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Seeing sense in proposed changes...

IN ABOUT three weeks, the student body will have the opportunity to vote on four packages of amendments to the Honor Committee constitution. These amendments are of utmost importance to the future of the honor system, and anyone interested in consistency in Honor Committee procedures should particularly support the amendments involving jury composition and the role of counsel.

University Forum
Should students vote for or against the honor referenda?
  • Seeing sense in proposed changes...
    by Thomas Hall, Honor Committee Chairman
  • Or blinded by lack of student input?
    by Scott Sottile, a fourth year Architecture student who served on the Honor Committee from 1998 to 2000

    One of the concerns recently raised about these proposals is that they were "mandated" by the Board of Visitors or members of the administration. This is untrue. The Honor System Review Commission was created independently by the Honor Committee. There was one member of the Board on the Commission, but majority vote ruled on the recommendations. Furthermore, the Honor Committee independently considered the recommendations of the Review Commission. The Committee rejected three constitutional amendments proposed by the Review Commission, and altered two others. Only after hours of thoughtful debate did the Committee vote to send any amendments to referenda. It takes an imaginative mind to envision how the Board or any other party could come close to manipulating this complex and contentious process.

    These amendments are a result of careful consideration by interested students, alumni, administrators and faculty, but ultimately they represent an exercise of student self-governance in its purest sense. Student self-governance does not mean operating in an absolute vacuum, ignoring all advice from sources other than our fellow students. However, as the leader of the Honor Committee for the past nine months, I take personal affront to any implication that debates conducted during our term were simply facades behind which other parties were manipulating the outcome. The Committee has acted in what it believes is in the best interest of the student body; no more and no less.

    The proposals themselves are the most important issue for the student body to consider. The first set of proposals details the shift from a system with random student juries to a system offering only mixed panels and all-Committee panels. The random student jury experiment began in 1990 and has on the whole been a failure. While random student juries have increased student ownership and buy-in in the system, they have returned verdicts often wildly inconsistent with the facts, alienating student and faculty initiators alike.

    Related Links
  • href="">Honor System Review Commission Final Report

  • The addition of three Honor Committee members to the panels with six random students should add a measure of consistency and adherence to the facts, as well as easing the burden of scheduling and coordinating the schedules of a dozen random students. The Committee acknowledges, however, the importance of the presence of random students on the jury panel, and has in fact proposed giving them the controlling majority in any case. The change in voting structure packaged with the mixed panel proposal also will increase consistency. By lowering slightly the voting standard for guilt, verdicts will be based on the facts, as opposed to sympathy. The honor system, after all, is in search of the truth.

    Integrally connected to the jury proposal is the proposal to lessen the role counsel play in honor trials. The Committee proposes the removal of the "prosecutor" role and the reduction of the role of an accused student's counsel. However, accused students will still be able to call upon their counsel for cross-examination of witnesses against them and will be able to ask their counsel to deliver closing remarks. The addition of Committee members to the jury panels will allow the jury to play much more of a fact-finding role in honor trials, eliminating the John Grisham-style courtroom theatrics that have recently supplanted the finding of the truth.

    The final proposal concerns the elimination of the seriousness clause in cases of academic cheating. This is truly a question we must ask ourselves as a student body: Are we willing to tolerate what some might consider "minor" cheating? Are we unwilling to tolerate downloading a term paper from the Web, but willing to tolerate the use of a crib sheet in a daily quiz? I personally believe that all cheating is abhorrent to the educational mission of the University. As students, nothing should be more sacred to us than the integrity of the academic process. However, reasonable individuals can disagree on this important matter, and the honor system is certainly not my honor system. This is an issue on which the student body must express its opinion through the democratic process.

    Let me close my space with a final request. The referenda is a mere eighteen days away; please educate yourselves and vote responsibly in this election. I know there is nothing I am prouder of than the University and our honor system, which I believe sets us apart from the University of North Carolinas and University of California-Berkeleys of the nation. Help preserve and cherish this legacy of honor by voting Feb. 26-March 1.

    (Thomas Hall is a third year College student. He is Honor Committee Chairman.)