Skip to main content

Honorable Intentions

Students vote to alter Honor System

Plaques printed with the Honor Pledge hang on the walls of classrooms and lecture halls, reminding students of their duty to uphold the University's Honor System.

In a late-February vote, students voted to add an informed retraction option to the University's Honor System. Students voted on two proposals. The first, the Honor Committee's "Restore the Ideal Act," included two significant changes—informed retraction and a reform that would replace random student juries with juries composed of elected committee members.

An alternate proposal introduced by law student Frank Bellamy (Law '14) called for informed retraction—but no changes to the existing jury composition.

The Honor Committee's two-part proposal did not pass, garnering support from only 41 percent of the 8,441 students who voted in the referendum. However, Bellamy's proposal was supported by 64 percent of students voting, surpassing the 60 percent supermajority required to change the Honor System.

The addition of informed retraction allows students to come forward immediately after they are made aware that an Honor report has been filed against them. Upon admitting guilt, a student must leave the University for two full academic semesters. While a student is away from the University, his or her transcript will read "Honor Leave of Absence." The notation would be removed after a year, regardless of whether a student opts to return to UVA.

The single sanction of expulsion remains intact as the only outcome for students who are found guilty at trial. Leading up to the referendum, the Honor Committee stated that it "supports the single sanction and feels strongly that its proposal in no way changes the system's policy of having only one sanction for students found guilty of an Honor offense. Accordingly, the committee notes that the constitutional language protecting that aspect of the Honor System is unaltered with this proposal."

Informed retraction provides students with another opportunity to admit guilt, joining the Honor System's existing conscientious retraction policy. That policy allows students to come forward before they are aware that they are suspected of committing an Honor offense, admit to the act, make amends and remain at the University.

"Since the inception of the conscientious retraction, the Honor System has long recognized that a student can behave in a way that reaffirms his or her place in our community of trust after committing an act of lying, cheating or stealing," the Honor Committee stated prior to the referendum.

Stephen Nash (Col '13), the outgoing chair of the Honor Committee, said the results of the student vote represented only partial progress. He believes that that both reforms are needed to best address the challenges he has observed in the current Honor System.

"While an informed retraction encourages honorable behavior once initially reported, absent jury reform it is not able to restore complete community confidence that our proceedings are the most fair, consistent and accurate that they can and should be," Nash said after the vote. "While informed retraction will represent progress on some issues that exist, we hope future committees will continue to contemplate ways to address the long-identified problems associated with random student jury panels."