Honor Council sparks discussion and change

Allison Siegel, Print Chief

The administration is currently working to start an Honor Council to judge cases of student integrity by second semester of this school year.

Violations of integrity continue to occur despite precautions such as the Honor Pledge being taken.  The administration is planning to keep integrity in check by having a council on which students will serve to review cases of their peers’ lack of academic integrity or honesty within the school.

Due to the interest that President Richard O’Hara had expressed about the honor council at the University School of Nashville, Dean of Students Tom Vierheller took lead of the project and researched the idea.  He found that it is successfully implemented in schools around the Baltimore area.

Schools that have students on similar honor councils include Oldfields, Boys Latin, Gilman, and Georgetown Prep.  Vierheller, in collaboration with O’Hara, Principal Paul Barker, and Vice Principal Gary Scholl over the last two years have taken bits and pieces of these existing systems, and they are attempting to build a new program at JC tailored to the specific needs of the school.

The intent of the council is to have students participate in the review of cases concerning academic honesty or public integrity.  “Those things strike us, really, at the heart of the moral structure of our school,” Vierheller said. “We have to ask: what kind of character are we stressing?”

Students, along with faculty and administration, will judge the cases of students who were caught cheating, stealing, or committing other offenses such as plagiarism.  The purpose of having two to three students on each review board is to give insight into the situation that their peer is in.  The administration hopes that this will bring a new, young perspective of the student body to the process.

Vierheller’s hope is to have students volunteer to be on this council.  “We have a strong student body that is ready to step up,” Vierheller said.  Although he knows that a student will be going out on a social limb by doing this in some cases, he feels that the best way to make the council work is to have students who will take it seriously.  Once a pool of students is chosen for the council, the goal is to have two to three sets of student representatives that will serve in a rotation.

“Over time with student involvement, things like cheating moves from an ‘I don’t do it, but I know lots of people who do’ feeling, to calling out what we feel is wrong,” Barker said.

Students are apprehensive about the idea of fellow classmates giving input on how violations of school rules should be handled.  “If it were one of their friends [in question] they would be more lenient, or if they didn’t like them they’d be more harsh,” senior Tyler Van Deusen said.

Some students like junior Callie Hentz are more optimistic.  “I think it would be effective in the fact that the violation may not be that bad as another student’s violation.  The peers of the student also may have been there when the violation was happening and could say something about it,” Hentz said.

The structure is still being tweaked and toyed with, but Vierheller and the rest of the administration believe that eventually they will have created a suitable organization through trial and error.  This year will be a time of experimentation for the Honor Council.  Vierheller thinks that the experience gained through this year will make next year’s Honor Council most effective.

The trial and error process started a few years ago when an Honor Council was first attempted.  Tony Sherman, class of ’06, was one of the few students that was excited to be a part of this first Honor Council.

“I thought the honor council would set a great example – the first person to get busted through it would send shockwaves throughout the school.  I wanted to get involved because I was in a leadership position in the school and I thought it would be interesting,” said Sherman.

However, the Honor Council will depend most upon the students’ maturity level.  Stringent confidentiality is what Vierheller believes is the key to making this effective.  He believes that, like the sacrament of Reconciliation, a student being reviewed will not trust a council including their peers if there is a chance that their name and crime might be spread to the entire student body.

“This is a big, big deal.  The future of a student could be depending on this group,” Vierheller said.

“Cheating happens,” Barker said, “but we have the opportunity to have a whole community come together and take a stand against it.”

Allison Siegel can be reached for comment at [email protected].