Group assembles to reform honor

Organization meets state, University administrators, publishes 18-page manifesto

One year ago, Barbara Schaedel addressed the Honor Committee regarding the case of her daughter, who was accused in April 2008 of plagiarism and expelled in October. Schaedel, who used her maiden name Pierson when addressing the Committee to protect the identity of her daughter, said her daughter became an "emotional wreck" during the course of the trial process. In her talk, Schaedel criticized the Committee's definition of plagiarism and encouraged the Committee to focus on the nature of intent when considering whether a student committed an act of plagiarism.

"I can't sit by and let this happen to another child," Schaedel said at the time.

Her advocacy continued, and since April, Schaedel has met with the Committee, the Virginia Secretary of Education and Patricia Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer, to discuss her concerns. She also has put forth in an 18-page document titled, "Recommendations for Honor Reform with Students' Constitutional Rights."

"We just want to work with the Honor Committee," Schaedel said. "We want to work with them, to put these reforms in place."

In the document, which was recently obtained by The Cavalier Daily, Schaedel and her group, called Families for Honor, critiqued the honor system's single sanction policies, its training for defense counsels and its definition of plagiarism.

"Each member [of the group] has been touched directly by the current practices of UVA Honor," the introduction to the document says. "This document affords a rare opportunity to openly examine the issues presented, to improve the system for the greater good, and to evaluate areas needing redress since no evaluative academic study has been previously publicly published due to issues of confidentiality."

Committee Chair Charles Harris acknowledged the benefit of drawing from outside perspectives to refine the honor code and said the Committee is working closely with Families For Honor to address some of the perceived issues.

"We went through with a fine toothcomb and picked some things that were easy to implement," Harris said. "But there are also larger issues that we've had exhaustive discussions with them about."

The fact that members of Families for Honor are not students at the University is a "complicating factor" in considering reform, Harris noted.

"The student body are the true owners of the system," Harris said. "My first and foremost priority is to be acting with students."

The group arose in the wake of the trial and expulsion of Schaedel's daughter for plagiarism, the Committee's definition and enforcement of which has drawn scrutiny in recent years.

Any allegation of plagiarism is treated by the Honor Committee the same way, in accordance with the Committee's bylaws, Harris said. Once the violation has been alleged, the Committee assesses the case on the merits of "act, intent and triviality," he said.

"The question is: Should the student have known or did they know that the copied portions constitute plagiarism?" Harris said. He further noted that in cases where intent cannot be proven, or if the act of plagiarism is deemed trivial, the charges are dropped in accordance with Committee bylaws.

According to the document, however, the Committee should rely less on the judgment of an honor panel and more on hard evidence when determining the intent of accused students.

"Students testify in honor trials that they have no intent to commit an honor offense but made a mistake," the document says. "Mistakes are not honor offenses. Intent cannot be proven unless the evidence is concrete, not someone's opinion."

Still, the Committee is taking measures to eliminate the problem of inadvertent plagiarism altogether.

"We try to educate students about what plagiarism is and how to avoid it," Harris said.

Both sides intend to keep working closely with one another to achieve an equitable solution moving into the future.

"If everyone walks away, nothing changes," Schaedel said. "We're not going to walk away. We're not going to ignore this"

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