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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Students Can Honor the Code

Author: Lisa Jasinski

The Honor Code referendum strives to undercut the principles of academic honesty at Middlebury College. Minimal and incidental language changes aside, the referendum seeks to dismantle the current judicial system. It will sacrifice student influence, peer representation and end Middlebury's unique judicial tradition.Members of the Community Council have taken academic honesty out of its appropriate context and expressed a lack of confidence in the student body.

Before I develop my argument, as the chair of the student Judicial Council and co-chair of the Community Judicial Board, I feel obligated to make students acquainted with the current judicial system at the College. Currently, Middlebury has three judicial boards.

The Judicial Review Board (JRB) deals only with student plagiarism. The Community Judicial Board (CJB) hears cases about behavioral and the disrespect of persons).

Both the CJB and the JRB are composed of a combination of student and faculty members. And lastly, the Student Judicial Council (SJC) is a board comprised solely of eight student members and only hears charges of suspected cheating on examinations.

Beginning Nov. 15, all students must vote in an online referendum before becoming eligible for spring term Middlebury Automatic Registraton System. In addition to other changes, the referendum proposes to merge the SJC and JRB into a completely new entity — the Academic Judicial Board. If the amendment passes, receiving three-fourths of student endorsement, every student at Middlebury College will lose. What will we lose? We will lose student jurisdiction over academic honesty. The pledge we make to our peers (promising not to cheat) will be rendered seemingly meaningless. We will also lose a judicial system that is unique to Middlebury and its ability to serve future generations.

The Community Council fails to understand the Honor Code's original intentions and broader implications. When you signed the Honor Code and accepted admission, you made a promise to your fellow students and the College to "assume responsibility and integrity of all the written work" you would produce.

Under the current system, as Will Dobson '94 (a former SJC member) points out, "it seems only fitting that students (i.e., those who have entered into this special contract) will be the arbiters of academic discipline." If a student fails to uphold the Honor Code, he or she violates a pledge they have made to their fellow students. When this happens, a student ought to explain his or her behavior to the people they violated, just as the current system details. As Dobson concludes, a student should come before a board of his/her peers: "people who face all the demands and challenges of maintaining the standards of academic integrity continually resist the temptations of circumventing these expectations."

Under the current system, and even in proposed revisions, it remains a student's responsibility to report personal violations of the honor code. You are still expected to report your offense, even though in the future you may be arguing your case before people outside of the "special contract," namely members of the faculty and administration.

There is no reason to grant faculty members any further influence in student affairs by granting them three seats on the Academic Judicial Board. In terms of the Honor Code, faculty members agree to hold unproctored examinations if students sign the Honor Code exhibiting academic integrity. This has not changed. Middlebury is one of the few colleges in America that boasts enough confidence in its students to maintain the high academic standards of the institution, and this happens now through an all-student SJC. Have Middlebury students become less trustworthy or suddenly incapable of carrying out this mission? I would certainly hope not, and unless the College proves otherwise, there is no reason to abandon the current system.

If the referendum passes, it will make no distinction between types of academic violations, be it cheating, plagiarism or duplicating another's work. One should recognize that these offenses are not synonymous. Michael Wiser '00, another former SJC member, said "Plagiarism is a crime of an individual, in which no one else is involved and no one can stop the student."

However, in many cheating situations, there are often co-conspirators or witnesses during an exam. Due to the fundamental differences in these actions, they should not fall under the jurisdiction of the proposed Academic Judicial Board. The current system understands the important nuances that exist within different offenses.

I respect the Community Council's effort to give the Honor Code a stronger presence on campus. However, I cannot accept their suggestions because while trying to promote student ownership over academic honesty, they implicitly reject student participation in upholding and promoting academic integrity. The judicial process is intimately woven into our institutional fiber. Above everything else, students should refuse to compromise their voices in matters of academic integrity. This is your college and your Honor Code; keep it that way.