Cavalier Daily faces UJC charges

Honor Committee chair alleges managing board breached confidentiality by publishing editorial about plagiarizing writer

Honor Committee Chair Ann Marie McKenzie has filed University Judiciary Committee charges against the five members of The Cavalier Daily's managing board, alleging an editorial printed last week breached confidentiality of a pending Honor case.

The Honor case concerns an incident of plagiarism involving a former Cavalier Daily staff writer. Earlier this month, the newspaper discovered that the writer submitted multiple columns containing plagiarized material, several of which were published. The managing board - comprised of Editor-in-Chief Jason Ally, Managing Editor Andrew Seidman, Executive Editor Matthew Cameron, Chief Financial Officer Allie Vandivier and Operations Manager Alyssa Juan - collectively authored an unsigned lead editorial disclosing the incident to readers. The editorial acknowledges that the paper "reported the incidents to the Honor Committee."

McKenzie contends that such disclosure violates Standard 11 of the University's Standards of Conduct, which prohibits "intentional, reckless, or negligent conduct which obstructs the operations of the Honor or Judiciary Committee, or conduct that violates their rules of confidentiality."

The UJC is currently in the process of determining whether or not the case falls within its jurisdiction, members of the managing board said. The Committee originally agreed to hear the case before the managing board called attention to Article II, Section D, Clause 5 of the UJC constitution, which states that the committee "shall not have jurisdiction over the exercise of journalistic and editorial functions by student groups."

Both sides have submitted briefs to the UJC Executive Committee, which will decide this morning whether or not to hear the case, Seidman said.

UJC Chair Victoria Marchetti and McKenzie both declined to comment on the case. Marchetti cited the need to maintain confidentiality throughout the proceedings.

The Cavalier Daily's leadership argued in its brief that the clause exempts the newspaper from the scrutiny of the student disciplinary group.

"The charges in this case relate to an offense that allegedly occurred with the publication of an unsigned editorial, an action outside of the UJC's purview according to Art. II, Sec. D, Cl. 5.," the brief says. "Therefore, the case cannot continue to trial because the UJC has no authority to rule on whether the action in question breached Standard 11."

Rebecca Glenberg, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, expressed similar doubts about the UJC's jurisdiction in journalistic matters. Glenberg is currently representing The Cavalier Daily and The Collegiate Times of Virginia Tech in a case regarding the appearance of alcohol advertisements in student newspapers.

"Clearly the judicial council shouldn't be initiating proceedings against The Cavalier Daily if the judicial council's bylaws deprive it of jurisdiction to act against student newspapers," she said. "The fact that The Cavalier Daily could be subject to discipline for writing about a matter of great importance for the University community without divulging the name of the student in question offers great constitutional concerns."

The editorial in question does not specify the name of the writer or any articles containing plagiarized content.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, further denied the UJC's authority to hear the case. He said the case raises questions about the legitimacy of student self-governance.

"The judiciary committee may well believe it's a court," he said. "I assure you they are not. They exist as part of the University, which is organized under the executive branch of the Commonwealth of Virginia. They will come to find out they don't get to punish people the way judges do."

The Cavalier Daily has faced issues with plagiarism in the past, most recently in 2006. The managing board at the time disclosed the incident in an editorial but did not file honor charges against the accused student.

"[The student] was a young guy at the time," said Patrick Harvey, The Cavalier Daily's editor-in-chief during the incident. "I didn't want a big public record about him making a mistake."

Harvey said he and his colleagues did not face any punitive action from disciplinary committees at the time.

The current managing board said their decision to both file honor charges and disclose the report stemmed from an effort to maintain a balance between journalistic integrity and respect for Honor proceedings.

"The honor system works in a way where if you have knowledge of an honor offense and don't disclose it to the Honor Committee, you are just as liable as the person who committed the alleged offense," Ally said, adding that any reader in the "community of trust" could potentially file honor charges against the members of the managing board for failing to report.

According to the Honor Committee Constitution, a student will not be found guilty of an honor offense unless "evidence against him supports, beyond a reasonable doubt, an accusation of an act of lying, cheating, or stealing that he knew or a reasonable University of Virginia student should have known might constitute an Honor Offense," and the offense is deemed significant.

Additionally, while drafting the editorial, members of the managing board came to the conclusion that based on the context of the editorial, readers would be able to infer honor charges had been filed.

"The Cavalier Daily explicitly used the word plagiarism multiple times and said everything but that we had taken it to the Honor Committee," Seidman said. "We just felt it was a logical next step to be transparent with our readers."

Should the UJC Executive Committee decide the case falls within its jurisdiction, the trial is scheduled for Oct. 28.

-Although Ally and Seidman read this article before it printed, no member of the managing board edited or altered this piece written by staff members. Juan did not place this article online.

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