The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Committed to honor

ADDING Honor Committee members to the jury would substantively improve our current system. That has been my belief since this summer, and that is why I formed an ad hoc committee on the issue last fall. The purpose of the jury reform proposal is to add consistency to the application and interpretation of the standards of act, intent and seriousness for an honor offense.

As of now, students accused of an Honor offense have three options for juries: a panel of all random students, a mixed panel of random students and Honor Committee and an all-Committee panel. The overwhelming majority of trial panels in the past eight years have been composed of random students. The Jury Reform Ad Hoc Committee believes that juries should be composed of between eight and twelve students with at least two of those being Honor Committee members (the proposal has been changed in response to comments from Honor Committee members in Sunday's meeting). The Jury Reform Ad Hoc Committee outlined the main reasons for this proposal:

First, to add consistency to every trial. Honor Committee members are familiar using terminology. They can inform the discussion by infusing experience, asking questions and reading through evidence.

Second, to stimulate salient questioning of all parties and to-the-point deliberations. By asking cogent, pointed questions, Committee members ensure that the trial proceeding remains focused on the pursuit of the truth. Committee members are more likely to ask difficult questions which jurors might not consider or might not be willing to express.

Third, to ameliorate the ambiguous role of trial chair and observer. These members of the Honor Committee are impartial "moderators" of deliberations. Often jurors want perspectives on the standards for an honor offense given the evidence in a particular case. Obviously, as impartial moderators, they cannot voice their opinions. Committee jury members would answer this request while not eliminating the need for impartial moderators of deliberations -- that is, every juror would contribute significantly to every verdict.

Fourth, to maintain discretion for accused students. Accused students would actually have more discretion in choosing their jury panels.

Finally, to answer student opinions. Students in a 2000 survey felt that mixed panels can "most capably and fairly apply the single sanction." Students favored mixed panels most as both their first and second choices. In their first choice, students favored mixed panels over random panels by a margin of 24 percent.

This debate is not about the single sanction, because I believe this would be a good reform for our system regardless of the sanction. This reform is about finding all innocent students not guilty and all guilty students guilty regardless of community sentiment on the sanction.

We should not dilute the issue at hand to the standard of seriousness and the single sanction. The true definition of seriousness, as defined in the Honor Committee by-laws states, "An act is considered to be serious if open tolerance thereof would be inconsistent with the community of trust." Note that this definition is dynamic; it allows the community to change its opinions on the sanction, which is a positive thing for the honor system.

Some argue that this proposal takes away from student ownership of the system. I, along with several others, would argue just the opposite. Firstly, Honor Committee members are students just like any others and we still represent sentiments from the community of trust -- we still take the classes, undergo the stresses and have lives beyond the by-laws. Next, for the approximately 30 to 40 trials in a typical year, only 60 to 80 student jurors would be removed from the usual pool of 360 to 480. Further, allowing the elected representatives of this student body to serve as jurors would more effectively embody the voices of the thousands of students who turn out each year during elections. Those elected, I would argue, more accurately represent a holistic University sentiment.

Some believe that the Honor Committee is focused on the wrong issue here; the debate should be on education about the standards rather than having "experts" clarify them during deliberations. I wholeheartedly agree. There is an entire branch of the Honor Committee devoted solely to educating students and faculty at the University. And under the provision of Randall Warden, the educators have done a spectacular job. This proposal is not meant to replace, but rather supplement, that intention.

I appreciate The Cavalier Daily for its continued debate on the Honor System. It is an idealistic -- and therefore imperfect -- system. Only through such debate among the student body can we ensure the continued health and vigor of our system.

Matt Miller is an Honor Committee representative from the Commerce school and chair of Honor's Jury Reform Ad Hoc Committee.