The Honor Committee held its third in-person meeting of the year Sunday at 7 p.m. The committee met in Newcomb Hall to discuss potential changes to its constitution as a part of a series of meetings as the committee attempts to reform its current system of case proceedings.
The Honor Committee is made up of an undergraduate chair, four undergraduate vice-chairs and 27 total representative members at-large. Two representatives are chosen from each undergraduate and graduate programs. The College of Arts and Sciences is the only exception, as it has five representatives. Elections are held every spring and members can run for multiple terms.
Sunday’s meeting began with Andy Chambers, chair of the Honor Committee and fourth-year College student, distributing a proposal to each representative in attendance which listed five potential options for overhauling the current Honor Committee constitution.
“These conversations and plans are my attempt at not sitting idle and giving the student body something better than the system we have today,” Chambers said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily.
Chambers feels there are two main reasons for changing the Honor Committee’s constitution — the first being that these modifications will address problems the student body has with the current system, and the second is that both the random panel and Informed Retraction do not serve the student body in ways that Chambers supports.
The informed retraction is a process that allows a student to admit guilt and take a two-semester leave of absence, rather than going through a trial process.
In the week leading up to the meeting, five options were submitted to Chambers by committee members from both graduate and undergraduate programs. Members collaborated and took student grievances into account, Chambers said. Each option was allowed two rounds for members to voice support, followed by opposition.
One of the most significant changes discussed is transitioning to a multi-sanction system. Under the committee’s current single-sanction system, a significant act of cheating, stealing or lying that breaches the University’s community of trust and is committed with the knowledge that the act was an Honor Offense constitutes an offense and is punishable by expulsion. Representatives expressed concerns around the irrevocability of this option, as it does not provide a second chance to a student found guilty.
Rep. AJ Cuddeback, a third-year Engineering student, has been a resident advisor for the past two years and shared the sentiments of a few residents concerned about the single-sanction system. Specifically, Cuddleback said students worry over the severity of expulsion following an incidence of cheating, lying or stealing.
“This is not something that makes a student body feel like the system is working for them and I think that was something that anybody else would see,” Cuddeback said.
The Honor Committee released a statistical reporting portal last May to provide data to the student body that was previously only available to committee members. According to the portal, between spring 2017 and fall 2020, 286 reports to Honor for cheating, stealing and lying resulted in hearings. Since 2017, only five students have been found guilty of an Honor offense, and all five offenses resulted from cheating.
The second option discussed included mandating a two-semester long notation on a student’s transcript marking that an Honor offense had been committed. Gabrielle Bray, vice-chair for hearings and third-year College student, was one of three members to propose this plan.
“Ideally, the transcript notation allows students to recommit to the community of trust, while still maintaining some of the integrity of the system,” Bray said.
A fourth proposition included eliminating the penalty of expulsion unless a student had previously committed an Honor offense during their time at the University. This was proposed by Rep. Christopher Benos, a third-year Law student, and was supported by Rep. Megan Wingert, a third-year Law student.
“I think it's very hard to justify to [students] and to their families why expulsion should still be an option, except in the most severe cases,” Wingert said. “I don't think that our goal should be to fix every problem, but I think our goal this year should be to fix a problem.”
By the end of the meeting, two proposals were eliminated. One included the opportunity for the Honor Committee to make changes to sanctions by amending its bylaws each year.
Ultimately, this plan faced opposition from more than two-thirds of members because representatives worried it would not implement a consistent form of punishment — one Honor Committee could choose to use a single-sanction system one year, while the next could opt for different sanctions.
Rep. Lucian Mirra, a second-year Education student, said that making changes each year would not provide students with a concrete idea of what the sanctions are for committing an Honor offense.
“I think putting a proposal forward that has actual sanctions that students can decide on is what we really need to focus our efforts on,” Mirra said.
Another plan that was eliminated would have instituted three main changes to the constitution — it would have allowed sanctions to be determined at a student’s hearing, eliminated the Informed Retraction and gotten rid of a student’s ability to choose to have a random panel of students during their hearing.
At its meeting next week, the committee plans to work on combining aspects of the three remaining plans to create a more detailed, workable solution. In order to move forward with the changes to its constitution, the committee would need a two-thirds majority vote. After this, the student body would need to approve the changes — in order for this to happen, 10 percent of the student population would need to vote and 60 percent of students would need to vote in favor of the modifications.
Students and community members interested in attending can observe in the trial room in Newcomb Hall Sundays at 7 p.m.