Each spring, University-wide elections commence in order to elect new members to Student Council, Honor Committee and University Judiciary Committee. Within these groups, representatives are then elected to various leadership positions by members. These elections can serve as a reference point to pause and contemplate all that has been accomplished throughout the past term and to set standards and goals for the future.
Honor Committee is responsible for educating the community about the University’s honor system and investigating Honor Offenses, while UJC investigates alleged violations of the University’s 12 Standards of Conduct. As their terms came to a close, fourth-year Batten students Ryan Keane and Gabby Cox reflected on their experiences as Honor chair and UJC chair, respectively, noting accomplishments and challenges across their terms.
Elections for UJC occurred on March 28 while elections for the Honor Committee occurred on March 27. Following the elections, each committee entered a transitional period during which newly-elected members were trained. Third-year College students Andrew Chambers and Lauren Kim assumed their roles as Honor chair and UJC chair for the 2021-2022 term April 1.
At the beginning of Keane’s term in April 2020, the effects of COVID-19 on University operations were still ambiguous. At this time, one of Keane’s main goals was to reform the informed retraction policy within the Honor Code. This policy allows a student who has been reported to Honor to avoid a trial and potential expulsion from the University by, as described on Honor’s website, “admitting such Offense to all affected parties and by taking a full two-semester Honor Leave of Absence from the University community.”
Keane wanted to reform this policy because it is unfair to international students who would risk losing their VISA status if they elected to use the policy. However, given the irregularity of this term due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Keane’s goals and outcomes shifted.
Honor Committee had to shift to virtual operations, initially raising concerns about confidentiality and efficiency during virtual hearings. While online exams have heightened concerns about cheating, due to Honor system confidentiality, Keane was unable to reveal whether or not online learning contributed to an increased caseload.
“I feel very accomplished, but I also wish we could’ve done more,” Keane said. “The pandemic threw a wrench in my plans to have bigger reforms like changes to the IR, and it was hard to engage some of the committee because we weren’t meeting in person and there is an inherent feeling of being distant from the work we’re doing.”
However, Keane described several valuable culture shifts that occurred within the committee throughout the year. First, there was a strong sense of community and camaraderie, which helped maintain a culture of respect and friendliness. Given the restraints required by the COVID-19 pandemic — which limited the capacity to hold in-person meetings — creating a sense of community was a challenge. Being able to achieve that sense of community within the committee was what made Keane the proudest out of all the Honor Committee’s accomplishments in the last semester.
Additionally, during his time as chair, Keane was driven to create a genuine and authentic culture within the committee that was focused on maintaining a high standard of honor for the University.
“Pursue new positions in Honor because you want to make a change, not just for the title,” Keane said. “I think and I hope that many people have bought into this idea and people are involved in Honor because they enjoy what they are doing and they like the people they work with. This sort of culture shift was my goal and I am very proud that many people now share the same view as myself.”
In April 2020, after off-Grounds landlords threatened students who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic with Honor charges if they failed to pay rent by a certain date, Honor declared that they would not take rent dispute cases while the University was closed. On Feb. 14, Honor voted to remove failure to pay rent as an example of stealing from their by-laws. Throughout the past year, the committee has continued discussions surrounding reforming the Informed Retraction system — which allows students who admit to lying, cheating or stealing to voluntarily take a two-semester leave of absence — and single-sanction policy, which maintains that any student who is found guilty of committing an Honor violation be expelled.
Keane proposed an amendment during the committee’s March 21 meeting that would require Honor members to receive an all-student panel to hear their case in the event that they were accused of an Honor violation, but the amendment was not passed.
When Cox assumed her position as UJC chair in April 2020, it was unclear if the University would be returning to Grounds for a normal semester. Regardless of whether University operations would occur online or in person, Cox set out four distinct goals at the beginning of her term — improving internal relations through restructuring UJC positions, improving external relations through training and recruitment, strengthening UJC’s role at the University and continuing the legacies of past executive committees and chairs.
Throughout the summer of 2020, it became clear that the University would not be able to conduct UJC activities in person, making for a very different semester than many students expected.
“It's bittersweet,” Cox said. “It's been a really hard term. But … when I look back I am probably the most proud of the fact that our committee was able to respond so quickly, and in my opinion, pretty efficiently to COVID-19.”
In general, Cox felt proud and appreciative of her team during such a unique and chaotic semester, noting the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic generated. UJC had to adapt quickly and efficiently to changing University mandated rules regarding in-person activities. UJC has been responsible for investigating violations of COVID-19 guidelines reported by community members since the pandemic began. While not all of these reports will require an active investigation, it has altered the focus of the organization’s workload some.
UJC’s spring 2021 mid-semester report revealed that there have been 21 total cases involving 53 students and four student organizations — all fraternal organizations — since Jan. 1. Seventeen cases were related to violations of COVID-19 policy, whereas the entire previous semester saw only nine cases involving COVID-19 policy infractions out of a total of 23 cases.
Cox spent the summer in communication with other UJC executive members, trying to identify the best way to transition from in-person to all-online trials. The process of deciding exactly how the trials would be conducted in an online environment was one of the most time-consuming issues the committee faced, Cox said.
The committee ended up using Microsoft Office in order to exchange evidence and information during the trial, along with zoom calls to conduct the trials themselves. These Zoom calls had to be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, meaning that they must be secure so that all individuals involved in the trial will have their data and personal health information protected from the public.
“You can't really plan for COVID,” Cox said. “So I guess my sort of big lesson in leadership this semester was taking things one at a time, accepting your mistakes, being gracious to those around you and being thankful of people's effort.”
Moving forward, UJC will work to accelerate the trial process itself, streamlining the process of reporting an incident and making the entire trial process more efficient while still ensuring that trials remain fair. During the fall semester, UJC was able to conduct trials that included up to 20 accused students. In the future, UJC hopes to further increase the efficiency of the trial process.
Sanctions in both the fall and the spring primarily consisted of essays, meeting with advisors or deans, educational programs and community service. One student is currently facing expulsion in abeyance — meaning that the punishment can be enacted if the accused party returns to UJC for a separate violation — and five students and one fraternal organization are facing suspension in abeyance.