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Honor Committee brainstorms sanction diversification, considers future steps for AI

The Committee discussed potential ways to balance restorative sanctions with punitive sanctions

<p>Hancock said he plans on addressing procedural concerns with sanctioning — involving topics like how the panel for sanctions uses past case material, referred to as “precedent policy.”&nbsp;</p>

Hancock said he plans on addressing procedural concerns with sanctioning — involving topics like how the panel for sanctions uses past case material, referred to as “precedent policy.” 

The Honor Committee met Sunday in the second meeting of the 2024-2025 term to deliberate on the future of its sanctioning procedures, which will be guided by the newly established ad hoc Committee on sanctions — which is the subcommittee that has been tasked with evaluating sanctioning options and processes. The Honor Committee acknowledged the importance of filling the gap between restorative measures, like educational seminars, and punitive sanctions, like suspension and expulsion. The Committee also deliberated options for a generative Artificial Intelligence policy, agreeing to seek out community feedback to inform its decisions on AI usage.

During the July 2023 transition to a multi-sanction system, the Committee transformed its previous single sanction approach — a two-semester leave of absence for all students found guilty of committing an Honor infraction — into a multi-sanction model. This adjustment expanded the set of available sanctions for accused students. Presently, restorative measures encompass rehabilitation seminars, facilitating introspection on the significance of Honor and fostering personal development through writing reflections. Meanwhile, suspension and expulsion remain as the most severe punitive actions utilized by the Committee.

Laura Howard, chair of the Committee and a third-year College student, established an ad hoc sanctioning subcommittee at the beginning of her new term April 1. Howard said the subcommittee will evaluate the fairness and effectiveness of current sanctioning procedures. Will Hancock, vice chair for the undergraduate community and second-year College student, will serve as the chair for the subcommittee. 

Hancock said he plans on addressing procedural concerns with sanctioning — involving topics like how the panel for sanctions uses past case material, referred to as “precedent policy.”  The issue of precedent has been an ongoing discussion — while the panel for sanctions currently exercises full discretion in making sanctioning decisions, there have been debates about whether the Committee should furnish panelists with more comprehensive information about past cases to consider during deliberations, rather than restricting access to case details and the resulting sanctions. Additionally, Hancock said he will explore potential new sanctions to introduce to the Committee for consideration.    

“We will do a lot of work over the summer thinking about what a sanction can be,” Hancock said. “We’re going to brainstorm and flesh out a whole bunch of sanctions and then we will decide ‘does this one work?’” 

Howard addressed the issue of a perceived sanctioning gap — a concern Hancock raised last week. The sanctioning gap refers to a disparity in the severity of sanctions that Honor employs. Currently, there are punitive options like suspension and expulsion available, as well as  rehabilitative options like educational seminars or a written reflection. According to Howard, some members have expressed concerns about the absence of sanctions that fall within a moderate severity range.

“Some people have perceived that [the] difference in severity between education and temporary removal can feel a little bit extreme,” Howard said. “Someone could use something a little bit heavier than a restorative ethics seminar, but something not quite as heavy as a one semester suspension.” 

Alex Church, vice chair for hearings and second-year Engineering student, said the gap in the severity of sanctions is something that they observed while serving as a panelist in the panel for sanctions — a group of five representatives that deliberates over sanctions in an accused student’s case. Church said that the Committee should strike a balance in proportionality — ensuring that the severity of sanctions aligns with the gravity of the offense — and restoration, which is the goal of reintegrating accused students back into the Community of Trust after they have violated the Honor code. 

“[Proportionality] is important to what we do for both due process reasons, as well as for holding members of the community accountable for the actions and other offenses that they may have committed,” Church said. “Some of the [sanctions] that we want to do to increase proportionality might lose sight of that restoration … not every single sanction has to be directly contributing to restoration to the community if it means that there is [a] balance between proportionality and restoration.” 

Hancock and Carson Breus, vice chair for sanctions and third-year Commerce student, said they are collaborating to explore fresh sanctioning avenues. Last week, they spoke with Anna Prillaman, vice chair for sanctions of the University Judiciary Committee and third-year College student, to glean insights into the UJC's sanctioning procedures. However, Hancock said that it will be challenging to directly align UJC sanctions with those of Honor, considering the distinct purviews of both committees.

Seamus Oliver, the vice chair for investigations and a second-year College student, said he agreed on the difficulty of pulling ideas directly from UJC sanctions. According to Oliver, the sanctioning gap — the disparity in severity of rehabilitative and punitive sanctions — is due to the limited diversity of Honor offenses, as the majority of offenses are academic integrity violations, most often cheating. Oliver said that since the UJC receives a wider array of offenses, they are able to use a wider array of more tailored sanctions designed to match the specific offense.

“It’s a very discrete scale in the types of assignments a student can cheat on, where it goes from homework on one side, to final exam on the other, and there are only a few stops in between,” Oliver said. “Our sanction process looks kind of similar … it's worth considering that we are limited in the sanctions that we have per bylaws right now.” 

Breus brought up other ideas for creating punitive sanctions that are milder than suspension of expulsion. One proposal was transcript notations — a written note on a student’s academic record signaling the occurrence of their Honor violation. She said she learned from Prillaman that accused students face disciplinary record  notations following UJC offenses, regardless of the sanction. Another option Breus suggested was giving accused students later enrollment times, which would punish students by making it more difficult to get into their desired courses.

Amidst these suggestions, Ben Makarechian, third-year Batten Rep., said that the Committee should continue work to prioritize balancing rehabilitative and punitive measures. 

“There definitely needs to be a balance struck between the original founding philosophy of the Honor system, where [single-sanction was] the ultimate deterrent … and the new philosophy that we are moving towards, which is completely rehabilitative,” Makarechian said. “I don’t think either system at either extreme is perfect, so there needs to be some kind of place in the middle.” 

Breus also said that she is in the process of creating representative-wide training sessions for sanctioning decisions and that she hopes to implement the training within the coming weeks. According to Hancock, the training should inform representatives on the sanctions themselves, rather than instructing members on when to apply certain sanctions, so that they rely more on their own experiences and intuitions when making decisions. Hancock said that diverse perspectives on sanctioning is valuable among panelists, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sanctions. 

“Every case is so unique, and everyone should be coming in with an open mind and vastly different perspectives on sanctions … [training] should just clarify the [sanctioning] options.” 

The Committee also discussed the future of AI policy, an ongoing debate, considering the variety of AI policies in different courses. The Committee agreed that despite uncertainties in the Committee’s future AI policy, they will continue to seek out perspectives from both students and faculty members. 

Currently, the responsibility for AI outreach initiatives is not assigned to a single subcommittee — smaller groups within the Committee that specialize in various facets of the Committee’s functions. However, Mary Holland Mason, second-year College Rep., said that subcommittees like the Community Relations and Diversity Advisory Committee and the Faculty Advisory Committee, may be able to take on the responsibility of reaching out to communities on Grounds to ensure that there is certainty in the classrooms about what AI policies are. 

“A big part of CRDAC and FAC [could be] reaching out to professors [and ensuring] that there is an AI policy to enforce so that we can qualify in each specific context, what authorized aid is,” Mason said. “[From my understanding], Honor does not have a blanket AI [stance].”

This term the FAC — which reaches out to faculty-members to seek advice regarding Honor’s policies and practices — will be chaired by third-year Commerce Rep. Simran Havaldar, while the CRDAC — which advises the Committee on diversity practices by fostering communication with diverse University groups — will be chaired by Makarechian. 

The Committee is also currently seeking a Comittee representative to fill the vacant position on the Research and Data Committee. 

The Committee will host a celebratory banquet marking the conclusion of the 2023-2024 term April 20 at the Colonnade Club and their next public session is scheduled for April 21 at 7 p.m.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that students face transcript notations following UJC offenses, regardless of the sanction. Accused students face disciplinary record notations following a guilty finding in a UJC trial, not a transcript notation. Transcript notations are a sanction that the Trial Panel can issue for accused students, but it is issued on a case-by-case basis. This article has since been updated to reflect this change. 

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