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What are the Legal Concerns with the New Honor Code?

By Michael Weber

Among faculty, staff, and administrators’ concerns with the Honor Code passed at this month’s Special Plenary are possible conflicts with Title IX regulations. Title IX law mandates that any educational institutions receiving federal financial support shall not subject persons to discrimination based on sex or gender. Over the past week and a half since President of the College Kim Benston announced his hesitance to approve the new Code, the community has sorted through confusion over the Code’s possible conflicts with Title IX procedures required of College employees.

SPC worked with concerned faculty in a meeting last Monday to revise the new Code in order to address possible conflicts. At a town hall discussion with faculty, staff, and students, multiple attendees referenced the legal issues. Dean of Student Life and Title IX Coordinator Michael Martinez spoke more specifically to the ramifications of the Code that was passed at Special Plenary, and their relations to Title IX.

My concern as the Title IX Coordinator was that the New Honor Code as it was passed at Plenary potentially confuses steps around what to do in response to potential violations of Title IX,” said Martinez. “Haverford’s Sexual Misconduct Policy carefully spells out all the resources and reporting channels available to students in a way that is compliant with state and federal regulations and is updated promptly whenever changes to regulatory guidance occur.”

In particular, language added to the Academic Code could have added ambiguity to how students are to proceed when faced with a faculty member’s discrimination based on sex. In such situations, the Code passed at Special Plenary directed students to either confront the faculty member, or seek assistance from a third party such as another faculty member, Dean, or member of Honor Council. Because employees of the college are mandated reporters under Title IX law, the confrontation process, should it involve a faculty member or Dean, would not be able to continue without a more formal investigation.

“Faculty members seem to fear that, should a student have a Title IX concern, they’ll view what it says in the Honor Code—and not the binding legal precedent—as the source of their concerns,” wrote Emily Chazen ’18, co-chair of SPC, over email. “For example, a student might think that they should confront a professor regarding Title IX concerns, not realizing that: (a) they don’t have to put themselves in that vulnerable position; (b) faculty are mandated reporters; and (c) conversations surrounding discrimination in particular might have to be shut off for legal reasons.”

According to Chazen, SPC was not alerted of any concerns regarding Title IX until at least a week after Special Plenary. Once possible problems arose, SPC helped draft a new version of the Code.

The newly revised Code, which is available online via public Google documents, incorporates feedback that Dean Martinez approves of from a Title IX perspective. At press time, the new Academic Code still includes a paragraph that states,we seek to create academic spaces that create equality across all aspects of identity.” Accordingly, the Code instructs that “if a faculty member commits an act that works against the goals of this Code,” then the affected student should discuss it with a Community Outreach Multicultural Liaison or Honor Council member, who are not mandated reporters.

Dean of the College Martha Denney mentioned at Wednesday’s town hall meeting that the legal issues with Code as passed at Special Plenary were not new. She mentioned that the Students’ Guide includes procedures for how students should handle complaints about faculty members.

“I’m not sure anybody that was involved in it realized that this was actually exacerbating an issue which already existed, which is to say ‘when does a conversation amongst a sort of people get bumped up to a higher level?’” said Denney. “Not absolutely in every case. That’s the reason why these cases are so difficult…because it’s hard to know when something goes from something uncomfortable and unfortunate to something that’s discriminatory.”

As students prepare to vote in a digital Special Plenary to ratify or reject the new revised Code, discussion about potential changes will take place through Monday, both via digital platforms, and in person between Honor Council, SPC, Kim Benston, and faculty representatives. Assuming that the revisions satisfy legal concerns, there will be a final version of the Code on Monday night, with online voting opening on Tuesday.

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