Special Plenary Committee Hosts a Town Hall for Students, Faculty, and Staff

This past Wednesday, the Special Plenary Committee (SPC) hosted a town hall where faculty, staff, and students came together to discuss changes to the Academic Honor Code. These changes were made in light of concerns that President Benston, along with many other members of the faculty, had about the language used in the version of the Academic Honor Code that students passed at Special Plenary. At its height, attendance reached nearly 100 people.

“There was deep concern that the code would restrict the classroom space and limit how faculty and students would fully engage with topics, issues and materials, especially those that venture into controversial and possibly unconventional areas,” Provost of the College, Frances Blase, said via email. “If the academic code is to take into account ‘how classrooms operate’ and not focus solely on academic honesty in assigned work, there has to be full exchange with the faculty who ultimately are responsible for that space because of their expertise and knowledge.”

Other concerns the faculty raised were how mandated reporting in relation to Title IX would function within the new Academic Honor Code, and the legal ramifications of the Code due to its location in the Faculty Handbook.

In response to these concerns, SPC has been diligently working with Honor Council, the President, the Provost, the faculty and the staff to create a code that addresses the concerns raised at Plenary by the student body, but also appeases the faculty’s qualms. SPC has been soliciting feedback from students about the process and the code through mediums such as Facebook and emails. SPC also created a suggestable version of the Academic Honor Code on Google Documents where faculty and students could participate in meaningful discourse about the Code. In addition, the Town Hall functioned as a way to bring members of the faculty, staff, and students to engage in these discussions in person.

The Town Hall followed a strict schedule in order to provide adequate space for members of the community to share their thoughts within a two hour time slot. After introductions, there was a short time for question and answers before faculty, staff, and students each got ten minutes to share their thoughts about the Academic Code. For the final hour, there was community-wide discussion, which focused on the constitutionality of this process of amending the Academic Code, the power dynamics within a classroom, and how the Honor Code should function within our community.

Arlene Casey ‘19, one of the co-Chairs of Honor Council, was pleased with the way the night went.

“I was really heartened by how many people turned out for the town hall and the incredible conversations that occurred,” she wrote via email. “This has been a confusing and difficult time, but it was truly wonderful to see how deeply the members of this community care about these issues and want to work to make Haverford a better place. I hope that regardless of what happens next, that these conversations continue and that we reach an outcome that allows our community to…grow to be a more equitable place.”

President Benston also felt that the night was impressive in bringing together students, faculty, and staff to discuss these important issues.  Whatever the specific outcome, he said via email, “this is Haverford, deliberating seriously on issues bound up with its values and mission.”

Benston said that he hopes that dialogue will continue, leading to a successful Code, and expressed gratitude for the Special Plenary Committee and all of the hard work they’ve put in these past few weeks.

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