Letters - Summer 2012

Responses to Our Spring 2012 Issue

By Our Readers | June 1, 2012

Honor on Campus

A Question of Honor” (Spring 2012) mentions universities with honor committees, but a little amplification is in order when describing the responsibilities of students at the University of Virginia. Yes, professors can report honor violations to the student-run honor committee, but every student has the obligation to report honor violations and can be brought before the honor com- mittee if he/she willingly fails to report an honor code violation. In fact, most violations are brought by students rather than faculty.

Having taken an oath to abide by the code, and having graduated from the University of Virginia, I have come away with an everlasting impression, especially since I witnessed the “disappearance” of one of my roommates after an honor committee meeting. When a student is expelled by the honor committee, the student’s name is summarily removed from the “record.” Many years later, I tried to locate my former roommate, and through the Internet found that he was a professional in Richmond, Virginia. His academic profile contained no mention of ever attending the University of Virginia.

That particular honor code has been working since 1842. Everyone in the Charlottesville community understands the “rules” and respects them. I doubt it’s a financial issue that prevents all universities from adopting an honor code. It’s just plain laziness.

Alan Hugh Bennett

West Orange, New Jersey

As a graduate student at the University of Virginia in the early 1980s, I was an honor-trial juror in the case of an undergraduate student accused of cheating on an exam. Students from the law school served as the prosecution and defense. The student’s professor was called as a witness along with others, and student test papers were entered as evidence. The accused student had the opportunity to speak in his defense. We, as fellow students, took seriously our responsibility to review the evidence and keep in mind that a decision for the prosecution would mandate expulsion from the university and ruin the collegiate career of the accused. We deliberated for two and a half days before determining that the evidence did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

There is no reason why this type of system could not thrive in institutions large and small. The lessons learned are lifelong and more valuable than any particular vocational skill acquired. It certainly had an impact on me.

Robert C. Landis

Seminole, Florida

In mentioning the prevalence of cheating in computer science, one should not forget that it is also the easiest discipline in which to catch cheating. At Stanford, students’ assignments are regularly run through automated cheating detectors that check students’ homework for similarity to any previously submitted assignment. If every literature essay were subjected to the same stringent test, one might find that the cheating rate is not substantially different.

Madeleine Udell

from our website

The Spring issue’s cover lines (“The Truth About Campus Cheating: It’s Up to Students Themselves to Stop It”) and William M. Chace’s lead article take the pressure off instructors. I refer to professors who place tenure above effective teaching, who capriciously write letters of recommendation, who skip classes, and who inadequately prepare their lectures.

Albert A. Mullin

Madison, Alabama

In Time of Counterinsurgency

Neil Shea’s “A Gathering Menace” (Letter from Afghanistan, Spring) hits upon the confusion about the conflict: is it a war or a counterinsurgency? It is most definitely the latter, and military leaders at all levels should make that distinction, if for no reason other than managing expectations. As an infantry officer and company commander currently deployed to Afghanistan, I find it disheartening to read about platoons that have failed so miserably at making this distinction.

The fighting here is often random and sporadic. An infantry soldier may see no action for weeks at a time and finally experience nothing more than the anonymous violence of a roadside bomb. Unfortunately, the young soldier who enlists today grew up with violent expectations raised by the popular media, especially video games.

All too often, young leaders (officers, senior NCOs) lack the backbone and ethical standards to stop atrocities before they happen—or at least the wherewithal to demand adherence to the Army values and codes of decency at the most basic level. This is no holier-than-thou diatribe against my seniors and peers. Four years ago, as a platoon leader in Afghanistan, I turned a blind eye to such behavior (though nothing of the magnitude demonstrated by the platoon in Shea’s letter). As would others in that situation, I wanted to be liked and did not relish the role of moral and ethical disciplinarian. I knew I was deficient then and identified a crucial flaw in my own leadership.

Today, should Shea spend time with one of the platoons in my company, he may observe some of the same attitudes he describes in his article. I hope not, and have, as have the vast majority of my peers, made every effort to maintain the good order and discipline necessary to a professional force.

Capt. Matthew Mobley, U.S. Army


The problems Shea describes come about when the soldiers on the ground no longer see the purpose of their mission.

One day during the Vietnam War, I and other soldiers were being transported in a large truck (commonly called a deuce and a half ) on a congested road, driving to who-knows-where. Some of the men urinated over the side, hitting natives on bicycles below, and laughed. The Vietnamese waved and swore in the English we had taught them. I was mortified but sat still and kept my mouth shut.

The soldiers who were positioned as saviors of the Vietnamese—from what, I still have not figured out—were instead just ugly Americans. It’s been 40-plus years, but I remember this inexcusable incident as if it were yesterday and hate “us” for being party to it.

Marc Aronson

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Our Gal Snooki

Regarding Pamela Haag’s “Death by Treacle,” I think New Jersey’s Snooki is the modal type for today—someone we can look down on (for being ignorant and silly) and up to (for being famous).

Chris Marrou

from our website

Intimations of Mortality

I almost fell off my chair when I read “A Shroud of Doubt” in Works in Progress (Winter). Archaeologist Shimon Gibson has been a long-term colleague of mine, and I even had a small role in the project of the burial cloth he discovered in Jerusalem.

Shimon asked me to do flotation (a form of water screening) on the bones and the bits of shroud in the tomb, to separate bones and shroud from the silt. I agreed, but when I looked at the material, the bones were so fragile that I decided to just pick them out of the silt; what remained of the shroud was even more fragile, consisting of black, carbonized fragments. I told Shimon that I did not like the work because it reminded me of my own mortality, of what I would become after I died. I had excavated tombs without number, but this one affected me more than all of the others. When I learned later that I had been working with the bones of a leper, I could not help wondering whether my subconscious had been at work.

As the analysis proceeded, we learned that not only had the deceased been a leper, he had also been afflicted with tuberculosis, a double whammy if ever I heard of one.

Egon H. E. Lass

The writer has been a staff member with the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon in Israel since 1985.

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