The college’s Honor Code may be amended to remove legalistic language and introduce more varied punishments for infractions, according to college and student officials.
Potential changes are spelled out in a recent report from the Honor Code Review Committee, availible at my.knox.edu. A group of students and faculty convened during fall term 2011 to study and make recommendations on the 62-year-old code. According to Associate Dean of Students Lori Haslem, the code has been declining in popularity in recent years, and the changes may be implemented as soon as next academic year.
One focal point of the report was the legalistic language used in many of the procedures. For example, in a hearing, a student is currently found “guilty or not guilty.” A suggested change is to instead find students “responsible or not responsible.”
“This is an educational institution. We’re not a court of law,” Haslem said.
This change also includes lowering the burden of proof of the accuser, which is currently set as “beyond a reasonable doubt” — another legal term that dictates 95 percent certainty of guilt. This will be lowered to either 75 percent or 51 percent certainty of guilt.
The committee recognized that this may end up with a greater number of “responsible” verdicts, even among “not responsible” students.
There may also be a varying spectrum of penalties selected depending on the severity and number of infractions.
With these new verdicts and penalties, the faculty hopes to create a more educational approach, such as teaching students about plagiarism and correct citations. This may replace the current standard penalty of giving the guilty student an F in the course.
To counteract lowering the burden of proof for first-time infractions, these may be resolved in a meeting with the professor and members of the Honor Board instead of a hearing.
Students may also be given three infractions before expulsion instead of the current two. Since many students and even professors may not be familiar with the Honor Code, there is a recommendation to give both the student and the accusing professor an advisor for the hearing. Currently, only students have the option to have an adviser present.
Though many of the suggestions merely require changes to the Honor Board Constitution, the committee issued a recommendation that requires a shift in the attitude towards the Honor Code on campus.
The committee recommended a greater level of emphasis on the part of professors in teaching the Code both during orientation and in the classroom. Redacted reports on cases and verdicts may also be used to educate students on real life cases that occur.
Changing students’ attitudes about the Code, which Haslem said is a related issue, cannot be done with a constitutional amendment, according to Haslem.
“We haven’t done enough to articulate why we value it and what it adds to the Knox degree,” Haslem said. “I don’t want students to worry and feel like this is something being handed to the students from the administration … It’s very much student-centered.”
Despite that sentiment, the report does shed light on the issue that many students and faculty do not agree on what constitutes cheating or academic dishonesty. Senior Hatim Mustaly, Secretary of the Honor Board, said the rule that the Board applies is as follows: “If it gives you an unfair advantage, it’s cheating.”
Mustaly has noticed a large amount of concern amongst students that the process is taking too long.
“I’ve heard rumors that it’s not going at a pace they want to, but that’s not true,” Mustaly said. “As a member on that committee [Academic Standing], I think we’re doing our best and it’s really not that long.”
The faculty will discuss the recommended changes during its general meeting in February. Before the changes are ratified, the Academic Standing Committee will send proposals to Student Senate, which must approve any changes to the constitution.