Reform, not public revolt, is needed for Honor Council

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April 20, 2010

3:48 AM

The first honor code in the country was established at the College of William and Mary in 1779, at the request of Thomas Jefferson. After 230 years of uninterrupted service, questions are being raised about the Honor Code and the procedures associated with it. I strongly believe that it is necessary to review the process used to conduct Honor Code proceedings and reevaluate the Undergraduate Honor Council.

However, the public dissection of trials does more harm than good and misses an important point: The Honor Code is a fundamental part of the College, and what needs evaluation are the procedures of the Honor Council.

Recent events and elections on campus indicate that there is dissatisfaction among students with the conduct of the Honor Council, but the implications of disseminating intimate facts about specific cases are very serious.

Although accommodations for students’ privacy are made, the faculty are often not provided with the same concern. The proceedings of the Honor Council are supposed to be confidential, and the public discussion of intricate details does not advance the cause of systemic reform.

As a matter of fact, publicly discussing specific cases and questioning the practices of individuals may cause faculty and students not to want to participate in trials and investigations. Faculty could be discouraged from reporting honor violations to the Honor Council if they think their participation will be open to second guessing and speculation without full disclosure of all the facts.

In the case of young faculty, the situation is very worrisome, since they may not wish to be demonized on the many websites and blogs where students rank teachers. We know that it is very easy for a student to get other students’ sympathy, but it is difficult for a teacher to get rid of a reputation for being harsh or unreasonable. In the case of students interested in serving on the Honor Council, there is concern that many good students may not run for a position on the council if they feel their participation will be subject to second guessing in public forums, personal attacks and general misrepresentations of their opinions.

Discussing intimate facts about certain Honor Council cases without protecting faculty members and questioning Honor Council decisions does a disservice to the Honor Code. I think it would be more appropriate if all these details were presented before the Student Assembly and President Taylor Reveley. Simply lambasting the Honor Council will not provide any incentives for the Honor Council to reform from within; if anything, it will just elicit anger from its members, and nothing constructive will occur.

As stated before, the implications of Honor Council improprieties are very serious, and Reveley should order an investigation to determine the best method for reforming the honor system. Until then, it would be most beneficial if students were to sit down with the Honor Council and voice their concerns. Hopefully the council can explain the reasoning behind some of its surprising decisions.

E-mail Ben Arancibia at [email protected]

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