Honor Committee changes provoke mixed feelings

Major changes were made to the university honor system at the end of the past summer, specifically the merging of the Corps and civilian honor committees. According to key Corps of Cadets leaders, the changes prompted serious opposition and major issues remain to be resolved.

“There were a lot of decisions made behind closed doors and we were uncomfortable with that,” said Cadet Colonel Ryan Sutherland, a 21-year-old senior computer security and information assurance major from Palmyra, Penn.

Daniel Hein, a 21-year-old criminal justice major from Nashua, N.H., serves as this year’s honor chair for the corps honor committee. “The honor committee had no idea what was being put in the rules and regulations,” he said of the summer changes.

The Student Government Association (SGA) passed a bill last month which outlines issues that were deemed to require immediate action. These issues were: the power to recuse members of honor boards; the power for the honor committee to choose its own adviser, voting power of the vice chair, and joint hearings with the Academic Integrity Committee.

“These large proposed changes need to be dealt with immediately,” said SGA President George Bausch, a 21-year-old political science major from Brewster, Mass. “Our discipline system is still broken in my mind,” he said, citing examples such as the disparity in punishment for violation of alcohol policy between the corps and civilian students.

Despite the fact that Bausch, as well as Sutherland and Hein, were in favor of separate committees , they all are willing to accept the merger – though they are not willing to accept many of the changes that came with it.

“This is not a corps thing, and this is not a civilian thing; it is a Norwich thing,” said Bausch. “These are student grievances and these are issues that affect the student body as a whole,” he added.

Likewise, Sutherland said that he felt uncomfortable with the administration’s decision to take responsibility away from the students.

“To take away some of our span of control because they’re afraid of us doing the wrong thing? That creates an automatic sense of distrust,” he said.

Sutherland also disagreed with the combination of the committees. “I’ve seen how the committee worked my sophomore and junior year when we had separate committees,” he said. “The school’s concerned because they hold some liability,” he added, acknowledging the impetus for appointing Prof. David Blythe as the adjudicating official for the committee, and Lt. Col. Duncan Currier as the committee advisor and the director of judicial affairs and ethics.

“They were ultimately selected for their positions because they’re very knowledgeable,” Sutherland said.

According to President Richard W. Schneider, the changes were necessary from a legal, as well as an ethical standpoint. for the university.

“What would happen if we had a civilian student and a corps student both committing the same act at the same time, ran them through two different systems, and we got two different answers out the other end?” he said. “That is not where we can be, legally or ethically.”

In addition to the legal issues, Schneider was concerned that honor committee members were letting personal relationships interfere with their duties.

“Today’s general student body is struggling with conflicting values,” said Schneider, explaining that those values are integrity and loyalty.

“When we look away or don’t hold each other accountable then the system fails,” Schneider said. In his opinion, the changes made will reduce the incidence of favoritism.

However Sutherland argued, “I don’t want to accuse anyone of saying that they don’t trust our students, but this is our system, this is us enforcing our own system, and they have to trust us.”

He admitted at the same time that the student body must respect the administration’s position because the university has to protect everyone from legal issues.

“The honor committees have always tried to do good jobs and be fair,” said Schneider.  “It was how some of the other students thought about their work and I am trying to remove any possibility of doubt that our judicial system isn’t fair.”

“The honor code is the minimum ethical standard,” said Lt. Col. Duncan Currier, director of judicial affairs and ethics, and advisor to the university honor committee. “We aspire to a much higher standard,” he added, “but the minimum requirement is that a student shall not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Currier explained that using one system to enforce the honor code ensures that the honor code is being implemented fairly throughout the university.

“Even within the Corps of Cadets they felt they were being treated differently depending on who they knew,” he said. “We reacted by trying to make these systems consistent.”

Currier explained the other changes that were made in conjunction with the merger. Regarding the vice chair of an honor board’s role as a non-voting member, Currier outlined the positions of all honor committee members.

He explained that to prevent any real or perceived bias or conflict of interest, positions are to be completely separated. That means that the vice chair of an honor board, who reads “the facts of the case” before the board, is no longer a voting member, as it was in previous years.

Currier compared the situation to a prosecutor arguing a case before jumping in to the jury box to cast his vote.

“What we’ve done this year is really split off responsibilities,” said Currier. This allows for specialization of roles. “That frees up the chair to be only the judge in terms of making sure we are following board procedure correctly,” he said.

“It all boils down to trying to make the system fair,” said Schneider.

“Chapter 2” of the NUSRR is essentially “a living document,” according to Bausch, and the changes that were made, and are being made, are in an effort to make the system as fair as possible for every Norwich student.

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