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Faculty concerns dominate honor system review

As the University begins a full examination of its student-led honor system, it has become clear that a large percentage of faculty — roughly a third — are firmly skeptical of the institution.

In a survey issued to faculty in 2010, 33 percent of respondents said they might or might not refer an issue of academic misconduct to the honor system.

That reality stands in stark contrast to the fact that reporting such misconduct is a mandatory University policy, Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls said.

This seeming lack of trust in the system poses a major obstacle to the review, which was prompted by a failure to recognize plagiarism in the case of former defensive end Michael McAdoo, some faculty members said.

But those involved in the review say the planned addition of a five-person faculty advisory committee could help remedy that divide.

“I think it’s a perfect venue for integrating (faculty members’) wishes to look at improving our system,” said Student Attorney General Jon McCay.

A task force led by Jan Boxill, chairwoman of the faculty, will begin examining the honor system in September, Boxill said.

A ‘peculiar’ exclusion

To some faculty members, the honor system is a divided establishment that excludes faculty opinion and influence, and is overly lenient to the serious issue of student misconduct.

Sociology professor Andrew Perrin, one of the authors of the 2010 survey, was among the 51 percent — of the 504 faculty members who responded — who said they might or might not, probably would not or definitely would not refer an issue of academic misconduct to the honor system.

“I felt that neither the court, nor the rest of the members of the honor system understood the gravity of the offense that the student had committed,” Perrin said.

But a failure to take academic conduct seriously enough isn’t the only reason for faculty dissatisfaction with the honor system, said Jay Smith, a professor leading the committee created to examine the survey’s findings.

“Faculty members aren’t informed; there are few places faculty can engage in the system,” he said.

“Given that so much of what the honor system deals with is integrity and its protection, many faculty think it’s peculiar that they are excluded from the processes from which academic integrity is upheld.”

The process can be time-consuming as well, with some cases continuing months after they are reported, Smith said.

The reluctance to report cases, as shown by the survey, is what leads many faculty members to take the punishment of honor code offenses into their own hands, some professors said.

Boxill said in situations that are not reported, the honor system is denied the ability to maintain records of a student’s misconduct.

Both Boxill and Sauls said the reporting of plagiarism and cheating to the Honor Court is necessary in order to uphold the University’s academic integrity and maintain student records.

‘No regrets’

To other faculty members, the honor system is an effective and admirable system that allows students to handle the problems of their peers.

Public policy professor Daniel Gitterman said his five experiences with the Honor Court have all been positive.

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“I’ve always found the honor system to be a thoughtful, professional, competent group of students,” Gitterman said. “I have no regrets in using it.

“The NCAA cases were an anomaly, and it is unfortunate that it is not representative of the overwhelming number of cases that have been handled competently by the system.”

Gregory Kable, a senior lecturer in dramatic arts, said a student-led honor system is inherently valuable.

“It’s important to have a student-led Honor Court because it gives peer perspective and understanding,” he said.

McCay said members of the honor system hope the review results in a better understanding between students and faculty.

“It’s not about students being superior to faculty,” McCay said. “We want them to be happy with our decisions and to have our decisions based on faculty interest.”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.