Honor for all

AS THE newly elected Honor Committee members take their places in the trial room on the fourth floor of Newcomb, these representatives will have bigger issues to face than the single sanction and jury selection procedures. Before procedural issues can be tackled, the new Committee will have to deal with student apathy toward the Committee and the idea of honor itself.

The outgoing Committee has attempted to make great strides in correcting those problems. Committee Chair Ben Cooper said in an interview that the current Committee has worked to extend the benefits students ought to enjoy in a "community of trust." Cooper said students may now claim, on their honor, that they have been in a parking garage for a certain amount of time instead of having to pay for a lost ticket. A faculty committee is also currently reviewing an online flex exam system that will be integrated into Toolkit's replacement in spring 2009. These benefits sound tangible and beneficial, but the Committee needs to actively engage students in the process if members wish to remain relevant.

The regulation of the honor system is clearly an important task, and it is a system everyone who attends or teaches at the University promises to adhere to. Students elected to the Committee are right to take their jobs seriously. However, when they spend 30 minutes debating what the dress code should be at a meeting, as they did at the first meeting I attended back in 2006, they reinforce the student body's perception of the Committee's interests in appearance instead of action.

The fact remains that in any given year, fewer than 100 students are accused of honor offenses and fewer than two dozen are asked to leave, according to statistics issued by the Committee. That is just 24 people out of the 20,000 students at the University whose lives are changed by honor trials. Why then do these fourth-floor Newcomb dwellers assume such urgent moral authority as they spend hours debating by-laws and the structure for first-year forums? Why does the student body, including this newspaper, treat them with such reverence? Many Monday editions of The Cavalier Daily have honor's doings as its lead story. Just Tuesday, honor's ideas for a forum merited a lead editorial. It is time for students, on and off the fourth floor of Newcomb, to ask ourselves what honor means to us as a student body.

Wednesday's election results begin to answer these questions. Five of the races for school representatives went uncontested. Even in the College, which had nine people running for five spots, the top vote getter received just over 2,000 votes out of nearly 10,000 students. It is a minority of students who are engaged enough to vote for candidates and, by extension, honor. It seems that students have become disenchanted with the system or feel that it does not affect their lives enough to take the time to have an opinion. Since this is a system which holds power over whether or not students stay at the University, we ought to start getting engaged. And the Committee needs to help.

The Committee must provide ways for students to overcome the way students have become disengaged from the system. Cooper acknowledged that the new Committee's goals "really will pertain to reaching out to the community and trying to make sure the community feels the honor system is something they own."

The first step would be for the Committee to get out of the trial room and hold meetings in places other than the fourth floor of Newcomb, the Dome Room or first-year dorms. Places the majority of students frequent, such as Clemons or Cabell, would make excellent venues and give students a sense of their Committee coming to them. Continuing to seek alternatives to the single sanction as a 2005 student referendum requested, rather than doing away with the ad hoc committee on the issue, would be another step toward engaging students. Although the newly-launched honor blog sounds like a wonderful resource, I am willing to bet that few students know of its existence.

Students themselves must make an effort to attend Sunday night meetings to see what their committee is doing and make sure it is functioning properly. After all, I'm pretty sure that Cavalier Daily reporter gets pretty lonely.

Maggie Thornton is a Cavalier Daily Viewpointer writer.

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