Honor terms to know
Student-run for more than 170 years, the Honor System is an integral cornerstone of the University’s commitment to student self-governance
The singular purpose of the University’s Honor System is to uphold the Community of Trust, the student body’s culture of honesty and respect. The system is framed by the Honor Code — students must not lie, cheat or steal, and if they do, will be permanently removed from the University of Virginia.
“It goes beyond just these basic notions of ‘don’t lie, cheat or steal,’” Honor Chair Devin Rossin said. “It forms the ethical framework under which the University operates.”
The Honor System is run by the students and for the students. Rossin, a rising fourth-year College student, said the institution arose out of a turbulent time at the University. Students would often get in spats with professors and had behavioral issues, Rossin said.
“A professor created this Honor Pledge on his assignments and students took it to mean more than just academic integrity,” Rossin said. “They took it to mean don’t lie, cheat or steal, don’t gamble, don’t do anything that’s unbecoming of a Southern Gentleman. And that evolved past previous notions to be where it is today.”
But, Rossin said, the Honor System is more than just historical.
“This is something that the students have, will and forever contend to hold sway over,” Rossin said. “This is not a system that belongs solely to me or previous students or any future students. This belongs to whoever the current occupier of the space is right now.”
Incoming first-years can get involved in Honor shortly after arriving on Grounds. Rossin said they can apply to be Support Officers (defined below) in mid-September. Additionally, he said, first-years can attend outreach and education initiatives Honor hosts.
“This is your Honor system and should reflect your desires and your needs,” Rossing said. “Make this system into what you want to make it.”
Below is a list of Honor terms incoming first-years should know.
At Opening Convocation and Honor Induction, after hearing from speakers and learning about traditions at the University, students are invited to sign the Honor Pledge. The Class of 2021’s Opening Convocation will be held Aug. 20.
The Honor Code directs that students must not lie, cheat or steal, and if they do, will be permanently removed from the University.
The Honor Pledge, which students sign before taking an exam or completing an assignment, reads as follows — On my honor, as a student, I have neither given nor received aid on this assignment.
If a student is convicted of an Honor Offense and does not take an Informed Retraction or a Conscientious Retraction, the only penalty used is permanently dismissal from the University.
The administrative body of the Honor System, the Honor Committee consists of 27 members, with each school usually having two representatives on the Committee. The Committee is elected by the student body. The election, which first-years can vote in, occurs in February 2018.
Honor Executive Committee
The Honor Executive Committee consists of five members — Executive Committee Chair, Vice Chair for Hearings, Vice Chair for Investigations, Vice Chair for Education and Vice Chair for Community Relations.
Honor Audit Commission
Started in summer 2016, the Honor Audit Commission is completing a two-year external review of the Honor system. It consists of students, faculty, administrators and alumni, and looks at sanctioning, case process and community engagement. At the end, the Commission will recommend steps to the Honor Committee.
Support Officers handle cases, conduct investigations, advise accused parties and serve as advocates during trials.
The Honor System is entirely student-run, with Committee members and Support Officers all students. Students also serve as jurors during Honor trials.
Community of Trust
The purpose of the Honor System is to uphold the Community of Trust, where honesty and respect anchor interactions and academic pursuits.
According to the Honor website, An Honor Offense is a Significant Act of Lying, Cheating or Stealing, which Act is committed with Knowledge.
The reporter is the party who reports a Significant Act of Lying, Cheating or Stealing committed with Knowledge to an Honor Advisor. “We talk to whoever the reporter might be for a little while and find out whether or not they actually want to report this file,” Rossin said. “We have an individual interview with them. Then we contact the student.”
If taking an Informed Retraction, a student who has been reported to the Honor Committee for allegedly lying, cheating or stealing must take responsibility for the Offense, admit the Offense to all affected parties and leave the University for two semesters. “[The student has] seven days upon which to take the Informed Retraction,” Rossin said. “If they do not take the Informed Retraction, it goes into a continued investigation.”
A student may request a Contributory Mental/Medical Disorder hearing during the seven-day IR period if the student believes a medical or mental disorder contributed to the commission of an Honor Offense. If denied, he or she may still file an IR up to the end of the IR period.
If a student files an Informed Retraction, he or she may remain enrolled during the current term, but is placed on Honor Probation. Restrictions may be imposed by the school, department or course in question.
Honor Leave of Absence
After finishing the current semester, a student who has filed an Informed Retraction is suspended for two full semesters, a fall and a spring, before being allowed to return to the University.
When taking a Conscientious Retraction, a student who has committed a potential Honor Offense comes forward, admits act and makes amends in order to recommit themselves to the Community of Trust. A student can only take a CR if they do not have any reason to believe they are under suspicion for committing an Honor Offense.
In the investigation, two Honor Investigators interview the student under suspicion and any witnesses. The student is given an Honor Advisor for information throughout the process.
After the full investigation, the case goes to an Investigative Panel consisting of three Honor Committee members, who decide whether to formally accuse the student or drop the case. “An Investigative Panel … decides on a more likely than not basis whether or not the student committed said Honor offense,” Rossin said. “If they find that it’s more likely than not, the student has seven days again to request a trial.”
“If a hearing is requested, it goes on to the Committee, upon which they receive either a guilty or not guilty verdict, based on the evidence and threshold of beyond a reasonable doubt,” Rossin said. At the hearing, the jury determines whether the accused student is or is not guilty based on three criteria—Act, Knowledge and Significance. Hearings can either be closed (public may not attend) or open (public may attend). For a student to be determined guilty, four-fifths of panelists must vote that Act and Knowledge were present and a majority of panelists must vote that Significance was present.
After being accused, a student may choose to “leave admitting guilt” in lieu of a hearing. A student may also leave admitting guilt if he or she does not show up to the hearing or does not request a hearing in a timely fashion.
The Honor Committee Constitution codifies the tenets of the Honor System and guarantees trial rights for accused students. It was ratified by the student body in 1977 and was last changed in February 2016. Amendments to the Constitution must be passed by the student body, but may be proposed by a ⅔ majority vote of the Honor Committee.
The Constitution allows the student body to directly change the Honor System or override the will of the Honor Committee by popular referendum.
Per the Constitution, the Honor Committee is to hold a popular assembly for the student body every two years in order to gauge student opinion. The next popular assembly will be in fall 2017.