The Honor Committee voted on a proposal for changes to its constitution Sunday. The proposal — which fell short by five votes — would have reduced the expulsion sanction to a two-semester leave of absence and permitted an accused student to file an Informed Retraction at any point up until their trial.
Currently, students are only permitted to file an IR within the seven-day period after their accusation, in which they take responsibility for committing the Honor offense and make amends. After filing an IR, students are required to take a two-semester leave of absence from the University. If the student does not file an IR, their case will go to trial. The only sanction for being found guilty of an Honor offense is expulsion. Only five students have been found guilty of an Honor offense since 2017.
Members of the committee first began debating constitutional changes Sept. 15. Andy Chambers, chair of the Honor Committee and fourth-year College student, noted a desire amongst students for a change to the Honor system at the beginning of the fall and believes that part of the committee's job is to respond to those concerns.
Had the Honor Committee approved the proposal, it would have been approved for the ballot in student body elections this spring. Ten percent of the student body must vote and 60 percent of those votes must be in favor of the amendment for any constitutional changes to go into effect April 1.
Excluding Chambers, who is prohibited from voting, only 19 of 27 members were present at Sunday’s meeting. Fourteen attendees voted in favor of the proposal.
To maintain anonymity and avoid members casting ballots based on peer pressure, representatives first indicated their votes on slips of paper, which were handed to Chambers to be counted. Following the paper vote, second-year Education Rep. Lucian Mirra requested the vote be confirmed through voice affirmation. All members then confirmed their vote audibly.
The five members who voted against the constitutional changes included three vice-chairs and two representatives — Gabrielle Bray, vice-chair for hearings and third-year College student; Jack Stone, vice-chair for community relations and fourth-year Commerce student; Maggie Regnery, vice-chair for investigations and fourth-year Commerce student; third-year Nursing Rep. Catherine Denton and third-year Batten Rep. Daniel Nakasone.
Nakasone said members of the Batten community he has spoken to feel reducing the sanction of expulsion to a two-semester leave of absence will take away from the community of trust.
“The thing that most people in the Batten grad community like about Honor is the idea of the community of trust,” Nakasone said.
Stone expressed a similar sentiment, voicing that in his opinion, voting in favor of this proposal would be going against the community of trust.
“This amendment failed to address eliminating all-student panels, and I don't trust student panels to find guilty verdicts regardless of the sanction,” Stone said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. “I could not in good conscience vote in favor of this amendment while simultaneously acting as a steward of the Community of Trust."
During the committee’s Oct. 5 meeting, only three committee members voted in favor of a proposal put forth by Chambers to eliminate the option for accused students to have their trial heard by a random panel of students. As it stands, accused students may either opt for their trial to be heard by a random panel of students, a panel of solely Honor committee members or a panel made up of both groups.
Regnery said her decision to vote against the proposal was driven by her belief that the Honor Committee should not lower its high standard.
“I believe that we, as a committee, should be focusing more on ways to educate and instill the values of integrity within the student body,” Regnery said in an email statement to the Cavalier Daily.
The Honor Committee has a single sanction system since Professor Henry St. George Tucker instituted the process in 1842 — making it one of the longest-standing single-sanction collegiate honor systems in the country.
The IR was instituted in 2013 in an effort to increase the likelihood of reporting Honor offenses after the proposal passed with 64 percent of the 8,441 student votes cast in a University-wide election.
The committee last considered sanction reform in 2015, when it heard two proposals. The first of the proposals would have allowed the student body to vote in favor of instituting a multi-sanction system for Honor offenses.
The plan — which provided no specifics for the new sanctioning structure — ultimately was voted down by the student body. The vote saw 58.9 percent of 7,553 voting students vote in favor, falling just short of the 60 percent supermajority required for a change to the constitution.
In spring 2016, a referendum to allow the use of a multi-sanction system in Honor trials was two percentage points shy of reaching the 60 percent threshold for passing. As the referendum demonstrated student approval for reimagining the single-sanction system, Honor members used their last meeting of the semester in 2018 to consider proposing a non-binding poll to the student body through the University Board of Elections about reforming its single-sanction policy.
The Honor Committee’s new Statistical Transparency Reporting Portal documents the statistical breakdown of all offenses reported to the body over the past eight semesters. The portal indicates that 28 percent of students found guilty of Honor offenses between 2012 and 2017 were international students, despite making up just 10 percent of the student population. Asian American students were also overrepresented, making up 27.2 percent of reports despite only accounting for about 12 percent of the student population at the time.
While the proposal did not pass Sunday, there is still opportunity for discussion in the coming weeks. One possibility is for another vote to take place with more members in attendance.
Rep. Christopher Benos, third-year Law student, authored the proposal and spoke to the importance of facilitating conversations in the coming weeks.
“We have more than two-thirds of people in the room's support, and I think that's a victory in and of itself,” Benos said.
For Benos, the next step is to understand objections to the proposal and garner greater attendance at future meetings.
“If we have all 28 people there, I'm confident that this has a stronger chance of passing because there were people absent today who would definitely be in support,” Benos said. “Every committee representative’s voice matters. The student body deserves a full vote on this by the whole committee.”
The Honor Committee’s next meeting will take place Oct. 31 in the Trial Room of Newcomb Hall at 7 p.m. During the meeting, members who voted against the proposal will have time to discuss their decision and will revote on the proposal.