infographic - the honor committee's proposal to address problems within the system

Graphic by LaVidaCo


Throughout the Honor System's history, students have introduced various changes to the system to address the issues of the day. Read about this history, the Honor Committee's latest proposal, as well as more comments from readers.

In addition to the comments section of this page (and this article), the Alumni Forum provides a place for discussion of issues related to U.Va.


Comments ( 63 )

Patrick Ryan on 2013 01 21

Current honor system has evolved into a nightmarish and unfair debacle the at makes a mockery of due process. 

These changes can only help- BUT - the appeals process has to be addressed as well.

The existing appeal system is blatantly unfair as some involved with the original trial have a role.

Bob on 2013 01 21

Let me raise for you the prospect of a third student, and, when I was a counsel, the MOST COMMON student dealt with.  Student knows he or she did what they are accused of and admits as such, but student does not believe that the conduct was an Honor offense.  Under this proposal, student must either a) lie and admit to doing something (an Honor offense) that they don’t honestly believe they did, or b) risk expulsion by going to trial.  What good does this proposal do for that student?  Or the fourth student, who conducts an action that the average student at U.Va. now considers insignifcant, so they go to trial, to be faced with a largely self-selected (remember, most Honor elections are UNCONTESTED) jury that obviously treats Honor more seriously than the average student.

The single sanction is a stain on this University, and this Informed Retraction does nothing to help but add gamesmanship, and then the proposal gets worse by making sure juries are no longer representative of the student body (they already aren’t, since single sanction opponents are excluded from juries despite making up about 45% of the University population), but rather of a largely self-selected group of elitists.

I hope the student body realizes that this actually makes the system worse, and not better.  If the Honor Committee really cared about improving the system, instead of keeping in place anachronisms, get rid of the single sanction, let student juries decide guilt or innocence, and whether or not an offense warrants expulsion.  If they choose no, THEN, and only then, it might make sense for Honor Committee members to choose the sanction.

Stephen Berry on 2013 01 21

Adding flexibility is a good idea, but the problem is the “single sanction,” rather than the process.  Expelling students for material dishonesty should be the norm, but there should be alternate sanctions (including but not limited to a one-year suspension) that a panel could impose based on all the facts and circumstances.  Making the process itself more convoluted is not the best solution.

Hughes Bakewell on 2013 01 21

Several years ago, I wrote a letter that was published in The University of Virginia Magazine. In that letter, I argued that the current single sanction penalty is fundamentally wrong because it leaves no opportunity for forgiveness.  This proposed change to the Honor System clearly address that ideal.
All of us have made mistakes in our lives.  If one of our children makes a mistake when he or she knows better, but admits it and then asks for forgiveness even though there will be consequences, do we say “Go away, leave my house and life.  I never want to see you again?” Or do we administer a punishment that fits the crime and then welcome them back with open arms once they’ve made amends? Why should a member of the University of Virginia family be treated any differently than we would treat members of our own family?

Tracy on 2013 01 21

For lack of an “I agree” button, I’ll verbalize that Bob’s point is extremely important and must be a factor in implementing any kind of change to the existing Honor System.

Matthew on 2013 01 21

My question is what happens to the transcript of the person who uses the informed retraction.  Does it say “suspended - Honor Offense” or just “Enrollment Postponed.”  I know I had to take one year off from school because of a medical illness.  I will be disappointed if an admitted cheater’s final transcript will be identical to mine.

Robert on 2013 01 21

The other article that was sent out with this infographic addresses your transcript question. It says, “A student would only be allowed to file an Informed Retraction once. While a student is away from the University, his or her transcript would read “Honor Leave of Absence.” The notation would be removed after a year, regardless of whether a student opts to return to U.Va.”

Eugene Gant on 2013 01 21

Hughes makes a point too often ignored by the all-too righteous University community.  There is another, more compassionate way to address academic offenses.  In the 1980s, I was unacceptably sloppy in thoroughly footnoting sources I used (but cited) in a major paper.  I acknowledged I was in the foggy area of “what is plagiarism?”, but I didn’t consider my offense “reprehensible”.  My professor was livid and extremely disappointed.  I considered what I did stupid and very regrettable, but not an Honor Code violation. My memory is that my professor and an ad hoc departmental committee concluded I had committed a horrible act inconsistent with what was expected of a scholar.  Instead of an Honor Trial, I failed a course critical to my major.  But I remained a student, having learned a valuable lesson in pragmatism.  I was punished (my GPA was crushed due to the hours weight of the course), but I recovered and my life has been pretty good.  I got into a graduate program (perhaps not the best) by taking the “F” head on, characterizing the whole affair as having definitively reshaped my character. My point: the professor and the faculty consulted (again, this is my recollection) considered the idea of an Honor Trial to be excessive, especially since they had concluded I could not avoid expulsion (see the example above of the student who does the right thing by admitting guilt). Does the Honor Committee or administration have data on “potential” honor violations like mine that are addressed by the faculty, thereby resolved before reaching the Honor Committee? If there were a way to codify the process by which faculty could have a role in the assessment of academic violations, either identified by an instructor or reported by a student, the compassionate perspective addressed by Hughes might be institutionalized.

Jeff N. on 2013 01 21

I like the first option some although it still provides an incentive to lie, just not at big as before.  I don’t like professional juries though due to the skewed sample syndrome.  The issue is that people who go through the trouble of being professional jurors are usually zealots and although there may be some well meaning people on the jury, there would also be a lot of people who were hard core honor people who had the view that everyone is guilty if they got this far.  There has to be a reason why they got away from this in 1990.  I suspect that this is part of the reason.

Jeff N. on 2013 01 21

There are many honor codes at various universities (UNC for a comparable to UVA), that have a gradation of punishments that range from a 0 on the work in question, to and F in the class to a year suspension to expulsion. 

The problem with the single sanction is that the incentive to lie is huge as telling the truth has 0 upside (it results in a guilty verdict and the only punishment, expulsion).  The result is that small offenses are not reported due to the fact people don’t want to ruin another person’s life. 

There is also a reason we have jurors of our peers (I still don’t like that you are excluded if you don’t believe in the single sanction) instead of professional juries in the real legal system.  It is your peers versus a host of jaded elected jurors that are overworked and hard core.

The one year off thing goes in the right direction but it really needs to be expanded so that if you go to trial, you have a range of punishments that fit the crime so to speak.

Otherwise you have danced around the issue (the single sanction) without actually hitting it head on.

I would be interested in a survey of alums broken down by age that are for and against the single saction.  If they are anything like me, I suspect as people get older they would be more against it as you learn through life that there is a lot of gray area things and there needs to be choice in punishment. 

Imagine if all crimes had the death penalty.  A person who stole a pack up gum would be executed just like a mass murderer.  That just sounds silly and that is exactly what the single sanction is. 

In fact, the single sanction is worse in some ways.  Murder is not lying cheating or stealing.  A convicted murderer could stay in the community theoretically as a long distance learning student in prison while the gum stealer would be expelled with the single sanction.  I suspect the judiciary committee would expell the murderer but you see my point.  In the eyes of the honor system, the gum stealer is worse than the person who commits a heinous crime like murder.  There is no concept of malice in the honor system which makes it incomplete.

RAB on 2013 01 21

The last thing the University needs to do is take away the representative and random nature of the jury.  The issue is with the penalty; the single sanction is the largest deterrent to the reporting of violations and the cause of most of the uneasiness.  I agree with the comments of Bob, Hughes, and Tracey.

Toby on 2013 01 21

I used to serve on the honor committee. I applaud the current committee for the courage and will for change. We shall see how the debate evolves as it now percolates throughout the community.

Once again, without regards to the specifics of the proposal, I want to congratulate the committee for putting this in front of the student body. 

Good luck!!

Alumnus on 2013 01 21

How about the 3rd student who acts honorably during their time on Grounds and does not lie cheat or steal?  What does this proposal say to them?  “I have worn the honors of Honor” doesn’t really have the same ring when confronted cheaters get to wear them too.

Daphne on 2013 01 21

When my brother was at the law school, it was joked regarding the Honor System, “A gentleman does not lie, cheat or steal, but you may tell a woman you love her.”  Without intending to condone such lies to women, I believe some “honor violations” are not deserving of expulsion and therefore, under the current system, probably are not reported, making the Honor System itself a joke.  I don’t know of any civilized penal system that does not allow for gradations of offense and punishment in at least some circumstances.

Bob on 2013 01 21

Alumnus, but I’m sure you’re perfectly happy with the ring to it when thousands, of un-confronted cheaters have gotten to wear them for generations, too?

Michael Lawler on 2013 01 22

“Incentivises” the dishonesty…God really?  Perhaps the real question should be “Who can now “earn” a degree from the University and gain the career advantage of its 200 years of Honor and academic excellence?  The corollary of course would be, “Will any subsequent graduating classes enjoy the same prestige this group has presumed, after this generation has rationalized its mediocrity with a diluting of the Honor System?”
Forget that the English department should be “all over” this neologism, “incentivizes”, as an unrefined substitute for well constructed syntax.  Further consideration would belaborize my concern and distract from my real purpose.
Forget that the psychology and philosophy departments, along with the School of Law, should be considering the issue of how an honor system, a social contract to be honest, can be rationalized as a mechanism which provides a motive for dishonest behavior?
Does the social prohibition of murder “incentivize” homicide?
Do social constraints against inebriation and sloth “incentivize” drunkeness and vulgar presentation?
Does the University’s antique expectations of excellence beget mediocrity?
I don’t know which I find more alarming; that this is a dialogue rationalizing stealing intellectual recognition and academic achievement from the honest endeavors of fellow students pledged to the Honor system or that the debate is so mundane and droll.  That whirring sound you hear is Jefferson spinning in his grave.
A&S 1975


Ethan on 2013 01 22

I also commend the Honor Committee for attempting to repair a broken system. That being said, they seem to be dancing around the obvious problem. Creating a “professional” jury of questionable intent does not address the issues inherent with a single sanction approach.  I agree with the sentiments of many of those above, including Jeff N. - although hyperbolic, how can we support a system that treats gum stealers the same as murderers and rapists?

Offering an “informed retraction” does nothing more than provide an alternative single sanction that punishes all offenses with one sweeping and likely inappropriate penalty. While this may incentivize offenders to tell the truth, it will also allow perpetrators of truly reprehensible acts a literal “get out of jail free” card. Should blatant plagiarizers and rapists be allowed to reenter the community of trust after just a year off?

Is the University of Virginia community willing to stand by the single sanction fallacy solely to promote the delusion that innocence and guilt are always black and white?

Martin on 2013 01 22

I am a dinosaur who graduated almost 35 years ago, in different times and when the system was stricter than it is now. There were circumstances where students were deputized to do the investigation of a possible honor violation, and I was once such a deputy. There is no question that when confronted with only two options, absolution or expulsion, one proceeded very carefully and weighed the evidence with some tilt toward exoneration. However, the question I have is, don’t students still have to sign “the card?” When I matriculated, before the offer of admittance to the University was finalized, you had to sign that you pledge to uphold the Honor System. In the roaring ‘70’s, it was at least somewhat intimidating to agree to that, knowing you now could be expelled for potentially minor transgressions. No one in my immediate cohort of dorm and classmates misunderstood the seriousness of signing the pledge, and they conducted themselves very carefully. Was there cheating that went unreported and unpunished? Of course. Was there an atmosphere that such behavior was the exception? Absolutely. It is very sad for me to read how the environment has been allowed to degrade to where there is now essentially no trust in the system. Of course, far more students today admit to cheating in high school in order to get into college than they did in my day. Perhaps we should just abandon the Honor System entirely as an archaic anachronism? To me, the value of the single sanction is that, in the context of knowing that there were likely repercussions, it crystalized one’s focus on what one decided to do. When I attended the University, the number of people who admitted they cheated and left without trial was pretty significant. I guess we were all more Honorable then.

CW on 2013 01 22

Look at the Honor Committee’s flow chart. In the eyes of the Honor Committee, there are only two types of students—guilty students who admit their guilt and guilty students who lie.  Their world view does not include the possibility that an accused student might be not guilty.  If juries are made up of Honor Commitee members who believe all accused students are guilty, then going to trial means being convicted.  So what options does the not guilty student have then?  Informed retraction is a step in the right direction, but students should insist on the right to student juries. If the Honor committee wants to be responsive to what the students want, they should have the courage to separate these proposals so students can vote separately on whether to approve informed retraction and whether to give up the right to student juries.

Student on 2013 01 22

Most people who have commented here have made many valid points, and I think most people would agree that the system is not perfect.  That being said, there is one thing that no one has brought up that I believe is a significant player in this argument.  That is the simple fact that if you are a student at UVa, you choose to be a student of this community.  No one forced the Honor System on you.  When you decided to come to the University of Virginia, you accepted the system, and even signed your name to a document with all the other students in your incoming class.  I am not saying that every student who comes to UVA is a fervent believer in the Honor System or Single Sanction, but by signing their name, they agreed to live under those rules for the duration of the time they spend at UVA.  If you do not like our system, do not attend our school.  There are plenty of other universities that offer similar opportunities and a similar education.  Single Sanction is an aspect of this community.  And yes, it does mean that we treat the ‘gum stealer’ similar to the ‘murderer’, but that is because the system attempts to create a community does not tolerate any dishonesty, no matter how larger or how small.  Again, I am not as naïve as to believe that every single person at UVA will stay perfectly honorable for the time that they spend at UVA, but I hope that it gives us pause, and encourages us to be better people and to build a better community. 
On the proposed changes, I believe that addition of the Informed Retraction is a great addition to the Honor System, allowing a much needed element of forgiveness to the system.  Everyone makes mistakes, and in most cases, he or she deserves an opportunity to earn back the trust they have broken.  This will also encourage other students to report honor offenses.  I do not, however, like the addition of the ‘experienced juries’.  Even the term ‘experienced juries’ sounds frightening to me.  I think this would give a skewed view of the community; such positions would most likely only attract fanatics of the Honor System.  Maybe there is some middle ground to be found between random students, and trained jurors. 
I also wonder if the student body will be able to vote on the two proposals separately, or if we will only be able to vote on both as one proposal.  I think these two proposals address different issues and should therefore be considered separately.

Howard A. Foard III on 2013 01 22

As Student Body President in 1998-99, we challenged the single sanction and put the issue to Student Referendum. It narrowly lost. At that time there were substantial disparities in treatment of minority students in the system. I vigorously support alternatives to the single sanction but am concerned about the second part of the proposal.  My experience in all organizations is that people will conform to organizational thinking, culture, expectations, and pressures—Group Think. I have little confidence in a panel composed entirely by people serving in the honor system.  Why are non-guilty jury verdicts seen as a result of uneducated jurors instead as a finding of innocence; and therefore, sufficient cause to remove a student’s right to be tried by their fellow students?  Does it follow that we should remove a citizen’s right to be tried by their peers and instead convene juries of former judges, prosecutors, and police officers?  Would you feel comfortable being judged by such a jury?

I commend the Honor Committee in being bold enough to re-examine the single sanction and not being trapped by tradition. However, I strongly urge the Honor Committee to think objectively in crafting its approach. The Committee should remember that some student populations are severely under-represented in the system; and any jury that appears to be “packed” rings of unfairness and invokes old historical biases that once persisted in the Old Dominion.

Paul G. on 2013 01 22

This is very disappointing news and could not come at a worse time for those of us alumni who have been wondering what has been going on at the University for the past year.  How can the Honor Committee argue that the single sanction has been preserved while allowing students who have been caught committing an honor violation to take a year off to travel, return to the University and take their degree?  And what will happen four years from now when the faculty tell the Honor Committee that a year suspension is too harsh and should be replaced with an honor class?  Will we still have a single sanction when its very heart has been gutted?  The single sanction is not just some trial procedure or blind, heavy-handed punishment doled out to “gum stealers” (whatever that may be) - it is a moral code that says quite simply that lying, cheating and stealing are unacceptable in the University community.  We do not (and should not) punish a student at all who lies to a girl to get out of a date, steals gum, or any one of the trivial scenarios the comments above seem to indicate happen on a daily basis at UVA.  However, we do ask students who commit serious moral infractions to leave our community; whether they plagiarized their final paper or cheated on a homework, the moral offense is the same and thus we treat them alike. 

So what do we receive in exchange for this deal with the devil? We are told that more students will be reported to the Honor Committee.  Why is that the logical result?  The student brought up on honor charges will still probably hate the person that brought forward the case just as much, and now there will be the added possibility that they may return to UVA within a year and see each other again.  Moreover, since the transcript will say nothing of the violation and honor cases are confidential, the student who brought the case forward will be forever gagged from correcting the guilty student as he goes around telling students and potential employers how he needed to get away from Charlottesville and see the world before graduating.  I actually think I would be less inclined to report a student under this.

Commerce '99 on 2013 01 22


“At that time there were substantial disparities in treatment of minority students in the system.”

How so?

“any jury that appears to be “packed” rings of unfairness and invokes old historical biases that once persisted in the Old Dominion.”

Invokes old historical biases among whom?

CC on 2013 01 22

I don’t get it.  Didn’t the orange and the blue student both commit an Honor Offense?  Seems like they should both be held to the standard the rest of the students are living up to, that is don’t lie cheat or steal.  When did the idea that this is a difficult endeavor infect the Honor Committee?  The blue student committed an Honor Offense and while this is unfortunate, they were clearly put on notice that such actions have very serious consequences at UVA.  The University will continue its slide toward Big State U’ism if this passes the student body.  I hope enough of the folks on Grounds wake up and shoot this thing down.

Also, should employers assume that most students who get their degree outside the regular time frame (e.g. 5th year undergrad) are cheaters??

Jeff N. on 2013 01 22

“We do not (and should not) punish a student at all who lies to a girl to get out of a date, steals gum, or any one of the trivial scenarios the comments above seem to indicate happen on a daily basis at UVA.”

from Paul G.

I beg to differ.  When I was at UVA a female student was expelled for stealing a vanity license plate.  I don’t remember the exact details but it must have been a public trial due to the fact we knew about it.  I think it was a prank that someone took too seriously and the result was a kid’s life was ruined.

Also, a few years back, there was another female student who was tried and I think convicted because there was a huge misunderstanding on an alcohol awareness class taken.  The woman was punished by judiciary for underaged drinking (she took a cab ride home and got sick in the cab and it came out she was drinking underage and was punished by judiciary).  The resulting honor offense dealt with whether she had truthfully stated she completed the punishment classes.

The point is that you can take minor offenses and if you want to doggedly persue them, you can cause a lot of people a lot of pain.

And don’t even get me started on the CS one with the two kids who had the same answers on the test.  Casteen had to get involved in that one and I think UVA had to pay a bunch of money too.  I remember that one because the professor basically said the kid who did not come to him and ask a bunch of questions about the investigation must have been the guilty one.  Really, that’s how you determine which kid to send to trial?  I would say the opposite actually.  The kid not asking a bunch of questions is probably more likely innocent because they know they did nothing wrong.

Anyway, the system has many flaws.

Paul G. on 2013 01 22

Jeff N. - Obviously it is up to the students that sit on the jury (whether random or potentially now Committee members) to decide what constitutes an Honor violation, but I would argue that lying to the judiciary committee about completing one’s sanctions would be about as egregious of an act of dishonesty as I can imagine.  If it is not, then you have to be OK with a world in which the judiciary committee has to follow up on every student’s claim that they completed an alcohol course, completed the community service hours that they claim they did, and so on.  Avoiding that kind of an environment is exactly what the Honor System sought to achieve.  Of course, under this proposal, the judiciary would be remiss not to follow up on every claim made by a student, both during a trial and afterwards, since it wouldn’t know if the student was using their one free act of dishonesty.

Jeff N, on 2013 01 22

The case in question, the person did take a class and there was a misunderstanding as to whether it was the right class.  It was really overblown if you look at the specifics of the case which I did when it happened but now don’t remember the details.  The point is minor offenses can really get blown out of proportion by zealots.

Scott Gillespie A&S 95 on 2013 01 22

I agree with Michael Lawler. I wish there were an agree/disagree button for comments. I find the whole discussion alarming and saddening. I can’t speak to the actual process and jury composition, but I have very strong feelings on single sanction. Making the system more flexible will not improve honor, or make it more “significant in the lives of students.” The honor system should be held up as the ideal, that which we strive for. It should not be watered down to reflect the current state of honor at the University. It is not meant to be a reflection of what is, but rather a model for what should be. I think the honor committee is looking around them and seeing people are not following the system, therefore the system must be broken, how can we fix this. I disagree. I think the question should be why is there a problem with honor at the University. I think the honor committee should be asking how can we help instill a sense of honor in our students and help them realize that it is one of the most important tenants of a person’s character. Is it the admissions policy that is broken? Is it society? I don’t know, but I do know it is not because of the honor system and single sanction. Lowering the standard to which you strive only weakens where you will ultimately end up.

What’s going to happen if they water down the system, is that watered down system will become the new standard in 10-15 years, and the same types of student who think single sanction is too strict are going to think the new system is too harsh, and people aren’t turning each other in because being suspended for a semester/year is too strong a penalty so they will continue to water it down. There are not shades of honor. I find it disturbing how many people seem to think that there are varying level of offenses.

Toby on 2013 01 22

Jeff N is completely right. I think we cannot take this issue wholly on idealistic grounds. Of course the Honor Code is an ideal, but those of us who have seen cases up close know that the current system is inadequate in many ways. I am aware of some of cases that Jeff cited and trust me there are many more like those. If you can sit down and look at the 50-100 case files that move through the system each year all the way to trial you will develop a knot in your stomach for perhaps 10%-50% of the cases. Additionally, if you actually are familiar with the cases, you will know that in large number of the cases reported by students, the reporting students themselves are often put under undue stress. Many of these students suffer psychologically, academically and socially for bringing honor charges against fellow students. Finally, when I was on the committee, African American students, Athletes and International Students are around 3-5 times more likely to be accused of an honor office than average (i.e. if they make up 10% of student body, they make up 50% of all cases). I am not saying that in any of these cases there is a miscarriage of “procedure justice or procedure fairness” - but if we consider for a moment think beyond the ideal of honor and look at the facts in the day-to-day workings of the system, how can anyone in good conscious look at those anecdotes or statistics and conclude that nothing needs to be done?

Jeff N. on 2013 01 22

To all of the idealists out there that say honor is honor and lying is lying no matter what, then why don’t they prosecute fake ids as an honor offense?  I mean, it is lying after all isn’t it and isn’t all lying the same?

I’ll answer the question for you.  It is because people have something called common sense and they realize that people’s lives should not be ruined because they fibbed to get a beer.  That’s why we have judiciary.

I remember a friend of mine got busted for a fake id and he had to do community service by driving around with the road crew picking up dead animals off the road.  It was a valid punishment that fit the crime.  He is now a successful productive member of society.

However, if some zealots had their way, he would be expelled from the University and had his life significantly altered.

I also come back to this.  If all crime is the same, then why are their varying levels of punishment for different things?  Also a finer point, why is murder in the act of passion (finding your wife with another man for example) more lenient than a murder planned and carried out?  People have the concept of intent and circumstance.  We learn as kids that not everything is black and white and there are shades of gray.  That’s why one size fits all rarely works.

Bob on 2013 01 22

Toby, do you think that some groups are more likely to be accused of an honor offense simply because they disproportionately commit honor offenses?

Toby on 2013 01 22

Bob - it’s complicated. I do not know for sure, but my personal feeling is that that is possible, and with caveats perhaps even likely. I have no informed opinion on this matter with regards to the Athlete or AA communities, but as an International Student myself I can say something about that. When you are from a different culture context, your definitions of the words “honor” “cheating” in an scholarly/academic sense, “lying” and even “stealing” cannot be taken as givens. I am not advocating that as excuses for committing honor offense, but as explanations to why. Those of us who care enough to comment here obviously have internalized the ideals of UVA’s Honor code (either accepting or reject it, and with shades in between), but for many students it is a process. For certain students, such as International Students, it is often a longer process because of their starting points. It is not as black and white as signing the pledge and sitting through a 30-minute info session and then instantly you just magically “get it.” I was interviewed by a patrician from Princeton for a job once and he joked that Princeton’s Honor Code was created “by WASP males for WASP males for a society built for WASP males”, to which I joked, “No, I think it is a system created by 19th century for 19th century for a society in the 19th century.” Well, we have wikipedia, google doc, women, minority and international students in school, students from the top 1% and from the bottom 10%. I hope we stay true to our value of Honor, but also look at the facts on the ground and shape our community by considering both value and fact. Jefferson did not create the Honor Code, Jefferson, however, was a man of the enlightenment who did not believe in dogma but cast his lot with reason.

John Chesser on 2013 01 22

The real issue is the same as it has always been: what is “reprehensible”? The Honor System with its single sanction is intended to address only “reprehensible” acts of lying, cheating or stealing. “Reprehensible” means “serious enough to warrant permanent expulsion.” Surely everyone would agree that there are some offenses that warrant permanent expulsion, but there is no consensus on what those offenses might be. In addition, some people, usually those who oppose the single sanction, believe there are many “honor offenses” being committed that deserve some lesser punishment than permanent expulsion, a view which seems to me illogical. Lesser offenses, and gradated punishments, are the business of the judiciary committee or the meter maid or your RA, but not the Honor Committee. What would really help the system is a much more clearly defined concept of reprehensibility, based on the views of the current generation of students in consultation with the faculty.

Jeff N. on 2013 01 22

There is the issue of spotlighting which was discussed in the past where people just naturally will focus on the one or few people who are different from you, especially in a large lecture hall during a test.  Then folks will see things like darting eyes or shuffling of papers and jump to conclusions of an honor violationwhich may or may not be correct. 

I think there have been honor studies in the past on this spotlighting phenomenon although I can’t immediately cite them.  I do think that it helps explain the disproportionate cases brought up with athletes, etc.

Aaron on 2013 01 22

Your well-designed graphic is missing an EXTREMELY important “third” student to trace through the process—the wrongly accused student.

Under the new system, this student could either ‘confess’ to something they didn’t do, and take a year off, or continue to trial, and risk expulsion.

This dilemma may ring a bell—it sounds a lot like a TV crime drama, where the prosecutor offers a plea bargain. But the honor committee’s proposal is much worse than that, because it keeps the single sanction.

What’s wrong with that? Well, because there’s now the possibility for “informed retraction,” we’ll start seeing honor convictions when the evidence is weaker. In fact, those are “benefits” cited in the graphic—students will be more willing to report violations, and juries will no longer find students not guilty “in the face of [so-called] overwhelming evidence.” But instead of downgrading the punishment, too, the punishment will still be expulsion.

What a terrible position to put an innocent student in! The proposed system completely fails to consider the possibility that anyone in the system is ever wrongly accused.

Branch Watkins, Com '70 on 2013 01 22

Like others, I think this is a complex issue.

For “reprehensible” acts of lying, cheating or stealing the expulsion standard was and is appropriate.  I assume there is a track record on what is considered reprehensible.  That standard should be made as clear as possible to students and faculty. 

There should be alternative punishments/processes when the act is less than reprehensible, rather than no punishment at all.  For less than reprehensible acts, some leniency for “conscientious retraction” might be appropriate. 

The mechanism of “informed retraction” seems highly problematic.  First I would not like to associate with a student who “got off ” with a year abroad by confessing, after confrontation, to a reprehensible act.  Second, I agree with Aron, who argues that the proposed process is coercive, increasing the possibility of the greatest wrong, punishment of the innocent by forcing them to plead guilty to avoid risk of expulsion.  Informed retraction seems a plea bargain with the devil.

Net, the current proposal should be retracted and a more thoughtful proposal offered at a later date.

Toby on 2013 01 23

Jeff N, you are on point to remind us of Spotlighting. The stat I cited obviously refer to exactly that. Those numbers are derived from a study either in the mid 90s or early 00s so I have not seen updated numbers although I won’t be surprised if those three specific groups of students are still disproportionally represented. However, I intentionally avoided the term “spotlighting” in my earlier posts. While numbers may be indisputable, the conclusion that bias, even if unconscious and not malicious in intent, is the sole or main cause of the disproportionate number of certain sub-population groups is not convincing enough for me. If we cannot conclusively demonstrate that these sub-groups are not cheating more, then we cannot rule out the possibility that their over-representation is actually fair, as painful as it may be for some to accept (and of course one may just reject that possibility out of personal value or conviction, but then again, that renders the purpose of a “conversation” rather moot). To be sure, it doesn’t matter to me. Either A. There is bias somewhere or B. Some sub-groups are under-served in somehow, that we aren’t doing all we can to “set them up for success” in our community or C. The system currently is fundamentally ill-structured to serve these needs. Or all three + D and E that I am not thinking about at this moment. Yet regardless of the reason, it suggests that some form of thoughtful change is warranted. I am all ears as to whether the current changes on the table are the right ones, as long as there is some recognition and sense of urgency that change is indeed needed in order for the institution of Honor to survive in any shape or form in the long term.

John L Tindale MBA '77 on 2013 01 23

To The Honor Committee and all UVA students: When I taught at Hampton University, I read verbatim, and discussed fully with my students my course syllabus at the start of each new semester. On page one was my policy regarding academic dishonesty, which would not be tolerated and would result in automatic course failure. (Hampton did not have a vigorous Honor Code at the time, if I recall correctly.) In my three years there, more than a dozen students suffered the draconian result of my policy, and I dropped steadily in the “popularity poll.” One student’s father, a judge, called me from Detroit to ask what hard evidence of cheating I had against his son. When I told him, he thanked me politely and wished me well. Another time, I flunked a student for cheating when she was only a month or two shy of graduation. In my office, smiling through her tears, she told me she was pregnant and just had to graduate in June. I was sorry to hear that her life had suddenly become so complicated, but I stood behind my policy. And there she was, still very pleasant, and very pregnant, when I taught the same course again in summer school. She finished the course in fine fashion and graduated in August. And if I’d been CEO of my own growing company at the time, I’d have hired her in a heartbeat. Do you think Marketing Management was the most important thing she learned her senior year? Now imagine I’m that same CEO, and two well-qualified applicants are competing for the same position in my company. The first had been charged with an Honor Code violation at UVA, admitted guilt, was expelled and graduated elsewhere. The second was acquitted in a UVA honor trial and is now a fellow almunus or alumna. Which applicant do you think I’d hire? You see, the outcome of your trials isn’t that important to me. If a student has been just careless enough with her or his behavior to draw only the suspicion of an Honor Code violation, in my view that student is already tainted, and I have no way of knowing whether he or she has simply lied and artfully dodged a conviction. I’d favor the applicant who’d admitted to a serious mistake while at UVA and paid the approptriate penalty. That person I can trust. Honor Committee members and students, you are about to perform open-heart surgery on an aging patient. Before you operate, please read and discuss Old School by Tobias Wolff, and fully understand your responsibility to the whole University. I wish you success.

John L Tindale MBA '77 on 2013 01 23

[Please excuse my posting two sets of comments back to back. This was my first response a day or two ago, but for some reason it didn’t make it all the way through cyberspace. By the way, I applaud the University for giving us all a place to voice our ideas, but I wish they’d collapse the two “streams” into one.]

I’ve probably forgotten most of what I learned at Darden thirty-some-odd years ago, but I’ll never forget the privilege of belonging to an honor community for two years, the glow from that pilot light every time I wrote and signed that pledge. Today’s Honor Committee is moving exactly in the wrong direction, bending over backwards to make the responsibility of self-governance feel good. (That same motive has propelled our country into $16 trillion of debt as we’ve become a society that vaunts freedom and shirks responsibility.) Bending the Honor Code to fit today’s relativistic culture of corruption and compromise simply adds shades of gray to an issue that’s black and white, and any student entering UVA who thinks that a small lie, a bit of plagiarism or a trivial theft is not the same thing as lying, cheating or stealing needs to be re-oriented and re-programmed on Day One. Which is to say, every student. A headmaster for whom I once taught said to me, in discussing student conduct, that our school was, after all, the product of the students attending it. That’s entirely backwards: each student is, or should be, a product of the school from which he or she graduates, and UVA alumni should always evince the toughest moral fiber, even if the burden of a strict Honor Code was sometimes a heavy one to bear. The Honor Code should be short and bitter, its fruit sweet. I’m disappointed to learn that the Honor Code is being further watered down, and that the University is immersed in self-delusion. I guess my only recourse is to close my checkbook.

Jeff N. on 2013 01 23

to John Tindale

You mentioned that someone who was “The second was acquitted in a UVA honor trial and is now a fellow almunus or alumna” may not be looked upon favorably by an employer due to the stain of being associated with a trial.

Trials are secret and it is my understanding that unless you requested an open trial, if you are found not guilty, there is no record of you having been through the process in your transcript.  Thus, no employer would have access to said info unless the student willingly divulged it.

It may be that your argument was intended as theoretical and in that case, I apologize in advance.

Jeff N. on 2013 01 23

There have been several comments that the honor code is only for “reprehensible” acts.  The definition of reprehensible is in the eyes of the beholder (I cited stealing of a vanity license plate and the misunderstanding about the class taken for alcohol awareness as a judiciary punishment as 2 examples that went to honor).

Are those reprehensible once you read through the cases and see what happened? 

You see, the problem is that if you have zealots running the show, anything and everything is fair game.  Thus, the second proposal of professional juries smacks of a bannana republic where the police are also the jury in a trial.

Also, as several others have pointed out so astutely, there is not a 3rd option in the scenarios listed in the article (the wrongly accused student).  While some would argue this is an oversight, I would contend that subconsciously, this is a sign that folks in charge don’t think that category exists (if you are charged, you probably did it).  Hence even more reason to avoid full time honor juries. 

Another reason to avoid full time juries is that they get jaded.  Doctors have the same phenomenon.  They get casual because they have done hundreds of procedures and maybe forget how serious a mistake can be.  Same here versus someone going through it the first time and being super diligent.

Also, the whole argument that “verdicts are inconsistent” thus we need pro juries.  What does that mean?  If you read between the lines, you can interpret inconsistent to mean some people are found not guilty.  If that inconsistency is wrong, that is disturbing on many levels and goes back to the “all who go through the process must be guilty” way of thinking.

Deb on 2013 01 23

Perhaps many of us have been at other schools with honor codes, as I was.  The other code of my experience was not a one penalty expulsion, and it also focused only on academic violations.  (Could not have dealt with stealing license plate.)  I agree with many of the comments above that point out a gradation in penalties may be the best fix.  (Thanks Toby and Jeff N for your informed comments that I saw as really helpful for the UVA alumni community.) I was immediately startled, too, that the two scenarios presented both students as “guilty”. Our systems of justice are supposed to protect the innocent, as well as apply justice to the guilty.  Thank you to those who finally pointed that out.  I would like to see a study and comparison of other schools’ honor codes and the pros and cons. This proposal should be voted down and perhaps different changes presented another time.

Toby on 2013 01 23

Devil’s advocate on one issue brought up and beat down repeatedly. The problem of “tyranny” of
“experienced jury” proposal. The pitfalls of experienced jurors are well established in the criticism thus far – I do not disagree, there can be real problems. I want to add two reasons why inexperienced jurors are also problematic: 1. The current jury selection process is faulty – i.e. there is no functional jury selection process. If a juror dosen’t take the process seriously or is hung-over or is otherwise not in a condition to make fair judgment there is little chance for him/her to be dismissed unless some overt action singles him/her out. Goodness some of these trials last 10 or even 20 hours, spreading over a couple of weeks, so juror quality is hard to maintain.  But even if the jurors are perfected attentive and ready to dedicate untold number of hours there is still the problem that 2. Inexperienced jurors are unpredictable – when inexperienced student jurors have no context to make decision, they tend to be too semantically dogmatic without regards for proportionality. i.e. if you don’t know what the heck you are doing you stick to the letter of the rules, as a result, hyperbolically, a student who lies to get a girl out can be found guilty. Alternatively, other jurors can go off casting their ideological beliefs or biases instead of basing their votes on the merits of the case. I believe the intent of “experienced jurors” is not about power or reducing democracy or letting “zealots” take control, but rather to place the decision in the hands of technocrats who can apply the rules more consistently. But, of course, I agree the proposed change opens up the criticisms of “tyranny” or “power grab” and unintended consequences may indeed be pernicious. I am merely hypothesizing that the intent of the proposal from the committee is to better protect the accused students and guarantee the integrity of the system. The honor committee is not made up of random people – they are elected representative of the various schools, so is IS a democratic institution. Moreover, in my experience, usually half of the members on each committee do not have extensive experiences with the bureaucracy of honor (i.e. they were not student counsels or advisors prior to running for the rep position from their schools – that is typical of nursing, arch, edu, med, grad and darden reps. It’s CLAS, Law, Comm, Engineering reps that are more entrenched Honor System people). My point is: I do think there are some legitimate concerns that the proposal for experienced jurors is attempting to address, whether or not that is the best way is another matter all together.

John L Tindale MBA '77 on 2013 01 24

Closing arguments. Jeff N. above asks a tough question: should fake IDs be treated as honor violations? I say yes. A fake ID misrepresents one’s very identity, a form of lying and therefore cause for dismissal. Underage drinking can seem so harmless, except when it leads to an accident and negligent homicide. The honor code that looks the other way becomes almost an accomplice. Heck, I didn’t need a fake ID when I got to college. I’d already had mine printed and laminated back in prep school, when I was sixteen: a Canadian motorcycle license. (Never mind I’m driving a car in New York.) It was fun, but how I’ve wished someone had discovered my deception and lowered the boom on me way back when, as my fake ID launched me into several decades of alcoholism. I attended Denison University from 1968 to 1972. Perhaps some of you youngsters have read about the Vietnam War era. We shaggy baby boomers—the lucky ones who weren’t drafted—grew increasingly angry as Nixon, the capitalist pig, drove the military/industrial complex to crush a poor rice-growing country in Southeast Asia. On top of all that anger, our college courses were not relevant. We demanded relevance. And I actually received college credit for candle-making. We drank, smoked, tripped and played foosball. We sampled free love and discovered it wasn’t really free. About half a million of us gathered at Woodstock, where we got wet and muddy. We protested the War on campus, in Columbus, in Washington. We boycotted classes and, under the influence of various hallucinogens, backhanded Day-Glo Frisbees across the quad. And just like the inmates in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, we prevailed, if only temporarily. Oh, sweet victory. The battle won, the hurlyburly done. Only now do I realize we also lost the war at home as we pointed American higher education down a one-way path to superficial values. Is the country better educated now, when fully one-third of all Americans believe that extreme weather signals Biblical end times? Other polls reveal rampant cheating in our schools. Welcome to the New Dark Ages. Long ago, under the circumstances of a dysfunctional honor system, college administrators, even (gasp) the college president would be out in front of this issue, providing moral guidance and leadership. Those days appear gone for good. So, to UVA undergraduates I say, above you have some of my mistakes; I guess it’s time for you to make yours. And now, having spun my wheels for several days, may I please return to my regularly scheduled life? I think Katy’s guest today is a psychic who channels spirits of the dead.

Demonthesis on 2013 01 24

Hey Guys! The New Proposal Looks Awesome!
I would really like to thank the Honor Committee for finding a fresh, new way to ruin students lives while creating a slew of new positions for our incredibly caring student leaders! Really ingenious stuff.

I especially love the idea of an “informed retraction.” I know that I, and surely every other reasonable member of the UVA community, will feel significantly more comfortable ratting out our friends and classmates knowing that their temporary lapse of judgement will only result in a measly one year expulsion instead of completely unravelling their entire academic future. Definitely way more honorable - I mean, it’s only one year, completely fair right?

So thanks Honor Committee, now the entire UVA student body can rest easy knowing that our school will once again be the “honorable place” that we once knew - a place where students can rest safe knowing that those of us who make one small mistake will be rooted out and removed from our midst instead of being allowed to learn from our mistakes. Because that’s totally what’s honorable and absolutely something the average student REALLY REALLY cares about, not just the few of us who use the tears and heartbreak of our classmates to pad our resumes.

HEIL HONOR! HEIL SINGLE SANCTION! HEIL UVA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Barbara Koch Silversmith on 2013 01 26

I commend the Honor Committee for proposing these changes, but I fear that the one-year suspension is still such a draconian penalty that it won’t change much. I agree with other posters who want to see a range of penalties that are proportionate to the offenses.

The single sanction was appealing in its simplicity; but the school has changed so much that the single sanction is no longer appropriate.

The University is so much bigger and so much more expensive than it was in the past. It is now as difficult to get accepted to UVA as Harvard. The pressures are higher; the costs are higher; the incentive to cheat is higher. It is naive to believe that in the face of all these pressures that academic dishonesty will not exist.

Perhaps it is time to lay portions of the Honor Code to rest. For example, I do not think it would destroy the University to have proctored exams. It might restore some faith in the system. Good luck to the Honor Committee as it debates these difficult issues!

Michael Lawler on 2013 01 28

I abhor the Honor Committee for proposing these changes, but I fear that this group has been forced to capitulate because the peer pressure of the mediocre is “awesome” and the greater body of the University is too naive to protect the interests of their own careers and the families which have sacrificed to support their entry into the “academical village.”  The single sanction is appealing in its simplicity because until now the great majority of the student body were honest and bright enough to protect their own interests within that context. Well, I still believe that the great majority are still unimpeachably honorable.  So what that the University is much bigger now and more expensive.  Does this increase the incentive to cheat?  I don’t think so. In a civil buman being their is no “incentive to cheat.” Those who would cheat have probably been doing so for years before they arrived in Charlottesville.  And those who didn’t cheat before are not likely to do so now. All the more reason to work hard, strive for intellectual integrity and like a surgeon dealing with disease, cut out that portion of the academical village which has betrayed its social contract, robbed the sacrifice of the family which has supported your career and dared to compete academically with their fraud in the light of your honest efforts.  It is not naive to expect honesty but it is most certainly ignorant to let dishonesty prevail. This is a not an existenial novelty of the class of 2013.  It is has been a fact of the human condition since we climbed down out of the trees and began consciously deciding whether to particpate in civilization and enhance its legacy for future generations or just grab what we could for ourselves and the hell with the rest.  What legacy will this class leave?

KCG on 2013 01 29

There are many comments made above that I agree with. Most notably that when we entered the University, we agreed to uphold the Honor System. We signed cards to that effect and signed Honor pledges with each academic submission. During Orientation the Honor System and it’s expectations were covered EXTENSIVELY. I lived in constant fear when I wrote papers that I had somehow missed a citing. The Honor System was an integral part of being at the University and it was and still is, indeed, a badge of Honor to have graduated from the University of Virginia. Having said all that, I do think common sense needs to be used in certain situations - for instance, I think taking a vanity plate or the like should be considered a Judiciary offense. Academic offenses should be dealt with swiftly and thoroughly. I like automatic course failure for stupidity without malice but then again, you cannot have it all. It is truly a difficult issue. I would be very interested in hearing current faculty views as to the efficacy of the system and how they deal with it on a daily basis. Is the Honor System indeed considered a joke by the current students? Or is it considered so by those who would take advantage of it? Do more current alumni consider it in a different light than us older folks?

Jeff N. on 2013 01 29

“I lived in constant fear when I wrote papers that I had somehow missed a citing.” from KCG above

Living in constant fear should not be the goal of an honor system, especially in an academical village where thoughts should flow freely.

Living in fear is something that is done in places like Iran and North Korea.

If you have to live in constant fear as a student and you are a student that is making a good faith effort to follow the rules and be honest, then something is deeply wrong with your honor system.

As for impressions, there are a great many sources that show both faculty and students view the current honor system with a lens of skepticism.

I have also purposely not capitalized honor system as capitalizing it gives it a mythos and place that I don’t think is appropriate.  It is a mechanism to achieve a goal, nothing more.

Peter Bryan A&S '76 1/2 on 2013 01 30

I distinctly remember sigining the honor code card, and recognized its importance even then.  Honor is the only thing absolutely no one can take away from an individual except the individual themselves. The consequences of violating the Honor Code are simple and severe. And rightfully so. To modify the Single Sanction is to follow the course of most everything else in society today, and minimize or eliminate the need for personal accountability. Over the years I have watched the student body wrestle with the Honor Code versus current societal trends, but fortunately, the majority (narrow though it may have been in some instances) has ultimately upheld the principle of Honor as a bright line across which students at Mr. Jefferson’s university either do not step, or if they do, recognize that the consequences are harsh and permanent. It is a simple choice, and for this alum, the Single Sanction Honor Code continues to represent a standard of excellence and a code of behavior the rest of society would do well to strive for and emulate.

Jeff N. on 2013 01 30

To follow up on Peter Bryan’s comments, his ideal does not match reality.

For example, I had books stolen when I was a student (had to take money out of my own pocket to replace them) and the idea of leaving a purse or bookbag unattended even in the late 1980’s or early 90’s when was there was just laughable.

People who wax poetic about honor fail to see the current system’s severe shortcomings.  Honor is great but you have to have a system that matches the real world or people will not give it respect.

Right now, right or wrong, people do not respect the honor system.  Many alums like myself don’t respect it, many faculty don’t respect it and carve out their own justice due to the fact they don’t want to deal with it and many students don’t respect it.

Professor Bloomberg several years ago wrote a pattern matching program to see how many papers were plagarized in his “How Things Work” physics class.  The results were pretty depression with many dozens of hits.  His one attempt to pull back the covers of what was really going on caused the honor system to spend many months going through the investigation and trial process.  And that was just one class in one department. 

If that pulling of the covers was truly indicative of what is going on, then we all need to reevaluate the position of honor.  Clearly Prof. Bloomberg showed emphatically that the status quo was not working. 

If only a few cases are going to trial across the whole University and we know of the Bloomberg case and the rampant cheating that went on with that, we have to assume that there is a severe problem of underreporting going on.

I’d rather have a community of trust where people are more likely to face the sanction of multiple punishments than a community of perceived trust where dishonor runs freely under the surface and the draconian and unchangable punishment actually deters reporting and allows guilty students to ironically go unpunished. 

Jeff N. on 2013 01 30

sorry about the name confusion, meant Prof. Bloomfield not Bloomberg.

Current Student on 2013 02 01

I will be voting against these proposed changes, and I urge other students to do so, too.

1. Why is the honor committee usurping the voice of the jury?  This infographic assumes the guilt of a student and then reasons that, by acquitting, the jury failed to detect guilt. This is flawed reasoning as it should be the JURY who determines guilt, not the honor committee determining that the jury incorrectly acquitted.
2. We are an educated student body. The trial process is not so complicated as to be beyond our grasp. This smacks of paternalism in a way that is offensive to me and my fellow engaged peers.
3. Diversity concerns: A panel of 5 honor committee students should not have the power to strip others of their educational opportunities. If literature and history have provided us any lesson, it’s that concentrated power doesn’t usually go well. Animal Farm, anyone?

Alumnus on 2013 02 05

Current student makes excellent points (above).  This ran in the Cavalier Daily this morning:

tthoughtcrimeadvocate on 2013 02 06

So it seems basically that we are avoiding the entire issue of honor being unfair and elitest and just tackling the issue of not having a 100% conviction rate. There are professors who get students expelled over homework, no to mention students wrongly accused altogether. At least with a random jury you have the benefit of some due process and a chance to beat the case. An “elected” jury just seems like a wonderful way to consolidate more power in the honor committee and ensure consistent convictions. Perhaps if the honor system sought to correct the behavior of a student rather than destroying his life there would be less incentive to simply lie your way through it. Having known someone who tried using honesty, didn’t cheat, and got expelled anyway, this system really wouldn’t have helped him. The problem with the honor system is that have students prosecuting students for the complaints of usually over zealous professors. I have rarely enjoyed any of the supposed benefits of honor. Take home tests are rare at best and I have never been allowed to make up anything from home.  Local businesses no longer accept your “honor” as credit and financial aid (along with all other facets of the university administration) always require more complete verification than your word for anything. It seems honor anymore is facade and a poor one at that. Like lets be real here, if the governors son were accused of cheating do you think for an instant he would be in any danger of expulsion? This system only applied to the unlucky few who become accused and more often than not they are guilty unless proven connected enough for innocence. Wanna make the university stronger? Stop using students to carry out the biding of professors against other students and end this zero tolerance nightmare.

kit on 2013 02 06

this proposal is sadly wrong-headed. If there truly is a problem with “inexperienced juries”, then establish a jury vetting process, such as the one used by the United States courts to help bensure a fair trial. The idea of Lelected jurors L is patently ridiculous. It would allow the most aggressive, power-hungry, zealous students to seize and hold dominion over the fate of the rest of the student body. Random selecting with an appropriate vetting process in which either side can dismiss prospective jurors “for cause” and could dismiss a certain small number without cause, would be a better way to go about reforming the system than electing jurors. An elected jury isn’t a jury at all: it’s a Congressional hearing.

Michael Lawler ( College 1975) on 2013 02 25

The advantage gained by the University of Virginia Honor System is not the antique convenience of forgetting your wallet and being trusted to return the next day to pay you bar tab.

One advantage of having held to the social contract of the Honor System and taken a degree from Virginia, is that you will enter a universe which understands you took a degree from within a rigorous context of academic integrity matched only by the military service academies.

Another advantage is that professional and graduate school admissions officers worldwide know you have taken a degree from one of the few remaining Universities which accepts no excuse for breaking the compact made with other students to be honest in one’s academic career.  Your academic history and GPA are genuine reflection of your efforts.

The advantage is that many of the nation’s major employers will be confident that you have taken a degree of distinction without lying, cheating or stealing another scholars work.  They will anticipate the same level of reliability and reduced liability when they employ you. 

The advantage is that your whole life, other persons of letters will give deference to your education because it is unique. They now other institutions compromise on the issues debated now in the matter of the Honor System.

There will be no going back if these changes go forward and the University of Virginia will lose the distinction it currently enjoys.  Perhaps juvenile pranks against property do not constitute honor violations.  Perhaps criminal behavior should be dealt with in the courts.  But do not surrender that which distinguishes the University of Virginia beyond Albemarle County.

Breaking a social contract is no folly of youth. A folly of youth is an impulsive act of little consequence. Plagiarism and cheating on exams are premeditated acts requiring the planning of method and means before the act. These are not impulsive acts of youth. This is a lack of character. It is the conscious behavior of one who violates an oath they took to enter a community scholars. In consciously doing so they took advantage of the rest of the community. It is not difficult to rely only on one’s own effort and memory to take an exam. It is not difficult to write a paper with one’s own ideas and give citation to those ideas reviewed and considered from other minds. It is difficult, when one has striven honestly, to accept the advantage a cheater gains on the grading curve and post graduate opportunities by using crib notes, electronic devices and purchased papers. Failing to keep the social contract of Honor made upon entering a community and stealing advantage from those who live up to the contract should dictate the exclusion from that community. Life goes on and fate is determined by character not which college one attends. There are other colleges but only one University of Virginia, an academical village bound in a compact of Honor, the terms of which we bind ourselves together at the outset. 

I beg the classes of 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and beyond to retain the legacy of the Honor System which distinguishes the University of Virginia from all others.  Take a walk to Alderman Library and read the inscription on the statue of the Aviator.  Legend says, in his dying breath he uttered that he had received the Honor of Honors, the distinction of having been educated at Virginia.  Honor exists.  Pass the legacy forward.

Jeff on 2013 02 25

I respect Michael Lawler’s comments but he overstates the reverence and respect others give UVA or the honor code.  Most people, respected employers and members of society included, don’t even know we have an honor system.  It is really only known and valued within the UVA and alumni communities. 

In fact, if you go much outside of Virginia, most people don’t even know much about the school.  In fact, I was doing some student recruiting and one kid came up and asked “Aren’t you the school with the turkey mascot?”

The point is that it does not really matter in the real world what happens to honor at UVA.  The world will still perceive us in pretty much the same way.  We are not set apart in peoples’ minds other than we are an above average state school.  No one compares us to Harvard (that is not a slight, just fact). 

I am happy to have received my degree from UVA but I don’t feel it is some big life achievement.  Having a successful marriage, career and family is a big achievement.  UVA is a means to an end, not the end itself. 

As for the flaws of the honor system, they have been reviewed quite thoroughly to rehash them but it is not the center of honesty everyone make it up to be.  People are just creative in how they get around it.  The people at UVA are drawn from the general population and are really no better than the kids drawn from said general population to other schools.  To believe so is just not following good common sense and reality.

Michael Lawler ( College 1975) on 2013 02 25

I challenge “Jeff” to identify whether he is even affiliated with UVa.  UVa does enjoy the prestige I noted above, among the highest order minds.  I will compare Harvard with UVa.  I took a master’s degree from Harvard.  The bulletin boards in every building are half an inch deep with offers to sell academic papers. Harvard closed 2012 with dozens accused of sharing efforts on a take home exam.  The new age debate there is on the relativistic evaluation of “collaboration” in academics.  One’s man’s sense of cheating is another’s “collaboration.”  The sensitive approach has afforded the alternative scholars a year off.

Forget romantic notions of Honor, my dear young Wahoos.  Consider that the cheat and the plagiarist will gain advantage of position on the grading curve, over a position that you worked honestly to achieve.  Give them 24 hours to leave the University.

Jeff on 2013 02 25

I have a BS and ME in engineering from UVA ‘91 and ‘93 respectively as per Michael Lawler’s challenge.  Apparently, if you have a different view from the prevailing view, then you are challenged as to even having gone to UVA.

That in my opinion is not inclusive.

Jeff on 2013 02 25

I still contend that the further you go away from UVA, the less people care about you going there is my experience.  My experience has been that your skills sell you, not where you went to school.  It may be partly a product of the software industry.

Michael Lawler ( College 1975) on 2013 02 25

Jeff, you’re luckier than most, you had 6 years at Virginia.  And you made your own luck with hard work.  Every project you’ve contributed to has been a tribute to your integrity and UVa has been on your curriculum vitae.  You are a product of the Honor System, sir and you have carried forth the legacy. I am simply dismayed that so many advocate surrendering the challenge of attempting an ideal academic community, pledged to honest scholastic behavior.  I am convinced that even in a relativistic culture with no absolute values, the Honor System will prevail much as it stands today.  I attribute the algorithm to Ayn Rand. Through enlightened self interest, the majority of the school will not suffer the advantage cheats and plagiarists gain on the grading curves, by willfully breaking the commitment made to our alma mater, our nourishing mother.

Michael Lawler ( College 1975) on 2013 04 09

Well, the vote is tallied.  I just hope the student body has the integrity to evaluate the change over time.  I’m guessing the level of cheating accelerates with the only consequence being the cheaters take their degrees a year later.

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