Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/185

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
181
HONOR SYSTEM IN AMERICAN COLLEGES

It was under such conditions as these that the honor system was adopted at Princeton about a dozen years ago. It was introduced likewise at Cornell University, at Amherst, Williams and other northern colleges. At Princeton it is reported to be still giving satisfaction, although there have been occasional spasms of apparent weakness. In the other institutions named it seems never to have become very deeply rooted. Its maintenance, as well as its introduction, required organization among the students and tact on the part of those whose duty it was to teach and examine. There seems to be a growing feeling that the honor system, even if exotic, ought to be encouraged if students can be induced to adopt it; that self-government is the best government if it is only real government. But where no supporting tradition already exists on such a subject it is as hard to make reliable calculations on the stability of student opinion as on the magnitude of political majorities.

For the introduction of the honor system into any institution of learning, or for its subsequent efficiency, the first essential is the organization of a college court, composed of leading representatives from the most important classes or departments. The efficiency of such a court depends upon the earnestness and watchfulness of a small minority of the student body who are public spirited enough to endure temporary inconvenience and to risk their personal popularity by reporting those who offend against the laws adopted by the student body. If there are never any indictments there can be no need for a court. Since the college world is not wholly made up of angels, it is absolutely certain that offenses will be committed. If nobody is willing to act as prosecutor or complainant the law becomes a dead letter, and the court dies a natural death. But such a court should be organized in every college and its vitality should be tested by actual practise. To its jurisdiction should be committed all cases of crookedness in class or examination or in anything else that affects the welfare of the student body. If a young man shows to his fellow-students that he is dishonest outside of the class-room, it is not necessary that the enforcement of the honor system should be limited to matters connected with written examinations. The voice of the student body should be heard even if it be not always judicial. The student court should indeed not be a court of last resort. Its rulings should be subject to examination by an appellate court consisting of the president and a committee of the faculty of the institution. The right of appeal to this supreme court should never be yielded, but such appeal should not be demanded unless strong reasons for it can be established.

Even if a good student court has been organized, the maintenance of the honor system may be and often is nullified by the unwillingness of students to inform against the violators of law. This indeed is the greatest difficulty to be overcome in practise. A student whose mental