The vote by University of Virginia students March 2 to overhaul the Honor constitution was an important step in the revitalization of the Honor System, most notably for reversing a ban on the expulsion sanction that students had voted last year to eliminate, Jefferson Council President Bert Ellis said today.
“The new constitution provides for a tiered system of sanctions in which the punishment matches the offense and streamlines administration of the Honor Code to bring about a speedier resolution of cases,” said Ellis.
“We are highly complimentary of Gabrielle Bray and her team for thinking through what the Honor Code needed and gaining its approval,” he added. “This an excellent example of student government, a hallmark of UVa since its inception.”
As summarized by Richard Gard with the University of Virginia Alumni Association, the new constitution:
- Codifies multiple sanctions. The Honor Committee gains broad discretion in fashioning penalties, starting with rehabilitative education and having offenders make amends, escalating to temporary or permanent removal from the University community.
- Tightens jury composition. An accused student can no longer opt to have a jury composed entirely of randomly selected peers adjudicate one’s case. A hybrid of seven randomly selected students and five Honor Committee representatives will be empaneled instead, with conviction requiring nine votes.
- Separates sentencing from conviction. If a jury votes to convict, the proceedings move to a separate sentencing phase. It falls to the five Honor representatives on the jury to determine punishment, but with an important check on their ability to expel a student. For a first-time offender, the Honor Committee members need the consent of at least three of the lay jurors from the guilt phase to mete out the System’s maximum penalty.
- Restores and expands opportunities to admit guilt. By removing the threat of expulsion, last year’s amendment negated the chief incentive for confessing and avoiding the risk of a conviction in an Honor hearing. The new system of tougher sanctions and greater jury oversight would seem to correct that. The new constitution goes on to expand the timeframe in which the Honor Committee will accept confessions in exchange for lesser penalties.
In the final tally after three days of voting, 89% of students (among the 24% of the student body that voted) approved the revisions to the Honor constitution. Gard argued that the vote represents a strong consensus of the student body in contrast to last year’s referendum, which had been pushed through to the ballot in a more contentious process. Students supported reform nearly 8-to-1, versus the 4-to-1 margin in which they opted last year to repeal expulsion.
“While the Jefferson Council is heartened by the vote, the organization believes more remains to be done to restore the Honor System as a centerpiece of life at the University,” said Executive Director James A. Bacon. “Now that the referendum results are in, we are examining what to focus on next.”
If anyone is interested in participating in that process, please contact committee chair David Greenberg at [email protected].
Upholding the Honor Code is a core mission of The Jefferson Council. The four pillars of the organization are:
- Promote an academic environment based on open dialogue throughout the University.
- Preserve the Jefferson Legacy.
- Preserve the appearance of the Lawn as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and
- Support and reinvigorate the Honor System.