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Honor Committee members react to controversy over U.Va. Mutual Aid and UBE

The Committee also heard an update on preparations for Honor’s Popular Assembly

<p>For at least eight meetings in a row, the Committee has failed to vote on any proposed constitutional change or bylaw amendments because it has been unable to meet quorum.&nbsp;</p>

For at least eight meetings in a row, the Committee has failed to vote on any proposed constitutional change or bylaw amendments because it has been unable to meet quorum. 

The Honor Committee met for the first time this semester Sunday, spending the vast majority of the hour-long meeting discussing The Cavalier Daily’s recent three-part investigative series into the Committee’s donation to U.Va. Mutual Aid and e-mail correspondence with the chair of the University Board of Elections. The Committee also heard an update on preparations for Honor’s Popular Assembly from Caitlin Kreinheder, vice-chair for education and fourth-year Architecture student.

For at least eight meetings in a row, the Committee has failed to vote on any proposed constitutional change or bylaw amendments because it has been unable to meet quorum. Sunday’s meeting saw 15 attendees — four members below quorum.

Andy Chambers, chair of the Honor Committee and fourth-year College student, began the conversation regarding The Cavalier Daily investigative series by shifting the focus primarily to the second and third installments, which detail how debate over constitutional reform threatened to hinder a donation to U.Va. Mutual Aid and a conflict between Chambers and other student leaders regarding the appointment of UBE vice-chairs. 

U.Va. Mutual Aid is a part of Student Council’s Support and Access Services branch and was co-founded by Abel Liu, president of Student Council and fourth-year College student, at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Today, the initiative is directed by fourth-year College student Sarandon Elliott.

Elliott had met with Chambers about the possibility of a recurring donation from the Committee in early October. A few weeks later, however, Jack Stone, vice-chair for community relations and fourth-year Commerce student, said the Committee would be unable to do so until any Committee referenda had either passed or “blown over.” The Committee had long been debating significant changes to its constitution, including reducing the sanction of expulsion to a two-semester leave of absence. Ultimately, the Committee fulfilled a donation to Mutual Aid on the condition that Student Council not speak on any referenda, pending or finalized. 

At Sunday’s meeting, Chambers reiterated his belief that committing immediately to the donation would have looked like a quid-pro-quo between the two groups. 

“If I give money to the Student Council and then they endorse one of the petitions, that can be seen as a direct quid-pro-quo from me to endorse the petition,” Chambers said. 

Rep. Christopher Benos, third-year Law student, asked if the Committee would choose not to provide funding to any groups who publicly express opinions on Committee referenda, “even if the funding is wholly unrelated to the referenda matters.” 

Chambers responded that it would likely be a case-by-case basis related to timing — in the case of the Committee and Mutual Aid, Chambers said, the timing “looked bad.” 

Rep. Tim Dodson, first-year Law student, asked whether Honor’s Alumni Association had recommended this policy of requiring neutrality. Chambers responded that they had not — as chair, Chambers himself makes decisions regarding Honor’s endowment and donations. He is not required to come to the Committee with these decisions. 

Ultimately, Dodson said he thinks that signaling to student groups that they cannot comment on Honor without risking financial support will disincentivize collaboration with the Committee.

“I think there are going to be questions about what student organizations or individuals can comment on if they are also going to be concerned about potentially partnering with us for things that require our money that have nothing to do with their policy positions on the work of the Honor Committee,” Dodson said. 

Rep. Holly Torsilieri, fourth-year Medicine student, said she would like to see Chambers keep donations and proceedings involving the Committee’s endowment more transparent. 

“Given the amount of money that was donated, did you consider consulting or even discussing with the Committee to update [us on] ‘this is how much we’re going to donate to Mutual Aid, let us know your thoughts?’” Torsilieri said. “Because I did learn this from reading it from the article.”

Other members of the Committee agreed that notice of donations should have been given to the whole group, even if power to manage the endowment is ultimately up to the chair. 

After fielding all questions regarding the Committee’s donation to Mutual Aid, the group then discussed controversy surrounding email correspondence between Chambers, Liu, Max Bresticker, chair of UBE and third-year College student, Lauren Kim, chair of the University Judiciary Committee and fourth-year College student and Chloe Lyda, president of Fourth Year Trustees and fourth-year College student. 

In the emails, Chambers refused to approve of UBE vice-chairs, taking issue with two aspects of the referenda process — a change to UBE’s constitution in 2017 that changed the number of signatures required on a petition from 2,100 to 1,250 and UBE’s decision to continue the use of virtual signatures for petitions, a holdover policy implemented during the pandemic in 2021. Prior to virtual petitions, the student author of a petition had to accrue a minimum signature count by circulating physical petition sheets in-person and convincing enough students to affirm their support — only at that point could the proposed referenda be added to the ballot for a student-wide vote.

On Sunday, Chambers said his concern was both the substantive changes and the fact that Bresticker was appointed following the resignation of the former UBE chair, as opposed to being popularly elected. 

“My frustration was that the administration had us appoint [Bresticker] and then he starts making decisions in the middle of the cycle,” Chambers said. “[He] did not step in to make democratic elections, but stepped in to make policy decisions … I had no way of vetting that, which is my constitutional right to check him on that.”

Throughout the meeting, Chambers maintained that he believes virtual petitions “very harshly advantages anyone the ability to disseminate information” without oversight, and that withholding his approval of vice-chairs was the only means through which to check Bresticker’s policies. 

“I thought this wasn't in pursuit of good democracy and good support of students,” Chambers said.

Three representatives — Benos, Kreinheder and Rep. Lucian Mirra, third-year Education student — questioned Chambers surrounding the emails. Mirra and Kreinheder expressed concern that Chambers failed to recognize that his personal beliefs are reflective of the Committee’s.

“You do speak for us,” Mirra said. “You are the elected representative chair of this elected representative body, so insofar as you’re in that position, [your opinion] appears — right, wrong or indifferent — as the opinion of the Committee … this was just almost pretty egregious.”

Mirra also said Chambers’ decision to withhold approval of vice chairs appeared to resemble a quid-pro-quo. It seemed as though Chambers would not vote for vice chairs who did not support his feelings about virtual petitions, Mirra said. 

“We’re holding their votes for vice chairs hostage over their constitution, which was apparently ratified in 2017, and virtual signatures,” Mirra said.

Benos and Mirra both saw the refusal of accepting virtual petitions as an equity issue. As an online student, Mirra believes students should have the ability to participate in voting and engage in student democracy online. Benos agreed, adding that he did not agree with Chambers' belief that moving the petition process online would decrease participation or engagement in elections.

“I fail to see how it’s in the interest of democracy … to prohibit or to advocate for students to not be able to sign a form online [in] which all they are saying is that ‘we would like the student body to have a vote on this,’” Benos said. 

Chambers and Gabrielle Bray, vice-chair for hearings and third-year College student, offered a compromise — the Committee could use University-wide email lists to spread information about any proposed changes on petitions that impact the Committee.

Kreinheder then presented an update on Popular Assembly, a biennial educational event which allows University community members to offer input on Honor’s proceedings. This year, Popular Assembly will take place Feb. 27 through March 3 and will center on educating community members on referenda, if applicable, as well as gathering input into what the community wants Honor to look like in semesters to come.

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