The honor system crumbles without peer accountability

In today’s Wall Street Journal writer William McGurn discusses the recent allegations at Miami through the lens of honor systems. Here are a few key paragraphs:

Our military academies are not filled with moral paragons. Like their peers, their student bodies are populated with young Americans in their late teens. They are every bit as human, and an honor code has never been a guarantee against scandal. From the huge 1951 cheating scandal at West Point that saw more than 80 cadets expelled (including nearly half the football team) to more recent scandals at Navy and Air Force, the academies have had their share.

The difference is they don’t delegate to the NCAA the idea of right and wrong, and they take community seriously. On these campuses, no man is an island. The message is: You are all in it together.

The parallel for fraternities is clear: any chapter is capable of making a mistake and getting in trouble. The difference between mediocre chapters and excellent chapters is how they respond.

Failing chapters circle the wagons, shift blame and look the other way when peers abandon their values. Excellent chapters acknowledge the misstep and hold their own members accountable rather than waiting for some higher authority to take action.

The ingredients of Miami’s vices—the nightclubs, the prostitutes, the yachts—make it far juicier than the typical pay-for-play. The scandal here is not that teenage football players behave badly when a wealthy benefactor indulges their every appetite. The scandal is what it says about the impoverished sense of community on our college and university campuses, and the fecklessness of those who know better.

The cover story for upcoming fall issue of The Delta takes an in-depth look at traditional honor systems, including one of the institutions mentioned in this article. As we’ll see, peer accountability combined with a culture of trust is the essence of the honor system. As the only fraternity founded on the honor principle, Sigma Nu chapters must show their communities that self-governance works.

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