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The Daily Tar Heel

Honor Court Reassessment Long Overdue

It has been a couple months since the open Honor Court case of two computer science students brought accusations of incompetence and bias across the pages of The Daily Tar Heel.

But now that the controversy has passed, it's time for us to move on and address the real question here: Was this case an aberration, or are there real problems to be addressed with the honor system? And if so, what's the best way to handle them?

We are not alone in asking these questions.

The University of Virginia has been grappling with reforming its own honor system for years. Like ours, it is one of the school's most valued traditions.

Just before Thanksgiving, a special panel reviewing UVa.'s honor system suggested major changes for its time-honored tradition. After concluding its review, the panel said there were clear racial disparities in the system and that its cumbersome process made the school liable to lawsuits.

While we don't necessarily face all the same problems at UNC, the recent computer science cheating cases, where 24 students were charged from one class, have demonstrated that our own system still has issues.

The chancellor himself just recently asked the faculty for a review of our own system. "No systems is without flaws," he told the DTH last week. "I'm just asking questions."

And that's exactly what we should be doing.

The review by faculty certainly will help us find flaws in our system.

But we, the students, also need to form our own assessment. Or at the very least, we should start talking about where we want to go from here.

We need to ask how we want our Honor Code enforced - whether the system that tried those 24 students this fall is the same system you'd trust with your own academic fate. And we need to ask ourselves exactly what "honor" means to us today.

We can consider just making our system simpler.

At UVa., the review panel recommended keeping its "single sanction," which automatically expels any student convicted of cheating. Furthermore, any witness who doesn't turn cheaters in immediately is equally guilty and gets the same punishment.

But I think we're moving in the opposite direction here. In fact, UNC recently did away with its own "rat clause," which requires students to snitch on their classmates. And systems that are simpler aren't necessarily more fair.

Maybe what we need is simply to have our system be more visible - better understood and acknowledged by the students. But because of University rules and, more importantly, federal law, disciplinary hearings at UNC must be held behind closed doors.

In general, unless the student requests that the hearing be open or that the record be disclosed, no information about that hearing can be given to the general public. The result of this is that the rest of us have only second-hand knowledge of how the honor system works.

For the sake of discussion, consider this possible solution. In the real world outside UNC, everyone is invested in the legal system through jury duty. In fact, it's jury duty that makes us trust that convictions handed down in court are (to use Al Gore's favorite phrase) "the will of the people."

What if we had jury duty for honor cases at UNC? Like in the real world, it would need to be mandatory, and students would need some sort of orientation on how our student laws work before they could hear a case. It sounds like a hassle, but consider the benefits: Many UNC students would have the opportunity to serve, giving a better understanding within the student body of how the system works.

We might also have more confidence that the system was ultimately being run by average students, rather than a group of self-selected Honor Court appointees - a group that DTH columnist Ashley Stephenson disdainfully described as "college kids in grownup clothes."

But then again, maybe that's a bad idea. It would mean that this small-world campus might get a little smaller; you might meet somebody only to realize that you convicted him or her last year for plagiarism.

Or maybe you have an even better idea? Even if you just want to talk, there are students and faculty who want to listen. To begin an ongoing discussion about the honor system, the Student Advisory Committee to the Chancellor is holding an informal open forum at 7 p.m. today in Paul Green Theater.

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If you can't make it, don't worry: There will be an even bigger discussion at the beginning of next semester. If you don't go to a discussion, consider sending a quick note to your Student Congress representative or to anybody involved in the honor process.

Don't let others decide what happens for you, because ultimately the system belongs to all of us. Make your own decisions, and then make your voice heard.

Rudy Kleysteuber is a junior biology

major from McLean, Va., who swears he has

neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this editorial. He can be reached at

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