Crises often arise when public institutions act like private clubs. Because I believe that transparency is the key to accountability in public institutions, I spent the last few weeks investigating the law school Honor Council’s lack of transparency. I interviewed law school Honor Council members, former members, students, administrators and other key players. I present my findings with the hope that the College community will demand reform and restore the public trust.
p. When I confronted newly appointed Chief Justice Ryan Brady Mar. 8 with evidence that the law school Honor Council has not submitted summaries of Council proceedings to campus newspapers for at least two semesters, a violation of Section 9 of the Honor Code, he told me, “No. There were no open hearings.” Asked for clarification, Brady said, “We don’t have to submit anything if there are no open hearings.”
p. In a follow-up interview March 21, however, Brady retracted his earlier statement that “there were no open hearings,” acknowledging to me that the law school Honor Council had held an open hearing on Mar. 2, 2006. “The first hearing we had in years was last year,” Brady admitted. He also abandoned his initial claim that the disclosure requirement in Section 9 only applies to “open” hearings when presented with the passage’s explicit reference to “all” hearings.
p. Outgoing Chief Justice Leondras Webster also admitted to me that the law school Honor Council had not strictly complied with the public notice section of the Honor Code. Webster declined to answer my question why he had not, as Chief Justice, sent to the press a summary of Honor Council proceedings either this semester or last semester.
p. Section 9 of the Honor Code states: “At the beginning of each semester, the Chief Justices of the respective Honor Councils shall compile a brief summary of the cases, charges, verdicts and sanctions for all Honor Code hearings conducted the previous semester. The compilations shall be sent to the editors of The Flat Hat, William and Mary News and other campus publications selected by the Council of Chairs, together with a request that the compilations be printed or broadcast in a conspicuous yet tasteful manner. The compilations shall contain no names or other identifying student information.”
p. The Advocate, The Flat Hat and William and Mary News all advised me that they did not receive anything from the law school Honor Council at the beginning of either the fall 2006 or spring 2007 semesters that could possibly be construed as a “summary of the cases, charges, verdicts and sanctions for all Honor Code hearings.”
p. Some law students, including Student Bar Association President Sarah Fulton, expressed concern when I asked them for their thoughts on the law school Honor Council’s failure to comply with Section 9 of the Honor Code. “As a whole, the people on the Honor Council should be the most well-versed on the Honor Code,” Fulton told me. Although no justice has ever been removed, Fulton said that she will do what is necessary to keep the Honor Council “honorable.” “I feel that the Honor Council needs to maintain its integrity at all times, and I would be willing to aid that,” she said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler promised to raise the issue of university-wide reform with Assistant Dean for Judicial Affairs Dave Gilbert. “I can’t imagine why this couldn’t be corrected in some fashion,” Sadler told me. “I will ask Dean Gilbert to convene a meeting of the Chief Justices to agree among themselves how they are going to meet the community obligation of notification.”
p. Gilbert explained to me that while all six Honor Councils at the College have an obligation to publish summaries of proceedings each semester, some schools have been more conscientious about complying with Section 9 than others. The Council of Chairs, a body composed of the Chief Justices from each school, “has not been particularly active.” Gilbert astutely pointed out, however, that “the intention behind [Section 9] is transparency.”
p. Sadler suggested that while the decentralized nature of the Honor Councils tended to produce disparate compliance with Section 9, the Council of Chairs could solve the problem by jointly releasing a summary of proceedings at the beginning of each semester. “An easy short answer would be to do it as a single compilation, but there could be other ways to do it,” Sadler said.
p. .Unlike the law school Honor Council, the undergraduate Honor Council strictly adheres to the biannual public notice requirements of the Honor Code newly elected Chair Judd Kennedy, a junior, said. “We take the case digest, we censor the names of accused students and we provide it to campus publications, faculty members and interested students,” he said. Going above and beyond Section 9, the undergraduate Honor Council also conducts regular seminars for faculty, multiple orientation meetings for freshmen and mock Honor Council hearings.
p. Fulton urged students not to judge the law school based on its Honor Council’s failure to strictly adhere to the Honor Code’s public notice requirements. “As a whole, we are a very honorable school,” Fulton said.
p. Sadler, for his part, seemed mystified when I told him about Brady’s assertion that Section 9 does not apply to closed hearings. “In all the time I’ve been here, there has never been a distinction between open and closed hearings,” he said.
p. While few of us will stand in judgment before an Honor Council, we share a common interest in ensuring that all six Honor Councils strictly abide by the Honor Code’s public notice provision. Since the only way to ensure accountability is through transparency, we must come together to demand reform and restore the public trust.
p. __Alan Kennedy-Shaffer is a first year law student at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law.__