The jury is out: Examining what 8+4 really equals

March 2, 2016 by The Williams Record Editorial Board

Given the increase in honor code infractions over the past few years, the 8+4 Honor Code Referendum is a well-intentioned yet potentially ineffective step toward increasing transparency and student accountability in the honor and discipline process.

The goals of the referendum are undeniably important: It is vital to the academic and personal health of the student body that the honor and discipline process is an active part of student life. By exposing a rotation of students, who might otherwise never have seen the honor code in action, to how the Honor and Discipline Committee (HDC) works, the referendum may spur conversations about the honor code between students. Students who participate, which will be a significant portion of the student body, will gain a more nuanced understanding of how the honor code works, as well as exposure to a process that has previously been shrouded in mystery. If properly implemented, the jury duty-like nature of the referendum may instill a sense of accountability for the honor and discipline process in the entire student body.

Nonetheless, the vagueness of the referendum leaves many questions unanswered about the specifics of the process. Considering this lack of clarity and precedent, College Council and the HDC should revisit 8+4 and evaluate its performance after two or three years. If the intention is purely an informational effect, there are other ways that information about the honor code could be disseminated throughout campus, including engaging first-years during First Days or weaving it into the new Sophomore Year Experience program. The latter may be particularly fitting, as the HDC tends to hear cases involving sophomores more than any other class.

Additionally, the inclusion of four extra people per hearing has the potential to lead to breaches of confidentiality. While the large majority of students is unlikely to share the details of cases with others outside the committee, especially since the student body as a whole is cognizant of the importance of privacy in the honor and discipline process, it is impossible to account for every student. By the numbers alone, the referendum would increase the chance of a violation of confidentiality.

The focus of the HDC should be on producing the fairest result for the student on trial, but adding temporary students may not further this goal. Temporary members may not have as strong of a grasp of the honor code and are unlikely to have much to go on in the way of precedent. As such, they may feel overwhelmed by the more numerous and experienced voices of the permanent members. If the temporary members feel overshadowed by the permanent members, they may be inclined to agree with what permanent members think, which means that the temporary members would not contribute towards producing the fairest decision. However, if temporary members do take a more active role, their unfamiliarity with precedent may jeopardize the consistency of decisions, which could also be problematic as it is only fair that similar cases produce similar decisions.

The honor code is an under-appreciated part of campus life. It allows for many privileges that students are accustomed to taking for granted, such as take-home exams. As such, the whole student body should be concerned with the way the HDC functions and should take advantage of the opportunity to sit on the committee if offered. It is a promising sign that there was sufficient voter turnout for the referendum to pass in the first place. It remains to be seen if the referendum will make a real difference in the community, or if it will be simply another ineffective step toward a vague notion of transparency.

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