Honor Council aims for clarity in mock hearing

Photo by Frances Marion Givhan

By Frances Marion Givhan

Junior Editor

In an effort to illuminate the process behind hearings, the Honor Council hosted a Mock Hearing on Wednesday, November 4, along with several other Sewanee organizations. Despite the number of hosts, only forty or so students, faculty, and administrators sat in Guerry Auditorium to watch the night’s event. Honor Council Chair Mark McAlister (C’17), introduced the event: “Most people don’t know what happens during our hearings,” he said to the audience, “so we hope that this event will give some transparency and clarity to the process.” He also glanced at Jewlz Davis (C’16), who played the role of the student who plagiarized, and the biology class. The report also contained a paragraph taken straight from smiled. “Also, Jewlz would like me to remind everyone that this is fake.”

The scenario created by the Honor Council for the mock hearing was a lab report plagiarism case. Professor Virginia Craighill acted as the biology professor who reported Davis to the Honor Council. The lab report in question had “language so close to the original source, which was cited but not quoted,” said Craighill. Some of the jargon used throughout the paper came directly from sources and would not have been terms talked about in the lab partner’s report, which was the most blatant example of plagiarism in the mock case. “We came up with this case to show a more unconventional, yet still common, form of plagiarism,” said David Prehn (C’16), who acts as the Vice Chair of the Council. “In my four years on the Council, I’d say the majority of plagiarism cases, however, involve the student copying from online material rather than from a student.” However, “we wanted to show multiple forms of plagiarism so people could see what would be considered a violation,” said McAlister. The Honor Council detailed the steps of the process as they occurred. First, the investigator chosen for the case talked to the professor who reported the case. Any relevant documents are given to the investigator for the Council to review. Then the student in question provided his side of the story, and the lab partner who was plagiarized discussed the process of writing the lab reports. An executive committee meeting, which is supposed to be informal in nature, was held in order to decide if the case should go to a full hearing. “It also that because he loved Sereduces stress for the student and allows us to go over the documents with the student,” explained McAlister to the audience. Once all the evidence was evaluated, then the executive committee, which includes McAlister, Prehn, and secretary Bethany Hamson (C’18), deliberated the severity of the case. With the biology lab report, they decided it needed a full hearing. They notified the student of the violation, explained the nature of the violation, and gave a copy of the Honor Code to the student to review.

The entirety of the Honor Council walked on the stage for the full hearing. In their gowns, lined up in the chairs on the Guerry stage, they looked regal, official, and slightly imposing. After turning on a hypothetical recording device, the evidence was covered with the professor and both lab partners. After every document was evaluated, the Council asked if Davis wanted to change his plea. Up until this point, he had said ‘not guilty,’ but he changed it to guilty.

“Being in this situation,” said Davis to the Council, “brought flashbacks to my first time at Sewanee, when I walked into All Saints and touched the cornerstone and signed the Honor Code.” He said Sewanee more than anything, he would change his plea to guilty. Now the Council had to decide what kind of suspension the case requires. “We go through the criteria: flagrancy of the violation, the class year of the student, and the student’s cooperation during the process,” said Prehn. Because of the blatant plagiarism in the lab report and Davis’s status as a senior, the decision was a two-semester suspension. “A senior would have plenty of time to practice citation,” said McAlister during the fake full hearing. “It’s inexcusable if he hasn’t learned by now.”

One issue that cannot be discussed during the full hearing is the question of intent. Bradford Lepik (C’16) pointed out that Davis was an important aspect in the community, to which McAlister responded, “We cannot deal with the student’s character. It’s not for us to look at who the person is, but to look solely at this case.” The student’s intention does not arise during the hearings in order to keep the process fair. “Plagiarism is really the only honor code violation where intent is almost impossible to prove,” said Prehn. “I do think that the instructor needs to first try to determine the likelihood that the plagiarism was due to carelessness rather than the intent to deceive before bringing a student to the Council.” A brief question and answer session happened after the mock hearing ended, followed by a closing remark from McAlister. Prehn expressed later that he hoped the students “took away how deliberate the process is and understand how fair of a process it is.” He also thinks that the faculty’s presence at the event was important. “The system only works if faculty participate. They wanted a clear idea of what their role is throughout the process.” McAlister also hopes that people realize that the Honor Code is an essential component to the University, and “must continue to be for as long as this University exists.”