by Jenny Gerow
have been pillars of U.Va.
by Sarah Cramer/Cavalier Daily
its foil in Hall/
Fifer shines in dark times
By Dan Heuchert
Hall can tell you exactly where he was when he first learned of
the How Things Work honor cases.
was sitting at his desk in the Honor Committees offices,
just 11 days into his second term as the student-run organizations
chair. It was April 12 , Hall recalled. I
think it was a Thursday.
honor adviser came in with a huge stack of papers and announced,
Thomas, youre not going to believe this.
stack came from physics professor Louis Bloomfield, who had devised
a computer program to identify and collate term papers that contained
long strings of identical words. The papers the adviser plopped
on the table were both original and allegedly copied submissions
from more than 100 students in his introductory How Things
Work class. Eventually, 158 students faced plagiarism charges.
was a huge shock, Hall said. I had no idea what we
were going to do. The biggest number of cases Id seen from
a single professor was maybe four. Nothing like this.
the biggest cheating scandal in University history sought out
the student who was uniquely prepared to lead the response. Hall
is believed to be the only two-term Honor Committee chair in school
history, and led a similar organization at his private high school.
Bright, organized and impeccably professional in his approach,
he did not rattle easily. And when media from around the world
began calling, they found Hall to be a skilled public speaker,
comfortable and able to project an assured, mature presence.
initial shock quickly gave way to determination. He was
pretty quick to say, We need to think of a game plan,
said Nicole Eramo, special assistant to the Honor Committee and
its only full-time staff member.
e-mailed President John T. Casteen III and other top University
officials, informing them of the allegations as a courtesy. They
unanimously replied by affirming U.Va.s tradition of student
self-governance and offered their support as needed.
next day, Hall convened a 7 a.m. meeting of the Honor Committees
current and immediate past executive committees to discuss how
to approach the cases. The consensus: Let the system work.
such a good leader, and such a good listener, said Virginia
Rothschild, a 2001 U.Va. graduate and a member of the immediate
past committee. He knows what needs to be done, and he does
it right away.
and the other fourth-year members of the former executive committee
volunteered to return as investigators, despite being only weeks
away from graduation. With few exceptions, they decided that each
case would be investigated and tried separately.
found out very, very quickly that these cases were all different,
even if they looked the same from the outside, Hall said.
sense of fair play was ingrained early in Hall. When his parents
dropped him off at Woodberry Forest School near Orange, his mother
reassured him that he was welcome back home in Shawnee Mission,
Kan., should the schools academics prove overwhelming. But,
she warned, if he was expelled for cheating, he might find himself
living in a tent in the back yard.
learned at Woodberry that academic integrity was important. It
was something that mattered, Hall said. Character
is more important than a grade on an English paper or chemistry
that grades were a problem. His GPA at Woodberry was above 4.0,
and he received a perfect score on his SATs, despite a list of
extra-curricular activities that included participation in three
sports, editing the school yearbook, singing in the choir and
competing in public speaking contests. The school remembers him
as most likely one of the finest orators in Woodberrys
among the most outstanding students Ive ever seen, and Ive
been here since 1968, said U.Va. admissions dean John Blackburn.
The U.Va. Alumni Association awarded Hall a four-year Jefferson
Scholarship, given annually to only a handful of the most qualified
sampled a variety of organizations at U.Va but gravitated toward
the Honor Committee, where he began as an investigator. In his
second year, he was among the nominees for its chair, determined
by a committee vote. The post traditionally goes to a rising fourth-year
student, but there was no hesitation that Thomas could do
it, Rothschild said.
first term featured a referendum on four proposed reforms to the
honor system. His second term was to emphasize training and professionalism.
came the How Things Work cases.
had hoped to keep news of the investigations quiet until at least
the fall semester. But two weeks after the stack of papers arrived,
the Cavalier Daily published a story on Bloomfields plagiarism-detection
program. While it didnt mention any honor cases being initiated,
it was enough to pique interest at the Charlottesville Daily Progess,
which ran a front-page story May 4 revealing that 122 students
faced charges. It hit the Washington Posts front page five
days later and exploded from there. Wire-service stories appeared
nationwide and as far away as England, Japan and New Zealand.
The Honor Committees phone rang off the hook, and Halls
e-mail account overflowed with inquiries.
didnt shrink from the attention. He appeared with Bloomfield
on national television and radio shows and more than held his
own under intense questioning.
It was a great experience, he said. With my
interest in politics, it was a chance to discuss tough issues
and answer tough questions. It also gave us a chance to show off
the honor system at U.Va.
Honor Committee held trials nearly every weekend throughout the
fall semester and into the spring. Hall estimates he spent more
than 40 hours per week on Honor business while completing the
senior thesis for his double major in history and government (he
has a 3.65 GPA) and making occasional trips to high schools around
the state to talk about honor.
hoped to have finished the How Things Work cases by
the end of the fall semester, but had to settle for closing the
books on 142 of the 158 cases by the time he left office March
hes hoping to defer his admission to U.Va.s Law School
for a year in order to attend the London School of Economics.
After law school, he would like to stay in Virginia and perhaps
work for a federal prosecutor, with an eye toward a political
experience on the Honor Committee has really forged my character
and affirmed my direction in life, he said.
Fifer shines in
By Anne Bromley
who despairs over the future should spend a little time with Abby
Fifer for an in-depth class on optimism and dedication.
Roanoke native and outgoing Student Council president epitomizes
leadership and self-reliance, traits that were put to the ultimate
test in the hours following the Sept. 11 attacks. Skills and poise
developed over a lifetime and honed during her years at U.Va.
culminated in a night of quick thinking and helping hands.
she got to Old Cabell Hall for the students candlelight
vigil for peace and understanding, the place was overflowing its
840-person capacity. The organizer was panicking.
got to hold it outside in the amphitheater, Fifer told him.
We can do this.
But how would that work in the dark with no sound system? Fifer
knew facilities technicians at Newcomb Hall, where her Student
Council office is located. She made a few phone calls, and some
student workers came from home to set up lights and microphones.
there was another call Fifer wanted to make. She dialed U.Va.
President John T. Casteen III and said, I think you might
want to come down here and see what your students are doing.
did come. And over the next few days, Fifer, Casteen, his staff
and a few others organized the Universitys memorial service
on the countrys official day of mourning.
her semesters and summers here, Fifer has spent a lot of
time getting to know how U.Va. is organized, and Ive met
a lot of people who give of themselves in ways most students dont
get to see, she said. Theyve shown her that students
matter, the community matters. The people Ive had the privilege
to work with are really living for the students at this school.
Its not just a day job.
administrators and faculty who have gotten to know her have seen
her take that observation to heart.
Fifer has been uncommonly principled, smart and focused in her
work as Student Council president, said Casteen.
is proudest of the legacy she leaves with Student Council, she
said, because working with great people, you help improve
things and help others develop programs that reach out to many
people, she said. The programs she has created or supported
involve building community and connections: researching the need
for a new student center; helping make the case for University-sponsored
health insurance for graduate students; and reorganizing the Student
Council committee structure to widen representation.
example of how Fifer saw a need and found a way to take care of
it came from an observation about her Echols Scholars peers. Because
they dont have to take classes in certain subjects, Echols
students theoretically could go through all four years without
being exposed to a diversity of ideas and perspectives. She designed
a seminar for first-year Echols students last year that was facilitated
by third- and fourth-year students. It focused on issues of ethical
importance, with different topics and guest speakers each week.
The short course has been adopted permanently.
intentions are always for the betterment of the community
or the other person, said Patricia M. Lampkin, interim vice
president for student affairs. She is courageous, intelligent
and has a humility that is refreshing.
never wanted to be in politics, Fifer protested. I
like to think of myself as a teacher, [someone] who points people
in the right direction.
put her words into action next year, teaching in a private school.
Eventually, shed like to pursue a masters degree in
theology or religious studies.
was elected to Student Council as a College representative in
the second semester of her first year and served two more semesters.
Joe Bilby, then-Student Council president, appointed her chief
of staff and encouraged her to run for the top post after him.
first-year students feel more welcome has been another major area
of influence. Fifer participated in the summer orientation program
and, as Student Council president, performed a skit and gave a
talk to incoming students at last falls Convocation. She
also led the first-ever summer orientation team after her first
year, and she set the bar high, according to Laurie Casteen, interim
assistant director of orientation.
a leader, you always hope that the principles you stand for are
present and active in the space you helped to create, Fifer
said. You hope youre contributing something positive.
clear that Abby Fifer has done that at U.Va.