On our honor

The Lawrence University Honor Council

Perhaps you can remember the first week of Freshman Studies when we visited your classroom, wrote “IHRTLUHC” on the board, gave you a pamphlet and had you sign a card. Perhaps you remember our ten-minute spiel. Perhaps you even kept the pamphlet. More than likely, you have rarely given the Honor Code a second thought beyond reaffirming it on your papers.
It seems that somewhere between our Freshman Studies visits, the card signings and senior year, the purposes of the Honor Code and the Honor Council become hazy for many students. It has come to our attention that the Lawrence student body knows altogether too little about how the Honor Council works.
It is time for some Honor Council myth busting! We hope that this article will help to shed some light on the workings of the Honor Council and that it might dispel some of the myths associated with what we do.
Like Fight Club, the most important rule of the Honor Council is confidentiality. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect analogy since it’s fair game to talk about the existence of the Honor Council. However, we do take confidentiality very seriously and never discuss specifics from a case with anyone – not even with our co-members.
We don’t keep mum to hide our decisions from the rest of the school – you can read a summary of all of our cases in the Lawrentian at the end of the term. Instead, we choose to maintain confidentiality out of respect for the people involved.
At the end of each hearing and sanctioning conference, we remind everyone, even the professor and student or students involved, of the importance of confidentiality. Frankly, the specific details of Honor Council hearings are nobody’s business, and openly talking about a hearing is disrespectful to the Honor System.
Unlike Fight Club, the Honor Council is not a secretive group. You can find a list of members in every academic building and dorm. If you read our names, it’s likely that you’ll recognize at least two of us from classes we’ve taken together, because we live on the same floor or because you happen to work an info desk shift after one of us.
What we’re getting at is that we are students, just like you. We take classes, we work out at the Rec Center, we eat in Andrew Commons, we perform in concerts, we’re sometimes stuck in the Mudd and you might even see us at a party in the quad.
In addition to being students, musicians, athletes and employees, we have a commitment to uphold the Honor System of the University. We fulfill this commitment by educating our fellow students and the faculty about the Honor System and by acting as a judicial group to fairly hear cases of suspected Honor Code violations.
Please note that we are a judicial group, not a police force, not a punitive council and certainly not monsters. We don’t go hunting for cases – they are brought to our attention by concerned professors and students – and we never come into a hearing hell-bent on sanctioning the student. Sometimes the students are in violation and sometimes the professors are mistaken.
In a way, Honor Council hearings are a bit like Freshman Studies. In Fresh Studs, we learn to look at a source and to analyze it deeply before arriving at a conclusion about what the author is saying. In a hearing, we often spend six to eight hours listening to statements from both the professor and the student or students, asking questions to deepen our understanding and deliberating about what we have learned.
Once we feel we have gathered as much information as we can, we begin the long process of making a fair decision. This is never emotionally easy because, as students ourselves, we cannot help but feel for the students involved. However, it is our responsibility to each other, to the university and to you, our fellow students, that we make the correct decision based on what we know.
We invest a great deal of ourselves into deciding whether or not Honor Code violations have occurred and settling on appropriate sanctions when necessary. This may be why we feel so deeply slighted when we hear students and faculty undermining our decisions and basing their judgments on biased and partial accounts of the hearing.
It is important to remember that details of an Honor Council hearing circulating around campus never originate from Honor Council members. To make statements against the Honor Council’s decisions is equivalent to writing a paper on a book based solely on what one person told you about it – and not on the author’s own words, something that any Freshman Studies professor would strongly discourage.
The Honor Council’s decision is not always the last word, as the student has the opportunity to appeal.
On the council, we work hard to maintain an even playing field for all students to ensure that everyone’s degree carries the same weight. We are faced with making difficult decisions and we use all of the tools we have gained from Lawrence to make them fairly.
The take-away message is that, above all else, the Honor Council exists to serve the interests of the students and to protect the integrity of the Lawrence degree. We’re not asking for a round of applause or a pat on the back – we’re asking for your understanding and your respect for the Lawrence University Honor System.