Reporting on Student Honor Code Violations: Student Pubs at Emory, Princeton Dive In

The Emory Wheel, the campus newspaper at Emory University, will soon begin publishing the details of student honor code violations. It is the first college pub I’ve come across willing and able (through an arrangement with the school) to report on the results of Honor Council cases — proceedings normally conducted in strict confidence.

As outlined in Emory’s Honor Code, the most common student violations appear to be instances of plagiarism, fabrication, exam cheating and lying to a professor or administrator.

Similar to the style in which many student papers run campus police reports, the Wheel’s honor code coverage will feature “brief summaries that describe the nature of the violation, the verdict and sanction and the rationale for the Honor Council’s decision. Details about the parties involved and the course will be generic (e.g. a junior in an upper level humanities class).”

1

While police reports serve to increase awareness and safety, the rundown of honor council cases appears to be a push for increased education and honesty. As Jason Ciejka, associate director of Emory’s Honor Council, contends in the Wheel,The publication of cases will serve to instruct students about the types of academic misconduct and actions they should avoid. Widespread knowledge of typical Honor Council sanctions may also serve as a deterrent when temptation strikes.”

The goal from the get-go, according to Ciejka, is to maintain student privacy — ensuring no personal or identifying information is published. As he writes, “If, for any reason, the Honor Council believes the release of information about a case will jeopardize the privacy of the parties involved, the Honor Council will omit details about the case or exclude the case from its report.”

My Take: This certainly seems like an interesting experiment overall, worthy on spec from the transparency and newsworthy perspectives. But if the info in the round-ups is intentionally vague or missing — and only coming from the Honor Council — does it really present a complete picture worthy of publication?

The Council will present its reasoning behind each finding and punishment. But the Wheel will not know the identities of the students being punished, and thus be unable to get their side of the story. Even with the students remaining anonymous in the published summaries, does that scream fair — or good journalism? (“Here, print this. It’s true, we swear. No, you can’t do any other reporting on it. Just trust us.”)

Surely even the most clear-cut case of alleged cheating involves circumstances, side-factors and details that might prove important for reader understanding. Will notes, transcripts or recordings of the related investigations be available for Wheel inspection? Doubtful. In this context, is what’s being presented really news or something more worthy of an advertisement — “Students of Emory, don’t let THIS happen to you. Paid for by the Emory Honor Council.”

Bottom line, it’s worrisome that the info is coming directly from a single source, with snippets redacted at the source’s discretion and without the chance to vet the full reports for context or follow-up with the students (or even professors) involved.

1

A university Honor Council may be honorable most of the time, but that doesn’t mean it is perfect. For example, The Daily Princetonian at Princeton University recently obtained an audio recording of a student disciplinary hearing from last year. Guess what the paper found? The process is messy and maybe not entirely fair to the students accused of wrongdoing.

How do you fit that into “brief summaries”?

What do you think?

Comments
2 Responses to “Reporting on Student Honor Code Violations: Student Pubs at Emory, Princeton Dive In”
  1. Nathan L. says:

    At The Lawrentian (the newspaper for Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.), we have been publishing honor code violations and their consequences for at least ten years. Response has largely been very positive; the increased transparency seems really helpful and it’s a nice reminder to other students that if you cheat or plagiarize, you are indeed likely to get caught.