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On our honor

The sanction reform referendum is not the answer to the honor system’s current problems

THERE ARE a number of concerns about the honor constitution amendment present on the ballot this spring. The proposed multiple sanction system is not as strong as the current single sanction system and will expand the Honor Committee’s powers to punish a multitude of new honor offenses while removing student juries from the sanctioning process. Punishment is not the intent of our honor system and this referendum proposes to turn the Committee into a police force for petty crimes. The ability of students to appeal sanctions under this new system also is unclear, and this is not acceptable for a situation in which the stakes are so high. Because of these problems, the sanction reform referendum should not pass.

The University’s single sanction honor system is designed to promote a community of trust, based on the belief that University students should always act in an honorable fashion. The triviality clause in the honor constitution is designed to ensure that only violations of the honor code which are inconsistent with the community of trust are punishable. While there are examples of differing interpretations of triviality in the past, in general, the definition allows only those transgressions which violate the community of trust to be considered for trial. The single sanction is most effective as a deterrent and establishing lesser punishments removes that deterrent.

If this referendum passes, in addition to weakening the honor system, the Committee will have the power to decide what sanction is given to students found guilty of a trivial honor offense. A student brought up on honor charges would still have the option of being tried by a jury of their peers but a panel of Committee members would hand down the lesser sanction. This proposal is not consistent with the current ideal of self-governance that allows students to decide how an honor violation should be handled. The honor system belongs to all students at the University, not just Committee members, and it should be student juries who decide how to punish a fellow student for an honor offense.

Because the proposed referendum establishes a new panel of Committee members to levy the sanction for a student found guilty, it is not yet clear whether this new sanctioning panel would also be subject to the constitutional appeals process. Exactly where the honor constitution falls on this issue is ambiguous. This referendum was almost declared invalid because of ambiguities in the honor constitution; to create more ambiguity is unacceptable. An explicitly defined appeals process must be protected in order to ensure fairness in the system and this referendum fails to do that.

The single sanction honor system is not perfect and students should continually evaluate it to make it better. This referendum, however, is not the solution to our current system’s problems. It will weaken the honor system and force the Committee to sanction minor offenses that do not violate the community of trust. At the same time it will expand the powers of the Committee beyond what is reasonable for one small elected body to hold. Students must not allow the honor system to be crippled by this referendum.

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