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Honor Committee debates next steps after constitutional proposal falls five votes short

Members divided over forum for representative vote on reforming the current sanctioning system

Fourteen committee members voted in favor of the amended proposal, while five voted against, meaning that the proposal did not pass because 19 votes were required.
Fourteen committee members voted in favor of the amended proposal, while five voted against, meaning that the proposal did not pass because 19 votes were required.

Following last week's vote on a proposal to reduce the sanction of expulsion to a two semester leave of absence and extend the Informed Retraction until trial, the Honor Committee met Sunday to discuss next steps. During the meeting, the committee heard from community members concerned about the proposal and debated the viability of hosting a new vote on the changes over Zoom in an effort to facilitate greater representative participation.

Last week, the constitutional proposal did not receive enough votes to be prepared for a student body vote in the spring — only 14 representatives voted in favor of the proposal. 

During Sunday’s meeting, two students expressed concern with the proposal.

Hannah Shapiro, senior support officer and third-year College student, was concerned the proposal would not address current problems with the Honor system — namely, improving professor relations with the Honor Committee. 

“There are cases where I think U.Va. needs to take a stand — where the actions are egregious enough that allowing for students to have the opportunity of coming back to this university is a complete disrespect to the other students who participate in the community of trust,” Shapiro said. 

Kelly O’Meara, former Honor representative and graduate student, also spoke on his concerns surrounding lessening the sanction of expulsion to be the same as the IR — a two semester leave of absence.

“I find a two semester leave of absence — paralleling the IR —  to be a dilution of the single sanction to the point where I would almost favor a multi-sanction system or the elimination of the single sanction altogether,” O’Meara said. 

Following the discussion, Rep. Christopher Benos, third-year Law student and author of the proposal, suggested the Honor Committee only vote on whether to extend the period during which a student can file an IR from the current seven-day period to all the way up until a trial.

Fourteen committee members voted in favor of the amended proposal, while five voted against, meaning that the proposal did not pass because 19 votes in favor were required. 

“Once again, 70 percent of Committee members at the meeting voted in favor of expanding the scope of the IR to anytime before hearing,” Benos said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. “That is a victory and confirms the broad support for allowing students to have full access to evidence when making decisions about their academic futures."

During the meeting, Honor Committee members debated whether to include the votes of representatives who were not physically present — eight total members were unable to attend Sunday night’s meeting. Benos said he received votes from several members via email but according to Chambers this method conflicts with Robert's Rules of Order as members would need to be physically present at the meeting for their votes to be counted. 

Rep. AJ Cuddeback, fourth-year Engineering student, proposed the committee could hold a Zoom meeting for the vote in order for all members to participate. 

“If we have a meeting that is going to include a really important vote that is going to dictate the future of the Honor system, we should hold it on Zoom to make sure that every single possible committee member can attend,” Cuddeback said.

Chambers, however, was concerned that a vote over Zoom would not be accepted by University administration. He noted the Honor Committee would need to alter the organization’s bylaws in order to vote virtually in accordance with Robert’s Rules.

“I'm trying to make sure … the University Council does not strike this down,” Chambers said.

In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, Chambers later clarified that a bylaw revision binding the committee to hold constitutional amendment votes virtually may not be permitted, and the topic is not on the next meeting’s agenda for consideration. 

“I have no intention of binding the committee to meet in an inferior meeting format to solicit votes for a proposal that has clearly lost the support it had months ago,” Chambers said. “The rules on this are clear and their purpose is to allow for equal debate and representation. I will not break the committee’s rules to allow some members to have more than one vote.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee shifted to an online meeting and trial format.  Chambers clarified that the Committee plans to ratify all by-law changes from 2020-21 meetings at an upcoming in-person meeting.

Benos, the proponent of the constitutional proposal, feels the emphasis on the logistics of the vote poses an unnecessary delay.

“Rather than allow students to consider the merits of the proposal, our leadership is opposed to it and attempting to undermine it on superficial procedural grounds,” Benos said.

The Honor Committee meets on Sundays at 7 p.m. in the Newcomb trial room.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated that the Honor Committee plans to ratify its internal elections, which were held over Zoom, at an upcoming meeting. The article has been updated to clarify that the Honor Committee plans to ratify all bylaw changes made during the 2020-21 academic year.