An honorable mess

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November 2, 2010

12:19 AM

A phrase of sound and fury signifying very little, “Honor Council reform,” has been one of the more prominent buzzwords around the campus for the last few months — making its rounds from Student Assembly debates to various referenda and even landing on The Flat Hat’s own opinions page on frequent occasion. After months of rhetoric ranging from the high-minded to the overblown, enough racket has apparently been raised about the Council’s inefficient and possibly unfair practices to finally result in some action. Yet, amid the ridiculous parade of committee after advisory committee currently being formed, we’re unsure of what’s actually getting done.

Serious consideration of reform began with one referendum seeking the abolition of the Honor Council, along with another seeking unspecified procedural reform. As a result, in perfectly bureaucratic form, no less than four committees have been created to address the matter. There remained the Council’s own internal regulation process, which had regularly imposed procedural reforms in the past. The Council also established its own Election Reform Task Force in March of last year — made up of Council members, students and faculty — to address concerns about Honor Council candidate campaigning and eligibility. Furthermore, one month after the vote, the SA passed the “Necessary Honor Council Reform Act,” which withdrew all student funding from the Honor Council unless “fundamental reforms,” recommended to it by a then-unestablished committee of SA senators and Honor Council members, were enacted. That committee began meeting earlier this semester. And finally, to top it off, College President Taylor Reveley has called for an Honor Code Review Committee, composed of a wide sampling of faculty and students, to consider the recommendations from the SA’s Standing Committee on Honor Council Reform — although any changes to the Honor Council’s bylaws must be approved by the Council itself.

If you’re a little confused, don’t worry; so are we.

The only way for this bureaucratic nightmare to manifest in any coherent recommendations for reform is for the current process to be streamlined. The SA’s committee is the clear place to start. Its group has the least diverse composition, a maddeningly vague goal of “fundamental reform,” and only inserted itself into the reform process on account of the coercive threat of refused future funding. Based on the poorly worded text of the “Reform Act,” the SA has the ability to reject the Honor Council funding should any eventual reforms — regardless of the committee which recommends them — not align with its cryptic goals. That rather inept intimidation lends the SA far more power than it deserves in a discussion that should include all variety of student and faculty voices, without prioritizing those of a few student senators.

The SA, of course, has a history of appointing itself the solver of issues well outside its own reach. The funding it appropriated to the Counseling Center, for example, to be devoted exclusively to hiring a new counselor, failed to take into account both the cost of the search process and the fact that the funding provided would only cover the counselor’s salary for one year. In this case, however, the fallout could be much more pernicious; instead of appropriating funds based on uncertain information, it could deny them based on equally ill-considered grounds.

Reveley’s committee, on the other hand, is perhaps the closest yet to diverse campus representation. It includes Honor Council members, SA senators, and undergraduate- and graduate-level faculty and staff. If any advisory body thus formed, and there are certainly quite a few from which to choose, has any chance of effective reform, his might be it. Let’s hope the other self-appointed advisers get the hint and butt out.

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