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A call for a clear Honor Code

| Friday, October 3, 2014

The best way to balance academics with athletics can be a vexing question for Notre Dame.

When the University announced that four (later five) football players were being withheld from the team due to an investigation into suspected academic dishonesty, University President Fr. John Jenkins emphasized in his press conference that the investigation was an academic issue, not an athletics issue.

“This is not an athletic process, it is an academic process – [the players] will be judged as students first,” Jenkins said Aug. 15.

While the players may be judged under Notre Dame’s Academic Code of Honor as students first, other circumstances suggest their case is not unfolding in the same way as non-athlete’s case would.

The withheld players’ names have now been publicly known for nearly 50 days. Their participation in their main extra-curricular activity, a sport by which some of them may one day earn millions for playing, has been limited to a workout at the football complex or a dinner with teammates. Even though the investigation began in late July, they are undergoing their hearings in front of Honor Code committees only this week.

This led to some players reporting feelings of alienation and a sort of limbo where the players, tainted by allegations of misconduct, are not quite welcomed as students, nor are they allowed to be full members of their team.

It is disappointing for us to see that our fellow students have already undergone significant punishment for charges of misconduct that have yet to be fully examined or proved. But as students, it is even more disappointing to see that although this situation provides the community with a perfect opportunity to discuss and explain the  Honor Code process, it instead remains deeply shrouded in secrecy.

The one constant since the investigation was announced has been that no one really knows much about the proceedings. Sure, head football coach Brian Kelly addresses it every week in his press conferences, and Jenkins made reference to it in his address to the University’s faculty last month.

But we have about as much insight into the Honor Code process as we did before the players were withheld, and our efforts to learn more about it have proved largely fruitless.

We’ve been directed to a webpage listing the members of the University Code of Honor Committee, which has not been updated for this academic year. We’ve looked at a Code of Honor Handbook that dates back to 2011 and may no longer be in use. Requests to learn more about the Honor Code process have been denied, despite a clause in Handbook that states, “Each member of the committee may be approached for consultation or advice about the Code of Honor by any member of the Notre Dame community.” Hugh Page, associate provost, dean of the First Year of Studies and Honor Code Committee co-chair, declined to comment on requests for an updated committee roster or for clarification of the text of the Code.

The Honor Code itself is one way in which the University upholds its values. The University could use this opportunity to show how the Honor Code does its job, but it instead seems intent on keeping everything except the players’ identities under close wraps.

And that, to us, raises another academic issue — a lack of transparency on a campus that should be open to creating dialogue. The players themselves seem to not know how the hearings process works. And we, their peers, have no way to know if the process is operating along the parameters the Honor Code outlines. We understand why certain specific details on the case should be kept confidential to protect those involved – but we also think that total opacity on any question involving the Honor Code creates an unhealthy, unproductive climate for students.

Harkening back to Jenkins’ assertion that this is an academic process, these five players are students first. An investigation into potential Honor Code violations could involve any of us someday, as witnesses, classmates, accusers or accused – just as it happened to them.

This is a situation that has the potential to impact every member of the student body, and this is an opportunity for students to learn more about their own Honor Code process.

This is a chance for us to engage in productive dialogue about a matter that affects everyone on campus –  not for concerned students to be left in the dark by authorities whose duty it is to provide answers.

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