Category Archives: Honor code

Board of Visitors Discusses Rollout of “Living Honor” Campaign

Image from the Living Honor video.

The University of Virginia Alumni Association presented an overview to the Board of Visitors last week of its “Living Honor” marketing campaign. The initiative, proposed by President Jim Ryan and Rector Whitt Clement, is designed to aid students and alumni in learning about Honor and its role at the University following a student vote last year to reduce the single sanction for honor offenses from expulsion to a two-semester leave of absence.

The goal, according to alumni association President Lily West and Chief Marketing Officer Susan Klobuchar, is to build greater understanding of the Honor system and to engage members of the university community in a conversation about honor. The centerpiece is a website, Living Honor, which features video clips of students and alumni describing what the Honor system means to them.

The campaign kicked off in August, and a teaser video (shown above) was presented at the Honor Convocation in August. Additionally, the alumni association has provided an “partner toolkit” for faculty.

The concept of “honor” has changed as society has changed. What was evident from the presentation and the video clips is that the justification has shifted from the ideal of honor as a personal virtue to honor as a means to create a “community of trust.” Continue reading

A Virginia-Centric History of the Honor Code

The modern honor system took form under the leadership of Robert E. Lee at Washington & Lee University.

This essay about the evolution of the honor system at Washington & Lee University was published by The General’s Redoubt and is republished here with permission. — JAB

by M. Neely Young

Honor systems in higher education are difficult to trace as they are usually unwritten and based upon tradition. The concept of honor, itself, is difficult to define as it is organic and implicit and changes over time. A working definition of honor is the idea or ideal of a bond between an individual and society as a quality of a person as a quality of a person that is both of social teaching and personal ethos and that manifests itself as a code of conduct. Originally, honor was practiced only by certain groups or classes of individuals within society, but over the last few hundred years, honor has become more democratic and egalitarian in the West and in the United States and today anyone can behave in an honorable manner.

Almost all societies have some concept of honor. In Japan, the Bushido Code or code of the Samurai developed, and in China the Confucian system promoted the idea of the chun-tzu or gentleman who practiced moral rectitude and proper behavior. In the west, the concept can be traced to the ancient Middle East. It then flowed through Greece and Rome to Medieval Europe. In the Middle Ages, honor was associated with the chivalric code and was associated only with the warrior class and the nobility. Christianity came to have a moderating influence on the warlike concept of chivalry by calling for protection of the weak, the promotion of peace, and the “just war.” Beginning in the Renaissance, particularly in England, honor came to be associated with the rising gentry class who aspired to the rank and marks of nobility. They practiced gentility which gave rise to the term “gentleman.” Gentility became synonymous with dignity or integrity, and this ideal was transferred to the new colonies in America. Continue reading

Inaugural Annual Meeting — Elzinga Speech

Our University: Things That Change and Things That Stay the Same

Kenneth G. Elzinga
Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics
Jefferson Council @ Alumni Hall
April 5, 2022

Professors are always willing to profess, but I do not intend to profess about economics. I plan to talk about Mr. Jefferson’s University, where I have had the privilege to be employed since the fall of 1967. UVA has had nine presidents. I have served under six of them. I am told that I have taught more students than any other faculty member in the history of the school: approaching 50,000. I also am married to a UVA alumna. My wife Terry is a graduate of the Architecture School. The seven letters on her Virginia license plate spell: ROTUNDA.

When I reflect on my experience at UVA, I hold in tension a deep sense of admiration for the University and, at the same time, I can restrain my enthusiasm for characteristics of the school that have surfaced during my time on the faculty. Continue reading

Asleep at the Wheel

Letter to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors from Walter Smith.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I expect you will ignore me, as usual, but, for purposes of establishing a record when the time for your contextualization comes, I must document your many failures and refusal to do your fiduciary duties, because I believe, if you had any honor, you would resign.

You have the distinct honor of being in charge of one of the world’s premier public universities, with an historic legacy few other schools could match: a UNESCO World Heritage site designed by Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third President, author of the Religious Freedom statute, and perhaps history’s greatest proponent of free speech. The University of Virginia was Jefferson’s dream, established as a public university to pursue truth wherever it may lead.

Supposedly, you have been trained in your duties as Visitors. I sincerely doubt it. I have reviewed the Board Manual and the Board Basics booklet. The Board Manual’s first two duties list (1) the preservation of the ideals and traditions of the University and particularly encouragement of the maintenance of the Honor System by the student body and (2) the establishment of general education policy. As the recently released Alumni Association survey showed, support for the Honor System has dropped precipitously over the last 20 years, and the “single sanction” was overwhelmingly defeated in a March vote. Continue reading

Honor Code in Deep Trouble

The Jefferson Council President Bert Ellis took to the radio waves this morning to address the decline of the University of Virginia’s honor code. Listen to his remarks on WRVA’s John Reid Show.

A Disastrous Week for UVa

Open letter from Bert Ellis, president of The Jefferson Council, to members of the University of Virginia community.

Last week will go down as one of the worst weeks in the history of UVA.

The Honor Code is Effectively Dead

By a margin of over 4 to 1, UVA students voted in a referendum to permanently change the Honor System to eliminate expulsion as the sanction for an honor offense in favor of a two-semester leave of absence… the equivalent of a time out.

A 3rd year law student (who’s next stop on his path to save the world is to study global affairs at Beijing’s Tsinghau University) led this effort. In his view, the Honor System is inherently racist because more people of color or more international students are found guilty of honor offenses than their exact percentage of the UVA student population.

He argued, “we can no longer support a sanction that is historically allowed and could prospectively allow the most severe outcome to fall disproportionately on some communities more than others.” Continue reading

Decline of the Honor System: UVa Edition

by James A. Bacon

In elections this week, University of Virginia students will vote on a measure to reduce the punishment for honor-code violations (lying, cheating, stealing) from expulsion to a two-semester suspension. At least 10% of the student body must participate in the referendum, and of those who vote 60% must vote in favor.

The honor code is administered by students, not the university administration, and it has evolved over time as cultural values have changed. But faculty, administrators and the Board of Visitors traditionally have buttressed the system. For decades, stirring introductions of the honor code were a central part of the student orientation. Benefactors endowed the alumni association with a multimillion-dollar fund to support the system. To this day, the Board of Visitors mission statement lists preservation of the honor code as one of the board’s core duties.

The system has eroded badly. Continue reading

This Is It! Act Now to Save the Honor Code, or It Dies

Letter from Bert Ellis, president of The Jefferson Council to All Friends of the University of Virginia.

I am writing this letter as Bert Ellis, a passionate Double Hoo (College ‘75, Darden ‘79) and as a Founder and President of The Jefferson Council. Our University is under attack from multiple sources and at multiple levels. The entire academic and community experience that so many of us shared at UVA is
totally at risk. Our Administration has totally politicized the entire university to the detriment of all that we hold dear.

We at the Jefferson Council have been fighting on behalf of all of us to preserve/promote four major tenets:

1) Open Dialogue throughout the University.

2) Preservation of the Jefferson legacy.

3) Preservation of the architectural sanctity of the Lawn.

4) Preservation and rejuvenation of the Honor System.

We have indeed made some progress on points 1 and 3: The University adopted a set of principles of open dialogue which we think are quite reasonable and the Ryan administration adopted a set of rules limiting signage on the Lawn doors. Mr. Jefferson’s statue – which was in jeopardy — remains in front of the Rotunda, yet to be contextualized. The Honor System still exists but is now under very serious attack such that this could be its very final year at UVA. Continue reading

The Community of Trust, Circa 1995

Britt Hume narrates the 1995 introduction to the Honor Code.

Attached is a link to a video that was sent out in 1995 to all incoming students by the University of Virginia administration under President John T. Casteen and then-Honor Chair Ms. Raya Papp. Many thanks to Van Krebs for finding it in his files.

The 20-minute video, brilliantly narrated by then-ABC Correspondent Brit
Hume explained both the history and workings of the UVa Honor System and
the value of a community of honor.

It is a wonderful video but also a very sad commentary on how far we have fallen since 1995. There are many interviews with students and faculty and administrators supporting the honor system at UVa that would be damn near impossible to get now. The video is way too long for the attention span of today’s students and the background pictures are totally non-PC in today’s world. The letter from Papp is brilliant.

— Bert Ellis
President
The Jefferson Council


Dear Incoming Student,

On behalf of the Honor Committee, welcome to the University of Virginia. You will soon be able to explore the vast opportunities available at the University — both academic and extracurricular. You will be able to do so in an atmosphere based on mutual trust among students, faculty and administration. Continue reading

We Are Losing the Soul of Our University

TO: All UVA Alumni and Friends Who Care About Our University

FROM: The Jefferson Council

RE: We Are Losing the Soul of Our University

DATE: May 20, 2021

On the eve of Final Exercises at our University, we, the founding members and Board of the Jefferson Council, feel the need to send out this letter regarding very troubling developments at our beloved University. Every aspect of the legacy of UVA is under threat from our President and his hand-picked administration. They have a social justice agenda that is in many cases contrary to the values at UVA that made our institution so unique and so beloved.

We cannot solve everything in one fell swoop. Like the adage about how to eat an elephant, the answer is one bite at a time. Therefore, we have narrowed our focus and set our goals to address four core issues at UVA that we know to have wide-spread alumni support. These four core issues of The Jefferson Council are as follows:

  1. Open Dialogue: We will fight for the University to adopt and enforce a set of principles providing for open dialogue from all parties within the University. No one should be vilified or physically abused or have their grades docked for expressing a contrary opinion on any issue, political or social.
  2. Mr. Jefferson: We will fight to protect the legacy of Mr. Jefferson as our Founder and as a Founding Father of America.
  3. The Lawn: We will fight to remove all signage from the Lawn doors and preserve the sanctity of the Academic Village.
  4. The Honor System: We will fight to resuscitate and preserve the Honor System at UVA. It has been severely weakened and will only survive with a concerted effort by the Board of Visitors, the Administration, the alumni, and the students.

Continue reading