Student self-governance plays a key role in the day to day aspects of University life. There are multiple groups that facilitate self-governance on Grounds — the Honor Committee, the University Judiciary Committee, Student Council, as well as individual class councils. Each organization, in its own way, aims to uphold certain standards of conduct and accountability. These committees are student-run and are therefore, by and for the students — a unique component of the University community.
The Honor Committee
The Honor Committee is made up of two representatives from every school — with the exception being the College of Arts and Sciences, which has five. These representatives are elected by the student body each spring and serve for one year. Elected representatives on the Honor Committee complete honor investigations and trials while support officers spread information and knowledge regarding the honor system to new students, faculty and the rest of the community.
Student support officers also investigate cases, advise accused students and serve as advocates at trial. Students can also be randomly selected to act as jurors during trials.
According to the Honor Committee website, an honor offense is defined as “a significant act of Lying, Cheating or Stealing, which is committed with knowledge.” In order to determine if an honor offense has occurred, three criteria must be satisfied according to the official honor policy outlined online — did someone lie, cheat or steal? Did the student know — or should a “reasonable” University student — know the act was lying, cheating or stealing? Would tolerating this act “violate or erode” the community of trust?
Andy Chambers, chair of the Honor Committee and fourth-year College student, called the Honor Committee an arbiter between students and faculty that helps to preserve this community of trust.
“Other universities often offer a pretty rigid and unforgiving system … [but] because we are students of the community, we value the community of trust and we are overly willing to defend it,” Chambers said. “We are active beneficiaries of our community of trust.”
The single sanction policy is another large component of the honor system and states that a student found guilty of an honor offense will be dismissed immediately. However, according to data from the Honor Committee’s Statistical Transparency Reporting Portal — which includes data from cases that occurred from spring 2017 to fall 2020 — the honor system has rarely resulted in expulsions in recent years.
For example, in 2020, the Honor Committee oversaw 74 cheating cases, two stealing cases and 11 lying cases in 2020. None of these cases resulted in a guilty verdict, and 28 of the accused students filed informed retrations, where a student admits to a violation after they learn a case is pending against them and accepts a two-semester suspension from the University.
Over the years, however, many students still expressed frustrations with the zero-tolerance policy, calling it morally corrupt and pointing out its disproportionate effect on international and Asian-American students. The policy has been put to vote multiple times but to no avail — during the spring 2016 University elections, a referendum to move to a multiple-sanction system almost received enough votes. Chambers has also specifically expressed interest in transitioning Honor into a multiple-sanction system.
“When I campaigned on that sort of idea, it seemed to resonate with the committee, so I’m hopeful that we can get that done this year,” he told The Cavalier Daily in April.
The University Judiciary Committee
The University Judiciary Committee is the student-run judiciary body at the University and is responsible for investigating alleged violations of the University’s Standards of Conduct, which describes behavior generally prohibited for University students. The committee’s goal is to maintain and promote a community of respect, safety and freedom. Broadly speaking, UJC regulates conduct that falls outside the bounds of the Honor Code.
UJC consists of 27 representatives, 12 First Year Judiciary Committee representatives and dozens of support officers who serve as counselors, investigators and educators. Counselors serve as advocates for both accused and complainant parties during trial, investigators meet with both parties to compile an impartial record of facts before the trial and educators run outreach and educate the community about UJC’s mission.
The committee is made up of two representatives elected from each undergraduate and graduate school, with the College of Arts and Sciences electing three. Similar to the Honor Committee, these representatives are elected by the student body in the spring and serve for one year. Student representatives serve as judges during UJC trials and are responsible for upholding proper policy and procedure.
According to Lauren Kim, fourth-year College student and UJC chair, student self-governance is a form of empowerment for students.
“It is so meaningful that in this university, students have a direct impact on the life of their peers,” Kim said. “Students understand the experiences of other students in a unique way that administrators may not fully comprehend. By allowing students to hear cases of their peers [it] allows us to best empower each other.”
Similarly, Kim noted that UJC, like other self-governing institutions on Grounds, allows for students to actively participate in and contribute to the type of community found at the University. The purpose of student government organizations on Grounds, she said, is to give students a strong sense of autonomy while also maintaining accountability.
Since the onset of the pandemic, UJC has been the primary entity dealing with COVID-19 violations. During the spring 2021 semester, UJC adjudicated 52 cases involving 93 students and 13 student organizations. 100 percent of organizational cases were related to violation of University COVID-19 policy.
Per the Student Council constitution, its responsibility is to “protect and improve the rights, opportunities and quality of life of every student at the University.” This mission is carried out across five branches — the president’s cabinet, support and access services, representative body, administrative branch and organizations branch — and by the executive board.
The president’s cabinet is responsible for creating and executing effective policy per the president's agenda. It oversees 11 agencies — academic affairs, arts, community engagement, diversity engagement, financial accessibility, graduate student affairs, international student affairs, legislative affairs, safety and wellness, student life and sustainability.
The representative body is Student Council’s legislative branch. Representatives are elected by school, including graduate programs, who may sponsor and vote on bills and resolutions. This past year, the representative body passed legislation supporting the APIDA community in wake of the violence faced amid the pandemic. It also supported legislation asking the University to transition to open educational resources and called on Housing and Residence Life to contract with the housing service Rent College Pads.
There was also turmoil within the representative body surrounding several pieces of legislation last semester, such as a failed bill to condemn cancel culture at the University.
Student Council also has an administrative branch, which oversees and manages the operations of the Council, and an organizations branch, which works to support CIOs through registration processes, activities fairs and guidebooks. The organizations branch also supervises $800-900K in appropriations of the Student Activities Fee.
Finally, Student Council’s executive board makes major decisions on behalf of the Council. These positions are elected each year, offering the chance for institutional change.
According to Abel Liu, Student Council president and fourth-year College student, his administration is focused on building systems that will allow for important financial and policy decisions to be made outside of the University’s own existing power structure to allow for more autonomy. Liu was elected in the spring of 2021 and will serve as Student Council president until the spring election season in 2022.
“What makes U.Va. Student Council different is three-fold,” Liu said. “First, Student Council has an outsized influence on student funding. Second, Student Council offers a robust set of resources and services directly to students. Third, Student Council at U.Va. has framed itself as a collective bargaining agency … This means that Student Council really does shape a lot of the culture and meaningful extracurricular life at the University.”
Last spring, the Council released its 2020-2021 fall semester report detailing the institution’s accomplishments throughout the semester as well as future aspirations. Much of Student Council’s recent work has been focused on supporting the community through the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing the facilitation of positive changes on Grounds. The Council advocated for gender inclusive housing options, secured diversity grants, published a guide by and for FGLI students and helped host a virtual activities fair.
Class and Extracurricular Councils
In addition to these three larger self-governing entities, the University community also elects class councils, school councils and extracurricular councils. School councils represent and advocate for the students of their respective schools. Presidents of these councils are members of the larger Student Council presidential senate.
Class councils represent and advocate for students of each class and are “dedicated to fostering inclusion, ensuring accessibility and promoting community” as well as “fundamentally [serving] to create and maintain Class identity.” There are also extracurricular councils that focus on special interest and social groups including contracted independent organizations and special status and agency organizations such as the Inter-Sorority Council or the Graduate Professional Council.
Each of these institutions serves a unique purpose in facilitating self-governance on Grounds in addition to the Honor Committee, UJC and Student Council.