Confessions from an Honor Board Member

Pretend for a moment that you’ve just violated the Honor Code. Used the machine shop without a shop proctor present. Took an extra few minutes on a take-home exam by accident. Fell prey to the seduction of copy-paste while despondently pounding out an essay at four in the morning. Pretend you’ve just self-reported to an Honor Board member or one of the Honor Board chairs. You return to your room, open up the HMC Student Handbook, and flip through it nervously to discover your fate. Immediately, streams of legalese fly out at your face: “Appeals Board”. “Judicial System”. “Plaintiff”.  “Jurisdiction within the Judicial System”. “Faculty Executive Committee and the President’s Cabinet”.

A typical Honor Board hearing is a very formal and hushed-up affair for reasons such as federal laws regarding student privacy, the sensitivity and ambiguity of the matter at hand, and the high stakes of the outcome. Outcomes of past hearing decisions must be taken into consideration to be consistent with precedent. Definitions must be precise. For example, “‘Writing’ means a written letter or an email”. “‘The Harvey Mudd College Community’ consists of current students, faculty, and staff members”.

As an active member of the Honor Board, I must say that I’m not too happy with the way the Honor Code is presented in the Handbook. The rigorous, deliberate nature of a hearing and the laws surrounding student privacy means the full framework surrounding Honor Board proceedings as described in the Handbook borrows a great deal of language from a civil justice system which is often simply punitive. The members of the Honor Board are all familiar with the Handbook, but it’s easy to get lost in the minutia, and during a hearing we will almost definitely have an electronic copy of the Handbook for reference.

But the Honor Code in practice—and in hearing—is completely different. The Honor Code is not meant to be a cryptic punitive system. In practice, the Honor Code is only a few lines long. Despite its towering presence in our lives at Mudd, it lives on a small, inconspicuous metal plaque in front of the Shanahan

Occasionally, some of the more serious Honor Code violations cannot be settled “out of court” and proceed to a formal “hearing” (I’m drawing particular attention to the legal-sounding language here). a subset of the Honor Board (designated the Hearing Board) meets to suggest disciplinary action, in the most disciplinary sense of the word. In this case the Hearing Board simply meets with all parties to straighten out the story to determine whether a violation took place. Afterward the Hearing Board discusses recommended disciplinary action; this can be punitive but is never strictly so, even for very serious violations. For example, when it’s clear that a student is under severe stress, the “ruling” will often include a suggestion to seek counseling and/or mentorship from a member of the community. Furthermore the impact of the “ruling” on not just the HMC community, but also the student’s personal and academic success at Mudd, is always considered in the Honor Board’s final recommendation.

The Honor Board, despite its hushed mode of operation, isn’t here to police the community. Self-reporting to the Honor Board is not a mark of guilt but rather a symbol of stellar integrity and unwavering commitment to the Honor Code. Serving on the Honor Board—the training, the heated debates, the grueling, late-night hearings—is by far the most rewarding personal commitment I’ve made since I arrived at Mudd, and I fully intend to continue to reinforce Mudd’s commitment to the Honor Code.

The Honor Code is an exceedingly special system which can only exist at small colleges, and as it turns out, it works extremely well at Mudd. To prospective Mudders—know what you’re getting into when you commit to Mudd. The honor code is truly a wonder of the Mudd atmosphere: unfailingly optimistic and ubiquitous, and even pervasive, in a good way. Just as Mudd’s academic program challenges you to achieve new heights, the Honor Code challenges you to grow and mature as a person as well.


Calvin Leung ‘17