During the first meeting of the new Student Government cabinet, SG senators deliberated last Wednesday whether an Honor Council member should establish sanctions based on precedent.
After almost an hour of discussion, council members decided to hold the item until next Wednesday, when a representative from the Honor Council will be present to answer questions about the workings of the judicial panel.
The debate was triggered by the highly scrutinized case of wide receiver Andre Johnson, who received a mitigated sentence from an appellate committee after the student-run Honor Council recommended he be suspended for two semesters.
Upholding that sanction would have kept the football player off the field when the national champions head out to defend their title this fall.
The Athletics Committee within the Faculty Senate is investigating the case, but it is unclear how much influence they will have on Johnson’s case. Administrators have been reluctant to discuss the case, even in generic terms.
Student Government Senator J.D. Barbosa introduced the bill, which would require that Honor Council members refer to past cases in determining sanctions for students found guilty of violating the Honor Code.
“It should have been the case from the start,” said Barbosa, referring to the Honor Council, a group of 22 full-time undergraduate students appointed by the Selections and Appeals Committee, made up of the Provost, the Vice President for Student Services and the President of Student Government.
Barbosa said that using past cases as guidelines would provide a fairer system by enabling Honor Council members to make their decisions aided by the “facts and evidence” of previously settled cases.
The heaviest opposition came from Senator Michael Holt, who argued that the Honor Council should not necessarily mirror conventional legal systems.
“The system has a fairness mechanism built into it,” said Holt, who reminded fellow council members that the Honor Council is not a team of prosecutors but rather a group of students committed to safeguarding “community and academic standards.”
At the heart of the debate lies the Buckley Amendment, a federal statute that guarantees student records remain confidential albeit a handful of exceptions.
Several Student Government members suggested that Honor Council members get access to nameless briefs of past cases, which would provide a more comprehensive framework with which to rule.
The Council currently reviews each case separately in accordance to the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook.
In a recent interview, Dean of Students William Sandler told the Hurricane that the Honor Council’s rules are likely to change as a result of the Andre Johnson case.