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Honor Code Could Prompt Talk of Students’ Roles in Discipline

News analysis: As students hear cheating cases for the first time, some wonder if their role in the disciplinary process could expand

Harvard administrators rolled out the College’s first-ever honor code this fall with the broad goal of spurring a “culture change” and involving students more in campus discussions about integrity, academic and otherwise.

The honor code is brand new, implemented this semester after years of planning and a massive cheating scandal. Along with asking students to sign a statement affirming their awareness of the policy, it created a student-faculty Honor Council to hear and decide cheating cases, involving undergraduates in the disciplinary process for the first time in Harvard’s history. The College’s Administrative Board still handles disciplinary cases outside the classroom.

Honor Code Panel
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana begins an April panel discussion on the College's honor code by talking about the impetus for the policy.

Administrators, in the midst of overseeing the honor code’s implementation, say they have no current plans to involve students in the College’s broader disciplinary process; Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said he has not given the possibility of student involvement in deciding non-academic disciplinary cases “any thought.”

Still, administrators acknowledge that a question that logically follows the honor code’s introduction is whether Harvard will move to expand students’ role in disciplinary procedures later on.

“I can well imagine that it’s a topic that will come up, because this year is a new departure, and who’s to say it isn’t time to consider more,” said Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67, who sits on the Ad Board. While he has not heard his colleagues discuss such a change, Dingman said, he “wouldn’t be surprised” if others were talking about it.

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The concept of including students on college disciplinary bodies beyond cases of academic integrity is not new, according to Laura Bennett, the president of the Association for Student Conduct Administration. With rigorous school-specific training, students can learn to analyze policies and heed confidentiality in a way sometimes better than their faculty counterparts, Bennett said.

“Sometimes the student panelists are some of the better panelists because they understand student culture,” Bennett said.

Michael C. Ranen, the freshman resident dean for Ivy Yard who sits on the Honor Council, said the committee that created the honor code had discussed whether the policy should cover all aspects of student life, before ultimately deciding to limit its scope to academic integrity.

Nevertheless, while any change to the College’s disciplinary processes is up to the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences, Ranen noted that an expansion of the honor code would have precedent.

“It was prudent to begin with an academic honor code,” Ranen said. “Many schools have the honor code cover all aspects of student life. Harvard initially chose to focus only on academics, but it would not be unreasonable down the line for the Faculty to extend the honor code.”

Although many schools have exhibited a trend toward professionalizing disciplinary bodies, institutions with honor codes are generally more amenable to including students in disciplinary proceedings, according to Peter F. Lake ’81, a professor at Stetson University College of Law who specializes in higher education law.

Lake said the College, with its first honor code coming more than 350 years after its founding, may struggle to institutionalize more student disciplinary bodies, but that an honor council could change the disciplinary landscape.

“It is hard to draw the line once you have students involved in one area of operation,” Lake said.

Jonathan G. Jeffrey ’16, an undergraduate member of the Honor Council who helped draft the honor code, declined to comment specifically on the possibility of students hearing other disciplinary cases in the future. Speaking generally, though, he said “every office should consider ways in which they can include students more, including the Administrative Board.”

Honor Council Secretary Brett Flehinger, a former interim Ad Board secretary, declined to comment on the possibility of future student involvement in non-academic disciplinary cases, writing in an email that Council members are focused on promoting a “vibrant culture of academic integrity.”

The Honor Council has started hearing its first cases.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.

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