When the ballots open tomorrow, I will personally be voting for Option 1 because I believe in the Conscientious Retraction, or CR, the Informed Retraction, or IR, and the single sanction. This vote, at its core, is not about what sanctions we want. This vote addresses a much larger philosophical question about the purpose of attending a University that treats its students as peer adults. This vote calls its students to decide on the value of honor and self-governance — both on the individual and University level. As chair of the Honor Committee, I would like to clarify I am not speaking on behalf of the committee, but rather based on my individual beliefs.
The IR was created in 2013 to offer students an opportunity to take responsibility for their actions while preserving the option to return to the University. It was a thoughtful response to the perceived unfairness in a process that at that time punished honest students and allowed dishonest students to remain at the University. Students who choose to take the IR take a leave of absence from the University and return two semesters later without a mark on their transcript, an option that would be unlikely under a multiple sanction system. Students are given a fresh start and a clean slate. The IR has been successful and it is only three years old; in such a short period of time, it’s impossible to assess the long-term shifts in culture that the IR indicates.
In the past term alone, we have seen 24 students take the IR, or roughly 50 percent of the cases that the current committee has received since the beginning of their term. In addition, 10 students have submitted a CR. By voting for a multiple sanction system, you are implicitly saying the honor exhibited by these students does not matter to you. You state that, as a community, we do not value the act of taking responsibility and instead seek to punish students for wrongdoing. Honor, as it stands, is not an inherently punitive system. Honor is built around the ideal of student self-governance and the fact that we should first hold ourselves accountable, and when we do not, we turn that responsibility over to our peers.
The IR is the only alternative sanction from the committee that fits both the practical concerns of single sanction opponents and the philosophical underpinnings of a system that has persisted for over 175 years. The committee and current candidates have discussed multiple ways to reform the IR to address the concerns raised by both Option 1 and Option 2 supporters. We should stop debating a multiple sanction system, assess the impact of an enormous change that occurred only three years ago and fix the system we already have by voting for Option 1 and reforming the IR.
If the above argument for the IR does not move you, I ask you to consider what you want a multiple sanction to look like. I have already discussed the potential baseline for sanctioning set by the IR. Even still, faculty members retain the discretion to assign grades; the likelihood that the committee would ever have the power to sanction a student by failing him or her on an assignment or in a class is very low, which differentiates our potential sanctioning options from other universities. Therefore, we’re operating in a world of suspensions and expulsions — a world we already operate in with the IR and the single sanction. If we keep our system philosophically intact, the IR, a two-semester leave of absence, sets a baseline for any possible sanctioning system. With that in mind, think to yourself for a moment about what change you would actually like to see.
If you want to expand the IR to be more sensitive to the issues faced by international students and students without economic means; if you envision the IR decision delayed until after the Investigative Panel has met and significant evidence is procured; if you would like the IR to cover more than one act of lying, cheating or stealing; or if you wish to make the IR more of a learning process than a means of punishment, then vote for Option 1 and allow the committee to act upon what they’ve learned in the past three years and better the process for students who are honest.
Our current system offers multiple sanctions, multiple chances, for honest students willing to admit their mistakes. At the same time, our system holds dishonest students to the same standards they would be held to in a professional setting, an important distinction that holds University students in high regard with prospective employers. Our current system offers these students who take responsibility for their actions an opportunity to take two semesters off and return to our community of trust with no mark on their record. Our current system offers these students forgiveness and the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Our current system is not perfect — no system ever can be — but the ideal of honor, our community of trust, our current system, is worth fighting for.
Faith Lyons is the chair of the Honor Committee.