In previous years, Lieber had released only statistics outlining disciplinary action. The College Council recommended the more detailed report after it learned that many members of the student body are concerned that student-offenders are often not punished severely enough.
Although the College releases statistical information about infractions annually, students still express concern. “There still seems to be a misimpression among students … that offenses go unpunished,” Lieber wrote in the e-mail.
Some students have criticized the administration and the Disciplinary Committee for consistently being too lenient in punishing students who break the Code of Conduct.
Katherine Ryder ’06 believes that the severity of disciplinary measures must be increased if the administration intends to affect any change. However, she agrees that the letter will serve a purpose. “I think it will calm some complaints against the administration,” she said.
In his e-mail, Lieber tried to discount that by describing the severe punishments that offenders have received. “[I]n the last year six students were suspended from the College and one was dismissed. In the calendar year 2004 thus far, one student has been dismissed and another suspended,” he wrote. “In each of these instances, the penalty is recorded permanently on the student’s transcript, and is likely therefore to have a long lasting effect on the student’s future.”
President Anthony Marx believes that students may better appreciate offenders’ punishments after reading the extended descriptions. “The general statistics may not give the message as strongly as the stories,” he said.
Lincoln Mayer ’04, a member of the Disciplinary Committee, believes that the decision to release more detailed accounts of individual offenses was appropriate. “I think it was a good idea to release this information because it acts as a reminder that the College Code of Conduct should be taken seriously,” he said.
The offenses described in the e-mail include failure to attribute sources, drug violations and assault.
“A female student confronted a male student with whom she had had a relationship and physically abused him,” according to the report of infractions. “She went before a hearing of the Committee on Discipline, which found her guilty of domestic abuse and suspended her for one semester.”
In another violation of the Code of Conduct, a student attempted to buy a controlled substance through the mail. “A student used the name and post office box of another student with a similar name in an attempt to order a controlled substance from a mail order business. The attempt failed because the mail order operation had gone out of business,” the report read. “The student was found guilty of attempting to use another student’s identity without permission, and was suspended for one semester.”
The release of this information comes amidst continued discussion concerning an increase in violations of the Statement of Intellectual Responsibility. Throughout the current academic year, students and administrators have been contemplating the issue of academic dishonesty and searching for ways to combat it.
“The College Council has been talking all year about cheating and plagiarism and it became clear to me that students weren’t aware of the outcome of the disciplinary actions,” said Lieber.
In a survey distributed by the College Council to the student body in October, 31 students responded that they had cheated but had not faced any disciplinary penalties.
“The record of accusations and findings of cheating are certainly on the rise, which is why we wanted students to know that there are real punishments for that and they can change the course of a student’s life,” Marx said.
However, Marx noted that cheating is a problem on all college campuses. “There is probably no single solution to this problem,” he said. “It is a problem that is society-wide.”
According to Lieber, many instances of cheating go unpunished because many violations are simply not reported.
Mihailis Diamantis ’04, a member of both the College Council and the Disciplinary Committee, believes that the widespread occurrence of certain disciplinary offenses, such as cheating, is due in part to a lack of knowledge on the part of the student body of the Students’ Rights and Policies.
“We have a problem at Amherst which is affecting our academic integrity,” he said. “I think that the problem is, in part, not a disrespect for the Statement on Intellectual Responsibility, but rather an unfamiliarity with it … It does not seem to be an important part of our student culture.”
At Princeton University, students and administrators have taken the issue of academic integrity seriously. Among other measures Princeton has adopted, it has mandated that all students sign an honor pledge after they have completed any in-class examination.
“The students at Princeton took it pretty seriously,” said Marx, who was a graduate student there. “The act of validating the code and the community committing itself to it did seem to make a difference. I think we should be … trying approaches that the community thinks are worth trying.”
In addition to academic offenses, the disciplinary report also listed violations committed by students under the influence of alcohol.
Tim Jones ’04 hopes that Lieber’s letter will inform students. “People often believe that as an Amherst student, you can get away with almost anything,” he said. “As long as people cannot connect events with people I believe this will go a long way in eliminating the false belief that people are not punished on this campus.”
Kimmie Weeks ’05 believes that the community should be more forgiving of students who disregard the Code of Conduct. “We are a college of discipline, and I believe it should stay that way. But we must also make it our business to be a college that provides second chances and serves as a safety net for students having difficulties during their stay here,” he said. “While [the report] offers insight into disciplinary actions, it failed to highlight whether or not the school took steps to discover the problems that might have led to infractions and supported the students concerned in dealing with those issues.”