The Honor Committee met on Sunday for the last time this semester. This Fall, the Committee met 11 times, making significant changes to its own bylaws and preparing for developments to come in the spring semester.
In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Ory Streeter, Medical student and Honor Committee Chair, assessed the development of a number of Honor Committee proposals and amendments which were implemented throughout the fall semester.
When asked about the highlights of this semester, Streeter named three major projects as the main focus of the Honor Committee’s efforts — the transition from the Contributory Mental Disorder policy to the Contributory Health Impairment policy, the maturing Bicentennial report and internal changes to Honor’s structure at the University.
In its last of the semester, the committee members discussed the possible implementation of a University-wide poll to elicit student feedback on potential changes to the single sanction policy. The single sanction policy has faced criticism in recent years from the student body for its perceived harshness. In order to gauge student opinion, the Committee is considering to pose a non-binding poll to the community through the next University Board of Elections election in early spring 2019.
Batten graduate student Stearns Swetnam, the co-chair of the alternative sanction working group, noted that his group is still in the process of developing these three options. In an email to The Cavalier Daily on Sunday, Streeter said the Committee was not ready to discuss the proposed options at this time as they are still being developed.
The is a procedure that allows students to request a health evaluation prior to moving through Honor proceedings to determine if a mental health condition contributed to the commission of the offense, which is typically overseen by the Office of the Dean of Students and conducted by Student Health or the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
A variety of have been made to the CHI policy within the past couple of months — including changing the name of the policy from the Contributory Mental Disorder process into the Contributory Health Impairment process to make it more inclusive by acknowledging that the current policy also allows for conditions that are not explicitly mental — such as a brain tumor, an example used by Streeter — but could still contribute to committing Honor offenses.
“I would say probably our biggest accomplishment so far has been changes to the old contributory mental disorder process,” Streeter said. “What you're seeing is the result of several years of work by multiple committees as well as our legal team to come together and to get some legislation passed that I think leads to a more fair process for our students who are attempting to reclaim a contributory health impairment while going through our system, which ultimately is good for everybody. We're really proud that we've made that progress.”
In addition to CHI changes, the Honor Committee has been developing its long-awaited — a summary and analysis of Honor cases, major constitutional amendments and the impact of Honor on the University.
With plans for its release in Spring of 2019, the compilation of the Bicentennial report constituted a significant part of the Honor Committee’s efforts this fall.
“We're also making strides towards our Bicentennial report, which we are hoping release in January,” Streeter said. “I think what's gonna have the biggest impact on the student body is this data that we've sort of mined from our records. We've got 100 years of guilty verdicts and all the demographic data attached to that that we're analyzing, as well as the last 35 years of pretty much all the reports we've gotten that we're analyzing, and we're doing a five year review on the informed retraction. And so that data that large of an amount of data and analysis of that has not been attempted by a previous committee to our awareness.”
Streeter also noted important structural changes among the Honor Committee.
“The third thing I would say is — no one would know this, but we've made a couple of changes internally that had been very, very effective for our organization,” Streeter said. “We created this support officer member at large to bridge the gap between our support officer pool and the Honor committee itself.”
Meghan Wingert, a third-year Batten student and Honor at large, attends Honor Committee meetings to serve as a connection between the support officers and the Committee itself. Streeter emphasized the support officer-at-large’s role in keeping the Committee executives tuned into the activities of the majority of the Honor system’s workers.
This semester, the Honor Committee 54 new support officers. The support officer demographics show slight underrepresentation of some groups in the support officer pool when compared to the University’s total demographics.
“The Honor committee selects and is charged with the training and maintaining of our support officer pool that actually investigates our cases — they represent students at hearings and a whole variety of other functions. They really do the day-to-day work of the committee,” Streeter said. “Their voice was not represented necessarily during our committee meetings, so now we have a student — who is a support officer — who actually has a voice around table during our committee meetings. We're really happy with that. That position has enabled us to set up a stronger accountability structure within our support officer pool.”
Streeter mentioned education as a ongoing goal and an area for the Committee to improve next semester, saying that the Committee “had a couple of education initiatives that we were really hoping to get underway and we just didn't, so we're going to look to double down on those efforts in the spring semester.”
Discussion around adding new representatives
Near the end of the semester, fourth-year Engineering representatives Peyton Sandroni and Julia Batts adding a third Engineering school representative to the Honor Committee, sparking debate over the system of representation which the Committee uses with respect to each of the University’s school.
Under the current representation system, each school at the University — both graduate and undergraduate — has two representatives on the Honor Committee, except for the College of Arts and Sciences which has five. According to data collected by the Honor Committee, the Engineering School produced 27.5 percent of Honor cases up to Nov 8, 2018, while the school only makes up 15.6 percent of the University’s .
Changing the number of representatives a school receives on the Honor Committee would necessitate a change to the Committee’s constitution, which would require approval by the student body through a referendum, typically held during University wide elections in the early spring.
“I'm interested to see where that conversation goes,” Streeter said of the representation debate. “They [Sandroni and Batts] make a compelling argument in terms of the numbers based on both the types of cases we receive and the the growth of the engineering school in and of itself. It's almost a philosophical question because currently the only school that has more than two representatives is the College, and it's been that way for a while. So by increasing a another schools representation, it marks a shift in how the Honor Committee has been run for a couple of years.”
The future of the proposal is still uncertain, however, as there are still a few steps to go before the student body would be able to vote on the change.
“I don't know how it's going to go honestly,” Streeter said. “The committee's 27 people will cast votes, and then if we pass it we'll put the referendum on the ballot for the spring and let the student body decide. I don't know, I'm excited to see what happens.”