Constructive reform for Honor Council

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April 11, 2011

10:33 PM

The number of student opinion pieces concerning honor system reform has become the source of a potentially unhealthy drinking game. However, as news of the College of William and Mary Honor System Review Committee deliberations dribbles out, I think it’s important to continue to advocate for some of the sensible reforms that actually appear to be getting some consideration. The droves of past editorials would be a true waste if the discussion stopped during the actual reform process.

At the top of the list of achievable policy changes is a recently discussed reform by which students could pursue an expedited sanction process. In the proposal, a student with a clean honor and conduct record could request for an expedited sanction, which means that in academic cases, the professor involved could have a greater say in whether the student’s transgression necessitates an Honor Council trial or if it can be addressed with grading penalties. Classifying the infraction involves both faculty judgment and input from the Dean of Students Office.

This is exactly the type of honor code reform we need. The Honor Council has often been criticized for being too rigid and too uniform in applying classification criteria to cases and, more generally, for not considering more of the student’s history and circumstances. Expedited sanctions would allow non-council community members who know the circumstances and context behind the student and infraction in question to have a greater role in code enforcement.

According to government professor and HSRC Chair Clay Clemens and others, faculty have long desired more procedural clarity and autonomy in the initial stages of infraction disciplining. With expedited sanctions, rather than worrying about the potentially exaggerated effects of a rigid case classification on the student in question, faculty could incorporate their own judgment and experience. More importantly, cases could also have can also have a clear, non-Council source of guidance and consultation in the form of the Dean of Students Office.

From the Dean of Students Office’s point of view, the idea of using administrative judgment to recommend a nuanced, more personalized charge for the given student would be a good use of their skills that would avoid pulling ultimate and extreme authority from student enforcement bodies and imposing new, time-burdensome costs on the administration. Furthermore, the Honor Code is a community agreement with adherence to and enforcement oaths borne by both sides of the academic relationship. Having greater case involvement from faculty at the College, who often have the initial responsibility to confront the student and gather evidence, only makes sense.

There are several other manageable reforms that need to happen, such as those concerning the Honor Council member nominations and election processes. To start with how faculty, administrators and students deal with and classify infractions, however, is a sensible, necessary enterprise. The Council would lose none of its interrogative, deliberative and adjudicative powers, and the expertise of campus members from the faculty and the Dean of Students Office would be better applied. I am pleased to say there seems to be constructive, genuine ideas coming out from the HSRC, and as such, they need to be promoted.

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