A Note to Reformers
As I was completing this book in 1988 there was a new discussion of the academic dishonesty question at the University of Rochester, and a special committee was formed (within the College of Arts and Science, I believe) to propose a reformulation of the system that had been in force since 1967, and the Constitution of which is given in Appendix 2 above. I was no longer associated with the Board on Academic Honesty, and had no part in the proceedings of the new committee, but a proposal for a new system had been written and its provisions were publicized within the faculty, which indeed had been invited to submit suggestions and criticisms before any action was to be taken. It was my view that the suggested changes, which were very substantial and in my view overcomplicated, with unreasonable attention to procedure, were not suitable for a University setting. I furthermore considered them to be less effective, and even less fair, than the current system (in which I must confess I took an author’s pride). Here follows an excerpt from a 1988 letter from me to the Provost, objecting to the new proposals:
… Academics who write these documents too often have as their models the elaborate procedures observed in our civil and criminal courts, where a highly paid cadre of trained professionals operates the rules. Within a University it is impossible to imitate all this with fair results, and the courts of our country have repeatedly ruled that within the University all that is needed in such matters is a fair shake for the student.
Justice and fair play are found in the hearts of men and not in manifestos. The U.S. Constitution is a short document, and fairly vague in important places. That document outlines a sensible system, of course, but it finally depends for its efficacy on the spirit of the judges and politicians who operate it, and on the willingness of the public to tolerate one another. The same is true in our university.
On the academic honesty question, it should be, it is, sufficient that the Provost appoint an honorable court, and that professors be requested to make use of it. One virtue of the present system is that professors are not required to be prosecutors. Evidence is sometimes hard to collect, and it is difficult for a professor to confront a lying student and punish him, even with concurrence of a department chairman. The suggested scheme asks the professor to be prosecutor, and even to suggest the penalty, and then invites the student to overrule him by taking it to the Board. I think this prospect will deter professors from bringing cases, even as was the case before 1967, when the present system was inaugurated.
Enlarging the court, elaborating safeguards and definitions, creating extra layers of jurisdiction --- none of this is going to contribute to justice, not in the eyes of the students, not in the eyes of the faculty, not in the eyes of God. A fair trial according to a single easily recognized system, with a reasonable expectation of what penalties follow, and the knowledge that a second offense means suspension, should be enough…