Feb. 23, 2001
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Surgeon honored for new lung cancer treatment
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General faculty sought
Honor referendum seeks to strengthen the system
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from the Honor Committee Web site
The inscription says, "Enter By This Gateway And Seek The Way Of Honor, The Light Of Truth, The Will to Work For Men."

Honor referendum seeks to strengthen the system

By Adam Bronstein

Between Feb. 26 and March 1, University students will have the opportunity to vote on four different proposals that could significantly change the Honor System.

The referendum stems from the Honor System Review Commission's report, submitted to the Honor Committee Nov. 19. Since then, the committee has adopted some of the recommendations into their bylaws, while submitting four others to the student body for final approval.

The recommendations seek to strengthen the system by eliminating the second trial for seriousness of an accusation; changing the composition of juries; reducing the number of votes needed to make a conviction; and having counsel assist, rather than represent, the accused.

To educate the U.Va. community about the proposals, the Honor Committee has distributed pamphlets and conducted several open forums.

Faculty can play an integral role in this process, said James Haley, a fourth-year student who chairs the Faculty Advisory Committee. "We want to get their perspective because they are members of the community of trust," he said, noting that faculty initiate about 70 percent of honor cases, so their opinion is "very important.

"We made a point of having a faculty member on the review commission," Haley said. Law professor Earl Dudley, a former adviser to the Honor Committee through the U.Va. General Counsel's Office, served as the faculty representative.

In 1999, the Honor Committee conducted a survey of faculty opinion regarding the Honor System. With a response rate of 36 percent, only 24 percent of the faculty felt informed about how the Honor System works. Perhaps most striking was that 59 percent of the faculty who had initiated an honor case felt their overall experience was unsatisfactory.

"Among faculty, there's been considerable skepticism and dissatisfaction with the Honor System," Dudley said. The recommended reforms seek to strengthen the system as a viable academic disciplinary system, he said.

Faculty support of the Honor System is crucial

Q. What is the role of a faculty member in the Honor System of the University of Virginia?

A. Faculty faith and support is crucial to the longevity of the Honor System. As long-term community members, faculty have a substantial role in shaping students╣ attitudes toward the Honor System. Faculty members also enjoy many benefits of living in a community of trust. When you put honor information on your syllabus or discuss your honor policies in class, you are showing that the Honor System is alive in the classroom. When you trust students╣ excuses, leave the room during a test, or give a take-home exam, you are enjoying some of the benefits of the Honor System. Faculty members also participate in the Honor System by initiating honor cases when they see a violation of the honor code.

-- From Faculty FAQ on the Honor Committee's Web site

Adds Spanish professor and former Faculty Senate Chair David Gies, who serves on the Faculty Advisory Committee: "If the result is a perceived or de facto improvement in the way the Honor System works, then you will see more faculty support [the system]."

Honor System proposals

One of the proposals calls for all accusations of academic fraud to be considered serious, thus eliminating the "trial for seriousness." Haley says that this trial was always "very frustrating for faculty."

Dudley believes this change will affirm that "there is no such thing as non-serious cheating." No longer would students be able to use the weight of a particular assignment in relation to an overall grade as a possible defense. Haley thinks faculty members will be "very supportive of this change."

The next proposed change would adjust the composition of jury panels, no longer permitting cases to be tried before a panel composed entirely of randomly selected students. Instead, the new measure would only allow for either a mixed panel, composed of randomly selected students and Honor Committee members, or a panel exclusively composed of committee members.

The Honor Committee's "Guide to the Referenda" says this change is necessary due to the randomly selected student panels' "inconsistent verdicts from week to week resulting in questions of fairness to the [accused] student." By having a hybrid panel of students and committee members, the guide suggests that student participation can be preserved while at the same time addressing the consistency concerns that arose with panels of randomly selected students. "Faculty also like this proposal to alter the trial structure," Haley said.

Another part of the referendum would change the standard to ascertain guilt from four-fifths to two-thirds of the jury's vote. Though it would make convictions easier, the Honor Committee guide says it would "foster consistency among verdicts and mitigate instances of jury nullification."

Dudley said the review commission was aware that this proposal might be controversial. "On the one hand, we did not want unwarranted convictions, but we wanted to put some teeth into the system."

The fourth ballot question would modify the language of the Honor Committee's constitution so that accused students would be "assisted" by counsel, rather than "represented" by counsel.

This would allow students to take part in their own case without the "preoccupation [among counsel] with procedure and tendency toward gamesmanship," according to the referendum guide. Dudley said the change will "demystify the system and make it less litigious."

The Honor Committee has already enacted some of the review commission's recommendations, on issues regarding diversity and Honor Committee training.

 


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