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AZIZ, DODSON and NARKE: The Honor reforms we’ve all been waiting for

The new bylaws address long-standing problems with our Honor system by tackling concerns about fairness, efficiency and accountability

<p>The bylaws and a related set of sanctioning guidelines ensure that each student’s case is fairly and holistically reviewed.&nbsp;</p>

The bylaws and a related set of sanctioning guidelines ensure that each student’s case is fairly and holistically reviewed. 

For decades, students have called for the Honor system to shift from one-size-fits-all sanctioning — which historically mandated expulsion up until a 2022 reform — toward a system that recognizes the potential of students who commit Honor offenses to take accountability for their actions without being ostracized from our community. The multi-sanction referendum passed in March provided the Honor System with a new constitution which outlines students’ due process rights and the Honor Committee’s powers under a multi-sanction system.

While the referendum was historic, it was only the first step in a series of changes aimed at addressing a range of issues within the Honor system.  More specifically, the Committee has grappled with challenges related to disproportionate punishments relative to an underlying Honor offense, overly lengthy case processing and a lack of accountability for the conduct of elected representatives. In other words, the Committee did not merely enact a set of multi-sanction rules and call it a day — the Committee tackled long-standing issues that could have continued to plague a multi-sanction system. By addressing larger concerns about fairness, efficiency and accountability, the bylaws have finally delivered an Honor system that we’ve all been waiting for.

First, the bylaws and a related set of sanctioning guidelines ensure that each student’s case is fairly and holistically reviewed. 

The new Constitution authorizes the Committee to impose permanent sanctions, temporary sanctions, educational sanctions and a broader category of amends, whereby the student takes actions to repair their relationship with affected parties and the wider community. If a student is found guilty of an Honor offense — either at a Panel for Guilt or through an Informed Retraction, a mechanism by which a student admits guilt to an accusation — a Panel for Sanction will determine what sanctions are appropriate for the case. The bylaws provide opportunities for the reporting party and the guilty student to present arguments about reasonable sanctions. The Panel will also consider other aspects of the case, like recommendations from the Panel for Guilt, aggravating factors and mitigating factors. 

To address potential inequities and disproportionate punishments in crafting sanctions, the Committee developed a set of Sanctioning Guidelines to help the Panel for Sanction with its deliberations for each case. While the Panel for Sanction is not bound by precedent, the guidelines ask panelists to reflect on the underlying fairness of any sanction and whether the sanction would be appropriate for similarly-situated individuals. Thus, sanctions must not be arbitrary.

And while expulsion is available as a potential sanction, there are guardrails to its use — notably, if a student is found guilty for the first time and at least five random student members of the Panel for Guilt do not believe that the offense merits such a severe punishment, then they can remove it from the potential sanctions available to the Panel for Sanction. Additionally, students who submit an Informed Retraction cannot be expelled. Generally, expulsion will be used in only the most egregious cases.

With sanctioning that takes account of a wide range of circumstances, the new Honor System has fulfilled the student body’s mandate given in last spring’s referendum to offer multiple sanctions. But through the bylaws and related sanctioning guidelines, the Committee addressed larger questions about fairness by creating a structure for meaningful deliberation and reflection about each student’s case. 

Moreover, the bylaws introduce much-needed improvements to the process of investigating and reviewing cases. Honor has historically struggled with lengthy case processing that frustrates both accused students and parties who report offenses. Under the new bylaws, students may file an Informed Retraction before an investigation rather than during an investigation. Honor will only investigate a case if a student declines to submit an IR. The bylaws also provide set timelines for students’ to respond to evidence and require the Panel for Sanction to act in a timely manner after an IR is submitted or a Panel for Guilt renders a guilty verdict. These largely procedural changes will promote the speedy and fair resolution of cases.  

Additionally, the bylaws introduced a set of changes intended to ensure that Committee members are held responsible for the duties and ethics their position requires.

In recent years, the Committee has grappled with elected representatives occasionally falling short of the expectations for attendance and sharing case processing responsibilities. The new bylaws establish a stronger Standards Panel to review allegations that a Committee member violated our Code of Ethics or otherwise acted improperly. The panel may recommend impeachment of a representative, which would then be referred to the full Committee. By a two-thirds vote, the Committee may remove an accused representative. 

Alternatively, the Committee may consider an impeachment measure if half of the Committee members submit a petition seeking the removal of a colleague for unethical conduct. While we do not anticipate that these procedures will be regularly used, the new bylaws are a victory in the critical task of ensuring that elected representatives fulfill their obligations. 

Of course, there are other aspects of the new system that remain largely the same, including the requirement that students receive appropriate notice of any steps and developments in their case. Students are also provided with critical information throughout the process, including a list of their rights, all evidence against them, and the assistance of Honor advisors and counsel. And, critically, students have rights to file appeals based on new evidence and other grounds, such as perceived issues with the fundamental fairness of their proceedings. 

Overall, we believe that the Multi-Sanction Constitution and bylaws will usher in a new era of Honor that earns the approval of students, faculty and alumni. A system which sanctions students for their actions based on the severity of their misconduct will, hopefully, reinvigorate our community’s shared commitment to ethical behavior and the possibility of rehabilitation when we take responsibility for our actions. 

While students should be proud of the new constitution and bylaws, the Honor system is a continuous work in progress. As we embark on this new chapter, we look forward to studying the impacts of these changes, addressing any issues that arise, and engaging with community feedback. 

Hamza Aziz is a fourth-year College student and chair of the Honor Committee for the 2023-24 Term. Tim Dodson is a graduate Law and Architecture student who represents the School of Architecture on the Committee. He is the co-chair of the Committee’s Policies and Procedures Subcommittee, which drafted the new multi-sanction bylaws. Kellen Narke is a third-year College student, and co-chair of the Policies and Procedures Subcommittee.

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