Davidson Honor Council Holds Mock Hearing and Forum
November 16, 2001
Davidson students took a critical look at the intricacies of Honor Council proceedings on Thursday, November 15, during a public mock hearing and forum in the atrium of the Alvarez College Union. The event was one of the highlights of "Rededication Day," a day organized by Honor Council member Amber Parke '04 to encourage students to evaluate and assess the function of the Honor Code and its inner workings.
Honor Council president Will Parker '02 said the goal for Rededication Day was to give students a chance to think critically about the complexities of the honor system. "We want to get people to think more about the Honor Code in ways other than the standard admissions literature," he said.
One of Davidson's oldest and most cherished institutions, the Honor Code forbids students from lying, cheating, and stealing, and makes them honor-bound to report violations they witness. The Honor Council, made up of thirty-four students elected by their classmates, oversee the Honor Code, run hearings on alleged violations of the Honor Code, and determine sanctions for violations.
The mock hearing began with a welcome by Parker and an outline of the proceedings. Copies of the Honor Code and supporting documents for the hearing were distributed to the audience, and the "players" involved in the hearing were introduced. Student Government Association president Joey Harris '02 was on trial for suspicion of cheating on a test, and entered a plea of "not guilty."
Parker presided over the hearing with Honor Council secretary Tara Davidson '02, and noted immediately that students are presumed innocent unless there is "clear and convincing" evidence to the contrary. Student solicitor Trevor Stanley '02 and defense advisors Evan Anderson '02 and Caroline Cunningham '02 presented the facts as the prosecution and the defense would in a court of law. Students Nikki Thomas '02 and Elder Gwin '02, and Assistant Professor of history Daniel Aldridge were called as witnesses. The audience acted as members of the Honor Council, who function as the jury at the hearings.
The hearing began with the presentation of the time line of events, which Taylor explained was the "bare minimum facts" agreed on by the student solicitors and defense advisors. Caroline pointed out to the audience that although they play the "lawyer" roles, student solicitors and defense advisors are not adversaries, but work together to present the facts.
Thomas was called as the first witness, and explained that she saw Harris in what looked like a suspicious situation, taking a test with note cards in his hand, and reported him to Professor Aldridge. Aldridge followed with his own testimony about the events. The defense then called Gwin as a character witness on Harris' behalf. Finally, Harris had the opportunity to present his version of events, and explained that he had noticed the cards on the floor and simply picked them up to put them into his book bag. After closing statements by the student solicitor and defense advisors, the audience was asked to deliberate and vote on a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
After nearly twenty minutes of discussion in which audience members boiled down the case to a matter of Thomas's testimony against Harris' word, Parker called for a vote. The audience found Harris not guilty.
A discussion followed the verdict about what would happen to Harris in the event of guilt, rather than innocence. The panelists explained that in such a case, the council would proceed with a sanction hearing, where punishment could range from censure to indefinite suspension from the college. If a student pleads guilty to a charge, the council would skip the "trial" and go directly to a sanction hearing. Parker also pointed out that although Harris was not found guilt of an Honor Code violation, the professor may still consider an academic sanction and give Harris a failing grade for the test, or for the class.
After the mock hearing, students were invited to a spaghetti dinner sponsored by college President Robert Vagt '69 and an open forum on the Honor Code and the proceedings. Discussion centered on whether students' responsibility to report individuals for suspected violations included confronting the individual, or simply contacting a professor. Students also talked about the definition of "clear and convincing evidence," and what kind of proof was considered incontrovertible.
Along with the trial and the forum, the Honor Council also placed boxes for questions and comments about the Honor Code in Chambers Building and the Alvarez Union in an effort to solicit more student input. Parker said the Honor Council plans to make Rededication Day an every-semester event to keep students engaged in discussion about this important facet of the life at Davidson.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.