Pursuit of triviality

Jason Smith should have never been convicted

The following statement reflects the views of the student initiated movement known as “Justice for Jason Smith.” Before reading, know that we are not Jason Smith’s friends. We are a group of concerned students called to act by a shared sense of conscience and civic duty. We committed ourselves to this movement to oppose the injustice endured by Smith, and to point to the deep flaws in the dysfunctional honor system that is quietly pleading to be saved from itself.

While we cannot claim to know Smith personally, we do claim that the honor case brought against him was improperly carried out and undeniably trivial. Many columns published in The Cavalier Daily over the previous weeks, particularly third-year law student Robert Baldwin’s (“In defense of Jason Smith,” 4/7/2009) support this claim. We are pleased that there is continuing discussion of the many issues and flaws involved with Smith’s case. However, we think that students should also consider the implications of Smith’s case upon the honor system as a whole.

During last week, our group posted flyers in the Central Grounds and McCormick Road area. We intended to keep the University community aware of controversy surrounding the honor trial of Smith. Some of these flyers included the phrase: “Eating your roommate’s pop-tart. Honor Offense? We think not.”

Just two months ago, students overwhelmingly voted against an honor referendum because they agreed with the above statement. Students made it clear that certain acts of lying, cheating and stealing were too small to be considered an honor offense. In a debate hosted by the University Democrats, Nadia Islam, founder of Students for Honor, expressed her worries that if the proposed multi-sanction system passed, students could be punished (though perhaps not expelled) for committing offenses that were trivial. Josh Hess, a prominent member of the Honor Committee wrote in The Cavalier Daily in February, “Imagine a system bent on punishing every indiscretion — punishing students for “trivial” acts of lying, cheating, and stealing with sanctions as grave as suspension.”

The open trial of Smith demonstrates that what Students for Honor and Committee leaders expressed would not happen under the single sanction system, did in fact happen. It would be very easy to say “I told you so” to students who voted “no” on the honor referendum. Under a multi-sanction honor system, Smith would likely fail the class and perhaps face an additional penalty, though he would not be expelled. But a more productive approach than looking to the past at a failed referendum is to ask Students for Honor and the Committee: does this single sanction system work? Can we as a community still hold confidence in the way the honor system works right now?

The Committee assured students that ‘non-trivial’ acts could not be punished. But the Committee never draws the line between what is trivial and what is non-trivial. Can someone be expelled for using a fake ID? Can someone be expelled for lying to their roommate? Can someone be expelled for telling their teaching assistant they were sick and could not come to class? We are confident that were the University to poll 100 students with these questions, we would get a variety of answers.

So we ask Students for Honor and the Committee this: What makes Smith’s lie more non-trivial than someone using a fake ID? What makes Jason Smith’s lie more non-trivial than telling someone you’ll call them the next day?

Help us save Smith from injustice. Help us save our honor system.

Michael Hamilton and Eric Huang are fourth-year students in the College and administrators of the Facebook group "Justice for Jason Smith.”

related stories