Since the Honor Code was implemented at Union, it has taken hold in a phenomenal way: Students write the affirmation as habit now instead of at a professors’ urging, plagiarism is understood on campus better than it ever has been before and students can see the consequences of their actions … or, at least, this is how the Honor Code was meant to be.
The first two seem to have been a resounding success, from an outsider’s perspective, but in terms of the general student understanding of the consequences of plagiarism, the campus does not have a suitable place to learn about them.
A defining piece of the Honor Code, when it was passed, stated, “the summaries (of each case heard) will be distributed to the entire campus community via email and will be published in campus publications, such as Concordiensis.”
This was meant as a way to inform students of the Honor Council and how it works, but also so that students could see the ways in which their actions would be judged.
For the first few terms after the Honor Code went into effect, this publication did occur and it was very popular; students read it frequently and seemed to form an idea of what this new Honor Code looked like.
These publications were short paragraphs detailing each case, without any names or class years, describing what the offense was and what the resulting consequence was.
Many other schools with Honor Codes, such as Williams College or Davidson College, do this, and it is both informative and interesting to the student body. However, this adherence to the Honor Code’s specifications did not last long here at Union.
At some point, the notion of a public campus publication became confused and these informational paragraphs stopped appearing. There was a new place where these hearing summaries would appear: Nexus. This website was seen as an adequate substitute to the Concordy. It became the location to publish the case summaries.
However, with this new venue came structural changes. Instead of short paragraphs, the format of these summaries became a spreadsheet where the details were in pre-set columns.
There are several things wrong with case summaries being presented this way.
Firstly, it gives the impression that these cases are uniform and fit neatly into columns, as if they were the same case with different specifics.
One of the principles that the Honor Council adheres to is that they do not rely on precedents; each case is heard independently of the others and no sanction, such as a failure in a class for a charge of plagiarism, is the norm for all plagiarism accusations.
The council recognizes that each case is different and may not all fit into the same “box,” yet the Nexus presentation would seem to say otherwise.
The second issue with the case summaries presented in this way on Nexus is that it takes away the aesthetic appeal of reading the cases, for most students would prefer to read a unique paragraph than a dry spreadsheet. This has the impact of decreasing viewership and understanding of Honor Council outcomes.
The third, and most important, issue with the Nexus publication is that it simply does not fulfill the Honor Code’s call for campus publication.
Nexus is not a campus publication. This website was really utilized by the school as a teaching aid and is only open to the campus community.
However, if someone on campus wanted to view the section on the Honor Code, they would first need to be granted access by the website’s administrators. This is not a campus publication because it is not freely disseminated; there are barriers (albeit small) to viewership, and it is only open to current students and faculty.
This is a clear violation of the Honor Code that was passed by the students and faculty, not to mention that these summaries are not even being published on Nexus at the end of each term due to a backlog of cases.
So why is this publication kept in this covert location?
It is in the interest of the administration to keep it there from a legal standpoint — many of the defendants in these cases and their families could potentially sue over privacy violations. The college’s lawyers can more easily defend Nexus publication, as it is not strictly publicly released.
However, many of Union’s peer schools do this with few ramifications and, in the ways in which these summaries would appear, there would be no names or class years; thus, only the student and those who sat on their hearing would know who committed the offense.
Another reason why the Nexus publication is used is because the school feels that publication in places like Concordiensis would be equivalent to airing the school’s “dirty laundry.” The thought process follows that any other school can see what Union students are doing wrong and prospective students and their families could see the school’s less-than-honest academic side.
Yet these claims are very closeminded, as publication could serve the school’s image better than hiding the truth.
Union has the opportunity to show itself as a school with transparency in their academic system. We could brag that our school doesn’t hide what happens here, but shows itself to be honest.
From an admissions standpoint, tour guides could flaunt that Union doesn’t conceal its Honor Code behind covert academic websites, but proudly shows itself to be a place where academic honesty is taken seriously and promoted.
If anonymity is a concern beyond retracting class years and names, then publication of cases could be staggered, so that a summary appears months after a case is tried by the Honor Council.
I recognize that these summaries would be slightly more time consuming, but this seems like a fair concession to not only fulfill the charge of our Honor Code, but also to educate and improve the campus community.
This issue is currently being sorted out by the college’s academic councils, but who knows how long it will take to realign with where we should be, instead of where we are?