The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Tailoring honor to fit future of University

THE 2000-2001 academic year promises to be an eventful one for the honor system. One of the great misconceptions is that it is static, mired in the rigid ways of our ancestors. The honor system is in fact dynamic, and has been shaped and molded by generations of students; the system is still undergoing this process today.

The Honor System Review Commission was formed last February to examine every aspect of the honor system and make specific recommendations for change. The Commission, composed of current and former Honor Committee members, faculty, administrators, a Board of Visitors member, and alumni, has met on a regular basis this summer.

The Commission is one of the many review groups that have met from time to time throughout our history to evaluate the system based on current student opinion and issues of efficiency, consistency and fairness, among others.

The Commission is examining a vast number of issues, including, but not limited to, trial panel composition, diversity in the honor system, the single sanction, procedural issues in investigations and trials, the role of the Committee, and the relationship between the Committee and the larger University community.

The great advantage of the Commission is that the members of the group have an opportunity to consider issues facing the honor system without actually having to run the system on a day-to-day basis, a problem that has hampered past review efforts undertaken by the Committee itself.

In its final report, the Commission's efforts should reflect a series of well-considered recommendations. The Committee plans to present these recommendations to the community through a series of open forums and town hall meetings designed to gauge student opinion. Only through open discussion and wide student participation can the honor system reflect the views of the current student body.

The Honor Committee in general has a series of tangible goals for the next few years. First, the Committee is dedicated to the fair and efficient processing of its caseload, ensuring that the Committee's docket does not become backed up.

Second, the Committee is anxious to provide education about the honor system to all students, not only first years. Through events such as Honor Awareness Week and Day Without Honor, the Committee hopes to show the community the benefits of living under the honor system. On the Day Without Honor, the Committee tries to raise Honor awareness by attempting to take away privileges afforded by the system, such as cashing checks without ID, having unproctored exams, being able to get into the dining halls if you forget your ID, etc.

Through mechanisms like the First Year Honor Association and summer orientation, the Committee plans to focus on the newest members of our community of trust.

Third, the Committee hopes to make itself a more transparent body; in other words, the Committee wants to open itself up to scrutiny by and input from the greater University community. The Committee is not an elitist group whose members work exclusively behind closed doors: Although confidentiality laws prohibit opening many hearings to the public, the Committee's Sunday evening meetings, where policy is discussed, are always open to the student body. Input from students, at these meetings or through other means, always is encouraged.

Finally, the Committee plans to make a special effort to encourage traditionally underrepresented students to participate in the system. These groups include minority students, graduate students, and student-athletes. The honor system can function effectively only if all University students feel enfranchised by and included in it, and part of the Committee's responsibility is to make sure these groups feel included.

As a result of widely publicized litigation involving the honor system, many students, parents, and alumni often ask if the system has a future at the University. My answer is emphatically, "yes," in part because it has obtained substantial administrative support to carry out its mission: The Committee now employs both a full-time administrative assistant and a legal advisor, in addition to our long-time executive secretary. Also, the dedication, professionalism and training of the Committee and its support officers is at what I believe to be an all-time high, and the Committee always is striving to enhance these characteristics.

However, this support alone is not why I believe the honor system has a bright future at the University. Instead, I believe the timeless values of honor, integrity and honesty resonate just as strongly with the current generation of students as they did 160 years ago. As the University has grown in both age and size, the honor system has remained the great common denominator that has bound together generations of University alumni, and I do not foresee those bonds weakening in the years to come.

(Thomas Hall is chairman of the Honor Committee.)