On my honor

By the

April 19, 2001

The Honor Council is one of Georgetown’s most feared and least understood organizations. I have served on it for three years as a student representative. The skewed perception of the Honor Council is plain to see. When the Council organizes events, for instance, turnout is low. Yet every year scores of students apply to serve as student representatives for their respective schools. In other words, people want to “meet those Honor Council guys,” but don’t want to be one. It’s schizophrenic, isn’t it?

If you read on?and don’t skip this article only because it’s about the Honor Council?I will tell you what that schizophrenia is all about, why we need to change it and what’s in it for you.

In past years, Deans’ offices have been overwhelmed by applications to serve on the Honor Council. When I applied at the end of my first year, I did so because it looked intriguing. I could gain a furtive look behind the scenes, peer into the dark side of an undergraduate education and put it on my resume. Sure, I could also add a valuable opinion and speak on the student’s behalf when it came to determining a sanction. This is most people’s first misconception.

I soon learned that serving on the Honor Council can never be “fun.” In my sophomore year I served on numerous hearing boards and, together with the other members, decided when a student was in violation of Georgetown’s honor code and what the sanction should be.

There seemed to be an imbalance: The Honor Council always seemed to sanction but never to educate. The most common response to inquiries about reasons for plagiarizing or cheating was almost invariably, “I didn’t know.” Whether or not that statement was truthful, in one aspect these students were right: You could potentially get through four years at Georgetown without hearing about the Honor Council once, except for the pledge at convocation.

Since then, the situation has been gradually changing. Supported by the Chair of the Council and the Provost’s Office, members have set out to raise awareness of the Honor Council in the undergraduate community. We started with classroom talks, dormroom sweeps and short-term raids during finals.

I came to realize that the Honor Council’s hearing boards are not mysterious, intriguing or jury-like, nor do they give a power-kick of deciding somebody else’s fate. Even two years later, I still remember particular students and sanctions I voted for. Believe me, I have never felt good about proposing a sanction.

In reality, hearing boards are a necessary mechanism by which a community polices its own standards. Or, to put it in less legalese prose: We all benefit from the Honor Council because it gives our work a seal of approval. If there were no Honor Council and Code, there would be no way to ensure that the work we do is ours. In the long run, graduating from Georgetown would not have the same pedigree?leaving us all worse off for it.

This leads me to the second part of “integrity schizophrenia:” If the Honor Council is beneficial, why won’t anybody meet, “those honor council people?” In my experience, people have a second misconception: Honor Council members are student police, out to get them. That’s just not true. Since Georgetown does not have a strict honor system?i.e. students are not required to report peers?none of us wants to get on anybody’s case at all. We merely feel that we are contributing to everybody’s benefit when we try to inform you about the rules.

The Honor Council has taken many steps to change its face and membership. Student membership has increased significantly. Educational and outreach activities are more prominent than ever. The faculty is more willing to discuss academic integrity with students. But most important is the contribution of students who are not members of the Council. It doesn’t take much. Merely open yourself to our work, discuss academic honesty inside and outside of class.

Finally, what’s in it for you? As I alluded to earlier, if you are honest, you will benefit from the Honor Council’s work. I recently talked to somebody whose brother went to a second-tier college and got to buy all his papers off the internet. Any school with such standards makes for a worthless degree, regardless of GPA. Conversely, a school with a strong honor system will probably also embrace superior academic standards. In the long run, prospective employers and graduate programs will know that.

That’s why it is time to shake off our “integrity schizophrenia” and the misconceptions that come with it. Apply for the Honor Council if you want to serve others, not because you think it’s intriguing. Don’t think of the Honor Council’s student members as campus cops. Instead, accept our work as a service to those who are honest.

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