BROWN: No more middle man

Students and faculty should have face-to-face conversations to develop potential solutions to the problems of the Honor system

The Honor Committee recently voted to add a non-binding resolution to the students’ election ballot asking whether students prefer non-proctored exams. Described by Honor Committee Chair Evan Behrle as “unexpected,” the move signals that the Committee is still actively looking for ways to shake up the Honor System at the University, but also that it has learned from last year’s failed referendum. Behrle said that the decision reflects the Committee’s desire to seek student input on important questions. The Committee should be praised for continuing to push students to think about what Honor means to them, which it has done not only by passing the resolution but also by increasing outreach and education this year. The next step should be the development of a concrete dialogue between students and faculty on issues like proctoring exams.

Many of the problems the committee has faced in the past year have been due to a disconnect between the faculty and students on Honor issues. The Restore the Ideal Act was motivated in large part by increased disillusionment with the system from the faculty, but failed because the product put in front of the student body didn’t reflect the ideals of the average student. The act’s failure and the passage of the so-called “Bellamy Amendment” caused many students to feel that the legitimate issues Restore the Ideal sought to address were resolved — which simply isn’t true. Faculty are still going to be reluctant to buy in to the system as long as jurors’ discomfort with the single-sanction or lack of familiarity with by-laws allows guilty students to escape unpunished. As long as faculty are reluctant to trust the system, Honor will fail to live up to its potential. Until both students and faculty have complete confidence in the system, the community of trust will be an incomplete ideal.

I think the current committee recognizes this, which is why it’s looking for student input as well as reaching out to faculty on the issue of proctoring. By receiving input from both sources, any future proposals will be much more likely to be accepted by both groups. But as long as this interplay is happening indirectly, with the Committee at the center of the dialogue, neither party will fully understand the other’s perspective. As long as that gap persists, it will be difficult for the two groups to take the other’s concerns into account when evaluating a potential change, which will make it difficult for any change to be widely supported by both.

So how can this be addressed? By providing an opportunity for professors and students to talk freely about issues like proctoring, spotlighting, jury composition and informed retraction, each side could come to better understand the other’s perspective and a more cohesive vision of the system’s future could be formed. To accomplish this, the Committee could set up a panel of professors who could answer student questions about their views on Honor issues, which would allow students to better understand the concerns teachers have reporting offenses in the current system and how changes could address those concerns. This would at least provide students with a more direct source of information to help develop their opinions on prospective changes. Additionally, smaller focus groups with students from diverse areas of the University could meet with professors for a more intimate discussion that would allow for greater interplay of ideas. As long as these discussions were moderated by an Honor representative, they could provide valuable insight for the Committee into areas of agreement and potential disconnects which could then be addressed.

The important point here is that there needs to be a conversation — a dynamic exchange of ideas without a pointed agenda. Rather than bringing a fully formed proposal to students and faculty, the Committee needs to actively create opportunities for them to develop their own solutions to issues facing the system. Any ideas that the community has an active role in shaping will have a much greater chance of success and of increasing support for the system. While the non-binding resolution is a definite step in the right direction, and a sign that the Committee is listening and engaging with both students and faculty, the most productive initiatives will be developed once the Committee takes itself out of the center of the debate.

Forrest Brown is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. His columns run Thursdays.

Published February 13, 2014 in Opinion

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