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Reforming system to preserve honor

THE HONOR system depends on the commitment of students throughout the University not to lie, steal or cheat and not to tolerate such conduct by their fellow students. Unless that commitment pervades the student body, no amount of organization or procedure will be effective, but some kind of structure is necessary to provide a means of dealing with the few students who fail to adhere to that standard of conduct. That structure is provided by the University-wide Honor Committee.

It is not surprising that this structure, adequate at a time when the University's enrollment was several hundred and even when it had risen to several thousand, is now, with an enrollment of more than 18,000, encountering problems. All organizations encounter structural difficulties as they grow from small to large. Structure must change to accommodate greatly enlarged size. So it is with the honor system.

I wish to suggest a restructuring that will strengthen the system and undergird its viability in today's circumstances. In any restructuring it is important that the concept of a single, University-wide honor system be retained. Thus the Honor Committee should be retained, with responsibility for administration of the system. Consistent with the Committee's ultimate authority, I suggest that several honor panels be established in the various schools. Each panel would consist of nine students elected by the students of the schools under that panel's jurisdiction. Each panel would be responsible for overseeing the investigation of alleged honor violations within its schools and for trying cases. The panels would function under rules of procedure promulgated by the Honor Committee, and the Committee would hear and decide appeals.

Set out below is one way of structuring these panels that seems sensible.

Panel 1: College of Arts and Sciences; Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Panel 2: School of Architecture, School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Panel 3: School Of Commerce, School of Education.

Panel 4: School of Medicine, School of Nursing .

Panel 5: School of Law, Graduate School of Business Administration.

Because of the disproportionately large enrollment in the College, one variation of this scheme would be to establish separate panels for the College and Graduate School.

This structure would bring students into closer contact with the system, giving each student a sense of meaningful participation in the selection of those who investigate and sit in judgment of alleged violators. With each panel being chosen from students within that panel's schools, there is a reasonable likelihood that every student can personally know or at least know of some of the candidates standing for election to the panel. Today, with the University's large enrollment and wide geographical dispersion, many students understandably feel little connection with the Honor Committee, seeing it as a remote body composed of people they do not know.

This format would enlarge the number of students directly involved as decision-makers in the system. In addition to the Committee members, there would be 45 panel members participating directly in the investigation and trial of cases. It would enhance students' sense of the system's fairness because they would know that those responsible for investigating and trying cases would be fellow students drawn from their midst. They would understand the setting and circumstances surrounding the alleged violation better than the distant Honor Committee, with the majority of its members from other schools, or by a jury of students randomly drawn from other schools.

It also would substantially increase the capacity of the system to expeditiously deal with alleged violations because it would provide 45 students organized into five panels to handle cases instead of just one Honor Committee. Under this new structure, it would be imperative that steps be taken to ensure that the panels all function under common standards and procedures. To that end, the Honor Committee should conduct an intensive orientation and training session for all panel members at the beginning of each year.

This is just an outline of the proposed restructuring, and numerous details remain to be worked out. But implementation of the proposal would involve no difficulties that could not be overcome by reasonable, dedicated students. About a decade ago, professors Joseph Gibson, John Graham and I presented this proposal to the Honor Committee. We were members of the Committee's Faculty Advisory Committee. There was little discussion over the proposal. At the least, I urge that this proposal be thoroughly explored and that discussions be held throughout the student body to determine whether a consensus emerges. My view - based on many years of observing the honor system as a faculty member - is that the advantages of a restructuring along the lines suggested here outweigh whatever disadvantages might be perceived. Restructuring is necessary to preserve a viable and effective system that can attract substantial student support. In considering this idea, students should be mindful of Lord Macaulay's admonition that it is necessary to reform in order to preserve.

(Daniel J. Meador is a professor of law emeritus.)

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