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Students vote down three of four proposed Honor System reforms

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Students vote down three of four proposed Honor System reforms

By Dan Heuchert

Three proposals intended to improve the consistency of honor trial verdicts went down to defeat in a four-day student referendum that concluded March 1. A fourth ballot item, intended to allow accused students to take a more active role in their defense, was approved.

Changes to the student-run Honor System require a three-fifths affirmative vote, with at least 10 percent of the student body participating. The online election drew a healthy 46.5 percent voter turnout, but none of the three defeated proposals won even a majority.

"We were really particularly heartened by the turnout," said Thomas Hall, the chair of the Honor Committee, who was overwhelmingly re-elected as a representative from the College of Arts & Sciences. "It shows that the Honor System is alive and well, and that students are tuned into the issues.

"But we were disappointed with the way things fell out. We still have concerns with the consistency of the system." He said the committee will explore other possible ways to improve that consistency in the coming months.

The lone successful proposal changed the language of the honor constitution to reflect that accused students would be "assisted" — instead of "represented" by counsel. It received support from 69.5 percent of voters.

The second item, which would have automatically labeled all accusations of academic fraud as "serious," received only 44 percent support. That means that honor juries must still determine whether an act of cheating is serious enough to warrant conviction and expulsion, the only sanction permitted under the 158-year-old system.

The third ballot question, which would have done away with juries composed entirely of randomly selected students, received 43 percent support. If it had succeeded, accused students would have had the option of being judged by either mixed panels of randomly selected students and Honor Committee members, or by panels composed only of committee members.

The fourth, two-pronged proposal would have altered the composition of mixed juries and lowered the standard for determining guilt from a four-fifths jury vote to two-thirds. That proposal drew 46 percent support.

Gordon Rainey, who chairs the Board of Visitors' Student Affairs and Athletics Committee, said he did not know what response, if any, the board would have to the three proposals' defeat, but said members were "strongly supportive of the Honor System."

"The Honor Committee's proposals would, in my opinion, have strengthened the Honor System. But the students have spoken and it is a student-run system," said Rainey, who praised the members of the Honor Committee.

"We should also not lose sight of the fact that the Honor System Review Commission made a number of positive recommendations [that] did not require a constitutional vote and those are being implemented by the Honor Committee and will improve the system," he added.

Patricia Werhane, a Darden School faculty member who chairs the Faculty Senate, said the results caught her by surprise "because the students worked so hard, and had done a lot of publicity," she said. "Maybe it's because the system works pretty well. It's not broken, although some of my colleagues might disagree."

She, too, was pleased to see the high level of turnout. "[The referenda] got the notion of honor and the Honor System on everybody's radar screen, and it's hard to do that year after year. Also, it reminds the faculty, too. …I think some good will come out of this."


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