UVA Students to Vote on Honor System Changes - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

UVA Students to Vote on Honor System Changes

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Next month, University of Virginia students will have the chance to vote on some major changes to the school's honor system.  The system dates back to the 1800s, and often gets critiqued for its rigidity and single-sanction policy.

In the current honor system, any student proven guilty of lying, cheating or stealing is asked to leave the university.  The changes would give guilty students a new option if they tell the truth before the trial.

"Most students are never going to say 'I'm guilty', because there's no incentive to do so because if you say 'I'm guilty', then you can say goodbye to the University," said Honor Counsel Conor O'Boyle.   

The honor committee at UVA wants to fix a major problem with the honor system, the incentive for students to lie their way out of a guilty verdict. 

O'Boyle serves as a lawyer for accused students during trials.  He says the system penalizes people who admit they've done something wrong.

"I have walked away from this room feeling upset because a student who was guilty but kind of wanted to fix what they had done and maintain their commitment to the community of trust and decided to tell the truth throughout the process was asked to leave," said O'Boyle.  

One hundred and four have been expelled for honor offenses in the past ten years. In a school of 20,000, that's a small number. An honor study conducted earlier this year found only one in eight students would report an honor offense.   62 percent of students said they would be more likely to report an offense if a student could admit guilt without the fear of an automatic expulsion.  

Under one proposed change, a student could admit guilt, leave UVA and return after a year, instead of being expelled because of a guilty verdict. "Our goal is really to have a system where people feel confident in both its ideals and how it works in practice," said Honor Committee Chair Stephen Nash 

Under another change, a trained jury of students would serve over every trial to ensure consistency. "It won't be perfect, it'll take more years of reform but this is a perfect way to start," said O'Boyle.

If they're passed, these would be the biggest changes to the honor system in years. Students will have the opportunity to vote on them in a university-wide election in late February.

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