If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

The proposed honor reforms display the Committee’s lack of trust in the student body and would incentivize cheating

A former University student who was expelled for violating the honor code wrote an article recently in which he gave a moving description of how his life went way downhill after he admitted his guilt and “kept his honor.” He seems to make the point that his being honest, in the end, should count for something. Here’s my opinion: it does. Your honorable action in the end counts in that you can live easily with yourself for having come forward and admitted a wrong, not that it strikes away your error in the first place.

If we are trying to institutionalize the notion of honesty in our community, adding a codified dismissal of such values directly contradicts that goal. Allowing “informed retractions” opens an intellectual door to dishonesty that would severely damage the spirit of the University’s honor code. You may get some people who come forward and admit they’ve cheated, and everyone would be pleased to see that our “reform” succeeded. You would, however, get a much larger number that realize honor has no teeth, see the rewards of cutting corners and know that they can later do “the right thing” if it seems they might get caught.

One of the last sentences of the student’s article (Dan Bayliss, The Cavalier Daily, Feb. 14) was, “Most importantly, I know now my personal honor is still intact because of how I conducted myself during the honor process…” This sentence illustrates the selfishness this proposed amendment to the honor code would elicit. When “personal honor” becomes more important than the integrity of the system, we have weakened not only ourselves but also the community we claim to be a part of.

The University is an institution of higher learning, not just of engineering or nursing but life itself and about how to be an honorable person. This learning is not easy, nor should it be. Sometimes it hurts to learn the truth about yourself or learn to change. If I embezzle funds from my company and get caught, I won’t have the opportunity to take a year off and come back as if nothing happened. I get fired, remove that job from my resume, and learn a very hard lesson in the very hardest of ways. That’s real life. Weakening the honor system at the University by adding “informed retractions” delays a lesson in maturity that is essential to our academic and professional lives. If we pass legislation that gives us an easy way out and makes it simpler to do the wrong thing, the only people we are cheating is ourselves.

A second proposed reform by the Honor Committee would remove randomly selected jurors and instead appoint a “panel comprised exclusively of highly trained Honor Committee representatives.” I was already slightly angered by the wordy, three-page preface to the Honor Committee’s reform document when I came across this statement that just reeked of the exact type of behavior from this committee that is the reason people no longer trust them. If the Honor Committee wants to instill trust, they need to trust in return. Mostly anywhere else in the world a random jury of your peers is a right that prevents judicial bodies from becoming corrupt, biased or unjust. Yet here we are, with the Honor Committee feeling as though they have reached a higher point of enlightenment or training than those they claim to represent and support. If you want to make understanding your bylaws easier, don’t make me feel like I’m doing my taxes when I want to understand your very basic, and unneeded, amendment. Maybe you could add pictorial instructions like they do for IKEA furniture manuals … now that would be real reform.

Every University student likes to make his impact here and there; we all have a drive to make ourselves known in our respective fields and, at times, we take that a little too far. What the Honor Committee at the University doesn’t seem to realize is that the system is not broken and in need of reform — the committee’s leadership itself is. An institutionalized lack of trust in the University student body has come to rot the organization. This is not a stab at Honor Committee Chair Stephen Nash, but it is a stab at the fact that the committee has, over the years, put a crown on its own head that has separated the members from the student body.

I am amused by the fact that we regularly hear from the Honor Committee that the system is in dire straits and in urgent need of reform. Every leader at the University has grand ideas about how to improve things; this is good as long as it leads to innovation. But innovation for innovation’s sake is not a step forward. This is where the Committee gets vague and imprecise: “Internal problems are leading to great external problems,” Nash said recently (Feb. 12 Student Council meeting as reported in The Cavalier Daily, Feb. 13). Last time I checked, the University was a place to be reckoned with on a domestic and international scale. We are the best-valued and highest-ranked public school in the nation. We are the best party school according to Playboy. Those don’t sound like “great external problems” to me. Wahoowa.

Morgan Byrne-Diakun is a University alumnus from the College. He graduated in 2012.

related stories