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CHAMBERS: Demand more from your Honor Committee

The Honor System is in a tough spot — if you want it to survive, demand better proposals from your Committee

When I ran for chair of the Honor Committee, I campaigned on introducing a sweeping constitutional reform that would create a multi-sanction system. Unfortunately, the referendum on your ballot this year maintains a single sanction while destroying the system’s philosophical core. A vote “yes” says two things — that a student who recommits to the Community of Trust deserves the same sanction as someone who denied their actions in the face of forgiveness, and that we, the students, no longer think it is that serious to lie, cheat or steal.

Honor handles lying, cheating and stealing cases, but the Significance of each case varies. In the minds of many students, lying in a Title IX hearing would warrant removal from this community. Conversely, carrying a friend’s iClicker to a class — so they can travel home to visit a sick family member — hardly warrants removal if the student seeks to recommit to the Community of Trust. Here lies the utility of a multi-sanction system — flexibility and rehabilitation. The Honor System shares expulsion as a sanction with every other judiciary body at the University — both UJC and Title IX can expel. Our problems have never rested in the severity of our sanction, but in its universality.

For this reason, several Honor Committee members brought multi-sanction proposals to the Committee. As we debated, however, a strange argument emerged. Instead of critiquing the ideas’ merits, opponents claimed that these changes were too complicated for students to understand. They lamented these ideas and others for having “imprecise core questions” that would confuse the electorate. Rather than address the complex nature of justice, they chose a proposal that maintains a single sanction. I would only hope that students might understand a plan longer than a one-line change. I’d encourage you, the students, to reflect on the motives behind a plan born from their perception of your lack of intellect. 

By failing to create a multi-sanction system that could provide a personalized approach to cases, the current proposal only exaggerates the inequities present. Class is an ever-present factor at the University. This proposal exaggerates that disparity in ways the current system does not. Under the referendum on the ballot, a first-generation and low-income student like myself would return home to cut grass for a year if I was found guilty of an Honor offense. Wealthy students, in comparison, could live in Paris while enjoying a gap year. To the contrary, under the current sanction, students only face expulsion when one violates the Honor Code, denies that violation and is found guilty by a panel of their peers. In that event, the administration helps transfer the student to another university with comparable financial aid and reputation. An Honor Violation does not carry a scarlet letter. The administration has reaffirmed that they stand ready to help students continue their education elsewhere. The process is the same for any student found guilty. Short of administering no punishment, this process is the closest to an equitable sanction.  

Proponents of the referendum raise concerns that the system is “tainted by racism.” In datasets from before 2017, Black students represented about 2 percent more than their makeup of the University population. This averages out to about one extra case per year in that dataset. Since 2018, Black students comprised 6.6 percent of Honor reports, which is almost exactly in line with their make up of the University population. The Honor Committee does not police the student body, and that earlier discrepancy of 2 percent fell entirely to who reported to our system. The same rings true for Asian students who make up the only other over-represented group in reports. These statistics become more limited when one realizes that 60 cases in a given year comprise about 0.2 percent of the student body. It takes no statistician to realize the problems of small sample sizes. Furthermore, the overrepresentation of Asian students becomes even more complicated when looking at their proportion of reported international students. Since 2017, international students made up 7 percent of reports compared to 9.5 percent of the student body. Of those reported, a vast majority identify as Asian. These statistics that claim bias originate in a molecular sample size and fail to incorporate any overlapping demographics that may alter conclusions from that data. Beyond reporting, even critics admit that our Honor System shows zero indication of disproportionate sanctioning. The proponents of this plan are providing you with hollow statistics to scare you into voting for a philosophically devoid referendum — do not let them fool you.

The proponents of the Informed Retraction in 2013 argued that faculty would report more with expulsion removed for those who admitted to their mistakes. The data showed just the opposite. Reports stayed virtually the same, with a slight decline in cases over succeeding years. Every data point we have suggests this would do the same. Last year, the Committee received 29 reports – less than half the number we received on average over the previous twenty years. At the time of writing, we have received none in 2022. In my conversations with faculty, they decry how they are treated in the process, the time it takes and how the system artificially benefits the reported student. I never once heard their reason for not reporting rest in the severity of the sanction. Sanctioning matters little when we have no cases, and faculty distribute “justice” as they see fit. 

This change is half-baked and preys on nothing more than pervasive ignorance of the Honor System. The architects of this proposal have given you piecemeal change riddled with buzz words and misinformation intended to dupe you — the voter. This change will not improve your Honor System. Demand something more from your Committee – vote “no” and vote for representatives who will bring you meaningful change next year. 

Andy Chambers is a fourth-year in the College and Chair of the Honor Committee. He may be reached at