Honor committee hears five new cases

The College’s Honor and Discipline Committee is set to hold two hearings this week, concluding the first wave of honor code cases this school year. With three cases behind them, the Committee’s work is well underway.

The first hearings of the year took place shortly after September’s elections, in which two representatives from every class year were appointed as student members. This year’s student chair is James Elish ’13. Elish serves alongside the committee’s faculty chair, Professor of Political Science and Chair of Justice and Law Studies Cheryl Shanks. In total, the committee is made up of eight student members and eight faculty members. Dean Bolton presides as an ex officio member to settle tied cases involving the committee. The 8-1-8 composition of the panel allows for fair representation from all positions and perspectives at the College and seeks to yield the most unbiased verdict.

Despite the difficulty of gathering the entire committee and the involved students at the same time, there is a high priority on the speed of the hearings in order to reduce stress for the students facing discipline trials.

“We want to schedule the hearing as soon as possible so that the accused students do not have to agonize over the impending hearing,” Tyler Sparks ’15, outreach coordinator and member of the Honor and Discipline committee, said. The confidential nature of the Honor and Discipline Committee, while central to the purpose of the panel, limits the ways in which its activity and the broader effects of its decisions can be communicated to the community at large. All proceedings and resolutions are undisclosed.

While there are typically a number of cases that come before the Honor and Discipline Committee each semester, the volume of cases seen thus far this fall has been considered notable by some committee members. Shanks stated that having this many cases so early in the semester is unusual.

“Cases, like lots of things, do come in clusters. If this rate did keep up we’d have more than twice as many cases this year [than in years past],” Shanks said. However, Shanks added that this prediction must be tempered by the possibility of “random variation.” As she explained, it is too early in the year to assume that the committee will see double the violations and hearings from last year, as there is not yet enough contextual evidence.

“The honor cases seen by the Honor and Discipline Committee follow a fairly predictable cycle,” Sparks said. “The weeks surrounding midterms and finals produce more cases than, say, the first week of school. So, the committee is used to dealing with influxes of cases.”

Along the lines of Shanks’ comments, Bolton also mentioned that while it seems that there have been a large number of cases at the beginning of this semester, it is not necessarily the case that there will, overall, be more cases this year. “I would say that there’s probably 10 [cases] a semester, generally … It doesn’t fluctuate much from year to year globally, it’s generally about 20 a year,” Bolton said.

Improper citation is consistently the most easily perpetrated transgression of the honor code. Academic honesty is an intrinsic element to the success of any intellectual atmosphere. Reports from previous years indicate that the majority of cases that come before the Honor and Discipline Committee involve plagiarism and improper citation. Frequently citation errors are found when students neglect to accredit quotes, paraphrased ideas and facts that are not common knowledge. Students found guilty of these offenses often faced failure of the course and some were suspended for a semester or longer.

Members of the Honor and Discipline Committee hope that these recent honor code violations will serve as cautionary examples for the whole student body.

Sparks has taken on the new position of outreach coordinator and will focus, along with the rest of the committee, on communicating with the student body to prevent further incidents. Since a disproportionate number of the cases reviewed last year involved first-years, Sparks and other committee members are making attempts to increase first-years’ awareness of the Honor Code and to answer first-years questions.

“Over half of the cases last year involved freshmen,” Sparks said. “We do not want the same situation this year. We’re working on the honor banner signings for the Class of 2016, among other initiatives.”

The College has operated under the same honor code for over 40 years. It is published on the deans’ office website and students are required to sign it via PeopleSoft at the beginning of each year.

Despite the Honor and Discipline Committee’s focus on the specifics of the Honor Code, Bolton emphasized that general questions of academic integrity are salient in the larger community on a day-to-day basis. “The larger question of how we have this conversation about the ways that this ideal of academic integrity is concretely represented in the work that students are doing all the time and what our expectations are of one another here as a community,” Bolton said.