Scandal Met Its Foil In U.Va. Leader
May 6, 2002-- Thomas 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 University of Virginia 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," said Hall, who will graduate on May 19.
"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
the biggest cheating scandal in U.Va. 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 test."
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 history."
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,"
first term featured a referendum on four proposed reforms to the
honor system, his second term on emphasizing 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
didnt shrink from the attention. He appeared with Bloomfield
on national television and radio shows and more than held his own
under intense questioning.
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
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 31.
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 career.
experience on the Honor Committee has really forged my character
and affirmed my direction in life."
Dan Heuchert, (434) 924-7676