The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday March 30th

Honor Court Reform Divides SBP Candidates

With appeals for the Computer Science 120 case still under way, the candidates for student body president must now address that question on their platforms.

Last October, Professor James Coggins accused 24 students of cheating because of groupwork he said they did in his Computer Science 120 class. Two of these students were convicted of the charges in an open hearing that raised concerns about student-run court procedures.

Current Student Body President Brad Matthews said with his office responsible for appointing the attorney general and all members of the Committee on Student Conduct, which legislates reform of the court, the new student body president can have a large impact.

"It won't just be a student government issue, but I'm very certain the student body president will have a large role to play in the future of the Honor Court," he said.

But the candidates are divided on the issue of how much reform the Honor Court needs, with several candidates saying the court should not be drastically altered at this time.

"Right now the Honor Court is in a defensive stance because it has taken so much fire," said candidate Dustyn Baker. "You can't attack an institution on a defensive stance and help the good of the University, so I want to be proactive instead of reactive."

Baker said she will focus on increasing student awareness of the Honor Court by having members of the attorney general's office visit all English 11, and 12 and Communications 9 classes, which would allow every freshman to be informed about Honor Court procedures.

Among the concerns raised on the Honor Court are that it is almost entirely student-run with no faculty involvement, a format that candidate Caleb Ritter said puts too much power in the hands of only a few students.

"It would be nice to have an overseeing judge on the Honor Court from the UNC faculty," he said. "If he sees that the students have gone too far, he can offer his input before a decision is made."

Candidate Correy Campbell said he would take outside influence on the Honor Court a step further by having professional lawyers train members of the attorney general's office.

"We say we want to govern ourselves, but when you're actually tried, you want someone that really knows what they're doing -- that's been there and understands the process," he said. "These verdicts could destroy students' lives."

But candidate Eric Johnson said he would like to keep the Honor Court strictly in the hands of the students. "We have a long tradition of self-governance," he said. "Despite some glitches, it has served us well."

Johnson said he would advocate separating the prosecution and defense, which are currently drawn from members of the attorney general's office.

A new student service organization, the Independent Defense Council, confronts this issue by providing alternative representation for students being tried before the Honor Court.

Several candidates said they strongly support the new organization. "I'll do whatever it takes to get IDC off the ground, whether that means publicity, networking, funding or communication with students," said candidate Annie Peirce.

Candidate Warren Watts also said he supports the IDC and believes they deserve the same amount of legal education as members of the attorney general's office. "I would make sure that IDC members get the same training as those on the Honor Court to level the playing field."

Watts and Peirce both said they endorse the creation of a faculty advisory committee to assist members of the attorney general's office, an idea candidate Justin Young said he would implement through the revival of the Judicial Program Officers, which offered the attorney general's office faculty advice.

"A faculty adviser would make the office more efficient instead of putting all the burden on the students," he said.

But Young also said he was confident that the Honor Court would uphold student justice without major reform. "I have faith in the student judicial system," he said. "The members of the attorney general's office are not acting in any way maliciously. They're trying to do the best they can."

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