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The Honor Committee reforms, though imperfect, are necessary to improve a system with too many shortcomings

Although I have been involved with the honor system since my first semester at the University, until this year I have never supported the concept of an all-Honor Committee jury panel. As a second year, I listened unconvinced to the conversations the Committee was having about the issue. I made the same argument that many in this community are currently making: that random student juries are a necessary protection that allows all students to interact with their honor system. Yet, after this year, I find myself passionately in support of this reform, and believe it is necessary in order for us to have a sustainable and highly regarded honor system.

When I have asked myself how my own vehement opposition changed to my current strong support, the only answer I could provide is my own realization that I do not know if I could carry out my responsibilities as Honor Chair another day past the end of my term. This year has certainly been a tremendous privilege and honor. I have been able to work with individuals who I respect and admire greatly. By the end of this term, however, I have serious moral discomfort and reservations about problems with our honor system and how it is administered.

This discomfort does not come from personal opposition to the single sanction — a policy I believe is critical to the honor system’s character — but rather from an honor system that is randomly administered. For each dismissal letter I have signed this year, I know the student and story behind the case number: the first year who came through our system genuinely trying to take responsibility for his actions and right a wrong; the international student who followed our instructions to be “on their honor to be truthful throughout the process” and immediately came forward with exactly what happened; the conscientious student who sent an immediate apology email to us before he even scheduled his first interview. These are the students whose fates are sealed within our process and whose dismissal letters I have signed. At the same time, I have watched students hire their own attorneys, plot elaborate defenses and successfully exploit well-intentioned random juries. I have waited to hear how a verdict would be handed down with no idea of what a jury would deem important from one case to the next. And I have seen cases with nearly identical fact patterns lead to different outcomes.

I have always believed in the greater purpose of honor at the University. Every system is imperfect, but I have always believed that the benefits of the community of trust outweigh any individual difficulties within the honor system itself. The most troubling part of these internal problems is that they are undermining the strength of this relationship. Very few students can name a benefit of our honor system outside of leaving his or her laptop unattended in the library. Faculty who were once most supportive of the system now serve as some of its most salient critics in light of their firsthand experiences with case processing. Some schools and departments have practically withdrawn all support both in terms of benefits given to students and reports into the system. These problems are undermining our greater community of trust and our ultimate student self-governance.

This solution we offer is not perfect, but the question is this: is it an improvement to what we have now? The informed retraction would allow the honor system to once again embrace a positive and affirmative purpose: an unwavering commitment to do what is right. Jury reform would restore confidence that the system operates in the most fair, consistent and accurate manner it can. Once we as students take responsibility for these problems, as they were identified more than a decade ago, we can work to ensure that honor is serving its most important purpose of fostering a community of trust. A functioning system allows students to receive more benefits and enables the meaningful interaction with the honor system that all students deserve.

We have a choice. As hundreds of new faculty will enter the Grounds in the coming years with thousands of new students, will we welcome them into a community of trust that we can talk about with pride or an increasingly weakened honor system that no longer reflects its founding ideals? It is my great hope that we choose the first. But even if we do not, I have enjoyed the conversations and debates we have had in the course of the last few weeks, and I urge you all to vote.

Stephen Nash is a fourth-year College student and the current Honor Committee chair.


Published February 24, 2013 in Opinion







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