Revolutionizing honor

STUDENT elections have a reputation for being largelyinconsequential to the student body. Voter turnout is notoriously pitiful, and each year's elected representatives seem to produce little more than lines on their own resumes.

But with the Honor Committee elections, students have an opportunity to change the University in ways that will benefit students for years to come.The single sanction has been killing the honor system for as long as anyone can remember. Students and faculty are loath to report honor offenses because they know that students might get kicked out of school while student juries acquit students for the same reason. The sanction means that most offenders get away with cheating, while a few unlucky students get expelled for a wide range of offenses. The Honor Committee has the power to work for sanction reform, and if we elect students who are committed to reform, we can replace a broken system with one that works.

Unfortunately, recent years suggest that students in favor of the status quo are more likely to run for positions on the Honor Committee. Last year, none of the candidates were on the record against the single sanction, leaving students with essentially no choice at all in the future of the honor system. Previous years have seen candidacies by a few opponents of the sanction, notably Sara Page, who served as a much-needed voice in favor of reform. But in order to achieve meaningful change, students must elect a majority of candidates who understand that the single sanction is hurting the community of trust.

The makeup of the Honor Committee stands in stark contrast to student opinion on the single sanction. Last year, a referendum that said the Honor Committee should seek alternatives to the single sanction passed by a majority of 59.4 percent. When nearly 60 percent of students indicate that they want alternatives, the Honor Committee has a clear mandate to work toward reform. Instead, the Committee has stalled action by spending the entire year preparing a survey of faculty members, despite the fact that the Faculty Senate already produced a report called "Faculty Perspectives on the Honor System" last year.

Honor Chair David Hobbs said that the Committee does not view the referendum as a direct measure of opposition to the sanction, since it merely stated that the Committee should "seek alternatives." When asked if the Committee's research was expected to lead to the implementation of alternatives in place of the single sanction, he said, "I don't think these steps say that one way or another."

November's open honor trial served as a public embarrassment for sanction supporters, because the jury's verdict demonstrated to the entire community exactly what anti-sanction people have been saying for years: The sanction allows students to get away with cheating. The accused students were found guilty on act and intent, but acquitted on the criterion of seriousness.

Faced with a public display of the sanction's ineffectiveness, the Honor Committee had an opportunity to lead a genuine campaign for reform. Instead, they proposed reducing the rights of those pesky juries so that they could sentence students themselves. Under a recent proposla discussed by the committee, juries could only vote on act and intent, while a separate panel of Honor Committee members would vote on seriousness.

While the proposal to turn the seriousness vote over to the Honor Committee is unlikely to appear on the spring ballot, the discussion demonstrates the Honor Committee's misguided train of thought. The single sanction is staring us in the face as the one glaring factor that has crippled the honor system. We cannot begin to repair the system until we eliminate the sanction, and until we take this essential step, all efforts to rally the students in support of the system will fail.

The best way to fix the honor system is to elect candidates who are committed to moving toward an honor system with multiple sanctions. Students who oppose the single sanction must educate themselves on who the candidates are and where they stand on sanction reform. Last year, candidates focused primarily on how they might improve participation in the current system, rather than emphasizing their views on the sanction.

Hobbs said that the most important consideration for honor elections should be the candidate's "ability to be a leader," not his or her opinion on the sanction. Unfortunately, all of the leadership in the world cannot save the honor system without serious sanction reform. There is only one relevant question when it comes to honor elections: Do you support the single sanction or not? Nothing else that the Honor Committee might address will fix our broken system while the sanction remains in place.

Cari Lynn Hennessy's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

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