How to Approach Suspected Honor Code Violations: Suggestions for Faculty
The Honor Code is necessary to maintain the academic integrity of MUSC. Both students and faculty have a vested interest in ensuring that there is strict adherence to the Honor Code. Fortunately, genuine Honor Code violations are relatively rare, usually no more than a few cases per college per year. Because of this, a faculty member who suspects a student of violating the Honor Code will most likely be in unfamiliar territory. To avoid unnecessary headaches, please use the following as a rough protocol for handling suspected Honor Code violations.
1. Read the Honor Code! It may sound obvious, but the Honor Code can answer most of the questions that arise if you have a suspected violation. It is relatively short and written in easy-to-understand language. In particular, pay attention to the submission of formal charges, the rights of the accused, the process by which the Honor Council conducts hearings. The most up-to-date version can be found online at http://www.musc.edu/honorcode/
2. If you need advice, the person to talk to is your college’s Honor Council Faculty Advisor. The Faculty Advisor is a non-voting member of the Honor Council who gives unbiased advice to all parties involved. Chances are that he or she has been through Honor Council trials before, and is therefore very familiar with the Honor Code and the Honor Council process. Do not hesitate to ask this person for advice; he or she would be much happier giving advice before formal charges are submitted rather than having to deal with additional problems that arise afterwards. The Faculty Advisor for your college is listed on the Honor Code homepage: http://www.musc.edu/honorcode/
3. If appropriate, talk with the student(s) involved. The time to discuss the matter is BEFORE you submit formal charges to the Honor Council. In the past, many cases have come before the Honor Council that were really just a matter of misunderstanding, and could have been cleared up had there been better communication between the faculty and the accused. Once a case is referred to the Honor council, there is no stopping it; all cases must be investigated fully. Remember, Honor Code violations are serious. To avoid false accusations and unnecessary hassles, be sure that you are not making a hasty judgment.
While it is perfectly acceptable to discuss a potential violation with students who were involved (and only with those involved) prior to submitting formal charges, it is not necessary. If you wish to remain anonymous, you may do so up until the time of the Notification Conference. However, since the accused has the right to confront his or her accuser during an Honor Council hearing, there is no reason to withhold your identity. Regardless of whether you choose to discuss the matter with a student prior to referring the case to the Honor Council, all discussion should cease once formal charges are submitted.
4. DO NOT discuss the matter with any additional students or faculty. The Honor Code requires that we maintain strict confidentiality. This is critical to protect the rights of the accused and to maintain the objectivity of the Honor Council. Perhaps the most common means by which confidentiality is broken is when faculty members allow uninvolved students to become aware of the violation. Rumors spread quickly. When you confront a student suspected of an Honor Code violation, do so in private. Do not attempt to make an example out of the student in front of the rest of the class.
5. If you believe that there has been an Honor Code violation, submit formal charges in writing either to the accused student’s Dean’s office, or to the Honor Council President. These charges are confidential and should be hand-delivered. See page 6 of the Honor Code for specific instructions. Remember, you do not need to be assured of guilt before submitting formal charges. Honor Council officers will investigate the matter fully and conduct a preliminary hearing to establish whether the case should go before the full Honor Council. While we wish to avoid false accusations, we are even more wary of lax enforcement. Failure to report suspected violators endangers the integrity of the entire University.
6. DO NOT discuss the matter further. Once formal charges have been submitted, there is no need to discuss the matter with the accused or with any additional faculty members. Doing so not only endangers confidentiality, it may also jeopardize the Honor Council’s investigation. The only people you should discuss the issue with at this point are members of the Honor Council who have been appointed as investigators. They will interview the accused and additional faculty members as appropriate.
7. Be prepared to be interviewed by an Honor Council investigator. Save any relevant materials – emails, tests, reports, journal articles, etc. – and give copies of these to the investigator. Also be prepared to testify at the Formal Hearing if asked to do so. Unfortunately, Formal Hearings can be very time consuming; do not be upset if you have to sacrifice an evening. This is a small price to pay for maintaining the high standards of our school – and it’s much less time than the Honor Council members will be sacrificing!