In calling for a review of the University’s honor system, faculty have concerns that, if accurate, are valid. They have criticized the court for closing them out — and occasionally imparting punishments perceived as overly lenient.
Those concerns could have given faculty some ground to stand on in the upcoming review, if not for what the professors did with them. As the results of a 2010 survey have shown, a majority of those responding took those concerns as license to at least consider taking the honor system into their own hands.
In doing so, those responding showed more than a disregard for the honor system, which requires faculty to report academic misconduct. They also reinforced their role as the root of the honor system’s problem, not the solution.
Issued in 2010, the survey reported that 33 percent of the 504 faculty members responding said they might or might not report academic misconduct to the honor system. Another 18 percent said they probably, or definitely, would not report cases of plagiarism.
Their reasoning might have been made in the spirit of justice. But the best and most enduring fixes come from within the system.
Disregarding the recognized judicial system runs the risk of denying students due process before a court of their peers. Regardless of their rationale, there’s no excuse for ignoring required protocol.
That ignorance played a key role in the case of Michael McAdoo, who came before the court following claims of misconduct on three papers. McAdoo was found guilty of improper assistance on one, acquitted on the second and not charged for the third due to a lack of evidence.
A sports blog quickly found that one of McAdoo’s papers was heavily plagiarized beyond the charges for which the Honor Court found him guilty. The honor system has since come under attack for failing to detect the plagiarism, even though it was the faculty member’s job to do just that.
The survey’s results should now give the faculty reviewing the honor system reason to blame themselves first.
The Honor Court’s duties are not investigatory. They are judiciary. The court can only work properly when faculty do their part.
That part lies solely in the detection of misconduct. Anything past that role, like punishment, shows disrespect for the system and the students. Students deserve a clear understanding of the rules and boundaries. Those boundaries are provided by the Honor Court, not the whim of an individual professor.
When professors take matters like plagiarism and cheating into their own hands, they undermine the punishment defined for misconduct with no process of justice.
Given the survey results, the task force conducting the review should make every effort to reach out to students. The question should not be how the student-run court can best work with faculty but rather how the faculty can best work with the students.
The existing framework allows for some faculty influence without going so far as to erode the honor system and the University’s strong tradition of student governance. Together, the McAdoo case and survey results have shown faculty the problem they should examine first in the review: themselves.
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