This year’s Honor referendum has spurred a serious debate between the two sides. While we support Option 1 for all of the reasons Faith Lyons, Rick Yoder, Russell Bogue and others have written, we take this opportunity to respond to a number of the arguments proposed in favor of Option 2 as we believe they are mistaken.
Myth 1: A vote for Option 2 is a vote for student self-governance
Option 2 does not promote student self-governance; it promotes the opposite. Option 2 would afford 18 members of the Honor Committee — the two-thirds threshold required — the power to create a multi-sanction system without any need for consultation with the student body. The honor system is ultimately not about what standards the Honor Committee holds the student body to. It’s about the standards to which we hold each other. This delegation of power to the Honor Committee undermines the idea of student self-governance.
Furthermore, some of the possible new systems enabled under Option 2 (including one the Honor Committee itself proposed for discussion last semester) would remove decisions from the hands of students and put them in the hands of professors or administrators. Would this be the system the Honor Committee adopts if Option 2 passes? We can’t know, because Option 2 provides no boundaries or guidance. If proponents of a multi-sanction system are serious about student self-governance, they should vote against Option 2.
Myth 2: Single sanction gives us relatively low reporting rates
Despite years of seeing this topic under debate, we have yet to see any evidence of statistically significant differences between our reporting rates and the reporting rates at multi-sanction institutions (with the possible exception of military academies). It seems that any sanction system, whether single or multiple, significantly deters college students and professors from reporting violations. There may be ways to increase reporting rates, including open dialogue and better education on honor issues within the student body. But switching to a multi-sanction system would not be the solution.
The argument about reporting rates also ignores an even more important rate — the rate of actual honor code violations. With our current system, the rates of actual honor code violations are “much lower than other Universities with Honor Codes,” as measured by polling students anonymously about any honor code violations. A multi-sanction system wouldn’t raise reporting rates and may instead increase honor violations.
Myth 3: Single sanction is overly harsh — the punishment should fit the crime
A student honor violation is inherently a serious matter if we want to foster a community of trust. However, the current system includes a compassionate and fair set of measures in case of a violation: the Conscientious Retraction and Informed Retraction. These options give the student a chance to realize what he did was wrong, make amends for his violation and re-join the community of trust. If a student has done wrong but continues to insist otherwise, he has at least rejected the community’s standards of conduct and may have lied about what he did even when caught.
By contrast, a multi-sanction system would by definition allow students to violate the honor code, deny either that they did so or that their offense was serious, combat the charge, be found guilty and yet nonetheless be allowed potentially to remain a member of the community of trust. This system would not be compassionate to the other members of the community whose trust has been violated, and it would not be fair to incentivize students to lie about what they have done rather than coming clean and doing right by the community.
Myth 4: Single sanction violates legal due process
Expressed in a recent Cavalier Daily article, we believe this argument is thoroughly wrong. First, the article demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of vagueness doctrine. Furthermore, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (only one tier below the Supreme Court) has examined our particular honor system and found it to be completely consistent with constitutional due process. However, even if there were due process violations with the honor system, there is no serious reason to think this problem wouldn't apply equally to whatever system we would get from Option 2.
Myth 5: Option 2 simply gives the Honor Committee the option, not the requirement, to institute multiple sanctions
This argument is used in support of Option 2, but it actually highlights one of Option 2’s largest drawbacks. While it is true Honor could decide not to implement a multi-sanction system, this argument serves as a reminder that Option 2 would give the Honor Committee members unilateral authority to implement a multi-sanction system or not. We shouldn’t hand a blank check to the Honor Committee and give them the option making this decision rather than the student body.
We favor single sanction. However, even if you don’t, we think you should vote against Option 2. We should not allow 18 students on the Honor Committee to decide these questions for us.
Zach Cohen and Rick Eberstadt are third- and second-year Law students, respectively.