Honor principle

Students, faculty and staff at Reed have always described the honor principle as one of the college's most important and distinctive features. What is the honor principle? How do we define it? How does this definition translate into standards for the day-to-day interactions we have with each other?

Although there is no official definition of the honor principle, community members have sought for years to communicate what the honor principle means in every aspect of life. For a review of how the honor principle governs life at Reed, see the publication, "Living with the honor principle," available in student life. Excerpts from that publication are found in this guidebook.

The essence of Reed honor

Despite changing norms of behavior from 1911 to the present, certain ideas seem to have remained essential to the meaning of the honor principle:

  • The honor principle is universal, binding all members of the college community.
  • The honor principle assumes that members of the community will be honest (not only in their academic work, but in all their behavior), will respect others' rights and persons, will take responsibility for the effect of their behavior on the college as a whole, and will engage in conscientious self-reflection about their words and deeds.
  • The honor principle itself is not a law or code of conduct and does not take the place of or eliminate the need for legislation; instead, it presupposes voluntary compliance with established rules, regulations, and policies.
  • The honor principle mandates maximum reliance on individual judgment and conscience and minimal enforcement of rules and regulations.
  • The honor principle implies that when individuals sincerely believe it necessary to violate a policy or break a rule, or to embarrass, discomfit, or in some way injure others or the community as a whole, they must acknowledge and explain their behavior, and be prepared to accept the judgment of the community's judicial process.
  • The honor principle depends on a collective concern for its survival: members of the community have to discuss and analyze the meaning of the honor principle and must internalize an obligation to ensure that potentially dishonorable behavior, their own or others', is scrutinized through acknowledgment and discussion, direct confrontation, or the mechanisms of the judicial process.

In the 1989-90 student handbook, Jiro Feingold casts this spirit in less formal language:

What the honor principle means to me: Don't lie, cheat, or steal. Don't mock or humiliate someone in a public forum. Think about what you do, before you do it. If it will inconvenience someone, try to find a solution compatible to both of you. Try to make the community work.

Honor council

The honor council consists of an equal number of students, staff, and faculty members. Under the constitution, the honor council is responsible for educating incoming members of the community about the meaning and importance of responsible and honorable conduct at Reed College. In addition, the council is expected to provide advice to those seeking resolution of disputes and to informally mediate such disputes prior to more formal action.

There can be many kinds of disputes, and they can involve any permutation of students, staff, and faculty. The honor council should be viewed as an important tool for the individual in our community, regardless of whether he or she is claiming that someone has violated Reed's honor principle or whether he or she is being accused of a violation. For a complainant it offers a first step in developing a resolution to the problem. For a respondent it offers an opportunity to respond. To both parties it offers an opportunity to resolve the dispute before the initiation of often difficult and time-consuming formal proceedings.

Informal procedures for mediation

Procedures for mediation have been enacted by the student senate and the faculty. They are outlined here in their entirety. These procedures apply to staff members except for disputes that arise from their performance of assigned duties.

Most disputes at Reed are and should be settled by direct discussion. In a community that subscribes to ideals of honor, responsibility, and freedom of expression, disagreements and grievances usually can be worked out through sincere and respectful conversation. Sometimes this conversation will take place with third persons present, but more often it just occurs between the parties themselves. When a disagreement or grievance cannot be resolved in this way, the next step should usually be mediation under the auspices of the honor council. To quote the community constitution, "members of the Reed community are bound in good faith to seek informal resolutions of disputes, grievances, and breaches of honor before formal steps are taken."

Mediation occurs whenever persons in conflict agree to have some neutral third party help them understand and resolve their differences. Mediation is entirely voluntary and can be broken off by any disputant at any time. Mediation of some disputes consists of all parties having a chance to state their views and discuss their disagreements in a structured, confidential, and non-judgmental forum. In other cases, successful mediation can result in a written agreement signed by both parties. Sometimes a written agreement will amount to a statement of understanding or a contract between the parties that will not be kept on file by anyone other than the parties themselves. If that agreement involves an explicit acknowledgment that an individual has injured a community member or committed a breach of honor, a copy of the agreement will be transmitted to the chair of the honor council and kept on file in accordance with the procedures of the community constitution, Article IV, Section 9.

Either party to a dispute may ask any member of the honor council to initiate the process of mediation. Before mediation can begin, both parties must agree to engage in mediation, must agree-in writing-to the ground rules of mediation for the case, and must agree on a particular mediator, who typically will be a member of the honor council. Certain ground rules must be agreed to for all mediation sponsored by the honor council: mediation is confidential, unless all parties agree otherwise; mediation is not a "hearing" and does not result in a judgment or finding, though it may result in a written agreement; when disputants belong to different constituencies of the college (student, faculty, staff), each party has a right to have a mediator present from his or her own constituency, in which case the mediators will function as a team; no one may be present at mediation except the disputants and the mediator(s); a confidential report of the progress and outcome of mediation will be transmitted to the chair of the honor council; and if mediation fails, either party retains the right to institute formal proceedings according to the processes described in the "grievance" section below.

Disputes about grades or other formal evaluations of student work and disagreements arising from formal personnel evaluations are not subject to mediation.

In summary, if a member of the community feels wronged in some way, the honor council offers assistance in addressing the problem. All members of the honor council are available to discuss and advise on a strictly confidential basis how to proceed informally or formally with a grievance. The honor council can be an important enfranchising tool for all members of the Reed community, and community members are urged to avail themselves of its services. Comments and suggestions are welcome.


Every member of the community has a right to file a formal complaint against another community member and to have that complaint heard by an appropriate hearing board. Complaints against students must be filed with the chair of the student judicial board; complaints against faculty members must be filed with the dean of the faculty; complaints against staff members must be filed with the director of human resources or the vice president/treasurer. The judicial board code, the rules and procedures of the faculty, and the staff handbook describe the exact procedures for handling and hearing complaints; copies of these documents may be obtained from the dean of student life. Hearing boards at Reed have the responsibility to investigate complaints, determine facts, and recommend action appropriate to the circumstances of the case and the ethos of an educational institution. Hearings are not trials; they do not take the place of legal action, and complainants always have the right to pursue legal action or seek redress from state and federal agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Judicial Board

The judicial board (J-board) hears cases concerning alleged violations by members of the student body of the honor principle, community rules or college policies, rules, regulations or contracts. Generally, the J-board hears cases brought by current or former members of the Reed community against any individual who has allegedly committed a violation while a member of the student body. The final authority in judicial matters is vested in the president of the college.

Students, faculty and staff are asked to participate in the judicial system. For the purposes of the judicial board code, the Reed College community shall be defined as consisting of all currently employed faculty members, staff members, and student body members who are either currently enrolled, registered, on leave, or have made arrangements with the business office to pay tuition and fees.

The J-board consists of nine full-time students. Five J-board members hear each case, with a sixth member acting as a procedural aide. The student senate appoints J-board members once a year and during semesters if needed.

During periods in which the college is not officially in session or the J-board is unable to convene, the president of the college shall appoint a temporary hearing board composed of four members of the appeals board including the chair, who shall serve as chair of the temporary hearing board.

Complaints against a student must be submitted in writing to the chair of the J-board, who shall file a copy of the complaint with the dean of student life before the case is heard. The written complaint must state:

  1. the grounds on which the complainant(s) believes that a violation of the honor principle or college rules has occurred;
  2. a brief description of the actions that the complainant(s) believes do constitute a violation;
  3. a list of the names of the persons believed to have committed a violation, if the names of such violators are known to the complainant(s);
  4. a list of witnesses with information pertinent to the case; and
  5. a statement of why informal mediation was unsuccessful or did not occur.

The J-board reserves the right to recommend mediation to parties to a case as specified in Article IV sec. 1 of the community constitution. J-board hearings, and all information regarding honor cases, are strictly confidential. Neither the complainant nor the respondent may contact their own witnesses, nor may they discuss matters pertinent to the case outside of the hearing.

Members of the honor council are available for informal mediation or consultation before an honor case is brought to the J-board.

Judicial board code

(Page last modified: November 29, 2023)