support officers, we students and alumni write to you, not to attempt to instruct you how to think or vote. Rather, we wish to raise concerns about this proposal that we believe have gone largely unaddressed in the current debate. These concerns are shared by many who have a wide diversity of views about the honor system and we hope you might give them serious consideration.

The proposal has two parts. The first is termed “informed retraction.“ It would allow accused students to avoid the risk of expulsion under these conditions: They must waive their right to a full investigation and jury trial, admit their guilt and leave the University for one year. If they do so, they may return to the University. The second would require accused students who do insist on their right to a fair trial to accept a jury comprised only of Honor Committee members, rather than the option of a randomly selected peer jury as is their right today.

The proposal is designed to provide an alternative path for guilty students, but it produces unintended perverse incentives for innocent ones. Imagine yourself wrongly accused of an honor offense. The evidence against you is troubling, but not overwhelming. You can insist upon your innocence and go to trial, but in that case you risk permanent expulsion at the hands of Honor Committee members. Or you can hedge against this risk, admit guilt for something you did not do and sacrifice a year away from the University. While you may return to graduate with a clean record, the perversity of that choice is troubling. And it is why, we suspect, former students have rejected similar ideas.

Another concern regarding this proposal that strikes us is how it would disparately impact students of different backgrounds. For those with financial means, a one-year suspension might be a chance to broaden their horizons traveling abroad or working as an intern. But will a one-year suspension permit those with athletic or academic scholarships to return a year later on the same scholarship? Will an international student be able to return to school a year later with the same visa? What would happen to a student in one of the University’s professional schools? Would one student’s year abroad be another student’s effective expulsion? We urge you to seek answers to those questions before casting your vote.

In addition, this proposal removes students’ right to elect a trial before randomly selected student jurors. Proponents argue that this would better ensure that guilty students are convicted. They make this assumption with no supporting data and misinterpret the fact that often reasonable doubt arises in honor cases. That some likely guilty students are found innocent is the price of ensuring that innocent students are not found guilty. Also, the proposal creates logistical nightmares for the Honor Committee and increases the risk that conflicts of interest and biases might sway the outcome of specific cases. This proposal will separate members of the Honor Committee from their best task — writing fair and consistent bylaws that apply universally and administering the honor system primarily as neutral arbiters.

Most distressingly, this proposal isolates the workings of honor further from everyday students and places sole power in the hands of the Honor Committee. In addition to ensuring fairness to students facing trial, jury participation is an avenue for literally hundreds of students to deeply engage in the system as jurors in an average year. This process simply does not reflect the democratic founding principles of student self-governance upon which our University was founded.

The current Honor Committee endorsed these proposals and cites reluctance of students to report their peers, faculty members who are angry with the drawn-out, uncertain investigation and trial process, and the incentive for students who are accused to simply lie through the honor investigation and trial process. These are all valid concerns; however, we believe this proposal will only further exacerbate these problems. It adds further complexity and uncertainty for student and faculty reporters, complicates decision-making for accused students by introducing a system akin to plea bargaining, and further distances the student body from the honor system.

As current students, this decision is yours alone. We are all proud that we rejected proposals like these in the past and followed generations of our predecessors in upholding the University’s high standards. If you vote “no” on the proposal and work toward a better solution, we are confident that you will be proud as well.

With deep sincerity,

Charles C. Harris Coll. ‘08, Law ‘11, Honor Chair

Jessica Huang Coll. ‘09, Honor Chair

Benjamin Y. Cooper IV Coll. ‘08, Law ‘11, Honor Chair

Sophie Staples Coll. ‘09, Vice-Chair for Trials

Tyler Alexander Coll. ‘09, Vice-Chair for Community Relations

Brian O’Neill Coll. ‘08, Vice-Chair for Trials

Joshua Hess Coll. ‘06, Law ‘09, Vice-Chair for Community Relations

Taylor Richardson Coll. ‘09, Med. ‘13, Med. Representative

M. Weldon Diana Med. ‘14, Darden ‘14, Med. Representative

Andrew Bean Comm. ‘10, Comm. Representative

Christina Polenta Comm. ‘09, Comm. Representative

Catherine Anne Daley Coll. ‘08, Coll. Representative

Zachary Rowen Coll. ‘09, Law ‘12, Pre-Trial Coordinator

Robert Manoso Coll. ‘09, Law ‘12, Honor Counsel

Sam Leven Coll. ‘07, Law ‘10 Honor Counsel, Founder Hoos Against the Single Sanction

Nadia Islam Coll. ‘09 Senior Honor Advisor

Eric Jensen Coll. ‘08, Senior Honor Counsel


Published February 4, 2013 in Opinion

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