One of the best things about Caltech is the autonomy that students are afforded. It’s no exaggeration to say life as we know it would not be possible without the Honor Code. We often take this implicit trust between students, faculty, and staff, for granted. But as in any relationship, this trust can start to degrade over time if it is not reassessed and reaffirmed.
By many accounts, the past few years have been a rough patch – owing in large part to the pandemic, among several other factors. One of the most notable yet least discussed manifestations of this was the five-year hiatus of the Conduct Review Committee (CRC). The CRC is a panel of students, faculty, and staff which hears cases of non-academic honor code violations. In essence, it is a counterpart to the Board of Control (BoC). Before this term, the CRC had not convened since 2018; instead, cases were being routed directly to the Deans’ Office or the Office of Residential Experience (ORE) for investigation, removing any avenues of student input in the process.
“If the student CRC reps don’t really get to be a part of deciding consequences or outcomes in a meaningful way, it’s basically a longer version of saying the deans can do as they please,” said Pranay Satya (Ricketts, ‘24).
But for now, things are on the mend. Over the past few months, the official procedures for the operation of the CRC have received an overhaul and rewrite, thanks primarily to the efforts of undergrads Winter Pearson (Dabney, ‘24) and Jonathan Booker (Ricketts, ‘25) and Associate Dean Kristin Weyman. The new procedures were recently amended to the Bylaws of the Associated Students of Caltech, inc. (ASCIT) by vote of the undergraduate population. The elected student representatives to the CRC from the eight houses (plus one unaffiliated rep) have received training. And, finally, the CRC has started hearing cases again.
From the student perspective, this all comes as a huge sigh of relief – and especially so for Pearson, the current Student Co-Chair of the CRC. “I think it’s wonderful that we’ve been able to update the CRC process to allow us to sit more cases,” they chirped. “I’m certainly glad to see how those changes will allow a greater degree of participation from the whole Caltech community in resolving non-academic Honor Code concerns – undergrads included!”
Booker, the current ASCIT Secretary and co-author of the revised bylaws, explained why he was first motivated to reexamine the old CRC process.
“Barely three months into the year, five friends of mine – one of them a frosh – were kicked out of campus housing as a result of a Deans’ investigation,” Booker told the Tech. The incident being investigated caused no physical or personal damage to any member of the Caltech community. “Several student leaders, the Interhouse Committee (IHC), and even a faculty member petitioned for this sanction, which was obviously overkill, to be modified or lessened, especially since it was a first offense. But they stood firm.”
That incident was one of several controversial decisions handed down by administration last year without student input, despite the fact that most of them fell within the CRC’s jurisdiction. For example, another particularly high-profile case was the ORE’s investigation of an “underwear dance party” which took place in Ricketts Hovse, deemed to be a violation of the Code of Conduct. The resulting sanctions, which were unilaterally decided on by residential life staff, included a complete cancellation of Ricketts’ social events for the Winter 2022 term.
For many undergrads, who already felt that their opinions were being discarded in favor of decreasing Institute liability, these actions served only to highlight the administration’s detachment from the realities of student life.
“The traditions and social activities that breathe life into the Caltech undergraduate experience are seeming more and more like relics of the past,” lamented Adèle Bastürk (Lloyd, ‘25).
Fortunately, the revised CRC procedures were built to make handling similar incidents far easier for both students and administration in the future. One of the major functional changes is the number of committee members required for a full hearing, which has been decreased from five to three (plus the non-voting co-chairs). This maintains the ratio of committee members at 1 student : 1 faculty : 1 staff while significantly decreasing the amount of “cat-herding” necessary.
Equally important is the obsolescence of the “routing committee,” which was a panel consisting of the Dean of Students, the Associate Dean of Students, the director of ORE, the BoC chair, and the CRC student co-chair. The routing committee was previously responsible for deciding if new cases should be handled by the Deans, the ORE, or the CRC. Of course, in recent years, nothing was ever sent to the CRC. But according to Pearson, this was nothing more than an unfortunate practicality. Given the logistical difficulty of scheduling seven CRC members plus the respondents for a full hearing, the staff on the routing committee tended to prefer the quicker option of handling time-sensitive cases themselves.
Instead, the role of the routing committee will be carried out by a dedicated staff member in the Deans’ office. While at face value this might seem a worse arrangement than before, it’s worth noting that the Deans’ office has no incentives to divert cases from the CRC. In fact, they would much prefer that their schedules remain uncluttered by minor investigations.
“In the spirit of shared-governance, the deans’ office is trying to engage students, faculty, and staff in the decision-making process, to help uphold Caltech’s community standards,” wrote Dean Weyman, the faculty Co-Chair of the CRC.
The pan-institutional accomplishment of researching, implementing, and ratifying these changes to the CRC represents a significant recent milestone in student-admin relations. “I think it’s really important that students are involved in enforcing the honor code just as much as administration is,” said Saren Daghlian (Avery, ‘24). “This is a very welcome development.”