Patrick Flanigan ’18, left, and Micah Herskind ’19 advocated Honor Code reforms.
Ethan Sterenfeld ’20
Administration halts student-led changes, saying further faculty review is needed

On the USG election ballots in December, students voted for USG officers, committee chairs, class senators, and something new: four Honor Code referenda. The referenda proposed a reduced standard penalty for violations; requiring two pieces of evidence for a case to be presented in a hearing; ensuring that students would not be found guilty if the course instructor states the student’s actions did not violate class policy; and requiring that the committee disclose, upon first contact, whether a student is a witness or accused of a violation. 

All four referenda passed by a wide margin, but in January, administrators said the first three would not be enacted without further faculty review. Because it called only for procedural change, the fourth could be implemented. 

Dean of the College Jill Dolan, Dean of the Faculty Sanjeev Kulkarni, and Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun wrote in a Jan. 4 email to students that the proposed referenda would “fundamentally alter the University’s disciplinary penalties and standards for assessing violations of the Honor Code during in-class examinations.”

“These proposals represent a significant departure from prior practice and exceed the scope of the responsibility delegated to the student body by the faculty concerning the Honor System,” the administrators said. 

Created in 1893 as an agreement between students and faculty to “uphold a high standard of academic integrity at Princeton,” the Honor Code has been amended several times. A 1921 change permitted leniency in exceptional cases, and the possibility of a one-year suspension was approved in 1974 (previously, students found guilty would be expelled).

The administrators’ email cited a lack of faculty input to the referenda. But Patrick Flanigan ’18, the outgoing USG academics committee chair who led the Honor Code reform effort, said he believed “conversations around amending the Honor System had to be undertaken by students.” 

Students “should be outraged at this act of student disenfranchisement,” Micah Herskind ’19, a member of the USG academics subcommittee that proposed the referenda, wrote in The Daily Princetonian. “Princeton’s administration has communicated to its students that it will only play by the rules so long as those rules maintain the status quo.” 

Dolan told The Tab online news site that “change simply has to be accomplished in the right way, with the appropriate voices involved in the process.”

The USG’s executive committee said it is “looking at the precedent of administration overriding a vote from the student body and actively pursuing other avenues of action available to us.”

While the Prince editorial board endorsed the December referenda, nine alumni who had chaired the Honor Committee wrote that it would be a “grave mistake” to reduce the standard penalty from a one-year suspension to academic probation for a first offense. That contrasts with cases before the Committee on Discipline, which deals with a broad range of academic infractions: “When the committee concludes that a student ought to have known that they had committed a violation, the penalty is separation from the University,” the group’s website says. 

“The University really can’t be in the position where these penalties are so vastly out of line,” said Professor Clancy Rowley ’95. Rowley and Honor Committee chair Carolyn Liziewski ’18 are leading a faculty-student committee that will review the three referenda while taking a broader look at the procedures and policies of the Honor Committee.

This group will report its findings to the faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing. If that committee determines that changes to the Honor Code or the Committee on Discipline’s policies are warranted, it will offer a recommendation to the full faculty for a vote. The University hopes that these steps will be completed during the spring term.