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CONDITIONS REQUISITE FOR THE MAINTENANCE
N order that there may be an honor system two conditions are essential. First, there must be a communal sense of honor. Second, there must be sufficient communal bravery to enforce the regulations and to apply under stress the penalties which this sense has dictated in its hours of deliberation and calm. An uncertain sense of honor and a shifting policy in the enforcement of penalties negative every good which can be attained through an honor system; and to attempt to foster an honor system where no strong sense of honor exists is to prepare the way for public scandal and personal debasement. For an honor system to be effective, there must be about it no taint for which those living under it need feel themselves called upon to apologize. They must know what it involves; and they must be willing that where the offense lies the great axe shall fall. There must be no shifting or hedging, no partiality or begging off.
One of the surest ways of defeating the purpose for which an honor system is established is to put under the system regulations with regard to which student sentiment has not crystalized. To write into the laws any regulation to which there is widespread opposition, even though that regulation may be in itself most salutary and praiseworthy, is to court the infraction of that regulation, the failure to punish those who break it, and the weakening of the entire system. Especially is this true in college communities where there does not exist a well-defined spirit of leadership which might enable a few strong students to bend public sentiment to the accepting of unpopuler measures. Therefore, the larger the minority and the less willing it is to submit to the will of the majority, unless the majority is of sufficient strength to eliminate the refractory element, the wise course is adopt only such measures as both the minority and the majority will support. The ideal condition, however, is attained
only in such colleges as have developed so strong a spirit of unity that the minority is willing to accept conditions to which it is hostile and to set to work to obey the spirit of the law until such a time as the minority can transform itself into a majority. Unfortunately, it is rare that the citizens of any community, especially of a college, are so well poised in their actions or so loyal in their attitude toward the entire group that they will submit in good faith to the will of their opponents. Therefore, some machinery other than that of an honor system must usually be provided to take care of those offenses against good order which students do not feel to involve their personal or their communal honor. No honor system can be any better than the mass sense of honor of those who work under the system.
In a body changing as rapidly as the personnel of the students in any college changes it is even more difficult to secure a consistent course of action through a long period of years than it is in civic life, where the citizens are a part of the community for periods ranging from one or two to fifty years; yet even in colleges the spirit which has been built during one generation can be passed on to the next to a remarkable degree if the older and more prominent students are willing to place the good of the college ahead of their preferences and their pleasures. Upon this spirit of willingness to work for ends which he may never be able to achieve in himself and for a communal good in which he may never be able to participate rests the possibility of maintaining an honor system; and in this spirit lies the greatest good which can come to a man in the formation of his character or to the State of which he is to be a citizen. For the process involves both thought and solidarity of action, the willingness to strive courageously for the attainment of ends, and the ability to submit to the common conscience even where that conscience forces upon the individual or his friends an ultimatum which he is loath to accept either as final or even as temporarily binding.
There can be no such thing as a successful honor system if rival cliques are able to shove into office students who have not the respect of the whole, who under pressure make hasty judg
ments, or who even when they know themselves to have been right in their original finding are nevertheless willing to face about rather than bear the stigma of unpopularity. Neither can there be any such thing as a successful honor system among students who having once made a law and having elected their representatives to see that that law is enforced then repudiate that law when it becomes inconvenient and demand of their representatives that the latter fail to render judgment in accordance therewith.
The ability to administer an honor system wisely calls for the very highest qualities of which a group of students is capable. The college which in addition to giving good academic advantages can maintain an honor system which is a reality both in name and in fact offers the very finest opportunity for development which any student can receive, because within its walls he can become a self-directed personality, adjusting his actions to his environment and his environment to those actions which he deems best adapted to the furtherance of the particular purposes for which his society was formed. It calls further for the very highest type of courage in demanding of the student that he do all in his power to force his own conception of right upon his group, that, if he fail in this, he will have the self-control to submit himself to the will of the group, and that, if others of the group are lacking in this self-control, he will have the courage to demand of them that for the good of the whole they submit themselves unreservedly to the authority which they have delegated to their representatives.
THE HONOR SYSTEM AT THE COLLEGE OF
MONG her many priorities, William and Mary justly claims that of leading the way in the formulation and the adoption of the Honor System. Early in the nineteenth century, in the days when no other idea of college government prevailed throughout America than that the student should be watched like a suspected criminal for offenses either actual or potential, the faculty of William and Mary appointed a committee, whose head was the distinguished jurist, Beverley Tucker, to draw up a statement of the spirit and content of an honor system by which the conduct of the students of the old college was to be guided. At once put into operation, this system has continued in actual and successful working without interruption until the present day.
But glorious and inspiring as is the historical origin of the Honor System, it is with its operation now and in the future that the men and women of the new day at the old College are primarily concerned. In the first place, it is of vital importance that every new student, enrolling in September, should clearly understand what the Honor System really is and what it means in his life and in the corporate life of the College. Ignorance of it may bring the possibility-even the probability of breaking it, and at once there follows a well-nigh irreparable injury to the character, the reputation, and the future of the individual student, and an equally grave lowering of the morale of the student body; for this must always suffer by the disgrace of any of its members. It is in this spirit that the present serious attempt is made to set forth, especially for the benefit of the new students, just what the Honor System is, and what is required of each in order to translate it into his life.
The Honor System may be defined in a word as individual responsibility. It brings home to the individual man or woman who would stay at the noble old College and get the advantages she offers, his personal responsibility for her fair name and honor.
It emphasizes two things: first, that the student must recognize that he is answerable in the very fullest degree for every one of his actions and dealings with the members of the faculty and with his fellows, in his or their rooms, in the dining halls, the athletic fields, the social centers, and in the classrooms; and, second, that he must recognize his personal responsibility for the well-being of the College in every phase of life in which he touches her existence.
Such phases, in the large, will at once suggest themselves to every one. They include, primarily, everything which touches the securing of aid, assistance, or profit in scholastic work of whatsoever kind, whether in term class work, periodical tests, or in the formal examinations, as well as in all work handed in to the instructor, though it is to be regretted that in the latter respect, students otherwise most sensitive to the Honor System do not seem to feel its demands so keenly as in regard to the others. A slight reflection, however, will convince one that work of this kind should also be included in the scope of the Honor System. It is a source of pride to all lovers of the College that public opinion of the students is now, and has always been, most healthy, vigorous, and uncompromising in its condemnation of all infractions of the Honor System falling under the heads just enumerated.
As to all offenses touching the taking of property which is not one's own, in any form, it goes without saying that these come most completely under the condemnation of the Honor System, and find swift and deserved punishment at the hands of the student body itself. It is gratifying to record that this form of dishonesty has not occurred at the College for many years.
Men and women of the old College, the Honor System is a priceless jewel put into our keeping the keeping of each single one of us-by men who knew no shadow of stain in thought or deed: shall we not hand it on to those who come after us as pure and burning a flame as when it was kindled a hundred years ago, the first torch of its kind in the New World?
W. A. Montgomery.