Vacancies, off-campus jurors and uncompetitive elections hinder Honor Board

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Juror Athena Dillon (senior) works on her computer in the Seminar room 355 in the library, where the Honor Board meetings are held at Occidental College in Los Angeles , Monday Nov. 6, 2017. Ivy Denham-Conroy/Occidental Weekly

Vacant positions, jurors retaining their positions while studying off-campus, uncompetitive elections and a lack of student awareness have impacted Honor Board’s ability to fulfill its purpose in recent years. Althea Dillon (senior), Maria Salter (sophomore)*, and Reese Ingraham (sophomore) won three of four available Honor Board juror positions in uncontested elections at the start of the Fall 2017 semester. As there was no fourth candidate in the fall election, Honor Board now has nine of its ten juror positions filled. With five jurors currently on off-campus programs, the newly-elected jurors represent three of four jurors present at Occidental this semester.

Honor Board’s role in the conduct process

According to its bylaws, Honor Board serves as the judicial branch of the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC). It works to uphold the Honor Code, found in Article VI Section 1.B. of the ASOC Constitution, which states that no student shall take unfair advantage of another member of the Occidental community.

Honor Board jurors provide student representation in the college adjudication processes, helping make decisions in hearings. According to the Honor Board bylaws, the jurors sit on hearings for three types of cases: judicial — cases related to alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct, academic — cases related to alleged violations of the college’s policies on academic misconduct and Honor Board hearings — cases related to any other alleged violations of the Honor Code. Assistant Director for Student Conduct and Honor Board Advisor Tom Wesley said that one Honor Board juror, one faculty representative and one administrator sit on judicial cases while two jurors, two faculty members and one administrator sit on academic cases. Although the current Honor Board bylaws, updated in Fall 2016, do not specify the number of participants required to attend Honor Board hearings, the version of the bylaws revised in April 2013 states that three jurors must sit on these cases.

According to Wesley, cases that do not appear to justify suspension or expulsion are typically dealt with in one-on-one conduct conferences between a student and a conduct officer. The Code of Student Conduct handbook states that students always have the option to request a conduct council hearing instead.

Wesley said that hearings are used in cases that may involve suspension or expulsion, although students also have the option to waive their right to a hearing and instead have a conduct conference, according to Section G.1.c.2. of the Student Conduct handbook.

Wesley said that Honor Board hears 10 to 15 to fifteen cases per year.

“Out of the 10 or so last year, six were behavioral and four were academic,” Wesley said.

Noncompetitive elections

Last spring only one candidate ran for five available Honor Board positions, according to records kept by Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Life Tamara Himmelstein. The last time that there was competition in Honor Board elections was in 2015, when four students ran for three available positions in the spring and two students ran for one available position in the fall.

According to Arianna Sue (senior), the fourth juror remaining on campus, this is part of a bigger problem of uncompetitiveness throughout student government races.

“We want really committed, caring candidates to run, and then have some competition,” Sue said. “So I think part of it is awareness, part of it is general student apathy about running for student elections.”

Arianna Sue, Chair of Honor Board, (senior) poses outside the Tiger Cooler at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. Ivy Denham-Conroy/Occidental Weekly

Five jurors off campus

Five jurors are currently engaged in international or domestic off-campus programs: Gaea Morales (senior), Ryan Henderson (senior), Samir Gangolli (junior), Jared Bricklin (junior) and Amelia Ashley (junior).

Article IV Section 1.D. of the Honor Board bylaws state that jurors serve a four-semester term. This rule allows jurors to retain their positions while away from campus and complete the remainder of their terms upon return.

Sue said that this rule has affected cases because it is harder to have jurors available for hearings when there are only four on campus.

“It’s really hard to schedule two people to come in, if you only have [four], for example, and that’s why it’s really important to have a full board of 10,” Sue said.

According to Sue, students are given the opportunity to eliminate any jurors they do not want sitting on their hearing, and they now have fewer jurors to pick from.

“People who are accused of whatever misconduct, they have the opportunity to dismiss those jurors, and it’s not fair for them to have three people to pick from,” Sue said. “Students get that list and can say, ‘I don’t want this person, I do want these people,’ for example, which is really important to the process because if you have, for whatever reason, issues or concerns about a person, I wouldn’t want that person sitting on my misconduct hearing.”

According to Sue, it makes sense to only have jurors who are on campus and available.

“I think it is fair to ask students who run for Honor Board to be present on campus for the whole year,” Sue said. “Just for logistics — and you can’t run an honor board without half of your honor board.”

Ryan Henderson (senior), who is participating in the William and Elizabeth Kahane United Nations Program at Occidental College (Oxy at the U.N.), said that he acknowledged how retaining his position while off campus impacted Honor Board.

“I don’t want my two-year term to be limiting other people’s abilities to participate,” Henderson said.

Wesley said that it is unfair to students who participated in elections if existing jurors are not on campus.

“If my representative, my local congressperson, wasn’t here, I would feel like my vote isn’t being cast, if you will, so using that sort of perspective, I think that there is a need to have people present,” Wesley said. “How that looks I think is largely going to be up to the students — completely up to the students.”

Morales, who is also participating in the Oxy at the U.N. program, said she recognizes the issues with current Honor Board jurors retaining their positions while off campus.

“It’s obviously very different being abroad and emailing and actually being present for those meetings, and obviously the chance of sitting in a hearing is out,” Morales said.

According to Sue, Honor Board is discussing a change to the bylaws which would prevent jurors from remaining in their positions while participating in semester-long off-campus programs.

“One of the first things that we did was raise these concerns to our members who are abroad and ask for feedback,” Sue said. “A lot of the support, I think, was in favor of restructuring our bylaws.”

According to Dillon, Sue and Wesley, the fact that this many jurors are off campus means that it will take longer to implement a solution to the problem. Honor Board cannot change its bylaws this semester because only four jurors are available to vote, which is short of the required quorum.

“It’s challenging that so many [jurors] are off campus because we don’t really have a quorum of jurors, which is why we can’t really make any changes to our bylaws,” Dillon said.

Sue sent an email to the rest of the jurors Oct. 17 highlighting goals and issues for Honor Board as well as concerns surrounding off-campus jurors. In her response to Sue Oct. 29, Morales said that she believes changes are necessary and that she would like to keep her position in order to help make them.

“I 100 percent see the issues of being off campus and not having a full team. That said, I see that relinquishing a position if one is to go abroad may pose continuity issues and cohesion in the work of the Honor Board,” Morales said in her email to Sue.

Morales said that she thinks there will need to be significant discussion on the best reforms to the bylaws.

“75 percent of the campus goes abroad. If we say that if you’re going abroad you can’t run, that alienates like 75 percent of the campus,” Morales said. “Whatever the mechanism is, I want to ensure that it doesn’t discourage people who are going abroad from running.”

According to Henderson, jurors who spend time off campus return to Honor Board with valuable experience.

“Sometimes you develop a more global perspective when you’re off campus,” Henderson said. “I’ve definitely added to my professional experience, so this will definitely, I think, apply to the Honor Board.”

According to Sue, Morales, Dillon and Wesley, the question is whether jurors will be required to fully relinquish their position when they leave campus for a semester or if a temporary juror will take their place until they return.

According to ASOC President Zachary Solomon (junior), when ASOC senators go abroad, they are required to leave their position. Solomon said that he believes it would be best if Honor Board adopted the same policy, but he is also open to the temporary juror solution.

“My preference would be that they adopt the same policy that other branches do, just because I think that that most adequately reflects the responsibility of having a role in student government,” Solomon said.

Honor Board requests additional funding

According to Sue and Dillon, Honor Board is currently on a yearly budget of $500. Sue said that Honor Board jurors are requesting additional funding from ASOC for juror training on restorative justice and mediation as well as marketing.

Sue said that after working on outreach and campus-wide education about its role and purpose this semester, Honor Board will likely make bylaw changes next semester when a quorum can be reached.

“I think we’ve definitely reasoned between the four of us that this semester’s really going to be about building awareness and kind of doing the hands-off policy changes that we want to do,” Sue said. “And then when we have that 10 group, completed collective, then we’re gonna go in and get the nitty-gritty done.”

*Maria Salter is a photographer for The Occidental Weekly.