Rejoinder to Honor Council (if we have room, and if its not too asinine to put it in this week) -wmd -jcr (I don’t quite like your tone, Bill -dlh)

William Dalsen

The Honor Council’s response to my editorial is entirely insufficient, and I think that three main arguments will demonstrate why.
First, the council did not respond to questions 4-10 of my editorial. These questions still stand, and are still problematic for the council. I am particularly vexed by the paradoxical possibilities raised by question four, and the fact that no effort was made to answer that problem is a testament to the weakness of the Code.
I grant that the council attempted to respond to question five: they said that cheating “diluted” others’ grades, and that it is a violation of the “trust” between the faculty and the students. To this I have two responses. First, how others’ grades are “diluted” *******– especially in a class without a curved grading system ********– is entirely unclear. Even if this concept is clarified, whether “diluting” grades as they understand it violates the code in its current rendition does not automatically follow******unclear. unclear*****. Second, that cheating violates the “trust” of the faculty assumes that we know what that trust entails. While in some cases that may be clear, in other cases ********– as my previous editorial made clear (see question nine) *********– we have no idea what this “trust” is. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that we do not know what the code entails. If we do not know what the “trust” entails or if that which is entrusted and what are in the code are the same thing. We are back to question two: how can we be held accountable for violating unwritten laws? This “response” to question five is wholly inadequate because it leaves us where we began.
Second, the council did not answer my first and second questions to any reasonable extent. The council stated that precedents provide for “continuity” and “consistency,” and that the “list” they have compiled “guides” the council (at least most of the time). But this does not tell us what the precedents are. I am reminded of Thrasymachus from Plato’s “Republic,” who spoke continuously ******about****** Justice without ever saying what it ******is******. That we can extrapolate precedents from letters is doubtful *********– as I suggested in question one *******– and certainly an impractical expectation from a council with “practical” policies. We are again led to the impact of question two: why should we be held accountable for what we cannot know, through no fault of our own?
Furthermore, the response these first questions raises more questions. When are precedents ******not****** used? What standards of judgment are employed in the event that precedents are insufficient? We are left with more ambiguity following their educational response.
Third, the council gave a ******– to be frank ********– bad response to my third question, regarding intent. The council states that the Honor Charter and the Code state that intent does not matter. This is a blatant falsehood. The word “intent” appears neither in the charter nor the wording of the Code, and it seems rather improper to cite these documents in the council’s defense. A brief discussion of intent does appear on their website, but only to communicate that intent does not matter. But why doesn’t it matter?
In their response, the council states that it would be impractical to account for intent, and that we can take steps to avoid violating the code unintentionally. To this, I have three responses. First, that it would be impractical to account for intent does not mean that the council should not try. Second, it is not entirely impractical to try. If an entire paper was lifted verbatim off of the internet or large portions of that paper, I think we can safely say that the student involved intended to violate the code. If a footnote was forgotten in a non-essential part of a paper, the student quite likely did not intend to violate the code. Third, that we can take steps to avoid inadvertently violating the code does not mean that we will not inadvertently violate the code and be punished as a devout plagiarizer, hence not solving the problem.
In sum, the response of the council is inadequate. Most of my questions remain entirely intact, and those that were addressed are only mildly scathed. Even after the council’s response, I have three primary concerns. First, the council’s practice does not seem to align with the charter or the Code, introducing an unacceptably large element of uncertainty for every student at Lawrence. Second, the Code is ambiguous enough to allow for paradoxical results and a public that is by no means informed as to what the code entails. Third, the exclusion of intent means that the innocent can too easily be punished, and punished too heavily. I do not expect perfect justice, and perhaps there is nothing more the council can do to eliminate ambiguity and avoid punishing some innocent individuals in the course of protecting academic integrity. If this is the case, so be it. Although, if we can do better, then it is high time that we tried.