Honor Council proposes updates to the Honor Code



by David Prehn

Contributing Writer

As the Chair of the Honor Council, I am excited to announce that the Honor Council will be presenting revisions to the Honor Code for student approval in the College. In order for changes to be effective, the Honor Code requires that they must be submitted to a referendum vote by the entire student body and must receive approval of two-thirds of those voting, as well as the approval of Vice-Chancellor. The Vice-Chancellor has approved the changes, and they are now ready for student approval. These revisions were initiated under the leadership of the 2011-12 Honor Council and have been continuously overseen by each succeeding Council. Over the past four years, the various members have all greatly contributed to these thoughtful and necessary changes. Numerous discussions among members of the Council, as well as with Vice-Chancellor John McCardell and University Legal Counsel Donna Pierce have produced these revisions. The changes aim to add clarity, consistency, and efficiency to the Honor Council’s proceedings. Portions of the Honor Code that are not being revised will not be part of the referendum. What follows is a list of the significant revisions the Council seeks to pass:

  1. Proposal to Rule 6: “because the preservation of equal access to scholarly materials is essential in any academic community, it is a violation of the Honor Code to fail to check out materials taken from the library.” The main point of the current rule is that ‘equal access to scholarly materials’ is essential to any University; therefore, in this rule, by changing ‘books’ to ‘materials,’ we are simply acknowledging that any unauthorized scholarly materials taken from the Library could be considered an Honor Code violation, not just books.
  2. Inclusion of an additional sophomore and junior to the Honor Council. A larger Honor Council, which would seat 12 members, addresses the larger enrollment in the College which last year resulted in a significant increase of case work for the investigators on the Honor Council. Specifically at times when the Council finds itself busier investigating and hearing cases (such as during final exams), the addition of two more members would allow for more efficient processing of cases.
  3. Language updates for student rights in Honor Council proceedings: we moved from “Miranda Rights” language to less legalistic language in defining student rights to representation and silence in Rule 5 of the Rules for Proceedings because the University’s disciplinary processes do not and are not intended to afford the specificity or the due process or other rights of criminal or civil statutes or any other legal authorities. Our language needs to reflect this in the Code.

This update created much concern throughout the student body last May when these revisions were submitted for referendum. Student rights currently included in the Honor Code are not being removed. The rights to silence and representation at Honor Council hearings explicitly remain in the revisions.

  1. We’d like to more efficiently process minor, non-academic offenses to which the student is admitting. We’d like to do this by allowing, by agreement of the student and the Executive Committee of the Honor Council, the Executive Committee to impose probationary sanctions at the E.C. meeting itself (rather than at a full, formal Honor Council hearing). The E.C. will reserve the right to request a full hearing. (*The Executive Committee of the Honor Council [Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary] meets with each student and investigator to determine if there is enough evidence of an offense to warrant a full hearing.)
  2. A solution to the rare circumstance in which a student’s collective affiliation with the Honor Council members jeopardizes the opportunity for a fair hearing. This addition address the possible situation in which a reasonable bias among Council members would disqualify enough members from the case to make the Council not meet quorum (which is currently 7): The Council would refer its case information to the Vice-Chancellor who would then appoint a committee of 5 students, including a member of the Student Government Association, a member of the Order of Gownsmen, and three additional students, to hear the case. The committee would conduct its meeting with a member of the Honor Council present, who would not be allowed to vote on the group’s recommendation, and may consult with others as they deem appropriate. This body would provide its recommendation in writing to the Vice-Chancellor, who would then make the final decision, which could not be appealed further.

A full copy of the revised Code will be distributed via email in the next couple weeks. The current Honor Code can be found at http://life.sewanee.edu/live/the-honor-system. The Honor Council asks that students stay tuned to their emails, as the Council will be disseminating information about the referendum process through the Order of Gownsmen. Our revisions are meant to add clarity and consistency to the Council’s proceedings. This is an important opportunity to maintain the Honor Code a document representative of student opinion. The Honor Council is an entirely student-run organization, and we work to preserve and administer the standards to which we all have pledged. Please take these revisions seriously and, if necessary, please familiarize yourself with the Honor Code. I ask that you remember that the Honor Council seeks to provide a consistent and fair processing of Honor Code violations to all students. If you have specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Honor Council. There will be an informational meeting in November at which further details will be explained.