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Letter to the editor: In defense of the Honor Council

By Pedro Ribeiro     4/9/24 11:02pm

Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. Letters to the editor are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for grammar and spelling by Thresher editors.

Recently, the Thresher Editorial Board published an editorial criticizing the Honor Council's decision to allow confidential accusations by students. While their editorial does bring some valid points, it is in many ways misinformed about the Honor Council process.

I have been involved in the Council for (soon to be) four years, and, in my time as part of the Council’s leadership, I have been interviewed by the Thresher numerous times. Perhaps exactly because of the Council officers’ availability to be interviewed at any time, I was especially dismayed by this mischaracterization of the Council process. 

First, the editorial contains outright falsehoods, such as the claim that we lack “rules specifying until when a violation can be reported.” We do have such rules — violations must be reported within 90 days. Indeed, the statute of limitations is in the very first article of our procedures. Similarly, the Thresher states that students are presumed guilty in the Council process — a posit that is not only factually false but also rebutted by the fact that, this year, over 50% of students who contested their accusation were found “not in violation” of the Honor Code and many others had their cases dropped. (Most students, however, rightfully take ownership for their actions).

Other criticisms simply lack context. For instance, the Thresher argues that our policy of not allowing students to speak to their professors about their cases is overly burdensome. Yet they neglect to mention the rule goes both ways (professors are also barred from discussing cases with students) exactly because we want to prevent animosity between professors and students that could negatively affect students’ performance in class. Our rule about evidence follows federal law to protect students' privacy and students have to send just one email for us to grant them access to the evidence. 

Perhaps the greatest issue with the Thresher editorial, however, is how it neglects all the great work that the Honor Council has done. In the past three years, the Honor Council has restarted new student orientations, restructured syllabi to be more clear to students, standardized honor code policies and definitions across classes, fought to keep unproctored exams, created “warnings” for relatively minor violations that don’t affect students’ records, changed procedures to end near-automatic suspensions, made Council training more stringent and clarified university plagiarism policy. All of these measures, along with the countless hours our members put in to create outreach events and adjudicate cases, have led to about a 40% decrease in the yearly number of accusations compared to the beginning of my time in the Council. 

That is not to say that all the editorial board’s criticisms are without merit, however. Changes to the Alternative Resolution, which the Thresher characterizes as a plea bargain, have been brought up unsuccessfully several times. I think the suggestion for confidentiality to be granted on a case-by-case basis is certainly reasonable, too. 

Indeed, I think that fair criticism of the Honor Council is great: Such criticism has led us to change many of our policies for the better (including, for one, how we notify students of pending violations). We need more members who are dedicated to upholding Honor at Rice. For those who desire to see changes in the Honor System, I encourage you to run for Rice’s oldest student government. Only with more diverse views in our ranks will we be able to make even better policies for the student body.

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