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Weiss on the Honor Code

We solicited readers for questions to ask President-elect Dan Weiss, one of which came from Jon Sweitzer-Lamme ’14. Jon asked Weiss to comment on something he said in an interview with This American Life, which Jon worries is “antithetical” to the honor code. To give you some context, in the late 1970s, Weiss worked as a gift shop manager at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, which was “bleeding cash because of apparent embezzlement” by gift shop staff, most of which were senior citizen volunteers.

Here’s what Weiss said in the interview with TAL: 

“I guess that’s the lesson I learned in 1979: we are going to take things from each other if we have a chance. I never understood that. It didn’t feel OK to me then, it doesn’t feel OK to me now, and it wasn’t a terrifically optimistic lesson, that many people need controls around them to do the right thing, and if there aren’t any controls around them, they may not do the right thing.”

And here’s how he responded to Jon’s question, during a phone interview with the Clerk:

“I think the honor code reflects what enlightened community living is all about. What I said back in the interview … is a reflection on the state of affairs in the world. And that’s why you carry keys around in your pocket, and you have police. Because the world doesn’t operate like the honor code at Haverford…It is regrettable to be that that’s the case, but many people are drawn to Haverford, precisely because the honor code is exceptional. It’s not typical.

What I learned in my experience at the Kennedy Center as a young man, was that in an environment there weren’t controls over the flow of merchandise or cash in an institution, people opportunistically take advantage of it. Like stealing. And the number of people who did that was large. And it was very troubling to me.

…I think what Haverford has represents a model of what communities can aspire to, and that is if the world were more like Haverford, we all know the world would be a better place. So my views are not antithetical on this. It’s just a matter of context. You wouldn’t need an honor code at Haverford if the honor code existed all around the world – it would just be average.”

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