<< RETURN TO PART I: THE INCEPTION OF HONOR

What Constitutes an Honor Offense?

When presented with a charge of lying, cheating or stealing by a student, the Honor Committee now considers three criteria to establish a breach of the Honor Code:

1) the act itself: Was the act of lying, cheating or stealing committed?

2) intent: Was the act committed willfully or intentionally?

3) non-triviality: Would open toleration of such an act impair the community of trust sufficiently to warrant permanent dismissal from the University?

HONOR TIMELINE

1825-1895
1901-1944
1945-1959
1960s
1970s
1980s
1990s
2000s

1960s

Expanding enrollment raises alarms about the future of honor; orientation becomes a top priority for first-years

1960: The Honor Committee scheduled a special orientation meeting for first-year men. A Cavalier Daily editorial read, “That these men who have lived in our academic community for more than one semester should show such a startling need for further basic explanation of the University’s most treasured tradition is indeed a cause of concern.” Honor Committee Chairman Jake Crosley, according to the editorial, drew the students’ attention to two primary concerns: “More than half of the honor trails involve first-year men; the second is that in most of these cases the students involved reveal an ignorance of the basic functioning of the system, as well as of its purpose and spirit. … That the first-year men of today, the graduates of 1963, should be so ill-informed of the nature of the Honor Code and so ill-attuned to its spirit as to require special mid-year re-orientation is a situation which can only be indicative of a current weakening leading towards a general collapse.” (Feb. 17)

1960: The Cavalier Daily suggested eight reasons why so many incoming students had such a “lack of understanding” of the Honor System: no pervious experience with an honor system; the increasing size of the University; the presence of an increasing number of out-of-state “Ivy League rejects;” the removal of first-year men into large dormitories where they live separately from the positive influence of older students; “changing national mores and value standards;” “the trend of growing paternalism on the part of the University faculty and administration;” dormitory counselors perhaps being unprepared for their responsibility to teach first-year men about honor; and an inadequate orientation period. (Feb. 19) A few days later, the editors suggested that new faculty members threatened the vitality of the Honor System if they did not actively support it. “If we fail to maintain faculty devotion to the Honor Code, we may assume without question that this finest of traditions will degenerate into a myth, a mere propaganda device for a much less distinguished University.”

1960: Alumnus Bernard Chamberlain addressed incoming students in the fall about the Honor System. He warned of a growing “moral laxity” that threatened to lower moral standards and cripple the Honor System.

1960: The Cavalier Daily reported in the fall that the Bad Check Committee had adopted its first written constitution.

1960: “A group of University students has founded an informal committee to study the Honor System. Recent criticisms and discussion of the system, as well as the circulation of petitions calling for revamping it and others asking for its abolishment, have caused this group’s formation. … From the aspects of the administration, and of philosophy, religion, mental health history, law and education, the group will publish a report in February 1961.” (The Cavalier Daily, Oct. 27)

1961: A portrait of the University in the February issue of Holiday Magazine had this to say about the Honor System: “The Honor System is one of the glories of the University. Reaching back at least as far as the Civil War, it is based on the development of an unwritten gentleman’s agreement that life is a good deal easier for everybody when lying, stealing and cheating are simply not countenanced. The system works to near perfection. The subtle accent of the Virginia version of what simply isn’t done and what is, is likely a part of the Jeffersonian tradition. It has a great deal to do with setting the general tone of the University. Virginia students wear coats and ties to classes and about the grounds: they always have and always will.”

1961: A graduate of the College and Law School, W. Brown Morton Jr., then a lecturer in the Law School, shared his views on the Honor Code with first-year men in September. “Perhaps the code can be put into a single sentence, ‘I will never attempt to gain an advantage or evade a responsibility by a lie, express or implied.’… Advantage is surely limited to a monetary or academic or certain student extracurricular activity advantages. Thus, a student, accompanied by an eager and experienced companion of the opposite sex, not his wife, to a motel, is not breaching the Honor System when he signs the register with a false name; a student, whether so accompanied or not, who registers at a motel under a false name to bilk the proprietor of the rent, is.”

1961: A Cavalier Daily article from Oct. 15, 1955, about the origins of the Honor System was reprinted in the Sept. 21 edition of this year.

1961: On Sept. 20, Francis Crenshaw, chairman of the Norfolk School Board, addressed first-year men as part of their honor orientation. “When you matriculate at Virginia, you agree that you will not lie, steal or cheat, and that you will not tolerate others who do,” he said.

1961: In an open letter, Honor Committee members wrote, “The danger to our Honor System does not result from flagrant violations, but rather from unconsidered breaches tolerated by the student body. The Honor Code does not attempt to list in detail specific honor offenses, but because confusion has risen about several specific acts, the Honor Committee feels that clarification of these points is necessary: 1. The use of false identification, either written or verbal, in order to purchase alcohol is lying and therefore a breach of the Honor Code. 2. Multiple use of a single meal ticket for meal in the Contract Cafeteria is stealing and consequently an honor violation. 3. The unauthorized removal of books from the various libraries of the University constitutes stealing and should not be tolerated by the student body.”

1961: The University representative of the Washington Post and New York Times (third-year law student James Odom) shared his concerns in a letter to The Cavalier Daily in October that copies of the papers are being taken without being paid for—at an alarming rate. “For those among us who must fret over mode of dress,” Odom wrote, “and the consequent effects on our gentlemanly image, I suggest that there is a deeper and more penetrating cancer infesting the morals of our local society than open-neck shirts or bermudas.”

1961: In December the Bad Check Committee revised is constitution (which was endorsed by the Honor Committee) to provide for greater “positive action against offenders. Under the new constitution, if a student cashes a bad check for a second time due to his own negligence, he will be suspended automatically from the University for one semester.” Other penalties at the committee’s disposal include: “The suspension of [the offender’s] checking account for a period of not less than four weeks, [and] the placing of social restrictions on violators.”

1962: The Sept. 3 issue includes the customary letter to incoming students from both the Honor Committee and the Bad Check Committee underscoring the importance of honor to the University community. In that same issue, alumnus and Law School lecturer W. Brown Morton Jr. wrote, “The Honor System demands emotion to work, and people who do not share the emotion should not be accorded the privilege of living under it.”

1962: “Origins of the Honor System” appeared in the Nov. 15 edition of The Cavalier Daily. Written by a student, the article claimed that the Honor Pledge of 1842 was the direct result of professors’ efforts to curb cheating by students. The murder of Davis in 1840 is never mentioned in the article.

1963: During halftime of the Homecoming football game, President Edgar Shannon received funding from the Seven Society ($77.77) to pay for new furnishings for the Honor Committee Room. A note to Shannon from the Sevens read in part, “Through this gift we pay tribute to the Honor Committee for the maintenance of the Honor System which is so important to the students and alumni of the University.”

1963: In a letter to The Cavalier Daily, a student criticized the Honor System. “On Monday, Dec. 17, I had a gift-wrapped pair of gloves in a Stevens-Shepherd paper bag stolen from one of the coat rack shelves outside the Open Square in Newcomb Hall. In a futile attempt to track them down, I talked to several people, one of whom frankly admitted that he would not consider letting an umbrella or a raincoat out of his sight on a rainy day. Electric razors are stolen from dormitory rooms and the matter is universally shrugged off as hopeless. … Let us after years of illusion realize the hypocrisy inherent in a childish faith in these ideals.” (Jan. 9)

1963: In an issue of the University of Virginia Magazine, Dean T. Braxton Woody described “lying to the police and to clerks in ABC stores as the most flagrant violations” of the Honor Code. In a follow-up interview with The Cavalier Daily, Woody admitted that “During my undergraduate years, the Honor System was too broad.” He added, “The faculty and administration do not want to rule the student’s life. We are strongly in favor of more student control. Yet certain matters which arise make the administration, as well as the students, wonder if the student body as whole is capable of ruling itself.”

1963: In an open letter published on the front page of The Cavalier Daily, the Honor Committee wrote, “The essence of the Honor System lies in its spirit, therefore, there is no hard and fast set of regulations defining an honor violation beyond that of lying, cheating or stealing. Each case is judge on its own merits and the relative circumstance involved. … It has come to the attention of the Honor Committee that a misapprehension may exist in relation to the failure of a student to respond when called on for class recitation. Under certain circumstances, a refusal to answer constitutes a breach of honor since it is, in effect, a lie. Our Honor System is truly a priceless heritage. The obligation of maintaining it rests directly upon us as students of the University.” (Dec. 12)

1964: College president Chris Leventis and Engineering School president Chuck Spence were interviewed by The Cavalier Daily and asked to comment about the Honor System. “The system should not be aloof to everyday discussion,” Leventis said. “We need a constant awareness of the system and its workings in order that it be effective.” The article read, “In an attempt to clarify current policy, Spence cited ‘intent’ and representation as key words. ‘You jeopardize yourself whenever you act dishonorably while representing yourself as a University student.’” Leventis acknowledged that “certain breaches of the code go unnoticed.” And Spence added that “the Honor Committee is not oblivious to its own shortcomings.” (March 10)

1964: The first issue of The Cavalier Daily in the fall included many articles about the significant role of the Honor System at the University. “It stands as a unifying element for students of diverse interests and of many differing backgrounds,” an editorial read. “Controlled totally by the student body, the system prescribes but one penalty for lying, cheating or stealing: permanent expulsion from the University. This is as it should be. There are no degrees of honor and the penalty for violation of the system must be accordingly standard and harsh.” (Sept. 1)

1964: The Cavalier Daily reprinted the text of a speech about the Honor System that had been delivered by alumnus Mortimer M. Caplin on Sept. 21, 1961. “We are talking about a way of life which is practiced here, which is engrained in our daily existence, and which becomes a permanent part of us—never forgotten, wherever we go, whatever we do.”

1964: “Friday, Sept. 18, the new instructors were given a thorough briefing on the Honor System by College President and Chairman of the Honor Committee Ben Ackerly and Dean of the College Irby B. Cauthen. … [The system] is maintained by students who are required by it to be not only honorable to themselves but also willing to protect the system from dishonorable acts of others.” (Sept. 29)

1964: A Cavalier Daily editorial said, “Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium a student was turned away at the gate because he did not have his student card. This is understandable until it is realized that a fellow student, with his card, identified him as a University student. This, however, was not good enough for the hired gatekeeper. The student was still required to purchase a ticket and, due to the confusion, was forced to miss the first half of an exciting game. At the University we have an Honor System. It is recognized and accepted by the students and faculty. It is recognized and accepted by merchants at the Corner and elsewhere in Charlottesville. It is recognized and accepted wherever the word of a Virginia man is known to be the word of honor. Why then is it not recognized and accepted at Scott Stadium?”

1964: A student wrote of the history and impact of the Honor Loan Fund, which was begun in 1939 and allowed students to borrow up to $25 interest-free. “During an average year, 250 to 300 loans are made. Last year there were over 300 loans, totaling about $7,000. … Students have never abused the fund, and donations have amounted to about $300 yearly.” (The Cavalier Daily, Oct. 30)

1964: The editor of The Cavalier Daily answers the question, “What does the Honor System mean to you?” “The University’s Honor System is an expression of loyalty and respect among a community of self-governing students. … Honor is not simply one important part of life at Virginia; it is the most important factor. … What then does the Honor System mean to us as individuals? Many ideas and beliefs must comprise the many varied responses to such a query. But one underlying theme is certain: Every student who successfully completes his stay at the University is acutely aware of the badge of honor he is able to wear. Whatever else he may have learned, he has gained a sense of pride in having been the guardian of so high a trust.” (Nov. 12)

1964: In a near repeat of events the previous year, the Sevens again made a surprise gift during a football game. “It was halftime at the Openings football game when the scoreboard suddenly lit up with sevens and President Shannon walked out to the seven yard line to receive a letter from—who else?—the Seven Society, given him by Scott Sikes a past chairman of the Honor Committee who had been directed to get the letter off the tail of the ‘Z’ on top of the scoreboard. In the letter, the Society announced a donation of $177.77 to aid in the furnishing of the new Honor Committee room in the Newcomb Hall addition.” (The Cavalier Daily, Nov. 17)

1964: The Bad Check Committee announced changes to its constitution. “The new ruling states that failure to appear before the committee at the scheduled time will be looked upon as an admission of guilt, carrying a penalty of $3 in addition to the graduated fine normally imposed. … [The new rule applies] only to bad checks passed by mistake. Individuals found guilty of an Honor offense—willfully passing a bad check—are formally accused in accordance with the Honor Code.” Money collected is added to the Honor Loan Fund. (Dec. 18)

1965: “In an effort to help clarify some points concerning the Honor System, the Honor Committee is going to start stating publicly some of the facts concerning recent trials so that the student body may be made aware of what the committee considers to be an honor violation. There will be no mention of names involved and only those facts relevant to the decision disclosed.” Ben Ackerly, chairman of the Honor Committee, said, “We aren’t trying to codify the system but just to further explain the procedures and decisions.” The Honor Committee reiterated its stand that leaving a class early without permission is a violation. (Jan. 6). A Cavalier Daily editorial the next day commented on the announcement, “There is no indication that the new policy will lead to a codification of violations, a step we feel would be detrimental to the spirit of Honor here.”

1965: On Jan. 8, the Honor Committee released its “Five Suggestions for Exam Conduct” to help students avoid circumstances that could be construed as suspicious. They were: “1. Don’t take books, notes or unnecessary scratch paper into an examination room; 2. Examinations should be taken in the location designated by the professor; 3. While taking an examination, don’t leave the room for too long a period; 4. Don’t stare around an examination room needlessly, for this could be interpreted as trying to copy another’s answers; 5. Once you are through the examination, leave the immediate vicinity before you discuss the exam because someone who is not through may overhear you. And remember to attach the prescribed pledge to an examination. This is easily forgotten in the excitement of taking the examination.”

1965: In February, members of the Honor Committee made visits to first-year dorms as part of their re-orientation program to explain committee procedures and answer questions.

1965: George Morrison, the Skull & Keys candidate for President of the College, wrote, “The dangers inherent in expansion are apparent. No one man can provide a solution that will ensure the maintenance of our Honor System in a student body of 10,000 with the same strength that it has today. … There are other problems as well. I believe that it is the duty of the Honor Committee to orientate incoming members of the Athletic Department, the faculty and the administration. Examples of using the Honor System as a lever have occurred in all these areas; many would not have occurred had the people involved been indoctrinated by a member of the Honor Committee.” (March)

1965: A student observed, “Our Honor System is not a 1984-type Big-Brother-is-watching arrangement, where the administration sets up rules and everyone spies on everyone else and reports to the authorities whenever a rule is broken. It is, rather, a set of high standards set up by and for the students of the University which they wish to abide by and uphold…The strength of the system is that it embraces only precepts which all the students support, and this is why the system has rejected every attempt by the administration to become an instrument for enforcing University regulations which, it needn’t be said, do not always have the support of the students.” (The Cavalier Daily, March 30)

1965: “Administrative policies on probation threaten the Honor system, several Student Councilmen claimed. … Dean B.F.D. Runk had requested the council to suggest a new policy for enforcing social probation in place of the monthly letters now required from those on probation saying they have not violated it. Danger to the Honor System might rise, some councilmen suggested, when students would hesitate to turn in someone for singing a false letter.” (The Cavalier Daily, April 29)

1965: In a letter to students published on the front page of The Cavalier Daily, the Honor Committee wrote that it “wishes to report the results of its investigations in several matters of primary concern to the study body. First, the Department of Modern Languages has removed the word ‘properly’ form the language laboratory pledge so that a student is now asked to pledge only that he has listened to the tape while studying the assigned material. As worded formerly, a student was asked to pledge that he had listened to a tape ‘properly.’ Second, in connection with books being removed from the library without being checked out, the Honor Committee warns students that they are running the risk, under certain circumstances, of being charged with an honor violation and regardless, are clearly violating University regulations. Third, in regard to the Food Service policy on meal tickets, there have been several misunderstandings. If a student forgets his meal ticket, he is not required to go back to the dormitories. If he forgets it at breakfast he is merely asked to sign a sheet of paper and bring his ticket to lunch so that his name can be crossed off. If he forgets it at lunch, he is asked to go to the fourth floor of Newcomb Hall and pick up a temporary ticket which is granted on request. The same system is applied at supper until 5:30. If a student comes after that time, because the Food Service office is closed, he is asked again to sign a sheet of paper. The Honor Committee feels that this system is extremely fair and within the spirit of the Honor Code.” (May 5)

1965: In its welcome editorial to first-year men, The Cavalier Daily had this to say about the Honor System: “The way of honor. Doubtless many of you have heard of Virginia’s Honor System. Perhaps some of you were even influenced by it in your choice of schools. But until you have experienced it, it may be difficult for you to understand its significance as Virginia’s greatest tradition. At first, to some students, it seems brutal—there are no degrees of honor at Virginia. One dishonorable act, and a student is dismissed from the University. First-year men in their beginning weeks are just a little scared, afraid they might unconsciously commit an honor offense. But then, suddenly, they realize—the way of honor is all around them. In classrooms, in corridors, at the Corner. … The Honor System is not something to be feared; it is something to be cherished.” (Sept. 1)

1965: In mid-September the Society of the Purple Shadows presented the Honor Committee with a framed copy of James Hay Jr.’s poem, “The Honor Men.” In a letter that accompanied the gift, the Society wrote, “As the University expands, the Honor Committee must be aware of the dangers to the system through expansion and be prepared to adapt the mechanical aspects to ensure the continued influence.”

1965: In October, students Jim Chaffin and Al Berkeley traveled to Purdue University to represent U.Va. and present a seminar about the Honor System at the annual conference of Associated Students Governments of America. Chaffin later observed, “Our disbelief that so many schools had no system was matched only by their disbelief that ours was so strong, so workable, so cherished … in short, by their disbelief that it is what it is.”

1966: In March, a letter in The Cavalier Daily expressed concern about stealing from vending machines in the dorms (foreshadowing, nearly five years to the day, the “Coke Case” of 1971). “I was informed recently that the local Tom’s Distributing Company is considering the suspension of its excellent service in certain of the first-year dormitories. The alarming fact about which I am concerned is not so much the suspension of the service itself but the reason for it. The Toms Company has been losing as much as four and five dollars a week in some machines to students who seemingly think themselves clever in being able to get two for the price of one from the machines by shaking them. Perhaps the offenders are not aware that they are in a very real sense stealing and in doing so are flagrantly abusing Virginia’s cherished Honor System. Let us hope that this is the case and that those responsible will take note and mend their ways.”

1966: “During the first semester of this year, an abnormally high number of trials were conducted by the Honor Committee, resulting in a record number of dismissals from the University. The situation has been the cause of some alarm on the part of students on the Grounds. They want to know the reason behind this rash of offenses. Some have speculated that it is because the University is getting too large, and the first-year classes are either not being properly oriented toward the system or are not willing to abide by such a system. When we approached members of the Honor Committee concerning this problem, they reported that they too had been distressed over the large number of trials. Consequently, they made a careful study of past and present records and discussed the problem at length. As a result of the study, the committee could find no pattern whatsoever among the cases as to either the schools or classes from which they came. The number from the first-year class for the first semester was not at all out of proportion, and the only unusual figure was the large number of cases arising in the graduate schools, particularly the School of Law.” (The Cavalier Daily, March 19)

1966: In April, the University hosted a two-day conference at which 105 delegates from 35 other colleges and universities attended. The purpose of the conference was to explore university honor systems and how to improve them.

1966: Throughout the spring, frustrated and angry students complained that some Charlottesville area merchants, including some at the Corner, were taking advantage of them. When students tried to confront the merchants and ask for their money back, they were accused by the merchants of violating the Honor Code, in trying to cheat the business.

1966: In a letter in The Cavalier Daily (May 3) that predated similar suggestions over subsequent decades, third-year law student Theodore S. Halaby proposed that the Honor System would be strengthened if the Honor Committee was “given the discretion of applying alternative penalties in cases of honor violations”—including alternatives to the single sanction of expulsion. “Ultimately, it may be necessary to form a committee to undertake a thorough re-examination of the system. But before anything constructive can be done, two notions must be changed: 1) that because the Honor System works where others have failed, it is perfect; and 2) any change in the system would bring about its demise. Only when the danger of these preconceived notions is realized, will constructive results be possible. We must heed Mr. Jefferson’s words, ‘For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead—nor to tolerate any errors so long as reason is left free to combat it.’” In an ensuing editorial, The Cavalier Daily disagreed. “We do not see the [Honor] System as a legal one, however, with penalties for certain offense. We view it, on the contrary, as a moral system, with one sanction applied by the community as a whole.” (May 5) Halaby’s letter sparked much discussion among students.

1966: In September, Delta Kappa Epsilon presented the Honor Committee with an 1823 print of the University’s plans.

1966: A second-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences wrote, “I would like to propose a question of great import. If the so-called ‘sacred’ Honor System of this University is not going to be respected 100 percent of the time, why should it be respected at all? When I came to Charlottesville I was told that there are no degrees of honor. I assume that this hasn’t changed in a year’s time. But it seems that the Honor System has become obsolete. In this day and age we have no use for an anachronism. And I am convinced, gentlemen, that this is just what the Honor System is.” (Oct. 20)

1967: From The Cavalier Daily: “A recent issue of Look [magazine] featured an article on the cheating scandal at the Air Force Academy which the council felt implied that college honor systems do not and cannot work. Student Council President Dennis Lilly and Honor Committee Chairman Buddy Trent wrote to correct this implication and received (Look senior editor) Mr. Shepherd’s letter in reply. His letter began with the statement that ‘I’m rather tired and not a little bored with all the letters from the University of Virginia regarding your honor system and my recent article.’ It preserved that tone throughout. Editor Shepherd argued that he did not mean to imply that honor systems can’t work, but that they work best when a student is not automatically thrown out for any honor violation.” (Feb. 15) Editors at The Cavalier Daily responded the next day, “The Honor System here gives a great deal of power to the students and forces them to develop judgment and responsibility. We encourage its further constructive questioning and doubting, but we believe that Mr. Shepherd had the wrong viewpoint to engage in such constructive evaluation.”

1967: In February, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences adopted a resolution calling for a door check in Alderman Library in an effort to cut down on the number of books that had gone missing. One student wrote in response, “We would like to think that students are not so inconsiderate that by their actions they would necessitate the establishment of a door check and thus cast aspersions on the Honor System, but this seems to be the opinion of many.”

1967: Ed Finch, chairman of the Bad Check Committee, announced a change in procedure as follows, “In the past, any bad check cashed by a University student with any department of the University and returned was brought back by the Bursar’s office from the returning bank. The check was then turned over to the Bad Check Committee for investigation. The committee felt that his produced a bias in the number of cases brought before them, and this was substantiated by the fact that over 90 percent of all bad check cases come from University departments. The majority of these checks, cashed at The Castle, Glass Hat and Newcomb Hall, were written by students living in the dormitory area. At the same time, the merchants of Charlottesville were giving off-Grounds students the opportunity to make the checks good without turning them over to the committee. … It seemed to the committee that this situation was unfair. … The Bad Check Committee has taken steps to correct this bias and at the same time remove the committee from the direct role as a collection agency.” (March 1)

1967: “We do not assert that the Honor System no longer works. As college honor systems go, it is probably still one of the very best. But small things, which have grown considerably in just the four years of our experience on the Grounds, indicate to us that a change has occurred in the attitude of a large part of the student body towards the system. In part, we think that the change has been towards a feeling of complacency and self-satisfaction rather than of respect for honor. … When the Honor System comes to be relied upon only as an excuse for the questionable things we do ... then there is no spirit and what is worse there is no honor. There may be a system, and it may last until Doomsday, but there will be no honor, and the hypocrisy of an Honor System where honor is not deeply felt by the members for the University community will cry out from the very seams of the community as it has at so many other schools. This Honor System to which we pay homage simply cannot survive on mere lip service to the spirit which underlies it. Yet we fear that to an increasing extent, that is what it is getting.” (Cavalier Daily editorial, March 14) A second editorial on March 15 edition said, “We do not know whether the spirit [of honor] can thrive in the University of tomorrow, so large and so diverse and so wrapped up in the exigencies of the modern world.”

1967: A fourth-year college student expressed his regret that the Honor Pledge had been changed over the past year or so to add the words, “as a gentleman.”

1967: In early April, Pete Gray and Mike Smith, candidates for the office of President of the College, debated the status and future of the Honor System “before a small audience in Gilmer Hall.”

1969: The Honor System was revised to cover only violations that occurred within the boundaries of Albemarle County and Charlottesville or “wherever a student represented him/herself as a student of the University of Virginia.”

1969: In an open letter to new students published in the Sept. 10 issue of the The Cavalier Daily, the Honor Committee described the tradition and scope of its work. “For 127 years the University of Virginia has been proud of its Honor System. You will shortly become part of its traditional spirit, and the responsibility and duty for maintaining its effectiveness will pass to you. … It is incumbent, therefore, upon you to become very knowledgeable about its fundamental premises and the responsibilities required of you. … [The Honor System] is completely student run. Neither the faculty nor the administration play any role in the actual workings of the Honor Committee. The Honor System is the epitome of student control … The Honor Committee is composed of the presidents of the 10 schools of the University and, in an honor trail, the vice president of the school of the accused. … The Honor Committee is not an investigative body; that responsibility is and always has been in the hands of the individual students. You will also find that the Honor System is not a hard-set code, but rather more nearly a spirit. … We are confident that if you give your undivided attention during the orientation to the Honor System’s principles and mechanics, you will enter the University with a profound resolution to support the system and accept the dual responsibility inherent therein: not only to live by it yourself, but also to see that your fellow classmates abide by it.” This same letter typically appeared in the student newspaper each September throughout the 1960s.

1969: In that same issue of The Cavalier Daily, another article detailed what one writer believed to be the origin of the Honor System: “In the early years of the University, quizzes and examinations were conducted under strict surveillance by members of the faculty. The naturally awkward and unpleasant atmosphere developing under such a proctor system caused general feeling of uneasiness and mistrust. This undesirable condition led one of the new professors of the University, Henry St. George Tucker, to initiate an honor code to be applied only to written examinations.”

1969: Honor Committee Chairman Whittington W. Clement was quoted as saying, “With an enlarged enrollment and with the more diversified academic programs and student body, it is increasingly difficult for the Honor Committee to present a thorough orientation program to all entering students.” He also said, “Last year, the Honor Committee after its evaluation concluded that the student body did not feel that lying for the purchasing of liquor should be considered a dishonorable act that warranted permanent dismissal. Since it is the student body which determines whether an act constitutes violation, and since last year’s committee read public sentiment to have been against the regulation, it cannot be considered a violation.” (Sept. 10)

1969: A letter in The Cavalier Daily from Bad Check Committee Chairman Rucker McCarty explained the work of his group. “One finds it particularly distressing that the incidence of bad checks has increased steadily each year. The first-year men pass the greater percentage of those checks reported. The committee realizes that many of the errors are honest ones. Thus, from the time of a bank’s notice, the student has five days to contact the committee’s secretary in Garrett Hall and correct the error. If no action is initiated by the student within this period, the Bad Check Committee will send a notice to the student. He must then present his case before the committee as well as straighten out the bad check.” (Sept. 10)

1969: In October, the Honor Committee clarified its code governing plagiarism. The Committee’s “Plagiarism Pamphlet” was reprinted in its entirety in The Cavalier Daily.

1969: During Student Council elections in December, a referendum was held asking students the following question: “Do you feel the principles and provisions of the Honor System should apply to the faculty and administration as well as to students?” The non-binding referendum received 1,779 votes in favor and 941 votes against.

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1970s

1970: In an editorial titled “Gymnasium Crisis,” The Cavalier Daily read, “Everyone remembers the signs placed by some past Honor Committee on the locker room walls of Memorial Gym: ‘Memorial Gym is frequented by persons not bound by the spirit of the Honor System. Safeguard your valuables.’ The problem of outsiders entering the gym and stealing the wallets and watches of students and faculty members has existed for some time. But in recent months it has become far more prevalent. … In January alone there were 17 reported cases of wallet thefts. Gymnastic mats and boxing bags have been slit open with knives. Rifled vending machines are a commonplace occurrence. Doors to various locker rooms, storage rooms and offices have been jimmied or destroyed. … Next year’s gymnasium budget will include a request for funds that would enable the gym to hire students to act as doormen, checking identification at the door to make sure that only students can enter the premises.” (Feb. 11)

1970: On Feb. 23, The Cavalier Daily’s special projects editor Bill Fryer published the first in a seven-part series of articles examining the history, issues and challenges regarding the Honor System. Fryer wrote, “The Honor System at the University has generated much controversy in the past decade as to its proper position in the modern university. As the result of recent developments, the Honor System may have reached an extremely critical juncture which it must surpass if to survive. … The arrival of coeducation is yet another area which could put a new type of strain on the system. … At the core of all of these problems is the meaning of the Honor System and what it means to University students. Some see it as a spirit, some as a moral code, and some as a worn out tradition.” In Fryer’s second installment, he wrote, “At the time of the beginnings of the system student-faculty relations were tremendously strained. … The trouble reached a climax when Professor John A.G. Davis was shot and mortally wounded on the Lawn while attempting to quell a disturbance being caused by two students. As a result of the horror of the event, Professor Henry St. George Tucker proposed a pledge for academic examinations.” In Fryer’s last installment, he concluded, “It has been clear to recent members of the Honor Committee that the system has reached another critical juncture which could be fatal to the ideal of a ‘spirit of honor’ if it does not properly adjust to the beliefs of the present student generation. … All do agree, though, that without a consensus of honor the system will not survive. Many members of the present Honor Committee feel that it is imperative that next year’s new committee painstakingly gauge student opinion for a consensus of what exactly should constitute an honor offense.”

1970: The Honor Committee voted to make a major procedural modification to its trial system. A two-committee process was established: one subcommittee to try the case and another to hear and decide the merits of an appeal (“on good cause”); the second subcommittee would retry the case should an appeal be granted. “In addition to these new features, the committee now allows the accused to have a non-student sit at the counsel table during the trial to advise. This non-student may not serve as an oral advocate. The accused still will have unrestricted chose of counsel from among the 10,000 students of the University.” (The Cavalier Daily, March 11) Honor Committee Chairman Whittington Clement later wrote, “We felt the terrific need to establish some means by which to gauge student opinion. That the Honor System has lasted so long and worked so effectively has largely been attributable to its periodic adjustment to changes in student attitudes. We felt that once such a mechanism could be established, the Honor Committee could proceed to sample student opinion with respect to certain features in the system. … A mechanism has been agreed upon by this year’s committee. That proposed mechanism is a scientific poll, done by the auspices of a professional agency, which would question 600 to 800 members of the study body.”

1970: “It is only a matter of time before the Honor System is taken to a federal court,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney John Lowe said in the March 13 issue of The Cavalier Daily. A recent law school graduate and counsel for the Student Council, Lowe recommended using attorneys in honor trials to help facilitate the pursuit of truth. The article also contains previously unreported information: “When transcripts are sent to other schools where a dismissed student is attempting to gain admittance, there is a note attached which indicates that the student was dismissed, but it does not say for an honor violation, according to the Office of the Registrar.”

1971: In February, the Honor Committee voted to allow professional attorneys to advise students during trials. Many alumni viewed this as an unfortunate decision that initiated an age of litigation challenging the authority of the Honor Committee and the effectiveness of the Honor System.

1971: At an honor trial on March 7, a first-year student was permanently dismissed from the University for stealing soda cans from a vending machine. In response to public outcry, the Honor Committee nullified its own verdict the next day. The now legendary “Coke Case,” as it came to be known, kicked off a passionate debate over the appropriateness of the single sanction that continues among students at the University to this day.

1972: In the first of nearly a dozen referenda over the next 20 years, a majority of voting students upheld the single sanction for a violation of the Honor Code. This despite the sentiment of some students exemplified by this Cavalier Daily editorial: “The Honor System is slowly digging its own grave. Hiding behind a façade of ideals few students actually live by, the system has become obsolete in its present form. … The single sanction has attained an aura of near sacredness. Some say the Honor System works because of its single sanction. In fact, the Honor System works in spite of the single sanction.”

1975: Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the Honor Systems’ constitutionality. In response to these and other legal challenges, the Honor Committee held its first open trial since 1934 on Sept. 14. At that trial, a young woman was found guilty of cheating and asked to leave the University within 24 hours.

1977: Students ratified the first written constitution of the Honor System, putting in writing the rights and responsibilities of everyone involved in upholding the Honor Code at the University. Through referenda, the student body continues to have the final word on any changes to that constitution.

1978: A student criticized the Honor System in the pages of The Cavalier Daily: “Closed trials, the single sanction, the lack of evidentiary rules, and no appellate system have made the system a mockery. … The Honor Committee in recent years has become the powerful keeper of the University’s honor religion, ignoring the students and justice in the process. The system itself is a lie whose principles and procedures bear no relation to justice or honor.”

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1980s

A basketball star is cleared of honor charges; growing diversity fuels concern for equitable treatment

1980: A referendum was passed that allowed accused students to opt for a jury composed of both randomly selected peers and members of the Honor Committee. Ten years later, a similar referendum gave students the choice to opt for a jury composed entirely of randomly selected peers.

1980: In September, the Honor Committee charged an Honor System Study Committee to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the system, and to present a report. Chaired by student Molly Anderson, the Study Committee released a lengthy report exploring a host of issues and containing many recommendations. Among them: “The current single sanction should be replaced with a dual sanction. A dual sanction is defined as a penalty for an honor violation consisting of a one-year suspension or permanent expulsion for the first offense at the discretion of the trial panel. If a student who has been suspended, upon return to the University, is found to have committed another honor violation, the trial panel shall dismiss the student permanently.” The Study Committee also recommended that “the concept of reprehensibility be removed from the Honor System.” (see 1984).

1984: In November, basketball standout Olden Polynice—despite reportedly admitting to turning in someone else’s paper as his own—was cleared of honor charges. Testimony from Coach Terry Holland that the athletic department had put undue pressure on the young man is alleged to have swayed the jury that Polynice’s conduct didn’t meet the “reprehensible” criteria in the honor constitution. Shortly after the trial, which garnered Washington Post headlines, a student referendum approved changing the criteria for an honor violation from “reprehensible” to “serious.”

1986: In May, the incoming chairman of the Honor Committee reported to a committee of the Board of Visitors that the primary cause of difficulty with the Honor System was the increasing diversity of the student body. According to a later study, he said that “non-mainstream students had become primary targets for honor investigations. Athletes, particularly black athletes, were investigated at a significantly higher rate than students in other categories.”

1987: The Honor Committee created a panel of student investigators to help prepare facts for trials. By 1993, randomly selected investigators were replaced with Honor Advisers. The influence of the Investigative Panel, or I-Panel, grew stronger as it determined whether a case should be brought to trial.

1988: The Faculty Senate reaffirmed its policy that professors may fail students caught cheating rather than risk having them permanently dismissed by filing honor charges.

1988: The Cavalier Daily reported that “statistics for the last year show that 29.7 percent of honor accusations are made against black students, a number which is disproportionately higher than the approximately eight percent of blacks attending the University.”

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1990s

The Honor System stands the test of a federal investigation; a student’s expulsion is overturned

1991: For the first time in the University’s history, the Student Council President and the Chair of the Honor Committee were both African-American students.

1991: In response to concerns that the Honor System was biased against African-American students, especially athletes of color, an outside consultant was hired to examine the issue. The study, by the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research, read in part: “We found it helpful to distinguish between the Honor Spirit and the Honor System. The Honor Spirit places the value of honesty as the keystone of the U.Va. community…The core values of this Honor Spirit were found to be solidly embraced by the community.” The study also concluded: “Racial issues that find expression in the Honor System are not issues caused by, or even primarily related to, the Honor System. Rather, they are community-wide issues that find visible expression through the Honor System…It is also worth mentioning what should be an obvious fact: Few institutions of U.Va.’s size even try to have an Honor System.”

1992: Student Christopher Leggett was found guilty by a jury of randomly selected peers of cheating on a computer science exam and permanently dismissed. His request for a new trial was denied. Leggett’s attorneys questioned due process and argued successfully for a new trial, which was granted in the summer of 1994 after the administration had determined that his case had been mishandled. In a surprise reversal, Leggett was subsequently found not guilty. His case garnered a great deal of media attention and criticism among alumni and students.

1999: After an extensive investigation, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights determined that the Honor System does not violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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2000s

Plagiarism charges in physics classes involve 157 cases; student groups work to uphold the honor tradition

2000: In May, student Erich Wasserman submitted an independent study of the Honor System. “The 1998-99 academic year, the only year for which statistics are available, saw 69 [honor] investigations and 19 expulsions,” he wrote. “The system has encountered many problems of late, among them three lawsuits seeking damages of $13.3 million which allege racial bias, longevity of procedure, and denial of procedural and substantive due process. But perhaps most significantly, the Honor System faces the perception of faculty and students that it fails to maintain an atmosphere of academic and behavioral integrity.”

2001: In late April, using a computer program he wrote to detect plagiarism, U.Va. physics professor Louis Bloomfield discovered that the term papers of 122 of his students had suspicious similarities. According to Honor Committee statistics, 157 cases were ultimately processed as a result of Bloomfield’s discovery. The results of those cases are available on the Honor Committee’s Web site at www.virginia.edu/honor.

2001: A survey this year underscored one of the profound challenges facing the vitality of the Honor System: student involvement. Of the students who said they were aware of an actual honor violation, 95.4 percent said they did not report it or initiate charges of any kind.

2002: In May, the Honor System was the subject of a harsh critique in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The author was an alumnus and former member of The Cavalier Daily editorial board.

2003: Bloomfield told the Faculty Senate that students “have abdicated their responsibility for self-governance in matters of honor.” He also stated that if “he found similar cheating again … he would not pursue charges through the Honor System, calling honor cases ‘time sinks’ leading to ‘careericide.’”

2004: In a spring referendum, 59 percent of students responding advised the Honor Committee to investigate a multiple-sanction system. A Cavalier Daily editorial read in part, “The only conclusion to draw is that in some cases the single sanction actually acts as a shield that makes it easier to lie, cheat or steal. It is on the back of this fact, not philosophical arguments, that it becomes clear that a multiple sanction system is absolutely necessary.”

2004: A report by the Honor Committee’s faculty advisory panel found that as many as 86 percent of honor cases in a given year are initiated by faculty or graduate-student instructors and not by students.

2005: By this year, two student groups—Hoos Against Single Sanction and Students for the Preservation of Honor—had become actively engaged in policy discussions regarding proposed changes to the Honor Constitution. Both groups were emblematic of an increasing desire among students to be more involved in shaping the processes by which the tradition of honor is maintained at the University.

2005: The Faculty Senate voted unanimously to recommend reinstatement of the non-toleration clause that requires students to report honor violations that they become aware of, or be liable for an honor violation themselves. The Honor Committee did not, however, adopt the recommendation. The Senate also endorsed a discussion of multiple sanctions.

2006: Student Alison Tramba, chair of the Honor Committee, wrote in The Cavalier Daily, “Perhaps the term community of trust seems idealistic, but then again, perhaps that’s the point. Through discussion and debate like we have recently heard, the Honor Committee can fulfill its responsibility to the student body to uphold our highest ideals. The committee recognizes that there has been a lot of discussion and criticism of Honor’s proceedings in the past weeks. I understand that this is not a perfect system. I want to emphasize that we are constantly working to address problems—to act fairly while we pursue the truth.”

2006: In November, the U.Va. Center for Survey Research released a comprehensive survey of the faculty and teaching assistants on behalf of the Honor Committee. The survey “was designed to determine the knowledge and opinion of the U.Va. teaching faculty about the Honor System.” The survey revealed “both support for the Honor System and a significant level of opposition to it.”

2007: In February, the Honor Committee passed a “transformation resolution” thattightened the schedule of investigations, charges and trials. The goal was to transform I-Panels into something of a grand jury (to determine if an honor trial should be held) as opposed to its previous incarnation as something of a small “dress rehearsal” trial.

2007: On March 1, the results of a recent University-wide vote on referenda proposing changes to the Honor Constitution were reported in The Cavalier Daily. A strong majority of students who participated (73.3 percent) voted to increase from three to five the number of seats on the Honor Committee representing the College of Arts and Sciences. And an historically slim majority of 62 students (50.5 percent of 6,476 votes cast) voted in essence to uphold the single sanction of permanent expulsion for violating the code.

2007: The Honor Committee is composed of 23 representatives from the University’s 11 schools. They are assisted by three paid and nearly 200 volunteer support officers.

2008: On Jan. 25, the Honor Committee launched an online blog to facilitate interaction between students, faculty, the Charlottesville community and the Committee. It is available at www.uvahonorblog.blogspot.com.

2008: July 4 will mark exactly 166 years since law professor Henry St. George Tucker proposed, in what was likely nothing more than an effort to curb cheating on exams, that students affix a signed statement to their work affirming on their honor that they did not cheat.

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1825-1895
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1945-1959
1960s
1970s
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1990s
2000s