I would be honored
My biannual correspondence with the Honor Committee
Sometime during the first seven days of my first year last fall, when I was still trying to figure out the location of Gibson Hall and attempting to incorporate dining hall food into my regular diet, I received a grounding message in my snazzy new U.Va. Gmail inbox from the Honor Committee.
Bearing the subject line “Honor Committee Juror Call,” it began with a panegyric of all the wonderful civic good done by honor juries, followed by the less decorous point that I had been randomly selected to “volunteer” as a juror, slyly noting that failure to show up meant I would be attacked full-throttle by the University Judiciary Committee. I immediately wondered if there was some clause exempting those who had not yet seen the inside of a classroom, much less completed a single assignment. But finding nothing, I pulled up a map and reluctantly showed up at the meeting.
For me, the honor system means refraining from committing a few obviously immoral acts in exchange for some notion of it being safe to leave my backpack at a desk unattended. If a person bases whether or not to cheat on the threat of punishment, he or she is probably in need of some serious moral self-reflection. Not enamored with the concept of random first years giving such life-changing verdicts, I would have felt more accomplished leaving my relationship with Honor in a state of statutory neglect. Nonetheless, uncomfortable with the idea of lying to get out of it, I signed up for an uneventful weekend and did my duty.
After a stressful 10-hour shift, I was pleased to hear that my name would be taken out of the lottery — a euphoria which lasted all the way until the beginning of the spring semester when I got another friendly email bearing a familiar subject line. Risking whatever punishment comes from questioning an Honor Committee decree, I sent a polite and timid response letting them know of my former retirement from jury service. Saved.
Cue modern day. I have recently received my third mandatory invitation to jury service, and being an older and wiser second year — let’s not forget how just last semester the Class of 2016 dumped enough alcohol in a moment of panic to ensure that nothing green will ever again grow in the greater Charlottesville area — I took this as a compliment.
While my initial annoyance and angry refusal might have suggested otherwise, it is hard not to take pride in being on the Honor Committee’s shortlist. I can only assume this is due to my profound legal acumen as both my parents are non-trial lawyers and I have seen “My Cousin Vinny” a number of times.
It might be easy to try to reason this away as a mistake, but I see a different narrative. Last year saw the defeat of the proposal to replace random student juries with a council made up of informed Honor Committee members. But perhaps after my stunning 10-hour performance as an arbiter of justice, they’re attempting to create a team of super jurors, à la Marvel’s Avengers.
I, for one, applaud the initiative, with the obvious caveat that I do not want to be involved in any way — though I am certainly tempted. After all, who would refuse this ultimate authority over an entire student body?
Just kidding — the freedom to sleep through my weekends is just too much to give up.
Christian’s column runs biweekly Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com.