Honor at Virginia has never been about the single sanction. From its beginnings, it has consisted instead in a fundamental commitment to an ideal of self-government, namely, that the honor system embodies the living values of those who are held to its standards. It is this ideal alone that justifies the pronounced presence of Honor at this University; not its rhetoric, not its practices.
What one finds written into the constitution of our honor system is the expression of Virginia tradition, and not its source. What we inherit through the single sanction is not a policy of expulsion, but what has been, for much of the University’s history, a faithful representation of the collective will of the student body.
We, just as those who gave the honor system its current shape, have been entrusted with a profound responsibility. To give meaning to Honor, to be its stewards—as we are so often enjoined—demands that each generation of students ensures that its own values are reflected in the system to which it is bound.
That the single sanction is representative of the current student generation is uncertain. Consider the following: no student at the University has been given the opportunity either to affirm or to amend it. Indeed, there is much reason to believe that the single sanction is now at odds with the principles held by many students on Grounds.
And yet discussions about the meaning of Honor have, for too long, almost wholly centered on the penalty rendered at trials. For many, Honor—in all of its forms—has in fact become synonymous with expulsion for lying, cheating or stealing.
Let us reclaim what Honor has, whether recognized or not, always meant at the University of Virginia: students defining for themselves the kind of community that this place ought to be. To this end, three referenda will appear on the ballot this spring for consideration by the student body.
The first would require that, every second year, the Honor Committee convene a popular assembly open to the general student body with the following aims: to facilitate discussion on the state of the honor system; to ascertain the pressing concerns of the community; and to generate potential measures to be put before the student body for consideration.
The second would ensure that the Honor Committee responds to the will of the students. In 2004, 59% of the student body voted in favor of a non-binding resolution asking the Honor Committee to explore a multi-sanction system. Eleven years have passed, and the Committee has not offered a single alternative to the current system. This referendum would require that, should a majority of the student body vote affirmatively on a non-binding resolution pertaining to the Honor System, the Honor Committee put such question before the student body as a binding constitutional amendment within a year’s time.
The third addresses the single sanction. If we are to ensure that the policies of the Honor Committee indeed “embody the interests and attitudes of the current student generation of the University of Virginia,” we must be certain that its sanctioning practices—whatever they may be—reflect the will of the student body. This is the first step toward that goal. This is an opportunity, long overdue, for the voices of the students to be heard.
Fundamentally, though, the issue at hand has nothing to do with the difference between the single- and the multi-sanction system. Honor at Virginia stands for something more.
By Ian Robertson and Jaeyoon Park
Both Ian and Jaeyoon are third years in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Note: the opinions of the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Virginia Advocate.
Reprinted with permission from www.honor2015.com