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Honoring despots

Thomas Jefferson once said, "Experience has shown that, even under the best forms of government, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." Only the Honor Committee could claim to hold Mr. Jefferson in such high regard and yet fail so completely to heed this warning.

The Committee began discussions Oct. 3 on a proposal to get rid of random student juries in honor trials. This is the worst idea the Committee has had since the single sanction. For those unfamiliar with how the honor system operates, a trial is currently the sole avenue for students not involved in the Committee to participate in the process. Elizabeth Hall said it best in her letter to the editor last week: "With these changes, the Committee will become judge, jury and executioner - not to mention investigator and counsel by proxy." Anyone who took a fifth grade civics class can see why this system will fail.

In an apparent attempt to explain the proposal, Committee Chair Charles Harris said, "Students are disengaged because they are not quite sure what they should be doing. They are not quite sure of what they are being expected to do." This observation is undoubtedly true; honor trials are notorious for having student jurors fall asleep or otherwise fail to remain attentive. Clearly, though, the logical response to this problem is not to eliminate all student involvement from the process. An honor system that eliminates involvement from non-Committee members violates nearly every ideal that the system should strive to uphold: checks and balances, student self-governance and a community of trust.

The good news is that this proposal is a tacit recognition by the Committee that the current system is not working. Innocent students are being convicted. Students fail to report other students for cheating because they (understandably) fear the consequences. Just like the "one size fits all" system of punishment that the Committee refuses to adapt to the reality of violations taking place, a system lacking representation by non-Committee members will serve only one purpose: to further inflate the sense of self-righteousness on the Committee and isolate it from the rest of the University.

If the Committee is truly dedicated to fostering a community of trust on Grounds, it should start by trusting students outside the Committee.

Bonnie Carlson\nCLAS '09\n

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