Princeton administrators put Honor Code reform on hold

Despite majority support, penalty reduction and due-process changes for academic dishonesty cannot be implemented immediately

In an email sent to undergraduates by Vice President for Campus Life, Rochelle Calhoun informed students that Princeton will not immediately reduce the standard penalty of one-year suspension for academic dishonesty, require two pieces of evidence for conviction, or give proctoring professors ultimate say in the adjudication process.

"Since changes this significant cannot be implemented without the engagement and support of the faculty, we write to let you know that they cannot take effect at this time," Calhoun wrote.

These three reforms were largely supported by the student body in the December USG elections. The three referenda petitioning for these changes had passed with a three-fourth majority vote. The fourth referenda item, requiring the Honor Committee to inform interviewees immediately whether they called in as a witness or as the accused, also passed voting and received the endorsement of the university. This referendum will likely be implemented immediately.

According to Calhoun, the Honor System Review Committee and the Committee on Examinations, ad hoc committees composed of faculty and administrators, is currently reviewing these changes and will make their recommendations. The review initially began when concerns about the Honor Committee surfaced November last year.

"The referenda on which students voted last month appeared quite suddenly on the USG docket," she wrote.

Read her full email here:

Dear Students,

In the December Undergraduate Student Government election, four referenda on the Honor Constitution passed by a three-fourths majority. The changes contemplated by three of the four referenda would fundamentally alter the University’s disciplinary penalties and standards for assessing violations of the Honor Code during in-class examinations.

Since changes this significant cannot be implemented without the engagement and support of the faculty, we write to let you know that they cannot take effect at this time.

The referenda on which students voted last month appeared quite suddenly on the USG docket. The accelerated timetable for voting on the referenda preempted a thorough review by the University administration, which we believe was necessary before such significant changes in the Honor System constitution could be considered. We have now completed that review.

By longstanding practice and by resolution of the Board of Trustees, oversight of student life and discipline, including the formulation of rules of conduct, has been delegated to the president and faculty of the University. The Honor System was established under an agreement between the faculty and the student body, memorialized in a resolution the faculty adopted in 1893, which provided that “until due notice [is] given to the contrary” there would be no further supervision of in-class examinations, which students would take on their honor.

Under this agreement, the student body was entrusted with responsibility for adjudicating violations of academic integrity during in-class examinations. The faculty, however, retained its ultimate authority over all academic matters, including those aspects of discipline it entrusted to the Honor Committee.

The Honor System has only been amended in fundamental ways a handful of times since it was established. The first constitution of the Honor System provided that if a student were found guilty of a violation, the committee would recommend to the faculty the student’s permanent separation from the college. In 1921, the constitution was amended to authorize the committee to recommend leniency in exceptional cases. In 1975, the constitution was amended to provide the possibility of a one-year separation as well as permanent separation from the University.

In contrast to these prior changes to the Honor Constitution, which were adopted with the support of the faculty, three of the referenda the student body approved last month propose to change longstanding aspects of the Honor System without faculty input. Specifically, these referenda aim to reduce the standard penalties for certain violations; to require at least two separate pieces of evidence before cases can proceed to a hearing; and to enable instructors to control the outcome of proceedings by stating that the alleged violation complied with class policy.

These proposals represent a significant departure from prior practice and exceed the scope of the responsibility delegated to the student body by the faculty concerning the Honor System. The proposals would also place the penalties for violating the Honor Code for in-class examinations out of alignment with academic integrity violations adjudicated by the faculty-student Committee on Discipline in cases of plagiarism and other out-of-class academic infractions.

Accordingly, the changes proposed by the first, second, and third referenda cannot take effect at this time. President Eisgruber has asked that these proposals be remanded for consideration to the faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing, whose responsibilities include “the administration of all regulations which concern the program of study and the scholastic standing of undergraduate students.” (See Rules and Procedures of the Faculty, II. D. 2.g.)

The Committee on Examinations and Standing will evaluate the amendments recommended by the referenda. The faculty-student Honor System Review Committee appointed last November by Dean Dolan, Dean Kulkarni, and Vice President Calhoun to review the Honor System will be asked to include the three referenda in its review and to report its findings and recommendations to the Committee on Examinations and Standing.

As it makes its determinations, the Committee on Examinations and Standing also will consider the findings of a committee chaired by Dean Deignan that was appointed last year to review other standards and procedures governing the work of the Committee on Discipline and the Residential College Discipline Board.

The Committee on Examinations and Standing will decide whether the referenda’s amendments are consistent with the faculty’s delegation of responsibility and whether the penalties for academic integrity violations should remain aligned across both systems. If the committee believes that changes to the Honor System or the Committee on Discipline’s penalties and procedures are warranted, it will present a proposal to the full faculty for its consideration.

The fourth referendum proposes a procedural change—requiring the Honor Committee to tell students, at the time of initial contact, whether they are witnesses or are accused of a violation. This change can be implemented without faculty review, and we expect the Honor Committee will now institute this change in its procedures.

Otherwise, in the interim and until further notice, the Honor System will continue to operate as it did prior to the vote on the referenda.

Academic integrity is one of the hallmarks of a Princeton education. The Honor System entrusts students to play a critical role in ensuring that academic integrity is respected and sustained. We respect your desire to ensure that the system remains fair and we understand that the vote on these referenda represent a serious engagement with our academic integrity adjudication process.

But we must also make sure that penalties across both of our disciplinary bodies remain appropriate and equitable and that they convey the seriousness with which the University regards violations of our bedrock academic values. And we must follow longstanding procedure that gives faculty input and oversight regarding these vital decisions.

We appreciate the import of the recent vote and we will urge the Honor System Review Committee and the Committee on Examinations and Standing to work efficiently and effectively to complete their reviews and make their recommendations.

With our best wishes,

Jill Dolan, Dean of the College

W. Rochelle Calhoun, Vice President for Campus Life

Sanjeev Kulkarni, Dean of the Faculty

Princeton University