During these final weeks of the academic year, the Honor Board is revising the University’s Honor code for the first time since 1972. The Board plans to submit a new version of the Code for approval by both the faculty and student body by the end of the year.
The Honor Board, co-chaired by Samantha Sommers ’09 and Chris Sarma ’09, is made up of four student members, two of whom are juniors and two of whom are seniors. The Board is responsible for administering the Honor System and deciding the consequences for infractions of the Code. Along with Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley, and Benedict Bernstein ’09 of the WSA’s Education Policy Committee (EPC), the Board began re-evaluating the Code last fall. The revisions to the Code are meant to address new issues that students now face that have occurred since the 1970s.
“We wanted to update the Honor Code to speak more to issues that have come up, such as plagiarism from the Internet,” Sommers said. “Another goal was to evaluate if the Honor Code was clear and relevant today, if it was something students feel connected to.”
Another aim of the revisions is more widespread and frequent use of the Honor Pledge. As stipulated in the Honor Code, students must make a pledge not to engage in any violations of the Code, including plagiarism, intentional falsification of information, and failure to take action in the event of observing a violation of the Code. According to Sommers, the goal of the pledge is to raise student awareness of the Code.
“Sometimes the pledge gets used and sometimes it doesn’t,” Sommers said. “We’d really like to standardize it as a practice.”
Currently, the Honor Code constitutes an extended portion of the Student Handbook, an outline of University policies encompassing academics, student life, and University standards and regulations. The Code also includes an extended definition and essay on plagiarism. Published in 1969, “Definition of Plagiarism” by Harold C. Martin expands on the specifics and degrees of the violation. The proposed alterations would remove this essay from the Code.
“[It was] most pressing to condense [the section] and make it relevant,” Sommers said.
Despite the time gap since the last revision, there are no major changes being implemented. According to Sommers, the proposed revisions are logistical in nature, and do not alter the spirit of the Code.
“There haven’t been any issues, so there hasn’t been a necessity to update the Code until now—sort of a house-keeping measure,” she said.
One goal was to more clearly divide sections of the Honor Code as it is presented in the Student Handbook. The Board evaluated the preamble, the Code itself, as well as the procedures for its enforcement. The re-phrasing of the section designating the Honor Board’s judicial proceedings and hearings was modeled after the wording of judicial procedures used by the Student Judicial Board (SJB).
The revisions are also geared towards clarifying and codifying the procedures used by the Board to evaluate alleged violations. Whaley, who serves as an ex officio member of the Board, believes that this gives the Code and decisions of the Board more transparency.
“The Code is largely unchanged in the proposal, but the process and procedures are clearly articulated,” Whaley wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “I think that the Board has been focused on making the Honor Code more clear/concise as well as updating it so that it addresses issues that did not exist when the Code was first written, such as plagiarizing content from the Internet for example.”
Last Friday, the Honor Board presented the proposed revisions to the Student Life Committee (SLC) of the WSA. According to Becky Weiss ’10, Chair of the SLC, the committee was generally supportive of the revisions made by the Board.
“An update to the code was long overdue, and I think they did a great job highlighting the parts that needed improvement,” Weiss wrote in an email to The Argus. “I am very happy to see the essay on plagiarism gone, as well as the deletion of the provisions regarding constructive action and lying to the Honor Board as violations.”
In November, Whaley contacted the Special Collections and Archives Department of Olin Library to find records on previous amendments to the Honor Code. Valerie Gillispie, Assistant University Archivist, found that the Honor Code was last amended in 1972. The revisions required a referendum with a two-thirds student approval in addition to a faculty vote with two-thirds approval.
“I didn’t see any evidence that a change in amendment procedures has been made since that time,” Gillispie wrote in an e-mail to The Argus.
Consequently, the new revisions need to be approved by both the faculty and the student body. The Honor Board has been working with the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) and the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) to figure out how to best have an approval from both sections before the end of the academic year.
One question is whether approval from the WSA would constitute approval from the student body as a whole, and whether approval from the EPC would represent faculty support explained Sommers.
“We’re pretty positive that using the WSA is a fine way to get student body approval. I doubt there’ll be a student referendum,” Sommers said.
However, Sommers explained that the Honor Code approval for the WSA would allow for students concerns to be heard and discussed. The meeting itself would be open to the student body as a whole. While the specifics of approval are still being evaluated, both Sommers and Dean Whaley anticipate that the revisions will go through within the next two weeks.
“The goal is to have revisions approved before the end of the school year,” Sommers said.