I'm sure all of you are aware that we have an Honor Code and an Honor Council at Valparaiso University. Most see the Honor Code as just an annoying step of doing homework. However, many do not know how the Honor Council works. Having been a member of Honor Council for one year, I would like to share my experiences and inform you of some troubling practices and structure issues in Valpo's Honor Council.
The Honor Council structure and processes are not transparent. Meaning, all Honor Council discussions and decisions are done in closed meetings. This provides no opportunity for true student awareness or checks on the system. How can an organization that impacts our lives at Valpo regularly, and so severely, not be transparent and available to students?
During my year on Honor Council, I saw four trials. In each trial, violations of the Honor Council’s constitution occurred. For example, in one trial I observed, the accuser was not there, but the trial continued anyway. This was in direct conflict with the Honor Council's own constitution, which says that “in every trial the accuser must be present, and if they are not, the trial must be dropped” (Article 3.Section F. Clause 2). You may ask, why didn't the accused say something?
Well, the Honor Council differs from the norms of the United States justice system in that the accused is never allowed to know their accuser. During the trials and testimonies, the accuser and accused arrive at different times and are taken to different rooms to wait. Not only that, but the accused is not permitted to bring a defense aid for their trials. This is abnormal to me, because the 6th amendment of the United States Constitution says the accused has the right, "to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."
So why would the Honor Council's system stray so far from our current justice system precedents and norms? The fact that an anonymous face can accuse another student of cheating, possibly altering the accused's future forever, but not take responsibility and show their face for testimony is appalling. So without knowing their accuser or what is going to happen, the accused is supposed to come in and defend themselves against the accusation of cheating. This is not a fair trial system.
The Honor Council is a Student Senate recognized organization, which by definition means it should be run by students, for students. However, Honor Council is made up of about 30 students, with at least 30 faculty members. Last year, I sat during cases where I was one of two students who were voting members, with four faculty voting members. In the end, these cases were not decided by student peers, but by faculty.
But, because the Honor Council is a student organization, we can do what is right and drastically alter the structure and practices. With student awareness and support, we can make substantive changes to the Honor Council system such as no more anonymous accusations. In trial the accused must be confronted by their accuser, a defense assistant should be offered to the accused, and students should have more of an impact on the council and in trials. Finally, the system should be more transparent to make sure students are aware that proper practices are being followed. Without these changes, the Honor Council will not truly serve its intended purpose and would be a disservice to Valparaiso University.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch. Contact Abigail Bray at email@example.com.