Badge of honor
An Honor Committee proposal to educate students with a mandatory tutorial is praiseworthy, but should be implemented with caution
The amount of time the student body may collectively spend on an honor educational tutorial and assessment, which all University students could have to do this fall, will likely exceed the duration of the Honor Committee's meetings spent discussing it. The module, which is subject to change, currently consists of a 12-slide tutorial and 10-question assessment, which together take about 15 minutes to finish. The Committee released it last year as an optional exercise for incoming first years and is considering whether to make the module mandatory for all students through NetBadge. Noble in aim, this initiative is a straightforward attempt to better educate students, but the University community should have reservations.
Borrowing language from the traditional Committee literature, the tutorial explains the two honor triumvirates of lying, cheating and stealing, as well as act, knowledge and significance. It also explores conscientious retraction and plagiarism, among other concepts. The 10 refresher questions increase in difficulty but are ungraded - students can guess wrong without penalty, though not of course, cheat.
University students, for better or worse, find the honor code inseparable from life on Grounds and must therefore know what the honor code is to uphold it. Although the Committee already does educative outreach to inform the community, a mandatory tutorial would ensure students are involved, even if realistically this tutorial is their sole interaction with the system.
In addition to promoting awareness in some general sense, this module addresses a specific element relevant to Committee procedure. Currently, Committee bylaws spell out capital-K "Knowledge" as one of the criteria required for an act to be an honor offense. Part of the test for whether something was done with knowledge is asking whether "a reasonable University of Virginia student should have known" if a particular act would have broken the honor code. Committee Chair Stephen Nash, a third-year College student, said the module would not be used to build a new definition of what a reasonable student should know, but would make existing expectations more clear. "Everything in this module is not new particularities or new specifics, but it really just touches on the basics," he said.
Those in favor or against the honor module may raise concerns about future provisions of a similar nature. Does this set a precedent for any student organization to have pop-up quizzes through NetBadge? The Committee believes mandating education efforts to all students is called for given honor affects the entire community, Nash said. But so does the University Judiciary Committee, and if there is an Honor Committee module, there should be a UJC one as well, especially since the two organizations are often confused. And so more organizations and administrators could mandate assessments, and, module by module, the tutorial minutes may stack.
The honor module is still tentative, but we find it admirable for the Committee to help educate students about a system which is sometimes beyond them. But determining which causes get modules is what really needs adjudicating.