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W&M revises honor system

Following extensive review by a committee of faculty, administrators and students, William & Mary is implementing a series of revisions to its honor system. The revisions come following a three-year review process that included numerous meetings with campus faculty and student leadership groups, focus groups with student organizations, as well as input and feedback gathered from the entire campus community through surveys and an open forum.

William & Mary’s honor system has its historic origins in the 18th century and is the oldest in American higher education. The current code dates largely from the mid-20th century, but it has been revised several times since then. In a message to the campus community, President Taylor Reveley said the last significant review of the honor system was conducted 13 years ago. 

“We live and work in an institution where integrity and trust are pervasive,” Reveley said. “This sort of environment is precious, and it must be periodically renewed. An important sustainer of integrity and trust at William & Mary is our commitment to an honor system.”

In 2010, Reveley asked Clay Clemens, Chancellor Professor of Government, to chair a committee “to take a close look at our system to see if it needed some mending around the edges and, if so, to mend it in close consultation with the campus community.” Following three years of work, the committee issued a report and recommendation this summer.

“The committee worked long and hard to review the existing system and determine changes,” Clemens said. “It is important to note that the historic honor pledge remains unchanged but the report does recommend some changes to the mechanics of the honor system.”

Two substantive changes include a new system of recommended sanction levels and a new early resolution process for lesser violations, Clemens said. Both changes are designed to provide more flexibility within the system.

Clemens said the recommended sanction levels will link the severity of the penalty to the seriousness of the violation. Individual Honor Council panels would retain the prerogative to adjust sanctions in a given case based on extenuating or aggravating circumstances.

If the student does not have any prior honor or conduct violations, professors can propose early resolution (a grade penalty and educational requirement such as rewriting the assignment in question for no credit) for violations considered Level I and II.  The Office of Student Conduct is notified, and Level II still requires a hearing for additional sanctioning. If the respondent does not accept the early resolution sanction, the case is reported to the Honor Council. The most serious violations, Level III, are not permitted early resolution. Decisions will be made this year regarding possible adoption of tiered sanctions or early resolution by each graduate and professional school.

“The addition of the early resolution process will create a system that gives faculty a larger voice in the process,” Clemens said. “Instead of a one-size-fits-all process, faculty and students have the option by mutually deciding to resolve lesser violations without going through a full Honor Council hearing. But it is important to remember that this is only for Level I and Level II violations, only if the student has no prior honor or serious conduct violations, and only if both parties agree to pursue this route.”

According to the report, other mechanical changes include:

  • The code has been divided into “core” and “procedural” sections.
  • On the undergraduate level, the Student Assembly Senate will henceforth be required to approve amendments to “core” sections of the code.
  • A new student/faculty/administrative committee (Honor System Advisory Council) will initially review/approve amendments, set sanction levels, issue guidance, hear grievances, publish case outcomes and assess the overall climate with respect to academic integrity.
  • Cases resulting in the sanction of permanent dismissal now require automatic review by the Office of the Provost.

Clemens said others changes are largely cosmetic – revisions to language of the code to make it less adversarial. For example, “respondents,” replaces “accused,” “reporting parties” replaces “accusers” and “inconsequential” replaces “trivial.”

The changes will be in effect for the 2013-14 academic year, Reveley said.