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Honor Council’s new confidentiality policy is misguided

By Thresher Editorial Board     4/2/24 11:48pm

[April 11, 2024 11:45 a.m.] The Honor Council has a statute of limitations as outlined in its procedures as 90 or more days between the date of violation and the date of accusation, or 60 or more days between the date of accusation and the date when evidence is presented. This article has been corrected. 

At 10:02 a.m. on March 27, students across campus received an email with the subject: “Honor Council Confidential Accusations.” Students — many of us included — feared the worst upon seeing an Honor Council email in their inbox. 

The email was not a notification of personal violation, but instead highlighted a key change in procedure: Students may now anonymously accuse their peers of violating the Honor Code. The accuser’s  identity is never revealed to the accused; under old policy, the accuser’s identity would be divulged at a hearing. Consequences of this change also include a longer inquiry period where the Honor Council conducts a preliminary investigation about the accusation’s validity, contacting professors, graders and involved parties — everyone but the accused themself.

The Honor Council and code are supposed to foster student trust and encourage students to hold each other accountable, but the Honor Council’s fundamental issues, both new and pre-existing, actively counteract its purpose. 

Lightened sanctions in exchange for pleading guilty without trial (reminiscent of a plea deal structure) and the 90 or more days between a violation until  when a violation can be reported, or the 60 or more days from when an accusation is made until evidence can be presented, through a statute of limitations tip the scale against the accused. Accused students are bound by complex regulations, forbidden to discuss their case with a professor that likely harbors suspicion about their innocence, unauthorized to access evidence about their case without navigating bureaucracy and stuck waiting on a result while their semester ticks by. 

In a court of law, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Here, guilt seems to be all but an expectation.

Without fixing the fractured relationship between the Honor Council and the student body, adding changes that allow for more anonymous, reckless and trivial accusations of academic dishonesty is irresponsible. Rice prides itself on preparing students for the real world, where people need to communicate with their peers face-to-face, even about disagreements. 

That said, there are situations where confidentiality can shield students from potential harm when bringing accusations. The Honor Council should review confidentiality requests on a case-by-case basis, evaluating potential risks and student reasoning when making their decision. Confidentiality can, and should be, on the table — just not a guarantee.

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Riya Misra, Spring Chenjp, Maria Morkas, Prayag Gordy, Nayeli Shad, Sarah Knowlton, Sammy Baek, Shruti Patankar, Juliana Lightsey, Arman Saxena and Kathleen Ortiz.

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