Honor Council Reform Committee meets

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November 18, 2010

11:46 PM

The College of William and Mary began its first official review of its Honor Code and System since 1997 Tuesday.

Although the intention of the Honor System Review Committee’s first meeting was to establish a common understanding of the Honor Code as well as its accompanying bodies’ functions and processes, HSRC members quickly dove into issues surrounding definitions of plagiarism, the role of procedural advisers and the role of the Honor Council in instances involving student conduct.

“I thought it was a great start to a promising endeavor,” Undergraduate Honor Council Chief Justice John Pothen ’11 said in an e-mail. “President’s Honor System Review Committee brings together the main stakeholders in the process and gives us a chance to look critically at the system together.”

The committee is expected to meet through the end of the academic year, at which point it will deliver its recommendations to College President Taylor Reveley.

“Seeing a procedural adviser as a member of the Honor Council, as an auditor who looks at internal controls, that’s a problem,” he said. “Looking from the outside, that looks like a recipe for a conflict of interest.”

Pothen said he thought Stump made an excellent point, but that the Honor Council proceedings are non-adversarial in their proceedings.

Associate Dean of Students David Gilbert said another issue that should be addressed is the Honor Code’s relatively recent transition from being solely academic to including issues of conduct.

According to Dean of Students Patricia Volp, the transition from an academic honor code to its current form occurred as a result of the last honor system review.

“This had primarily been an academic honor code, and then lying and stealing were added in,” she said.

Clemens said the 1997 changes will be researched further.

“I don’t have a really clear recollection of the honor code during my student days,” Clemens said. “I think what we’ll have to do is look at what the reasoning for [altering the code] was.”

The committee spent a substantial amount of time discussing the role of plagiarism in the Honor Code. While blatant copying of another’s work is easily defined as a violation, an individual citation error would also qualify.

Stump argued that students do not have the resources to check their work with a fresh set of eyes. This is compounded by a clause in the Student Handbook that requires class work be completed solely by an individual student, unless a professor expressly grants an exception.

Volp said that students have resources available to them, including the Writing Resources Center, that could fulfill that role.

“As students, when we turn in work, we take the responsibility that it’s done properly,” Pothen said at the meeting. “As the code’s written, that’s an honor code violation. Then again, there is heavy mitigation there, and that comes into play in sanctions.”

The committee will meet one more time before the end of the semester. It expects to meet twice a month through the spring.

“I was initially expecting a simple overview of the Honor System and Honor Council process so as to clarify things for those members who were not as familiar with them,” committee member and SA Sen. Noah Kim ’13 said in an e-mail. “The fact that some very important questions were raised over just the first third of the Honor Code shows the depth to which this committee will be reviewing our Honor System.”

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