by James A. Bacon
What’s the Honor Committee to do when a student who violated the Honor Code refuses or is unable to comply with his or her “sanction” ordered by the Committee? That’s one of the tricky questions arising from the shift to a multi-tiered system for punishing lying, cheating and stealing that the Committee wrestled with Monday during an Honor Town Hall.
Sanctions under the system of multi-tiered sanctions can range from expulsion and suspension to taking training or making amends. The new Honor constitution approved by UVa students this spring did not address what happens if convicted students don’t meet the terms of their punishments.
The point of having a non-compliance sanction is to ensure that people meet the deadlines for complying with the punishments, said Kasra Lekan, an engineering school representative.
The Committee Monday considered the merits of applying a new sanction for failing to comply with the original sanction… or just issuing a warning. As the Cavalier Daily reports, “These warnings would continue until the student complied with their sanction.”
Reports the CD:
Rachel Liesegang, chair for the undergraduate community and third-year College student, said she agreed with the idea of creating a warning system, citing the importance of notice for sanctioned students rather than immediate action. Lisengag also said that the sanction should take into account whether a student is being non-responsive or facing other difficulties in carrying out their original sanction.
“I feel like we should also have a sort of an asterisk saying that the Vice Chair for Sanctions can grant extensions as necessary to make sure that when we set a deadline, that deadline has the opportunity to be changed based on extenuating circumstances,” Liesegang said.
Bacon’s bottom line: The Committee did not act upon any of the ideas explored in the honor town hall, so there’s no assurance that it will incorporate any of them into its bylaws. But the discussion identified a significant potential problem: What happens if students ignore the sanctions?
The discussion also sent up a warning flare illuminating how the logic of compassion for violators can erode the Honor Code. Will students be able to weasel out of their sanctions by pleading hardship? The idea of issuing “warnings” is problematic. If a student (a) has been convicted of lying, cheating or stealing and (b) is failing to abide by his sanctions, what are the odds he will take a “warning” seriously?
The problem here is that Honor Committee representatives are debating these issues within a narrow compassion-driven paradigm in which violators are viewed as victims or unfortunates worthy of sympathy. Based on Monday’s discussion, enforcement of the Honor Code could well be afflicted by appeals for mercy and unwarranted clemencies. The more discretion is built into the system, the more potential there is for punishments to meted out unequally in accord with the latest moral and intellectual fashions.
There was a time when the Honor Code could be summed up succinctly: “Gentlemen do not lie, cheat or steal, and they do not tolerate those who do.” That credo might have been harsh, but the consequences left no room for ambiguity and no need for town halls.