Princeton And The Peculiar Grasp Of Honor

In a guest op-ed in The Daily Princetonian, Allison Berger reveals that the due process provided a student for an honor code violation significantly exceeds that provided for a Title IX violation. As she succinctly describes it, it’s unfair.

“Fairness.” It was the word at the heart of the arguments made in favor of Honor Code reform during December’s campaign. In announcing the referenda, the campaign sponsors wrote, “Most importantly, we need a fair system … we’re proposing four, common-sense reforms that will lead to greater fairness and academic integrity.”

Given the campaign’s emphasis on fairness and the student body’s overwhelming support for Honor Code reform, it may come as a troubling surprise to many that the existing Honor system is in fact far fairer and offers far stronger due process protections than another campus disciplinary process: investigation and adjudication of sexual misconduct cases through the Title IX Coordinator. Indeed, Princeton’s Title IX proceedings offer less procedural fairness and fewer due process protections than the Honor system does in five key areas.

Berger goes on to provide details distinguishing due process under the Honor Code and the lack thereof for Title IX adjudications. Her point is that a student accused of using a calculator on an exam is given greater protection than a student accused of rape. So naturally, an editor of the student newspaper responds by correcting her heresy.

Professor Sergio Verdú is teaching a course next semester: Information Theory, ELE 528, despite his being found guilty of sexually harassing his advisee by a University Title IX investigation. He sexually harassed someone. He is still here.

And his still being here manifests just why the accused – and the guilty – in cases of sexual assault and harassment adjudicated at the University do not need to be afforded more rights and in fact, privileges, as Allison Berger posits in her first argument of a recent Letter to the Editor.

What does Verdú has to do with anything? Don’t be silly. Failure to lead with a sad story is a journalistic faux pas these days, even though the story isn’t particularly earth shattering. But how he “manifests” a problem is curious. Apparently, the “sentence” imposed on Verdú failed to meet with Sarah Sakha’s passionate demands, and hence the system was unfair to the “victim.”

And Sakha makes abundantly clear that there is only one legitimate side of the argument when it comes to Title IX.

Raising the burden of proof, as Berger suggests, would only make it more difficult for sexual assault cases to be fairly adjudicated, and more difficult for victims to come forward and have their stories be met with credence. It is already difficult enough to do so in a social and political context that makes individuals hesitant to report incidents of sexual misconduct.

One might dismiss the logical disconnects if this were written by an entering frosh, but it’s harder when the author is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Princetonian. How raising the burden of proof makes it harder for cases to be “fairly adjudicated” is unexplained. But then, there being no rational nexus between the two, that’s unsurprising. How it makes it “more difficult” is similarly unexplained. So too is her claim that the “social and political context” (context?) presents a problem, at a time when “victims” are more adored and exalted than ever before.

While Sakha says she agrees with Berger that the system is unfair, she differs on unfair to whom.

But that is exactly why we need to reform Title IX procedures – and how we approach sexual misconduct allegations overall – to make it more just towards the victims, the survivors. And that is exactly why we need to reform the Honor Code to make it fairer, because “we take using a calculator in an exam more seriously than we take violating Title IX.” (Emphasis added.)

So no due process is too much already? How could that possibly be?

I will end with a note of caution: Let us not so liberally create parallels between Title IX cases and Honor Code cases, between the offense committed by a student on a final paper or exam with the crime committed by an individual against another. I see the merits for such comparisons, and neither act is victimless. However, the latter causes permanent harm, and for that reason, I see it as highly unfair – and atrocious – to even begin to compare going overtime on an exam or using a prohibited calculator with sexually violating another human being.

If this strikes you as absurd, bear in mind that when one perceives the “adjudication” from the perspective of “believe the victim,” such that every accusation is true, every accuser is a victim and the function of the adjudication is to confirm that the “crime was committed,” Sakha’s “note of caution” about conflating the wrongfulness of a test-cheater with “sexually violating another human being” makes complete sense.

The only problem, of course, is that Sakha’s view rejects any possibility that the accused committed no violation. And, indeed, her opening anecdote shows that the unfairness consists not of ascertaining the facts of what happened, but not imposing the death penalty on all offenders.

So what, you ask? She’s just some kid Princeton student, blindly indoctrinated to the current flavor of feminist social justice. Well, sure, but while she’s Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Princetonian today, will she be “explaining” the news to you as a journalist for some more “legit” outlet next year?

H/T KC Johnson

14 thoughts on “Princeton And The Peculiar Grasp Of Honor

  1. Erik H.


    Also, the Verdú case itself is silly.

    pro tip for all humans of either gender: when someone invites you to their house at night, to drink and to watch a film which is known for its sex scenes, they are going to make a pass at you. If that proposal (or the pass) will upset you unduly, the wise course is not to go.

    1. SHG Post author

      Much as I find it unseemly for profs to sexually engage with students (I know, Laura Kipnis says otherwise, but still), the response is a stern talk, not death by hanging. And a 25-year-old ought to be capable of handling her own affairs and letting Verdu know that his advances were unappreciated.

  2. B. McLeod

    What do you mean, “What’s Verdú got to do with it?” He HARASSED someone (according to their internal process) and HE’S STILL THERE. HE HASN’T BEEN EXECUTED!!!!! Obviously, a travesty, which taints the “safe space” of every progressive on the Princeton campus (perhaps even in the outlying community).

      1. Wrongway

        Dude !!!

        How & Why did your Brain go there !?!?!?!..

        And now he’s “That Ball-less guy on the Game of thrones.. (sigh)

        1. SHG Post author

          Since I started binge-watching Game of Thrones last weekend, I now understand this reference. Am I hip or what?

    1. Dan

      I live in the outlying P’ton community. My oldest recently graduated from Princeton Day School. Amongst the thinking area high school students there is much concern about this embarrassing collegiate SJW attitude– seen at many of the colleges they are applying to. Much discussion is engaged in at the High Schools, speakers are invited, students speak out. This is not a hopeless case.

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