Honor code up for revision

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February 20, 2009

1:06 AM

Proposed changes to the College of William and Mary’s Honor Code are drawing controversy among students, with some calling the alterations significant and damaging. But members of the Honor Council argue that the proposal makes the code clearer and more student friendly.

Similar alterations failed in a referendum vote last semester after a last-minute push by students and members of the Student Assembly, who argued students were not fully informed on the changes.

One policy change that has come under harsh criticism is the right of the chair to deny requests for an open hearing with “good cause.” Council of Chairs President Matt Dinan ’09 defended the amendment, stating that the “good cause” change is being made at the requests of the College’s legal counsel and the attorney general of Virginia. The aim of the clause, Dinan said, is to empower the chair to successfully handle individuals who may be exceedingly disruptive during the course of a trial. Dinan stressed that if a “good cause” decision were invoked during a trial, the decision would be open to appeal.

Another contentious change is the proposed abolition of student-wide referendums to enact procedural change. These referendums can take as long as two years to successfully be approved and implemented, according to Dinan. The proposed change would expedite the process, mandating that the Council of Chairs and College President Taylor Reveley sign off on changes before they are put into place.

The alterations, which affect nearly every aspect of the existing Honor Code, must be approved in a student referendum Monday.

Dinan said the main alterations deal with cleaning up the structure and language of the Honor Code.

“The major [change] is going to be structural,” Dinan said. “Legal terminology was removed [so] words mean exactly what they mean. [For example,] the term reckless appears several times in the code — that has a very specific legal definition, that means a certain thing to lawyers and that’s not the same was what it’s meant to mean in the code.”

Currently, the Honor Code is organized in a traditional writing style rather than a legal or governmental style. The proposed changes would reorganize the code into a more official layout.

“It’s basically prose,” Dinan said.

Another reason for the changes is to allow students who are unfamiliar with the code to understand its definitions and procedures.

“Lying, cheating and stealing are all very lengthy definitions,” Dinan said. “The definition of plagiarism … is almost half a page. The proposed revisions would bring simple definitions that convey the everyday meanings of lying, cheating and stealing.”

However, the possible changes have not been met with universal approval.

SA Sen. Steven Nelson ’10, who has not stated his support or opposition to the changes, criticized the new language as too far-reaching and without justification.

“The entire document will be restructured,” Nelson said in an e-mail to The Flat Hat. Nelson has also been critical of the Honor Council’s reasoning behind the changes.

“According to the Council of Chairs, the changes are to streamline the bylaws and allow the council to be operated more efficiently,” Nelson said. “Many students are skeptical of this justification, and suspect that the changes are being made to strengthen the power of the council, particularly the chairs of the councils.”

Nelson said that Dinan has been reasonable and fair as chair, but that might not always be the case.

Before any changes can be made, the proposal must be approved by a vote of students at the College.

A similar referendum conducted on the Student Information Network in November of 2008 failed to win approval from students in an election that suffered from low turnout.

The election was criticized due to a lack of student awareness.

“Last semester, [turnout] was pretty disappointing,” Dinan said. “I think it was just over 500 people throughout the entire university.”

In an effort to boost turnout, the vote on the proposal has been paired with next week’s undergraduate Honor Council election. Both votes will be held online with Opinio.

“Because we paired it with undergraduate Honor Council elections, I’m not that worried about turnout,” Dinan said. “Everyone will be e-mailed at 8 a.m. with a link inviting them to vote … I think we might break our previous turnout high.”

To further raise awareness about the referendum, on Tuesday the Student Assembly approved flyers to be placed in students’ CSU mailboxes describing the changes and reminding them to vote.

Proposed changes to the Honor Code can be viewed at the “Dean of Students website”:www.wm.edu/offices/deanofstudents/services/studentconduct/honorrevision/index.php/.

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