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Letters to the Editor

Modern Honor

It is hard to think that the treasured Honor System to which my classmates were introduced by white-haired Dean Woody, gesticulating wildly beneath Raphael’s “The School of Athens,” can now be mapped as a Chutes and Ladders game for young cheaters. In the haste to overproceduralize and overliberalize the system, sight seems to have been lost of a principal goal of the Honor System: to refuse to tolerate, and to purge from the University, those who engage in dishonorable conduct.

Donald B. Lewis (Col ’69)
Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania


During my years in law school (1977-1980), I was involved in the notorious case of Josh Henson, a law student [accused of stealing a moot court problem]. … It was a mockery of honor that bitterly divided the student body and exposed the woeful arrogance and incompetence of the [Honor System].

My experience as a lawyer has confirmed my personal observation that untrained students are simply unqualified to handle a judicial proceeding that destroys lives. The rules of evidence, the requirement of sworn testimony and the skillful cross-examination that requires years of experience are there for a reason.

The Honor System is rife with injustice and is operated by people who do not have a clue. The single sanction should be repealed swiftly.

Hilton Oliver (Law ’80)
Virginia Beach, Virginia


Thank you for illuminating the Honor debate. Through a combination of erudition and civic clarity you brought the confounding situation into focus even for single-sanction geezers like me. The trend to Clintonesque parsing of terminology is one thing, but most appalling are the voter turnouts. … Lack of participation is killing our national political system. Will it kill Honor, too? I can feel the rattle of Mr. Jefferson’s bones all the way down here in Florida.

J. Taylor Buckley Jr. (Col ’61)
Sanibel, Florida


The recent article about the Honor Code and its single sanction … was one of the best articles I have read in the magazine and provided fair-minded coverage of a delicate issue.

I realize I am probably part of the “old guard” who is extremely proud of the tradition of Honor at the University. I agree that the single sanction is harsh but I do not think it is unfair. I especially like the comment in the article, “What part of ‘Do not lie, cheat or steal’ do you not understand?” Without being too critical of society’s norms (assuming there are norms), we tend to be too “understanding” and too unlikely to criticize others for fear to do otherwise may indicate an insensitivity. But by refusing to set unassailable boundaries, there are none.

I strongly believe one step that must be taken is for the University to inculcate (some would no doubt call it brainwash) the incoming students on the NECESSITY to be honorable and true to one’s word.

Eric V. Zimmerman (Col ’71)
Purcellville, Virginia


I am proud to admit that when it comes to the Honor System I am a traditionalist. I do not take this position lightly. A fraternity brother was thrown out of the University three weeks before graduation for cheating on exams. We both had the same major, and I knew he had to be cheating, and yet I went out of my way not to catch him in the act. I was scared that if I did, and did not report it, I could be kicked out of school for the sin of omission. I was saved from that moral dilemma when others turned him in. Today I may be a grumpy old man, but I still subscribe to the concept, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

Victor Podell (Col ’66)
Reston, Virginia


“Modern Honor” is a misnomer. Honor is honor—simply defined as no lying, cheating or stealing. Any first year can understand it.

This generation may be “culturally predisposed to a more forgiving social contract,” but life is not. If one lies, cheats or steals, he may lose a job or face legal action.

Students do not have experience with the profound effect the Honor Code has after graduation. I have it as an internal guide to my conduct and am proud to share my reverence for the code with other graduates.

Students should run the Honor System, but they need to appreciate that Honor is a way of life.

Henry H. Gilbert (Col ’67)
Monroe Township, New Jersey


What I don’t understand is why the Honor System continues to be an issue? When a person is accepted and decides to attend, don’t they also agree to abide by all the rules, regulations (including the Honor System) of the University?

I agree with the statement: “What part of ‘Do not lie, cheat or steal’ do you not understand?” If students wish to attend UVA, they need to accept the conditions of their admittance and that remaining there is their responsibility.

Lawrence W. Roller (Educ ’70)
Mount Sidney, Virginia


As a veteran of the United States Army and an observer of modern policing in America, it is clear to me that the forgiveness of criminals only leads to more crime. I learned that the Army stockade had a curative effect on those who did not follow the rules.

It is clear that the culture at the University has changed drastically since my tenure there in the 1950s, and it is my firm conviction that this change is for the worse.

J. Randolph Segar Jr. (Com ’56)
Midlothian, Virginia


The current results to our culture from permissive standards of Honor are, as I write, dismal and beyond unforgivable.

If the “modifications” persist, I will not consider graduates of UVA from this time forward the equal of their predecessors, since they will have been taught that they have a road to acceptable dishonor, and that an excuse or reasonable doubt, or that an apologetic mien might be adequate in lieu of honor. I was raised to a different standard, as were my predecessors and true classmates. In any case, for a (former) UVA student to have to complete his studies at a different educational institution is NOT a death penalty, nor are public floggings involved. Whence a desire to embrace the malcriados?

Thomas M. “T. Mac” Williams Jr. (Engr ’71)
Chesapeake, Virginia


The article makes the point that the attitude “Who am I to inflict my morals on somebody else—impose my values upon them?” is prevalent, but it ignores what the University has stood for for many decades. From forgiveness to multiculturalism, these are apologies for honor that are mirrored in today’s society and a sad reflection at that. …

I guess I would also like to see “informed retraction” played out, but I am also a single sanction traditionalist. If those continue to water down the Honor System, then the question needs to be asked, do we need an Honor System at all?

Cameron MacLeod (Col ’70)
Tulsa, Oklahoma


I am extremely pleased that the student body is continuing the Honor tradition established generations ago, and that it is an active subject of discussion.

I sincerely hope that in considering any revisions to the Honor Code, students will not fall prey to the “slippery slope” of modern laissez-faire morality. It’s a great temptation to ease the reins just a little bit, just this once, with full intention never to do it again. It’s easy to get caught in the rationalization trap, and impossible to get out. I do not say “no changes,” but consider them very carefully.

Edward M. Jones Jr. (Engr ’51)
Friendswood, Texas

100 Years of Engineering

[P]erhaps the most macabre of the historic engineering labs [was] the water fluid hydraulics facility in the cavernous basement of Thornton Hall’s A wing.

A dark, wet medieval-like surround filled with a myriad of pipes, pumps and valves along with “state of the art” instruments such as Weir Gates and Pelton wheels, it was an experience to be remembered. As a student, under the care and tutelage of professors such as Charlie “The Boomer” Echols, you were literally “immersed” in the lab environment and medium. Coats and ties suffered there!

Vince Derr (Engr ’68, Darden ’73)


The mechatronics lab depicted in a photo in “Time Capsule” (Page 42, summer 2016) is in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Building, not Rice Hall. We regret the error.

In Memoriam: Ralph Cohen

Thank you for the elegantly understated notice of English professor Ralph Cohen’s passing. I had the honor of taking Mr. Cohen’s 18th-century novels/narrative theory course in the mid-1980s. … I was at the time a master’s student in a class dominated by highly accomplished doctorate students, and absorbed everything with great interest and enthusiasm, despite being a bearded young hippie and critical theory neophyte in my mid-20s.

What I learned from Mr. Cohen and other UVA English professors continues to influence and inform my own college courses … this being but one of myriad instances of how the teaching and learning that take place at UVA continue to be disseminated to, and refined by, generations of younger scholars throughout the nation and indeed the world. How very fortunate and privileged we all are to be able to participate in various ways in this ongoing process of collective inquiry and illumination.

Chris Norden (Col ’82, Grad ’86)
Moscow, Idaho