The Honor Code Failed. What now?

By Andrew Eaddy and Ellen Schoder

The past few days have been a whirlwind for students on campus, who learned Wednesday evening that the Honor Code had not been ratified and now try to figure out what Special Plenary will look like. Students on campus have not been through a Special Plenary yet during their time at Haverford, so organizers have to figure out how Special Plenary has worked in the past, and to put together an event that will get 75% of students on campus – the amount needed to reach quorum at Special Plenary – to show up. Special plenary is scheduled for April 8.

The Honor Code failed to reach quorum by 0.25% of the student body. The Honor Code will not exist in six weeks, unless a new Honor Code is ratified at Special Plenary.

“I’m a little disheartened that not enough people voted,” said Arlene Casey ‘19, Honor Council Co-Chair. “While I wasn’t surprised by the number of people who chose not to ratify, I was hoping that we would get a better turnout in the number of people voting because I think it’s an opportunity to have your opinions heard and make a stand on what you think the Honor Code or Haverford should look like.”

What actually happened?

Although the failure to ratify the Code has raised a lot of issues, the news was not entirely surprising. Last week, after the polls to ratify the Code had closed, students received an email saying that students studying abroad had not been accounted for in the original ratification process. The email stated that students on campus had reached quorum, but that the Elections Coordinator would have to gather the email addresses of students studying abroad, send them the poll, and add their votes to the results.

Rudy Hernandez ‘20, the Elections Coordinator, said that he had obtained a list of students to send the polls to from the registrar earlier in the semester, but it wasn’t until after the ratification process had been run that people realized that study abroad students had been left out.

From there, he said, the situation got slightly more complicated.

“Our confusion lied in that in the Constitution it’s not very explicitly stated whether or not all students need to be included or all students on campus need to be included only,” Hernandez said. Over the past few years, study abroad students have not been included in the ratification process.

Casey said that, before taking students studying abroad into account, 861 students, or 68.4%, of the student body had voted – letting us slip past the two-thirds of the student body needed to reach quorum. She said that in this initial vote, 503 students had supported the Honor Code without objections, 140 had voted with objections, and 218 voted against the Code. The Honor Code would be ratified if two-thirds of the student body vote for the Honor Code, either with or without objections.

When the 68 students studying abroad were added to the mix, the numbers looked a little different. Of those students, 19 voted, with 7 voting for the Code without objections and 5 with objections. According to those numbers, quorum had not been reached, and the Honor Code failed.

“I think the fact that people thought we reached quorum because we had reached quorum for the [on-campus students] may have made made some people not vote, but I’m not sure if that’s an influence,” said Casey. “Since we were already so close anyway, it may not have made a difference.”

Was it constitutional?

Some have raised questions about the way the ratification process was run.

“While I think deciding to include students studying abroad in the Honor Code Ratification process from here on out is a perfectly reasonable (and even preferable) route, I do not think making that call in the middle of an ongoing ratification process is constitutionally viable,” wrote Chris Hadad ’17, a former Honor Council Co-Chair and Librarian, and Elections Coordinator, via email. “This is something I expressed to Honor Council during this year’s process. The text of the constitution includes no recourse for righting procedural issues with the Honor Code Ratification process. It merely calls on us to run the ratification on the fourth and fifth days following Plenary, and publish results at its conclusion. There is no text in the constitution permitting extending, re-opening, or otherwise altering the ratification process once it begins.” Hadad cited section 8.03 of the constitution, which does not apply to the ratification of the Honor Code, but does provide a framework for understanding how elections should be re-run if a mistake is made during the election.

According to this section of the constitution, “In the event that elections of the officers to the Students’ Association are suspected to be flawed or procedurally illegitimate, the election can be declared illegitimate and its results voided by a majority vote of a  plenary session of the Students’ Association. Students’ Council will call a Plenary session for this purpose at its own discretion or on  the petition of twenty percent (20%) of the Students’ Association.” The Constitution does not state how to handle procedural issues with the ratification of the Honor Code. Honor Council and Students’ Council chose to re-run the ratification with the study abroad students included.

Hadad added: “I certainly see the wisdom in wanting to include the votes and comments of students abroad at this point, but also feel invoking a process outside the constitution to get those results just means skirting the constitution twice, rather than once, in order to achieve the originally desired outcome. When a mistake is made, sometimes it is best to accept it and move forward, if we are given no textual recourse, in order to make sure transparency with the community and adhering to the letter of the document (on what to do in that moment moving forward) are held paramount.”

What happens next?

Although the Honor Code failed, students will have another chance to ratify it at Special Plenary. Within a few hours of the announcement that the Honor Code had failed, 530 students had signed the petition to call a Special Plenary, easily getting the 40% of the student body needed to do so. In fact, so many students tried to fill out the petition to call Special Plenary that it temporarily crashed.

Later that night, the Students’ Council (SC) Co-Presidents sent another email to the community, outlining the next steps for proposing resolutions.

“In order to ensure that as much discussion and student voice as possible is incorporated to the proposed changes to the Code, we will be convening a committee that will serve to be the point group for writing proposed resolutions,” the SC Co-Presidents wrote in the email. “This committee will be composed of 8-10 students and be served with the task of reaching out to as much of the student body as possible and writing resolutions to bring to Special Plenary that address student concerns.”

According to the email, students can bring a resolution to the Committee or propose one on their own. There will also be an open forum on March 5 in the Swarthmore Room of the Dining Center to discuss this process.

“We’re still very open to thoughts and feedback and…ideas about what we we can change and what we want to do,” said Varma. “…We definitely don’t want it to be exactly like all other plenaries are because we generally have realized that even normal plenaries aren’t structured as they work well…Especially in terms of the Honor Code, we don’t want it to be just like normal plenary.”

Varma said that they have tossed around a few potential changes to make Special Plenary more accessible by thinking about student jobs that weekend, talking to professors, and possibly restructuring the event itself to include smaller discussion groups.

The History of Special Plenary

According to Riley Wheaton, Honor Council Librarian, the last time students went to Special Plenary was in 2013. Wheaton said that, in 2013, enough students actively voted against the Code that they had to go to Special Plenary, instead of failing to reach quorum like students did this year.

“The substance of the Code did not change that much,” Wheaton said about the revisions that were made in 2013. “It was made a lot shorter and a lot more accessible.” Wheaton said that 90% of the student body attended Special Plenary last time around.

Wheaton also said that, according to records available to Honor Council, there have been a few other years in which students have gone to Special Plenary: 1992, 1998, 2002, and 2006. Students have noticed a pattern where the Honor Code fails about every four to six years, and this year seems to fall within that predicted timeline.

“One possible reason [for this pattern] is that the student body forgets why engaging matters,” said Wheaton. “When no one remembers the bad stuff that happens when the student body tunes out, no one feels like they have to tune in. We get huge apathy on campus when people forget why they have to engage.”

Former Honor Council co-Chair Tamar Hoffman ‘15, who lived through the last Special Plenary, added in a phone interview that this cycle is natural. Hoffman said that, over time, Haverford’s values change, and as such the code must change to accordingly. She added that we should view Special Plenary as a special opportunity, for an unchecked Honor Code would surely be far worse than one that needs revision every few years.

Students and Administrators React

President Kim Benston said that he respects the integrity of student self-governance that means students must together determine the fate of the Honor Code in the present moment.  But he also spoke about his positive experiences with the Honor Code as a professor, and the role the Honor Code has played in shaping Haverford’s character throughout much of its history.

“While the Special Plenary will be informed by critical issues of this moment, the meaning of this place has been built up over time and you’re also custodians of that,” Benston said.

He also indicated that, based on his own overall experience with the Code, he “will be bereft if the Code goes away, and so I think will most of the community, whatever their current state of unhappiness or satisfaction with it.”

Students also have been vocal about their feelings on Special Plenary and the failure to ratify the Honor Code.

Jhoneidy Javier ‘19 was relatively optimistic about Special Plenary, sharing that “Special plenary will allow us as a student body to come together and seriously discuss the kind of community we want and the Honor Code’s role in fulfilling that campus ethos. Everyone is now in a position to have a say in how the Honor Code functions in their lives.”

This sentiment was echoed by Justin Otter ‘19 who shared that he is “…glad we are going to special plenary but…[also] somewhat surprised we didn’t reach quorum, and (not accounting for people who decided to abstain) it definitely reinforces the need for special plenary because of general apathy on campus,” and Jai Nim ‘19 who hopes that Special Plenary exhibits progress, and “…results in the community having discussions about the meaning and design of the social honor code that were not had at Plenary.”

Trevor Larner ‘19 also shared these feelings, while adding that “…special plenary will be a good opportunity to take a look at the Honor Code…particularly in its interactions with marginalized students.”

Alicia Lopez-Torres ‘20, a student who does not want to see the Honor Code ratified, shared their views on the events which have transpired.

“…I think I don’t want the Honor Code to be ratified for many reasons…For me, I was really really drawn to the Honor Code because, again, my anarchist ideals. I love self governance and I love trust and honesty. I was really tired of all the cheating at my high school and was convinced that people really listened to the Honor Code. However, I got to campus and realized that our ‘Haverford Community’ is both large and ambiguous…I think Haverford does not do enough to address the power structures that exist within the student body, faculty/staff, and administration.”

Lopez-Torres continued: “What I have found when interacting with administration is that, if you come to them sharing your experience and asking for resources, they will, rather than helping you, try to bring that resources to the ‘entire community’ and then forget about you again and not support you in the process!”

What if the Honor Code fails?

At Special Plenary, if the student body fails to reach quorum, or if there is no way found to reconcile the issues which students have voiced regarding the Honor Code, the six-week period given to rework the Code stops, and the Code is effectively terminated.

If the Honor Code fails, there are ways to call a Plenary to revive the Code, however the processes to do this are not codified. This process, as Wheaton mentions, is most likely appropriate given what a failure to ratify signifies to the Haverford community.

“At that point [when the Honor Code fails to ratify] the constitution…cautions us that if we…look down the barrel of the six weeks and we can’t get quorum to ratify an Honor Code, we should really consider the wisdom of doing that whole thing again, because we’ve heard from the student body and they don’t care,” said Wheaton.

Although faculty and administrators do not sign the Honor Code, failure of the Code would also affect the way academics are run at Haverford. Provost Fran Blase responded to concerns about the effects of a failed Honor Code on academics at Haverford.

“The Administration, which includes Provost Fran Blase and President Kim Benston, does not have specific plans in place if there is no longer an academic honor code,” said Blase. “However, they will confer with faculty colleagues and defer to faculty’s best judgement about how to conduct their classes and senior research advising in the absence of an academic code.  For example, some faculty members may choose to proctor exams, some who planned to give take home exams may instead give in-class exams, again possibly proctored, and some may rethink collaborative assignments.”

Blase also noted that Seniors may experience the worst of the changes, as a failed academic code “may mean, however, dramatic changes in the classroom and thesis experiences.”

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