What the Honor System Really Means…

by Brett Twitty

Over the weekend, the following notice appeared in our law school-wide daily news circular, Law Notices:

“I found some money on the ground in the lower stacks Saturday afternoon. Please contact me at if it is yours.”

Each and every year, it seems there are similar notices, but, despite their frequency, I never get tired of reading them. Why? Well, it means that the Honor System, the very thing that defines so much of life here at W&L, is alive and well.  I’ve written about this before, and Mike Bombace has touched upon it in one of his blog posts, but to me, it bears repeating. I am often asked what the Honor System is all about, and admittedly, for a great many people, it’s not until they get here and see textbooks and laptops sitting unattended on carrels or students writing IOUs at the Brief Stop (our cafe at the law school) that they really appreciate the many ways the Honor System influences campus life. Nevertheless, to me, the above notice is a great example of the Honor System in action and, in many ways, just what it means to be a member of the W&L community.

Even after seven years in Lexington, I am still struck by the awesome socializing force of this system. How many places in the world do you know where a person who finds money on the ground will actually try to find its rightful owner? Better yet, how many places do you know where such behavior is not exceptional but rather expected? I am certainly not aware of too many.

As our students have detailed over the past few weeks, there are a number of benefits to living and learning in an environment defined by honesty but there are also real responsibilities. The Honor System (its success, vitality, longevity) depends upon the commitment of our students, and fortunately, we have four hundred or so students who are committed to the idea that character matters and trust and respect should be the foundation of every relationship. As an alumnus of the law school, I have to admit, that’s a pretty great thing.

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