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Plenary Round-up

On Sunday, February 19, the Gardner Integrated Athletic Center (GIAC) was silent as students began Plenary with a Quaker silence.  Students had gathered there to discuss and open ratification of the Honor Code, along with seven other resolutions.  Something about this Plenary was different, though.  The air was palpably tense, however, with rumors of the Plenary’s length exceeding six hours, with heated debate with vitriolic overtones, and with a general unease and disinterest in the process of ratification.

Once quorum was reached, the course of action began with a rundown of the general “Rules of Order” and the agenda.  Seven resolutions were offered, each with a set amount of time for debates, friendly and unfriendly amendments, questions and answers, debates about the amendments, collection of signatures for said amendments, and final votes.  While it is critically necessary to the fair and honest process of Plenary, it might also be endemic of a lack of student engagement.

Despite doubts and hesitance of the coming hours, once quorum was reached, the discussion began.

Resolution One proposed an edit to the Multicultural Juror Requirement.  The Multicultural Juror Requirement was written to provide a jury that better represented Haverford’s multiculturalism.  Prior to the proposed amendment, the jury selection process enforced the gender binary.  This was a two-part issue for the proponents of the amendment:  it is not representative of students’ gender identity and excludes (not purposefully) people who identify outside of the binary.  

Article IV Section(e)(iv) of the Honor Code previously read “there will be no fewer than four students who identify as male and no fewer than four who identify as female.”  The resolution proposed to replace this language with “In addition, there will be no more than six students who identify as the same gender.”  They aimed at both a more inclusive and a fairer jury process reflective of the same ideals that Honor Council had pushed in the Code prior.  Students agreed with the Council chairs, and Resolution #1 passed.

Resolution Two involved an amendment to the academic code.  The way the code was written before stated that plagiarism specifically was the singular form of academic dishonesty and resulted immediately in separation from the community, because the student had broken the trust of community and withdrawn their support of the principal of academic honesty.  Honor Council trends, which can be found on their website, indicated both that plagiarism did not always result in separation from the community and that plagiarism itself was not the only form of “serious academic dishonesty.”  In the spirit of transparency and having the Code reflect the outcomes of its trials, the Council proposed a resolution that would change the language to be more reflective of those trends.

With the passing of Resolution Two, the student body changed the relative tone and broadened the definition of academic dishonesty.  The resolution held that with academic dishonesty, “a student separates themselves from our community values” and that “juries will strongly consider separation,” rather than the prior phrasing, which indicated an immediate jump to separation by the jury.

Resolution Three was a follow-up to an earlier resolution proposed in Spring Plenary of 2014.  The 2014 resolution had made the positions of Co-Chair for both Honor and Students Council eligible for work-study (of up to 10 hours), acknowledging that the burden of balancing an additional job would have constituted a financial barrier to students wanting to run for those positions.  In the same resolution, a goal was to expand this “funding…to other student government positions if future students thought this was a good idea.”  Resolution Three, its sponsor Sophie McGlynn ’18 contended, was simply to hold true to the promise of the previous resolution.

Resolution Three resolved to work with the administration in finding a fair and honest way “towards realizing the [] provisions of the ‘work-study release.’”  The resolution offered two ways of operating within that release, and acknowledged that the funding for these positions could vary from year to year.  The student body agreed, and the resolution passed.

Resolution Four was perhaps the most polemicized of the seven resolutions proposed.   In light of the recent Honor Council trial, “A Never Ending Story,” that lasted an unreasonable length of time, Carolyn Woodruff ’17 proposed an amendment to the Code that would allow juries to send a case to a second jury.  This would happen, according to the resolution, only in “the extreme and rare event” that a jury is unable to come to consensus on either a Statement of Violation or a Statement of Non-Violation.  The resolution strongly held that this would be a last case measure.  It would be invoked only when there was a moral impasse within the jury.

Objections to the resolution generally consisted of fear that this could lead to a perpetual trial, with each further jury coming to the same decision as the initial jury, or that this violated the spirit of consensus in praxis.  Some even voiced the concern that placing this as procedure would mean that a jury was “moving on for the sake of moving on.”  There were, however, valid responses that viewed this process as logically necessary for the healthy functioning of the trial and jurors.  The resolution was passed, however doubtfully.

Resolution Five was interrupted temporarily by a loss of quorum, perhaps distracting from its effective force.  The loss of quorum caused something of an uproar among students, particularly among those who had been present the entire time.  All forms of communication were used to try to get students back into the GIAC.  Emails were sent to the student body, people texted their friends, and Facebook messages were written.  The overwhelming sense of urgency, however, seemed to suggest that Plenary did not carry, at least in that moment, the force and import it should in our institution.  

“I think that forcing [Plenary] right now, when people are so clearly disengaged, that’s not the point,” said senior Andy Beck, observing this detachment.

This problem was perhaps constitutive of the fact that so many resolutions were proposed, but as junior Brett Pogostin pointed out, this has been a problem in many of the recent Plenaries.

“I think that there are very valid reasons to miss plenary, but for me, it’s hard to believe that half the campus falls into that category every semester,” said Pogostin.

Resolution Five proposed to make the process of minor academic violations less time- consuming by allowing them to be part of a restorative process other than a trial.  It also dealt somewhat with the process of confrontation and aspects of mediation.  Students recognized that the former portion would probably be a violation of due process within the Code itself, and Honor Council representatives spoke vehemently against it.  The latter portion dealing with social mediation received less attention and was swept up in the reaction the former received.  Once quorum was once again reached, the resolution did not pass.

The time between the loss of quorum and passing of Resolution Five meant that the four hours delegated for Plenary had ended.  However, that assumption was questioned when Students’ Council called for a vote on what constituted that beginning of Plenary.  Plenary began at 6:00 PM, but quorum had not been reached until approximately 6:45.  The students voted to make the beginning of Plenary the time when quorum was reached, setting a precedent for all other Plenaries.  It also means that, for students, the longer it takes to reach quorum, the longer we will be at Plenary.  Just a little food for thought.

The official end of Plenary having been set, the process of passing resolutions continued.  

Resolution Six consisted of four propositions.  First, noting that the nature of social violations are inherently different than academic violations, the resolution proposed to combine fact-finding and circumstantial evidence, as the sponsors saw the two inextricably intertwined in the realm of social violations.  Second, it allows for a statement of violation for both parties, as it can be acknowledged that both parties were in violation of the code.  Third, it gives greater force to voices of parties in crafting the resolutions.  Fourth, it allows for social trials to become mediations if both parties deem it necessary.

Many concerns with this resolution centered around who had the authority to declare something a violation of the social code, whether violations were factually or circumstantially based, and whether the complexity of social code violations merited this sort of response.  There was an amendment this resolution that rephrased some of the social code procedure to more focus on the idea of “mutual understanding” and reinforce the importance of party voices in the resolution writing process.  With this amendment, resolution six passed.

Resolution Seven dealt with some minor amendments to the Alcohol Policy, sponsored by the Joint Student-Administration Alcohol Policy Panel (JSAAPP).  The purpose was multi-tiered.  First, the resolution meant to clarify party guidelines, as well as finalize and centralize those guidelines and request documents into a single document that could be more easily accessed.  Second, it allows JSAAPP to make minor changes to the alcohol policy without the entirety of the student body.  Third, it was meant to be clarifying on the terms of amendment to the alcohol policy, a response to the confusion that ensued in fall plenary.  These relatively simple amendments garnered much debate among students, but the resolution was ultimately passed.

With the passing of Resolution seven, the official time of Plenary had expired.  Students, after a few minutes of consideration, voted to extend Plenary by the regulation 30 minutes, in the hopes that this would allow enough time for ratification of the Code to open.  

Following the passing of Resolution Seven and extension of time, Students’ Council opened the floor for debate around ratification of the Honor Code.  This went very smoothly, all considered, and Students’ Council finally called for the last vote of plenary.  Ratification was opened.

Bound by procedural structure, Students’ and Honor Council worked incredibly hard throughout the entirety of Plenary to maintain order and quorum among the students, often requesting moments of silence so that the voices of concerned students would be heard.

Just a few minutes before time expired, Plenary ended with a similar moment of silence, acknowledging again the relative success and commitment of Quaker method in our institution.

With this silent end, Ratification of the Honor Code was opened, and on February 25th, 2017, the Honor Code was ratified, just six days after Plenary.

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