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Honor Committee discusses standards of evidence, debates pending co-sponsorship

The Committee also introduced three newly elected members

<p>Currently the Committee has one standard of evidence that must be met, which is that the evidence must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.&nbsp;</p>

Currently the Committee has one standard of evidence that must be met, which is that the evidence must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

The Honor Committee met Sunday to discuss the standards of evidence in Honor proceedings, as well as consider a pending co-sponsorship for the Accomodation Access Fund that was presented to the Committee. The Committee also introduced three newly elected members. 

21 out of 26 members attended, meaning the Committee met quorum to vote on constitutional matters and by-laws. Last week, the Committee discussed four new proposals for additions to the Committee’s constitution following the vote last spring to remove the single-sanction. Two of the proposals suggest changing the Committee’s current standard of evidence for finding students guilty — currently, the constitution requires that evidence prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”   

Gabrielle Bray, chair of the Committee and fourth-year College student, said that beyond reasonable doubt means that there is not a different scenario that is reasonable, consistent and not an Honor offense. 

In the fall, the Committee hosted a Constitutional Convention, which was made up of 30 delegates from CIOs across Grounds who solicited student and community feedback in drafting a multi-sanction system. The convention was twice postponed in October and December, and delegates ultimately met for three of the nine scheduled Convention meetings. The four proposals were drafted in a series of meetings held during the three days prior to the first day of class. 

Fourth-year College student Rep. Sullivan McDowell said there is difficulty and rarity in finding students guilty under the current standard of evidence and said he is in favor of a lesser standard of guilt. Three of the four proposals determine the sanction based on what percentage of the panel to vote that the student is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. 

“As an official observer, it is very rare these days that votes find people guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” McDowell said. “So I think if we land somewhere around 75 percent confident that this person committed an offense, I'm totally comfortable with that.” 

Fourth-year College student Rep. Hannah Shapiro pushed back against McDowell’s statement, saying that the strict standards for evidence are necessary when deciding things like suspension or expulsion. 

“I think that having [evidence] beyond a reasonable doubt requires that the Honor Committee and all the support officers involved have to put in a good deal of effort to provide a very high standard of evidence,” Shapiro said. “There's a reason for that.” 

Hamza Aziz, vice chair for investigations and third-year College student, also said that by moving to a multi-sanction system it may also be necessary to reconsider what constitutes an Honor offense. Under the current definition, students must be found guilty of committing the act which violates the honor code — the act also must be deemed a significant violation of the COmmunity of Trust, and the student must have known that they were engaging in the offense.  

“I definitely see an argument to be made if we're moving to a multi-sanction system…[about] how our definition of an Honor offense may change with act and knowledge and significance,” Aziz said. “If we're redesigning the entire system, how do these old vestiges fit into the new system?”

The Committee did not make an official decision on the standard of evidence and the Constitution. 

The Committee also heard feedback from its members about a pending co-sponsorship from the Accommodation Access Fund, which assists students who do not have the proper paperwork for Student Disability Access Center accommodations. 

The co-sponsorships are a partnership between the Committee and various CIOs on grounds in which the Committee helps fund events and activities that engage the student body. The co-sponsorships are funded through money allocated to the Committee by the University. 

AAF requested $5,000, an amount exceeding the Committee’s traditional $500 co-sponsorship limit. The requested $5,000 would benefit an estimated 10 to 15 students.

Many Committee members said they were concerned at the large amount of the co-sponsorship, including Connor Eads, vice chair for the graduate community and Graduate Batten student. Eads said a more detailed version of AAF’s budget would aid the Committee in their decision. 

“Until we see what the money is going to, I don't think we should just write a check,” Eads said. 

An itemized budget is currently a requirement for any pending co-sponsorship, but the Committee called for more information considering the amount of funding requested.

The Committee did not make a definitive decision on the co-sponsorship, and decided to table the discussion until a later date. 

The Committee also introduced three newly elected Committee members, including second-year Engineering student Rep. Lukas Lehman, graduate Engineering Rep. Sudhir Shenoy, and second-year Data Science student Rep. Rhea Agarwal. 

Following this announcement, Eads said that the Committee is continuing to plan with the Batten school to host an open forum at Garrett Hall about generative AI

Additionally, Aziz said that the by-laws that were passed at the December 4th meeting have received legal approval and are officially enacted. The first by-law allows for case investigations to continue over non-school holidays and the second by-law allows for all relevant case interviews to be completed within a seven-day period. 

The Committee entered a closed session at 7:44 p.m. from which they did not return. The next Honor Committee meeting will be held Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Trial Room of Newcomb Hall. 


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