I imagine most students at elite universities would argue their greatest moments of learning have come from their lectures, discussion sections or labs. That has not been the case for me. Throughout my four years at this University, the most formative experiences have occurred in my extracurricular activities, ranging from leading an ASB trip to making a closing statement at an Honor trial. Student self-governance has made all of this possible. I write to enhance this practice and add my opinion on the Campaign for Self-Governance. As vice chair for education of the Honor Committee, I would like to clarify that I am not speaking on behalf of the Committee, but rather based on my individual beliefs in hopes to further discussion among the student body.
I write to address the third referendum of the Campaign for Self-Governance, as it is the one with which I am most concerned. I have feelings both in favor of and against the other two referenda. The first is fairly unobjectionable, but it may be unnecessary to add to the Honor Committee constitution. The second holds the Committee accountable, despite potentially mandating Committee representatives to act upon platforms on which they did not run. However, I find the discussion about these two referenda to be less urgent. I want to discuss the third referendum because it is a step backward for student self-governance and the ideal of honor.
The Campaign for Self-Governance paints the Honor Committee as a group of individuals who have been sitting around, twiddling their thumbs for the past decade, when it cites figures from 2004 as indicators of how out of touch the Committee is. Yet the discussion practically ignores the biggest change to the honor system since 1977: the Informed Retraction. Selectively using favorable statistics, the campaign does not recognize that the Honor System is fundamentally different today than it was 10 years ago, and that it was students who drove this change in the system.
We are taking a vote on whether the Honor Committee should consider a multiple sanction system, without considering that the system already offers opportunities for forgiveness. However, these opportunities are not predicated on the severity of a student’s actions; they are predicated upon one’s own integrity, which should be the foundation of the honor system. If a student is reported for an honor offense, he has the opportunity to admit to the act in question by taking an Informed Retraction, finish his current semester and take a two-semester leave of absence. With this practice, students have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
Establishing a multiple sanction system, with the level of punishment depending on the severity of the offense, would render the Informed Retraction useless. Such an act would be a direct affront to the self-governance and the student-led effort that put the Informed Retraction on the ballot in 2013. Additionally, students going through the system would be incentivized to lie throughout the investigation and trial process to get off with the lowest possible sanction. No longer would students have reason to act upon their own honor and acknowledge their actions by taking the Informed Retraction, which happened 12 times in 2013-2014 alone. Honor could very well cease to be the ideal that many people feel permeates this University. Honor could simply become another sanctioning system.
I will vote no for the third referendum for the above reasons, and because I think there is much more progress the Committee can make next year without spending the majority of their time considering a multiple sanction system. After nearly a year on the Committee, I believe we can improve the Informed Retraction. It is, after all, brand new, and we are still finding out how it affects the System and how it applies in various scenarios. For example, currently if a student is reported for cheating on two papers in the same class, he can only take an Informed Retraction for one of these instances, regardless of whether he was in a similar situation or mindset during those actions. Questions like this should be discussed, but that will be difficult if the Committee must design a multiple sanction system throughout its term.
While I have strong opinions about this issue, more than anything, I encourage students to vote and to do so in an informed manner. Visit honor2015.com to read about the referenda, read the articles from Rick Yoder, visit virginia.edu/honor to see Committee representatives’ responses and hear the varied opinions of Committee members this Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Chapel. Once you have considered all sides of the story, vote in a way that you feel is right for today’s honor system and the one we hope to pass down for generations of students to come. After all, student self-governance expects nothing less.
Joe Martin is a fourth-year in the Commerce school and the vice chair for education for the Honor Committee.