To the Editor: Honor Cmte. corrects self

I write in response to Judd Greenstein’s interesting and articulate letter concerning the procedures of the Honor Committee, which appeared in your Jan. 18 issue. Since I serve (in part) as a sort of recording secretary for the Committee, I can respond to the factual issues that Judd raises with some additional information and a correction. That correction will make some difference for at least one of the concerns that Judd raises.

The plain correction is that it was a mistake to call the student in question a “witness” (I draft the report, so the mistake is mine). The student was called before the Committee as someone implicated (by preliminary evidence) in cheating on an exam: that is, the evidence consisted of three exams with alarming similarities. At the hearing, the Committee determined that the other students had cheated off of the exam of this student without his knowledge. So the proper way to put it is that he was found innocent. I think I was led to the error because such students become de facto witnesses at the hearing, since they fill in factual information that is important to the Committee. I am sorry for this mischaracterization, since it led to worries that I think would be perfectly legitimate if based on fact.

In retrospect, I think that the Committee was quite right to consider this first appearance before the Committee in their deliberations over the more recent case. The student argued very directly that he was unaware of basic parts of the Honor Code, and hence innocent: he claimed, for instance, that he did not know how to use quotation marks. The Honor Committee rarely admits ignorance as a mitigating circumstance (a policy with which I agree); but in this case the Committee was faced with deciding whether this claim was in fact credible in the simplest sense. Given the student’s history, and that he was a second-semester senior, they in fact did not believe him, and considering his previous appearance before the Committee seems to me to have been a reasonable part of arriving at this decision.

I hope that this clears up to confusion over the role of witnesses before the Committee, and my apologies to all for the error in the report to the community that the sharp-eyed Mr. Greenstein discovered.

Peter Murphy

Dean of the College