BROWN: No end in sight
Incoming and returning students at the University must remain attentive to challenges facing the University’s honor system
Anyone who was on Grounds last year remembers the drama surrounding the Honor Committee’s “Restore the Ideal” proposal. For those who weren’t, it all started when the Committee decided to take action to combat issues facing the honor system at the University.
Their proposal had two parts: the first, informed retraction, would allow students to admit their guilt when they learned they were being investigated for an honor offense and receive a year’s suspension instead of expulsion, while the second would change the pool of eligible jurors for trials from the student body at large to just members of the Committee.
These changes were intended to combat two issues the Committee saw as consistently troublesome: that students who were open about their offenses in a trial were systematically expelled while those who lied were able to manipulate juries into a not-guilty verdict. As the proposal awaited a vote from the student body, debate about these proposals became heated. Many members of the student body, including myself, had issues with the proposed changes. I felt jury reform went too far in completely eliminating the average student from the process, and that informed retraction was less accessible to low-income and international students. Both sides spent lots of time campaigning, writing articles and speaking to various groups about their opinions, and unfortunately the dialogue often became less than civil. Eventually a petition put informed retraction on the ballot separately from jury reform. When the votes came in, about 60 percent of the student body had voted against the joint proposal and slightly more approved of informed retraction alone.
That is the current situation: all that changed in honor last year was the addition of informed retraction. Unfortunately, that does not do enough on its own to combat the serious faculty and student accountability issues facing honor, and some form of jury reform is still needed. I have no doubt that the Committee is talking about ways to either put another proposal on the table or to encourage students to put something forward themselves. And we, as a student body, have to meet that challenge.
There are a multitude of options for jury reform that address both the concerns of the committee as well as those of the student body. A mixed jury composed of both Honor Committee members as well as normal students is already an option available to accused students, and could be made the standard practice. I also suggested in an article last year an opt-in jury system, where students could sign up to be part of the jury pool early in the semester and undergo more rigorous training both then and before the trial they adjudicate. I’m sure there are more ideas among members of the student body that could be effective, or at least provide some inspiration to put another, more balanced and effective proposal on the table.
Honor at the University embodies many of our Jeffersonian ideals. We talk all the time about how important honor is as a component of our school identity, and many take pride in how that separates us from other schools. But for that pride to be justified and that talk to be useful, we need to actually engage in debates on what can be changed and improved in the system to ensure it works, and doesn’t become an outdated relic that is eventually discarded. I know that the Committee and those involved in the system will do that, but their work is only useful if it is part of a larger dialogue within the whole University. As we saw last year, their views do not always coincide directly with the student body’s, but there is no way for them to know that if we don’t make our voices heard. So please, talk to your friends, talk to your honor representative, and talk to your professors, and see what you can do to be an active part of the community of trust here at the University. The future of that community is in our hands.
Forrest Brown is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily.