Public Honor trial brings guilty verdict

International student faces deportation

This article has been updated to include further information about the reporter’s arguments.

In the first open Honor trial since Feb. 2013, Engineering graduate student Georgina Hunt was found guilty of cheating on a MSE 6020 final exam from the 2016 spring term.

The class, Defects and Microstructure in Materials, was taught by Prof. Sean Agnew, who filed the Honor charge against Hunt with supporting testimony by one of his teaching assistants, Engineering graduate student Fulin Wang.

The hearing took place Nov. 19 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with breaks throughout. A 10-person jury comprised of randomly selected students heard the case, with Austin Sim, Law graduate student and vice chair for trials, presiding.

Background of the case

The report was filed in June 2016 when the incident occurred, but was not set for an open trial until Nov. 2016.

“The timeline of each case can vary based on when parties involved are available for interviews during the investigative stage, and the committee takes the students’ availability into account when organizing a trial,” Honor Committee Chair Matt West, a fourth-year College student, told The Cavalier Daily.

Hunt completed her undergraduate studies in the United Kingdom before she applied for graduate school at the University. At the time of the incident, she had only been in Charlottesville for around 9-10 months and had struggled with the MSE class in particular.

Challenging material, being unable to participate in study groups, fellow classmates bullying her and being away from home were just a few reasons Hunt cited as part of her struggle to acclimate to the rigorous academic environment.

“I wasn’t allowed to say that I was dyslexic [at the trial] — that was the reason I was excluded from study groups,” Hunt told The Cavalier Daily.

The open Honor trial was, in Hunt’s eyes, her only option. While she could have chosen to take a contributing medical or mental disorder, Hunt said that would have led to a different result than she desired.

“According to Honor, a learning disability is classified as a mental disorder and a contributing mental disorder is admission of act,” Hunt said. “There wasn't an act to admit to, so I wasn’t going to take a CMD.”

Hunt said she was also not allowed to speak toward what could potentially happen if she was found guilty of cheating.

“I wasn’t allowed to say anything like why I would do something that would get me deported,” Hunt said. “I wasn’t allowed to say anything of that kind.”

Because Hunt is from the United Kingdom, she is on a student visa granted to her by the University when she was accepted into her graduate program. However, since she has been found guilty of cheating, she will soon need to leave the University either by transferring or going back home.

For the Honor Committee to move forward with a trial, the investigative panel that first screens the accused student must determine she meets the three criteria of an Honor offense: act, knowledge and significance. It must be provable beyond a reasonable doubt that the student committed an act of lying, cheating or stealing; that the student or a reasonable University student should have known the act was an Honor offense; and that the act itself would be inconsistent with the University's 'Community of Trust.'

Student vs. professor

The charges were brought by Hunt’s professor, who claims there was no way she could have taken the test without some sort of unauthorized aid. Hunt claims she was given permission to look over the original exam by Agnew.

Hunt’s exam would be rescheduled since she decided to take an incomplete for the course. Hunt and Agnew met on May 24 to discuss her makeup final exam; their differing accounts of that meeting was a focal point of the trial. Hunt recalls telling Agnew that “I ain’t not gonna look at it” when referring to the exam results that Agnew had sent out on May 11 after her classmates had taken it. She said the use of a double negative is commonplace in the London/Essex area where she is from.

“After this meeting, I was 100 percent confident that he wanted me to look at the [original] exam,” Hunt said at the trial.

According to Hunt, Agnew responded “Good! … Thank you for your perseverance.”

At the trial, Agnew said that the conversation did not occur in the way Hunt had described it.

He said that Hunt had not looked at the exam prior to their May 24 meeting, and Agnew said, “Good, don’t.”

Hunt acknowledged during the meeting that she would not look at it, Agnew said.

Another discrepancy found in the trial was the time Hunt needed to complete her exam. Hunt said she took 1 hour and 30 minutes, while Wang and Agnew said she took an hour.

“The students that took the exam the fastest were done after 2 hours or so,” Agnew said at the trial. “The rest took the bulk of the allotted time which was 3 hours.”

Despite this variation, if Hunt were able to look at the exam solutions before taking the final, she would still have some recollection of how to solve them without any aid, she said at the trial.

“You don’t need to memorize a book to recall certain parts of it,” Hunt said at the trial. “So I didn’t need to memorize the [original] exam to recall what was on it.”

Wang administered the midterm and said he checked that Hunt had her “cheat sheet” with her during the exam, but did not check on her while she was taking the exam.

The “cheat sheet” was a piece of paper with notes students could bring with them into the exam.

Wang said he became suspicious of the exam soon after Hunt turned it in.

Agnew declined to comment further on this specific case or the verdict. However, he did note the professional nature of the Honor Committee throughout the process.

The students involved “seemed sincerely interested in determining the truth of the matter and were not rooting that any side would ‘win,’” Agnew said in an email statement.

Wang did not respond to a request for an interview before press time.

A guilty verdict

During breaks that followed almost every hour session, the audience was escorted to Newcomb 481, so that their discussions would not affect the jurors’ perception of the case. At that time, some audience members voiced discontent over how the trial was going, as well as evidence that was brought.

At one point in the trial, one of the jurors, Sadika Natour, a fourth-year Engineering student, asked Hunt what the Honor pledge meant, and Hunt noted in her response that the pledge’s ubiquitousness among undergraduates is not the same for graduate students.

“The Honor pledge is to not lie, cheat or steal … I think,” Hunt said at the trial. “Graduate students don’t have to sign anything.”

Audience members, in conversations during breaks, pointed out what was perceived to be bias from Natour throughout the trial. Natour at times displayed — through mannerisms or facial expressions — distaste for Hunt’s responses; she also repeated questions that had already been asked and answered. Natour did not return a request for comment as of press time.

When jurors pose leading questions, the accused may eventually file for an appeal based on the fact that the moderator did not correct the juror. In this case, that power would have been with Sim, who administered the trial.

“[Correcting parties] is up to the discretion of the hearing chair, if they feel that problems were present at the trial,” West told The Cavalier Daily.

In the eighth hour of the trial, the public was notified that the jury reached a verdict. All parties were brought in, and the presiding officer of the jury read a guilty verdict within seconds of Hunt sitting down. A guilty verdict must be decided by a four-fifths majority, which means in this case, at least 8 out of the 10 jurors had to have found her guilty.

The standard of proof to find a student guilty in an Honor trial is "beyond a reasonable doubt" — the same used by the U.S. court system.

Upon hearing the verdict, Hunt froze in her seat while her support officers began to get up to leave the room. Almost a minute later Hunt got up from her seat, tearing up as the audience looked on in silence.

“I am pretty sure it wasn’t a general consensus,” Hunt told The Cavalier Daily. “I could see the faces of people on the jury, and I think that it should be unanimous for someone to be found guilty, just as it is in a court of law.”

Alexis Gravely contributed reporting.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the hearing took place Nov. 20; it took place Nov. 19.

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