Audit commission researching honor system

Findings from focus groups, peer reviews, surveys to be compiled in report


Third-year Law student Phoebe Willis chairs the Honor Audit Commission. 

Courtesy University of Virginia

The Honor Audit Commission is conducting research on Grounds as part of an 18-month audit of the Honor Committee. The HAC plans to release its report in the spring of 2018.

The HAC, an independent body consisting of students, faculty and alumni, is evaluating the honor system and student opinions of the system. The HAC aims to provide recommendations for internal and external improvements to the honor system, said Katie Deal, a fourth-year College student and Honor Committee representative to the HAC.

“The HAC is an important step in documenting how the honor system affects students,” Deal said. “And, while our report may offer recommendations to the Honor Committee, its main purpose is to help the student body and Committee members understand the successes and shortcomings of the system.”

Deal said the HAC will be analyzing four facets of the honor system: perceptions, sanctioning, scope and process. The Commission will be conducting research throughout the spring.

“The HAC has drafted a survey to send out to students in order to gauge opinions regarding sanctioning, outreach, opinions of the system … and is working on the timing of its release, in coordination with several other surveys that will be released by the University over the coming months,” said Politics Prof. Evan Pivonka, special assistant to the Honor Committee and administrative assistant to the HAC.

Pivonka said the HAC will also be holding focus groups in order to gauge what the most productive issues are and analyze the Committee holistically. HAC has formed subcommittees to peer review honor systems across the country.

Darden Prof. and Senior Assoc. Dean Michael Lenox, alumni representative to the HAC, is part of the peer review subcommittee. He said the committee is currently identifying which schools would be interesting to examine.

“[We] use that as a basis for starting our analysis,” Lenox said. “It would include both public universities, private institutions [and] universities in the commonwealth.”

The HAC will not evaluate a proposed amendment to the Honor Committee constitution that would reduce the threshold of student support needed to make a change to the constitution unless the proposal is approved in the upcoming University elections to be held Feb. 21-23.

The proposed amendment would lower the threshold of support needed to amend the Committee’s constitution from 60 percent to 55 percent in referendums, provided that at least 10 percent of students who are eligible to vote support the amendment. The Committee has declined to take a stance on the amendment ahead of the election.

“There have been a number of changes to the honor system over the years and if a new referendum passes, the HAC will incorporate that into our review,” Phoebe Willis, a third-year Law student and chair of the HAC, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

Deal said the HAC will only evaluate the honor system “as it stands today.”

“We heard from the author of the referendum during our last meeting, and will keep in mind how the referendum might affect the honor system upon a vote from the student body,” Deal said.

Fourth-year College student and Honor Committee chair Matt West, who is not a member of the HAC, said the Committee created the HAC last spring and shortly thereafter stepped away from the HAC’s work.

“After briefly meeting with the Commission during their first meeting to explain to them our hopes for the review, the reasons for their formation, I’ve not been involved in any formal capacity since,” West said. “However, our Committee, as well as me individually, is providing any support that they request from behind the scenes, any statistics that we can offer them that may be helpful and the other materials and resources that would be useful during their review.”

Willis said she hopes the report that the HAC creates will be useful for students by providing a history of the honor system, information about peer institutions and community opinions.

“Having a commission review the system to evaluate it and make non-binding recommendations in our report to the Honor Committee is an important part of checking the health of any organization,” Willis said.

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