Playing by the rules

As its editor-in-chief goes to trial, The Cavalier Daily defends its handling of plagiarism incidents and a subsequent judicial controversy

Cavalier Daily Editor-in-Chief Jason Ally will go before the University Judiciary Committee tonight at 7 in a closed trial to face the charge that he violated the Honor Committee's confidentiality rules by participating in the writing of a Sept. 12 editorial, "Taking action," which addressed incidents of plagiarism at the paper. Honor Committee Chair Ann Marie McKenzie initially filed this charge against the five members of The Cavalier Daily managing board since each editorial represents the majority opinion of the board, but she subsequently dropped her case against all but the editor-in-chief. Regardless of her rationale for this decision or the outcome of tonight's case, however, the paper maintains that it handled the plagiarism incidents and the ensuing judicial dispute related to the Sept. 12 editorial in an entirely appropriate manner.

It was necessary for the managing board to publish the editorial about recently uncovered plagiarism incidents because the paper strives to remain accountable to readers for the accuracy and authenticity of the content that appears in its pages. By explaining its response to the plagiarism incidents, the managing board aimed to preserve the level of trust it has established with members of the University community and sought to offer reassurance that it was taking the infractions seriously. As part of its full accounting, the managing board included that it had reported the incidents to the Committee. In doing so, it omitted mention of the plagiarist's name, gender, staff position and class year, as well as the titles, dates and content of the plagiarized articles.

The managing board chose not to reveal any of this information so as to preserve the confidentiality of the student responsible for the plagiarism, even though Article V of the Committee's by-laws specifies that students forfeit their right to confidentiality by "making (or causing to be made) public disclosure of matters that would otherwise be held to be confidential." In this case, the student's decision to write plagiarized articles that were submitted with a byline for publication in a 10,000 circulation newspaper amounted to an action that caused to be made public personally identifiable information that generally would be confidential in honor proceedings.

The managing board also believes it was right to report the incidents to the Committee. Although there are flaws in the honor system, the managing board felt that the student responsible for the plagiarism should be held to the same standard as any other member of the University community. Therefore, it decided to bring its findings to the attention of the Committee so the body could perform the responsibilities delegated to it by students and the University administration.

In addition to its initial approach to addressing the plagiarism incidents, the managing board defends the paper's coverage of the events stemming from McKenzie's filing of charges. Although the UJC's confidentiality rules generally prohibit the public discussion of cases involving alleged breaches of confidentiality in honor proceedings, the paper ascertained that it was exempt from the body's jurisdiction according to Article II, Section D, Clause 5 of its constitution. Upon this discovery, the paper was able to run an objective news story detailing the charges that McKenzie filed against the managing board. Several Cavalier Daily articles from 1985 dealing with proposed UJC constitutional amendments offered further clarification about the nature of the jurisdiction exemption in Art. II, Sec. D, Cl. 5, giving the paper the assurance that it could run additional news stories and editorials about the situation without the risk of drawing more UJC charges.

The paper's decision to publish content about the charges and the contentious issues surrounding them was made in accordance with its mission as an independent, student-run media organization. The Cavalier Daily strives to keep readers abreast of the most important news items at the University, and its editorials are meant to offer analysis so that students can make informed decisions about how to react to those issues.

The managing board hopes that today's editorial accomplishes that goal, and its members urge readers to take an interest in the policies and procedures of not only The Cavalier Daily, the Honor Committee and the UJC but also the myriad of other student-run groups that make decisions that affect the quality of life at the University. The system of student self-governance that has become mired in controversy in this instance depends upon student knowledge and input for its continued operation, and the managing board hopes that readers will look to the outcome of tonight's trial as an indication of what reforms may be needed in the future.

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