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Informed solution for Honor

HONOR at the University is dying. The informed retraction can save it. Students must show the Honor Committee, administration and the world that the University cares about preserving this principle that we hold dear. No longer can we endorse dishonesty within our community. This is why we must pass the informed retraction proposal.

The informed retraction would promote honesty in our community. Ironically, if there is one thing that the honor system at the University lacks, it is honesty. Under the current system, students have absolutely no incentive to display honest behavior when charged with an honor offense. If guilty, students face expulsion from the University. The only action students can take to save them from this fate to lie and convince the jury of their innocence. They remain in the University community having committed an honor offense they were charged for, in addition to another one that they were not - lying to the Committee to be cleared of the charges they were accused of.

At the end of an honor trial in which this has occurred all the honor system has done is facilitate dishonesty, not strengthen the community of trust that we feel exists at the University. It is a reality that lying, stealing and, yes, even academic cheating go on at the University. It is unrealistic, however, for the University community to believe that a student guilty of an honor offense will fess up, turn themselves in to the Committee, and accept expulsion with a contrite heart. In a perfect world, our current system would grow stronger as dishonest students were weeded out and honorable students were left to attend the University and learn. This is not what goes on, though. Sadly, it never will.

Including the informed retraction in our honor system will help it grow stronger by building the characters of University students. Under the proposal, students who have committed an honor offense will have seven days after charges are brought to file an informed retraction. They can forgo the trial process, admit guilt and leave the University for three semesters. Upon return, they will be able to take a degree and transcripts will not contain information about the offense. Credits from other colleges earned in the three semesters will not be accepted by the University.

Three semesters without a chance to earn college credit is a punishment that should inspire these students to change their dishonorable ways. They will have a year and a half of rehabilitation time and when they return to the University they will be model members of the community of trust. The honor process will have helped to create an honorable person at the University instead of a dishonorable one. In addition, informed retraction will aid the students and professors who witness honor offenses. Knowledge that the charged student, who might fail to employ the option of conscientious retraction, has the option of saving himself from the harsh punishment of expulsion may encourage more people to report honor offenses, further strengthening our community.

The informed retraction also should be passed because it allows the honor system to evolve to meet the needs of today's students without tampering with the sacred single sanction. Informed retraction preserves the single sanction in total by not changing the trial process at all. Students must file an informed retraction before the case has gone to trial and, in the event that a student goes to trial and is found guilty, the punishment still is the same - expulsion.

But expulsion, while an aspect that sets the University's honor system above the majority of collegiate systems around the country, is a scary prospect. No student wants to deal with the embarrassment of being expelled dishonorably from the University and the hassle of starting over somewhere else all of a sudden. That is why many students and professors won't turn in students who have committed an offense, and why charged students choose to act dishonorably at trial.

The option of filing an informed retraction reserves expulsion for those who, at trial, are obviously guilty or who have faked innocence poorly. Student juries may be more likely to invoke the single sanction against students they feel are guilty knowing that those students did not choose to admit guilt and accept a less severe penalty. Informed retraction also can help innocent students who have been charged wrongly. Many students go to trial feeling as though the community assumes their guilt. When guilty students have the option of taking an informed retraction, the students who are left are more likely to be the ones that sincerely want to prove their innocence at trial. Students, therefore, would feel as though they're getting a fairer trial, if the informed retraction is implemented. The informed retraction has the potential to help change the honor trial from an adversarial process to a fact-finding mission that endeavors to help honest students prove their innocence.

The University is not the same place it was in decades past, and institutions such as the honor system must change to fit the student body. By overriding the Committee's decision not to put the informed retraction issue to a vote, students have spoken that this change needs to be addressed. The University has become a dishonest place, but does not have to stay that way. Vote for honor. Vote for the informed retraction.

(Erin Perucci's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at eperucci@cavalierdaily.com.)

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