Changes proposed to Honor Council

A panel presented TED-talk style speeches on of free speech in the media followed by a discussion. FILE PHOTO / THE FLAT HAT

Over the past two years, the Honor Systems Review Committee has studied the processes of the Honor System. Spurred by controversial cases, concerns about student opinion of the system, concerns with faculty use of the system and the 13-year lapse since the last review, the HSRC began to look at the process of the Honor System in the fall of 2010, using a list of specific mandates outlined by College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley.

HSRC Chair and Chancellor Professor of Government Clay Clemens ’80 presented a proposal of possible changes to members of the Honor Council, the Student Conduct Council and the Conduct and Honor Advisory Program Sunday. He outlined three major aspects of the proposal: the addition of an early resolution option for honor system infractions, the notion of  sanction levels and the creation of a standing Honor System Advisory Committee. Clemens stated that the changes presented were primarily those that would change the system itself, while the proposed changes still under Reveley’s review would alter aspects within the existing system.

“[The] proposed redraft of the Code make a whole set of proposed changes to the system … and a lot of proposed changes within the existing system,” Clemens said.

The early resolution option would allow faculty members to propose an early resolution to undergraduate or graduate students for Level I and II academic infractions if it is the student’s first such violation. The faculty member, accused student and Dean Gilbert would all have to accept the option before the early resolution system could be used.

The option allows cases to be resolved without the need for an Honor Council investigation or hearing. By offering an expedited process for less serious violations, Clemens said this option would hopefully result in more cases entering the honor system rather than faculty resolving the issues themselves through grade changes. Clemens assured students at the presentation that the early resolution would be merely an option and would not be encouraged over the normal Honor System Process.

“In the past, faculty buy-in has been difficult to obtain, but with these new amendments — specifically the addition of the early resolution — faculty participation is likely to grow as they will be able to handle first-offense, Level I and II offenses on their own terms,” CHAPS chair Danny Anderson ’14 said in an email.

The second major proposed change to the system is the creation of sanction levels. The proposal outlines a level of pre-determined starting points for sanctions based on the level of severity: Level I, II or III.

“Rather than making each individual case their own case … there would be — not rigid sentencing guidelines that you would find in a courtroom — … there would be levels,” Clemens said. “Councils, panels, would start at that point … taking into account mitigating and aggregating circumstances.”

According to Clemens, Level I and II infractions would refer primarily to various levels of cheating and plagiarism, with Level II including cases of a more substantial nature. Level III sanctions would include cases where students buy papers online or have another individual take an exam for them as well as most nonacademic infractions, including lying and stealing. Clemens cited the lack of consistency, inequality and expediency of sanctions in the past as motivation for the creation of these levels.

The last major change proposed by the

HSRC is the creation of a standing Honor System Advisory Committee.

“[The HSAC] would include the same type of representation as the [HSRC] did. [It would be] larger in terms of consulting members but smaller in terms of committee members,” Clemens said.

The HSAC would consider proposed amendments and proposed bylaw changes and would provide guidance to faculty in a number of areas about infractions and sanction levels.

“We did not elaborate in more detail the greater specifications of infractions,” Clemens said. “We felt that would be imprudent, but guidance could be issued.”

Clemens stated the proposal is still in the earliest stages of review and Reveley is still looking over parts of the proposal. However, the HSRC hopes to publish the entire proposal online for perusal by the student body and other members of the College community today. Feedback will be instrumental in Reveley’s final decision.

“He, overall in net terms, thinks there is a great deal of merit … [but] he wants a lot of discussion of this and what we are going to do over the course of the next several weeks,” Clemens said. “All of the feedback would go to the president. … [The result] depends on both what [Reveley] hears and what he thinks of what he hears.”

If Reveley approves the proposed changes, they will be presented to the Board of Visitors for final approval. Clemens speculated that, in a best case scenario, the changes might be implemented in the spring of 2014.

“I’ve been here a long time, and I know that tinkering with tradition here is a risky venture,” Clemens said. “I believe that the changes are good. I believe that they will make a good system better, but it’s a lot of changes. I won’t downplay it. … These will be the most significant changes to the Code. … Earlier changes were substantial, but this [proposal] is a set of fairly comprehensive set of changes.”


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