Honor system review group begins inquiry

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February 14, 2011

9:59 PM

The College of William and Mary Honor System Review Committee began the process of seeking input from the student community Friday, by establishing an undergraduate member subcommittee to draft a survey to identify concerns with the honor system.

Undergraduate Honor Council Chief Justice John Pothen ’11 said the survey may be completed as early as Tuesday.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but [HSRC Chairmen] professor [Clay] Clemens ’80 said he wants to get it out as soon as possible,” he said.

The proposed survey would likely address issues discussed in the “travelling focus groups” undergraduate committee members have held with a wide variety of umbrella organizations such as the Young Democrats, College Republicans and Virginia Informer.

“All the groups that knew a lot about [the honor system] had a lot to say. Those that didn’t felt disconnected,” Secretary of Student Rights Zann Isacson ’13 said. “People that knew a lot about the honor system tended to be very critical.”

Isacson’s report highlighted several common criticisms that have been levied at the Undergraduate Honor Council over the past two years, which included concerns about education, accessibility, oversight and lack of participation by broader cross-sections of the student body.

“A lot of people brought up the word ‘hidden’ and ‘inaccessible,’” Isacson said.

In contrast, James I. Dougherty J.D. ’12, chief justice of the Law School Honor Council, said that these concerns are not shared by many graduate students.

While the undergraduate council handles a considerably larger case load, certain graduate councils are much less active. According to Associate Dean of Students Dean Gilbert, the VIMS council has not heard a case in at least six years.

“The students in the graduate schools are either indifferent or very critical of what’s going on,” Dougherty said. “The common difference is that we’re older, we should know what lying, cheating and stealing is.”

Discussion at Friday’s HSRC meeting centered around reporting incentives for staff, faculty and students, as well as difficulties with educating the College community about the honor system. Although it is not within the HSRC’s purview to pursue efforts to better educate the student body about the honor system, it was generally agreed that the College should expand its education effort to include more than just incoming students.

It was also noted by several members that many members of the College community may be reluctant to report potential honor code violations for a variety of reasons.

“I don’t think any of the codes I’ve looked at are as complicated as ours,” Dean of Students Patricia Volp said. “We’re putting all of our education at the beginning [of a student’s time at the College] and doing nothing in the following years.”

Gilbert said that in the current system, there is little to no incentive for faculty to report potential honor code violations. This creates inequity within the system, as certain professors may report violations, leading to a formal investigation, while others may present unofficial warnings or a failing grade.

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