Rethinking academic dishonor: Considering new policies on reporting Honor Code infractions

Editorial Board

As part of a wider restructuring of the College’s disciplinary policies, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom recently announced updated guidelines on infractions considered to be “reportable,” a move which has especially affected violations of the Honor Code. In the past, any adjudication by the Honor and Discipline Committee resulting in discipline was considered a “reportable” offense, signifying that the violation would become part of the student’s formal disciplinary record and requiring the student to answer in the affirmative if asked whether they had been subject to discipline at the College. With the new guidelines, however, Honor Code violations are only “reportable” if they result in a sanction of “disciplinary probation, suspension or expulsion” from the College. We at the Record commend the decision to change the reporting guidelines for Honor Code violations, although we do have concerns about potential ramifications of the new policy.

By making these infractions not “reportable,” the College more closely aligns itself with peer institutions, many of whom rely on professors and faculty to mete out disciplinary sanctions for academic violations. Although violations resulting in failure of a course will still be visible on an academic transcript, students who commit infractions will no longer have to announce that they have been formally disciplined, which is often a facet of graduate school and professional applications. We hope that students uphold the ideals of integrity laid out in the Honor Code if asked about a failed course or sanction due to an academic violation. While we recognize the gravity of the infractions that lead to Honor Code discipline, there is a fine demarcation between just and excessive punishment. We applaud the new distinctions in “reportable” offenses, as they seem to create a better balance between penance and potential for a student to grow beyond their infraction.

The change in reporting guidelines is a positive step forward, but it also raises certain important concerns. The line of demarcation between “non-reportable” and “reportable” offenses seems unclear and somewhat arbitrary. In the publicly accessible records of Honor Code violations, differences in severity between sanctions of failure of the course with and without disciplinary probation are not always apparent, and it is a legitimate question whether the seemingly arbitrary variation in sanction is commensurate with the stark gradation in punishment through the new guidelines. Above all, any change in the reporting guidelines assumes that the decisions and processes of the Honor and Discipline Committee are correct and just. It is difficult to dissociate discussion of reporting guidelines from a broader discussion of the structures of the Committee, which, like any other organization, is fallible.

In light of this change, we also recommend attempting to retroactively institute the policy for graduates who have received Honor Code violations below the severity threshold instituted by the revised guidelines. Although it will perhaps not affect students in the more distant past, this revision would be impactful for recent graduates.

The essential question raised by the recent news from the Dean’s Office regarding Honor Code violations is what impact trespasses of academic integrity at the College should have on students going forward. We at the Record feel that the new reporting guidelines strike a delicate balance effectively. The new rules offer a concrete path for growth and redemption for those students sanctioned while accentuating the College’s commitment to academic integrity. Students make mistakes, and the shift in reporting guidelines reflects an awareness that academic violations should not necessarily follow them once they leave the College.

Note: Cassie Deshong and Nicholas Goldrosen, Record editorial board members that serve on the Honor and Discipline Committee, were not involved in the development of this editorial.