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OCR inquest ascertains no racial bias in Honor

After undergoing almost a year-long investigation of the honor system this and last year, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights determined the honor system and its processes do not violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Following the conclusion of the investigation, the Honor Committee released a restatement of five policies they now practice reaffirming their dedication to a non-biased honor system.

"Two members from OCR listened to trial tapes, reviewed case files and met with members of the Honor Committee and they called and concluded there was no violation," Honor Committee Chairman Hunter Ferguson said. It "is positive for us and U.Va. they found no violation and we're glad to hear that."

The OCR approached the Honor Committee when an anonymous person filed a complaint July 30, 1998 against the honor system, alleging racial bias against black students was present in its proceedings.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, no institution receiving federal aid, such as the University, can legally discriminate against an individual because of race or national origin.

The Honor Committee met in full in June to discuss the OCR's investigation.

The OCR "recommended we codify our existing policies-we drew us a resolution to do that-it is a reaffirmation of what we are already doing," he said.

Specifically, the OCR examined the statistical representation of black students involved in Honor proceedings in proportion to the University's overall black population.

Also, the OCR investigated the amount of black student participation within the Honor Committee as well as its support officer pools, including minority recruitment efforts.

"The Black Student Alliance and the Honor Committee have worked together diligently through the efforts of the Honor Committee's Diversity Task Force to eliminate problems that the BSA may have felt were based on biases in the system according to Honor case statistics, especially those released at the end of the 1997-98 academic year," BSA Co-Chairman Kazz Pinkard said.

African-American Affairs Dean M. Rick Turner said he was unaware of the OCR's investigation of the honor system.

"I have had, going on 11 years [of this job], many complaints and enormous amount of concern by African-American students' parents that the honor system is discriminatory," Turner said. "I am happy that [the OCR] did not find anything and I hope there is no hidden racism in the honor system-the only thing I can say is that many students and parents would think there is."

He said that he encourages African- American students to become involved in all aspects of the University, including the honor system and the University Judiciary Committee.

"Both BSA and Honor have worked hard on making sure that the spotlighting of Black students, especailly athletes was eliminated from classrooms, that random student juries were fair, and that all minority students learn about and become actively involved in the honor system, especially encouraging students to participate as Honor educators, advisors, counsel and even as reps and Committee members," Pinkard said.

"It seems as though Hunter Ferguson has been making a special effort-they seem to be very serious about seeking information regarding issues of diversity trying to make sure the honor system is fair," Turner said.

The Committee recently released a reaffirmation of their policies.

The first practice states that the "Honor Committee will continue to exercise its best efforts to encourage minority student involvement in the Honor Committee's operations and continue to maintain the activity of its Diversity Task Force."

The Committee also will continue to maintain statistical data on students investigated by the Honor Committee and make that data available on the Committee's Web site by Sept. 30.

"We're really pleased with [this finding]-it shows positively we have sound practices and serves to reaffirm our commitment to diversity and fairness," Ferguson said.

In the past year concerns over the honor system have evolved into lawsuits. A $1.05 million lawsuit was filed in November following the expulsion of former student Jonathan Cobb for cheating on an exam.

Cobb's mother, Anette Cobb, has alleged racial problems within the honor system although she has said she has not witnessed any direct racial bias in the way that the case was handled.

No African-American students were on Cobb's panel, Annette Cobb has said.

Equal Opportunity Programs Director Karen Holt said she worked with the OCR and the Honor Committee during the investigation.

"I respond to general information they want and facilitate meetings with people-the OCR was very cooperative to work with," Holt said.

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