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Honor Committee passes bylaw to increase prehearing flexibility, reviews questions for post-semester survey

Sunday’s meeting was the last of the fall semester

The first bylaw change affects the prehearing conference — the process currently responsible for determining the list of witnesses.
The first bylaw change affects the prehearing conference — the process currently responsible for determining the list of witnesses.

The Honor Committee met to pass four new bylaw changes to improve the multi-sanction system after its first semester of implementation and to review the draft of questions for the upcoming University-wide survey. Sunday’s meeting, the last of the fall semester, met quorum with 23 out of 29 members present, meaning the Committee could vote on matters regarding the constitution or bylaws. 

The most notable bylaw change passed Sunday addresses changes to the prehearing process. Other changes include clarifications to the Panel for Sanction and procedures for dropping cases.

All four changes were outlined in the Policies and Procedures Interim Report, a document published late November to improve the multi-sanction system. The Policies & Procedures Committee examines the procedures and bylaws of the Committee and makes changes when necessary. 

The first bylaw change affects the Pre-Hearing Conference, the process during which members determine the list of witnesses, the nature and scope of the evidence and the content of the counsel’s opening statements. Accused students have the option to attend the Pre-Hearing Conference, but it is ultimately not required — less than half of accused students choose to attend.

The Committee’s past bylaws required that the witness list be established during the pre-hearing. The new bylaw states that creation of this list during the pre-hearing is possible but no longer a requirement. Laura Howard, vice chair for hearings and third-year College student, wrote most of the section and said she aimed to de-emphasize the role of the Pre-Hearing Conference in determining Honor proceedings. 

“In the past, the Pre-Hearing Conference played a very active role in our hearing procedure, and had the potential to play a very active role in what would happen on the hearings,” Howard said. “So by making it ‘can’ instead of ‘shall,’ it's relieving some of the force the Pre-Hearing Conference could exert.”

While Howard said this change simply reaffirms the Committee’s commitment to due process, third-year Law Rep. Daniel Elliott supported the new bylaw more adamantly. Speaking in his role as a committee member, Elliott argued that it rectifies violations of due process in the pre-hearing.

“This allows us to step down from our current system where we do make a ton of decisions without the input of the student that have a fundamental impact on the way hearing is held,” Elliott said.

One member questioned who would be responsible for choosing the witness list if it were not created during the Pre-Hearing Conference. Elliott said the change allows counsel to call witnesses over the course of the hearing, making modifications based on the trial's proceedings. According to Elliott, the old requirement for a set list before moving into the hearing posed a threat to due process.

“The idea of a witness list is not itself a problem for due process,” Elliott said. “But the idea that we firmly established the order of every person who will speak regardless of anything that actually happens in the hearing room before we get to the hearing is a problem.”

Witness lists are common in real-world judicial proceedings — their creation generally involves written documentary and a hearing. 

“Instead, what happens is the Pre-Hearing Conference tells the student Counsel, who have not had adequate training … what they are and are not allowed to say at hearing, which does fundamentally jeopardize our students’ rights to due process,” Elliott said.

Despite Elliott’s concerns, Howard clarified that the Committee already has some flexibility.

“If something arises out of the hearing, where there may be a change in what was determined at the Pre-Hearing Conference but we can’t go back because it didn’t happen at the hearing, we fundamentally reconsider and reshift what will be in the best interest of continuing due process rights of the students,” Howard said. 

Elliott responded by questioning how often counsel actually exercises this right to alter the witness list, to which other members said they were unsure.

Evan Pivonka, special assistant to the Committee, disagreed with Elliott’s assertion that the set witness list and other aspects of pre-hearing proceedings have jeopardized the due process of students. He said the Committee’s policies and procedures have undergone extensive review by legal counsel.

“I do feel it's necessary to put on the record that our due process policies and procedures have gone through the University counsel’s legal advice for years,” Pivonka said.  “I respect your opinion, but to suggest that we've been violating students' due process is a pretty aggressive thing to put out there.” 

Additionally, the bylaw change would increase the accused student’s representation during the pre-hearing by requiring the Counsel for the Community and the Counsel for the Accused to deliver their opening statements at the conference. Following the opening statements, the student panel will hear witnesses. Prior to this proposal, the Hearing Chair would state a single opening statement at the beginning of the hearing itself that encapsulated the specifics of the case.

Following this discussion, the first section of bylaw changes were put to a vote, and they all passed with a majority. 

The next change clarified the purpose of the Panel for Sanction, and included specific language that the Panel for Sanction shall determine the most appropriate sanction or set of sanctions in any given case. 

Other changes clarified the role of the reporter and the Counsel for the Community in the Panel for Sanction, and allowed both Honor Advisors and Investigators to recommend dropping of cases in contrast to the previous language which only allowed Investigators to recommend the dropping of cases. All of these changes were passed with a majority.

The Committee then moved into a discussion about the Honor annual information gathering survey. The survey is meant to gauge student perception about the Committee and was organized by graduate Engineering Rep. Kasra Lekan, second-year Engineering Rep. Alexander Church and graduate College Rep. Adrian Mamaril. 

The survey will include questions asking students how familiar they are with the Honor system overall, their level of trust with the system and also questions about recent changes made such as the transition to the multi-sanction system. Additionally, the survey will also be shared with teaching assistants and faculty. 

Minor changes will continue to be made to the survey, which is slated to be distributed to students following the finals period. 

The Committee also heard executive and representative reports. There are currently three active investigations. The Committee will resume meetings Jan. 21.

CORRECTION: A previous of this article stated that Elliott said the Committee’s current procedures fall short of these professional standards for excluding or including witnesses and evidence. Instead, Elliott said that the the current process of the Pre-Hearing Conference poses due process concerns because of the over-determinate nature of the hearing itself. The article has been updated to reflect this change. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article failed to mention that Elliott was speaking in his role as a committee member and misstated that Elliott said that the Committee uses a fully predetermined witness list. The article has been updated to reflect this change.

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