Legislative Update from the Honor Committee

As Michael Karlik’s term as one of the Batten School’s representatives on the Honor Committee draws to a close, he wanted to give an update on the projects that he has undertaken over the past several weeks to make the Honor System more rational, relevant, and responsive to the interests of the student body.

Informed Retraction

In late January, I introduced into the Committee a piece of legislation that would have created an “Informed Retraction.”  Many of you may have heard that the Committee discussed an Informed Retraction during the fall semester, which would have established a punishment of suspension for people who admitted to committing an Honor offense.  My version of the Informed Retraction was less punitive and was intended to satisfy many of the concerns that led to the prior proposal’s defeat in the Committee.

My legislation was a response to a comment that I heard at the Batten School’s town hall meeting on the Honor System in December.  Students often feel that when they witness an Honor offense, they only have two options: report the person or do nothing.  Many students—and instructors—are understandably wary of getting involved with the Honor System if they believe that they could cause a student’s expulsion.  This reluctance to act allows many offenses to go unacknowledged and unpunished.

My proposal would have allowed a student or a teacher who witnessed an Honor Offense to confront the suspected student, talk about what happened, and permit the student to submit an Informed Retraction.  The Retraction would include a description of the offense and any amends that the student would make to the instructor or other relevant party—most likely in the form of a zero on the assignment or an F in the class.  The student would not go through an Honor trial and would remain at the university.  In my view, this policy would have allowed more students to take ownership of the Honor System, introduce an element of forgiveness, and formalize something that is actually already occurring outside of the System.

Unfortunately, through a combination of fear appeals and an aversion to acting boldly, the Honor Committee rejected the legislation in mid-February.  It marked the second time that this do-nothing Committee failed to think creatively about how to solve the major structural flaws that make many individuals skeptical of our Honor System.

Letter to the Board of Visitors

Earlier this week, I sent a letter to the Board of Visitors’ Student Affairs and Athletics Committee, which oversees the Honor System.  Because I feel that the Honor Committee as an institution is incapable of making any meaningful reforms to make the Honor System fairer, more salient, and more logical, I have asked the Board to rescind the authority it has granted to the Honor Committee over disciplinary matters and reorganize the Honor System.

I did not make this request lightly, given the university’s culture of student self-governance.  However, I believe that the structure of the Honor Committee makes it poorly-equipped to challenge an unsustainable status quo.  I am hoping that the Board of Visitors will act to revise the Honor System to include significant faculty involvement, introduce a set of fair and proportional punishments, and establish sanctioning consistency among dishonorable behaviors.  Only through this intervention will the Honor System be able to focus on the legitimate goal of addressing academic dishonesty without being perceived as antiquated and overly punitive.

You can view the full letter by clicking here.

Honor System Jurisdiction Review

Since the fall semester, I have had the great privilege of working with Committee member Becca Feild of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies to review the Honor Committee’s jurisdiction.  Currently, the Honor System can only punish acts of lying, cheating, or stealing.  Many students, however, do not understand why someone would face automatic expulsion for incorrectly citing their sources in a research paper, and yet would not necessarily be expelled for assault or vandalism.  Many Batten students in a survey felt that there are several behaviors that fit the definition of dishonorable conduct.  However, the Honor System only addresses three.

We determined that there are indeed other activities that should become Honor offenses:

  • Harassment
  • Offenses against property
  • Unprovoked assault
  • Animal abuse
  • Neglecting financial responsibilities

We recommended that the Honor Committee, University Judiciary Committee, and the Sexual Assault Board work with each other as well as with the Board of Visitors and President Sullivan to ensure that these behaviors are treated the same as lying, cheating, and stealing.

To read the full report, click here.

Post of Michael Karlik (Acc. ’12)

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