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ISSUE 120 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/23/2007

Honor council reviews cases

By Emily Koester
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 23, 2007

As every student who has ever signed a blue booklet or exam knows, St. Olaf academics are built around the honor system. What most students do not know, however, is just how St. Olaf maintains the integrity of the honor system. It is accomplished through the Honor Council, a student-run organization that, through a highly confidential and intricate process, reviews certain cases of academic dishonesty and keeps the honor system ticking.

Like so many organizations at St. Olaf, the Honor Council is entirely run by students. It starts out with nine members in the fall and adds one first-year second semester to make a total of 10 members.

This year, Honor Council is headed by President Julie Jackson ‘07 and Vice President Nicole Peterson ‘08. The only faculty member involved is Associate Professor of Mathematics Kay Smith. Elected to the Honor Council last fall, Smith’s title is “faculty observer” and her role is just that. “My job is to attend and participate in meetings,” she said, “but I do not vote.” She also acts as a liaison between the Honor Council and the faculty.

The process of reviewing a case of a possible honor system violation begins when a student suspects academic dishonesty and purposely does not sign the pledge, or likewise when a professor finds something suspicious. The professor brings the student names to Barb Schmidt, administrative assistant to dean of students Greg Kneser, who then notifies Honor Council. Honor Council Secretary Brandon Zumwalt ‘09 asks for a member of Honor Council to take the case; the volunteer then interviews the professor and implicating student. If it appears that there is, in fact, a likely case of academic dishonesty, the implicated student is notified of the problem via their P.O. box and is asked to come to a specified place for a hearing.

The implicating student comes to the same hearing for further questioning as well. In case of a hearing, Honor Council takes all measures it can to ensure the privacy of both the implicating and implicated student. “We ask the students to arrive at 15-minute intervals,” Peterson said, “so there’s no chance of them seeing each other.” During the hearing the students involved wait in separate rooms and are then questioned separately by a quorum, a minimum of five people from Honor Council. To prevent bias, none of these members are allowed to know either of the involved students well. “Protocol comes down to confidentiality,” Jackson said.

During the hour or two that a hearing usually takes, Honor Council members ask a variety of questions. “Honor Council tries to attack it from every angle so that they get at the real issue of what happened,” Jackson said. Honor Council inquiries might ask about the student’s difficulty with the class, or whether the student often tends to shift around in his or her seat. After thorough questioning, Honor Council members vote on the student’s case. “Sometimes students just get a test code etiquette violation,” Peterson said, which means that students simply need to be more careful about their test behavior. Most cases, however, tend to be more serious. If found responsible, a student may fail a test or quiz, drop a course grade or even fail a class.

The Honor Council hears approximately 15 cases each semester. “It’s a little higher this semester than usual,” Jackson said. Peterson agrees, and said that “it’s not that there’s more dishonesty, it’s just that people are more confident in reporting it.”

Honor Council certainly doesn’t cover all cases of academic dishonesty, however. They only take cases where the “Pledge” is involved; this excludes work such as paper plagiarism.

“Faculty are discussing making a more standardized process for other kinds of dishonesty,” Smith said.

Nothing has been decided yet, however. In the meantime, Honor Council is continuing its own work while gearing up for the elections in April. It will be electing three new members, one from each class. All students are welcome to apply and can contact Nicole Peterson at if interested.

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