All you judges beware

There was insufficient evidence to expel two students at Sunday’s open Honor Committee trial

“Established in 1842, the University of Virginia Honor System is the nation’s oldest student-run honor system and one of U.Va.’s most cherished institutions. Based on the principle that University students want to be trusted, the Honor System helps create and strengthen a school-wide community of trust.“


Those who violate the standard of honor are asked to leave the University. Right so!

But here is the problem, personalized by a former student of mine: an Echols scholar, the best student I had in class in the spring semester 2012, modest, friendly, very intelligent and a diligent worker. He got accused of cheating, of “shuffling papers and whispering” according to yesterday’s article in The Cavalier Daily. By three witnesses. Two students got accused by one person. Proof for their violation: 49/50 answers matched. If Kevin Nguyen worked in this biology class the way he worked for my math class he must have gotten 49/50 answers right, at least. An exceptional student, no doubt.

Did these two students cheat, did they compare answers? If they both say NO and one witness accuses them nevertheless, is this enough to give the fatal blow to both of them? That’s what happened yesterday.

Kevin’s ordeal started when this one witness decided to bring the incident to the Honor Committee; Kevin held up his standard, he continued to work hard, he succeeded with the best final in Linear Algebra. Now the ordeal continued throughout the fall semester and until I got the email yesterday I was confident that the case would be decided “in dubio pro reo” since there was no real proof, statement against statement and I couldn’t even think of a reason for Kevin to cheat (he was on top already, grades could not get any better).

Should Kevin appeal, go through another semester of anguish or should he, such a successful, promising student start all over somewhere else?

What a loss for the University, on every imaginable level!

This honor system sounds great — but a Committee of a handful of students who, according to Vice Chair for Trials Clifton Bumgardner “did not put undue emphasis on the outcome” of their decision, might have forgotten the founding idea:

“University faculty established an ‘honor pledge’ on examinations, agreeing to trust students when they pledged that they had ‘neither received nor given assistance’ on their schoolwork.”

It’s a two way trust. That’s the reason for “in dubio pro reo.” Let’s not forget what our decisions mean to others, never and under no circumstances. THAT helps to sort right from wrong.

Respectfully submitted,

Monika Abramenko is a lecturer in the Department of Engineering and Society – Applied Mathematics Program.

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