HONOR COMMITTEE: What’s on the ballot?

The Honor Committee wants to hear your voice

Last year, three important referenda were passed with regard to the Honor System. The first mandated that a popular assembly be held every two years to “gauge student body opinion” on important issues. The second, put simply, mandated that polling questions with majority student body support be translated into constitutional amendments to be put to a vote the following year. The third was a question polling student body opinion on whether the Honor Committee should “consider implementing a multiple sanction system.”

Though we are a committee of 27 representatives of varied opinions, we — your Honor Committee representatives — consider it our highest responsibility to respond directly to the expressed opinions of those who have elected us. As such, we have spent much of the past year doing what was required of us in those referenda. We conducted research on almost 40 peer schools’ honor systems; we collected feedback from students all across Grounds through our newsletter; we held popular assemblies in multiple schools where we introduced this research to students and asked for their opinions; and we have scrutinized our own constitution and by-laws to understand the precise extent of our sanctioning powers. We learned the following lessons.

First, our entire system is set up with a single sanction in mind. To transition to a multiple-sanction system would require lengthy and dramatic by-law changes across the board — in everything from burden of proof standards to features of our system such as the conscientious and informed retractions — and we felt ill-equipped to complete such a transition in the mandated time-frame of one year. Other honor systems that have undergone such drastic changes did so over the span of several years, and they had the benefit of administrative support.

Second, there are important differences between our constitution and our by-laws. Our constitution is a relatively limited (but powerful) document that enshrines the most important aspects and the most substantive powers of the Honor Committee. The by-laws, meanwhile, are the road map to how we operate. Our constitution is five pages; our by-laws are 45 pages. A fully-fleshed multiple sanction proposal belongs in the by-laws — which are developed and voted on by the Committee — but the referenda passed last year necessitated a constitutional amendment in response to the polling question.

Third, and finally, we reached the conclusion that the second referendum, though passed with the intention of keeping the Committee responsive to student opinion, actually limited our options by mandating a constitutional amendment in response to polling questions. This specific provision prevented us from responding to student body opinion by changing our by-laws, training documents, standard practices or educational materials — all important texts that shape how our system operates in practice.

With these lessons in mind, we have nonetheless worked hard to do what was asked of us: to give the student body a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment that would affect our sanctioning system. We are doing this in the most direct way possible: by striking at the heart of the single sanction, in Article II of our constitution (the “Powers” section). The current language in our constitution reads: “The Honor Committee shall exclude permanently from student status University students found to have committed honor violations.” This simple sentence erects a constitutional barrier to the implementation of any multiple sanction system. If it is the will of the student body to formally abolish the single sanction at hearings, the first step is changing this clause.

You will therefore vote on two different options this spring to change this language. Option 1 reads: “The Honor Committee shall, with the exception of the Conscientious Retraction and Informed Retraction, exclude permanently from student status University students found to have committed Honor violations.” This option both (a) re-affirms the single sanction at hearing, while (b) updating the constitution’s language to represent the fact that we now have a conscientious retraction and an informed retraction, both of which function as alternative sanctions to the single sanction at a hearing.

Option 2 reads: “The Honor Committee shall have the power to exclude permanently from student status or impose lesser sanctions to University students found to have committed Honor violations.” This language eliminates the current constitutional barrier to a multiple-sanction system, though it does not formally implement one. If the student body votes in favor of Option 2, the Honor Committee plans to form an independent review commission — composed of students, faculty, administrators and interested University stakeholders — to do the hard but necessary work of rewriting our by-laws to recommend fully a multiple-sanction system. This effort will require extensive polling of the student body to determine what type of multiple-sanction system students prefer.

In addition to this direct vote on the constitutional sanctioning power of the Honor Committee, we are also introducing to the ballot a constitutional amendment that would slightly reword the language passed last year governing our response to polling questions. Currently, the language reads as follows: “Should a majority of voting students vote affirmatively on a non-binding question of opinion pertaining to the Honor System in a University-wide election, the Honor Committee shall, in the following year, put such question before the student body as a binding constitutional amendment.” As mentioned, this last clause, we believe, actually restricts the Honor Committee’s ability to properly respond to student body opinion, as we are limited to merely proposing constitutional amendments.

Therefore, we are asking for your support in rewriting this clause to the following: “Should a majority of voting students vote affirmatively on a non-binding question of opinion pertaining to the Honor System in a University-wide election, the Honor Committee shall enact a response within the time frame of one year.” This language is broad enough to allow us to respond in the most appropriate way — e.g., by changing our by-laws instead of our constitution — while still holding us accountable to student body opinion.

In summary, you will see two amendments on the ballot this year: one will either affirm the single sanction or change the constitution to allow for a multiple-sanction system, and the other will slightly reword the language passed last year in order to make the Honor Committee more responsive to student opinion. They are not perfect amendments, and they will not address all of the problems students have brought to the committee’s attention over the past few years. But they represent our best effort to faithfully represent student body opinion while also acting as responsible stewards of the Honor System and the community of trust.

Faith Lyons, Russell Bogue, Avery Rasmussen, Caroline Herre and VJ Jenkins are the executive members of the Honor Committee.

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