To the Students, Faculty, and Administration of the University of Virginia,
Not since last year has such a situation struck the University. Once again, surrounded by our comforts, and between exams, we worry ourselves over what to do with the cheaters, liars, and stealers of our beloved community. With unnecessarily elevated language our peers imagine for us their lofty dreams of a school with a penal code as elaborate as the law they undoubtedly wish to one day profit from. The Honor system exists because of the Southern white man’s belief that another white man being shot on Grounds deserved the involvement of all white men who could afford to attend the school that stands on principals of white superiority. The possibility of expelling a student over taking an umbrella from the wrong basket is Honorable. Or maybe it’s the power of being able to expel your peer that is Honorable. This is the language used to extract fear from students who know it not to be true: students do not go to Honor for lying, cheating, or stealing. They go to Honor for a specific brand of academic dishonesty, in accords with systems across the nation. Our Honor code is not special because of its language, but because of its history and the faith we bestow upon it despite its origins representing a shameful part of the University. The annual effort of the future career politicians and lawboys with Hancockian email signatures to revise the Honor code is a reminder that every dog needs to mark his territory. I for one will not let my school become a pissing contest to change the language of an arbitrary set of rules that has had sane precedent for decades.
To quote, “The Honor Committee shall exclude permanently from student status University students found to have committed honor violations.”
This is what we know as UVA’s Single Sanction. Theoretically, any cheater is expelled. We know not all cheaters get expelled. Single Sanction is the rarely-used, roundabout way for us and the administration to tell the outside world, “hey, we’re better than you.” That’s because the language allows for the Honor committee to not charge students who cheated on Mr. Professor’s exam with an honor violation because we know, by the virtue of common sense, that not all thieves need their hands cut off. Admissions of guilt by the accused party have been used to effectively create a Double (and Triple) Sanction. But wait… that’s not an alliteration! This is an unholy disaster, to let cheaters off with only failing their class and/or a year long suspension! … No, it’s really not. Thucydides tells us people do not act because they do not fear punishment, but because they feel they will not be caught. I for one do not feel the need to torment my peers for the sake of punishment. So the language says Single Sanction, but our precedent says Double (and Triple).
The upcoming vote to change the language of the Honor code addresses this discrepancy by formally describing the second sanction.
“The Honor Committee shall, with the exception of the Conscientious Retraction and the Informed Retraction, exclude permanently from student status University students found to have committed honor violations.”
“The Honor Committee shall have the power to exclude permanently from student status or impose lesser sanction to University students found to have committed Honor violations.”
Conscientious Retraction (C.R.) and Informed Retraction (I.R.) are apology letters. With the C.R., you admit guilt before Honor contacts you. With I.R., you admit guilt after being contacted. The punishments are not expulsion, and in effect this vote does… absolutely nothing for the Honor code. It seems to advantage only those whose egos need to be stroked by making a mark on the University (and in subsequent law school applications explain their noble deed). It does not change the status quo. In practice, we already impose lesser sanctions for most cases and the debate between the two options is really a debate in semantics, semantics that debase the strong language of the Single Sanction. Furthermore, I can separate the history of Honor from its effects. Faculty and administration have been impressed by the seriousness that Honor participants take upon themselves. I am full of pride with the thought that my school has such a system. I do feel better than others who go to schools where students do not hold such responsibilities. Despite having its roots in Southern antiquity, Single Sanction has come to represent our ideals. Single Sanction is not practical, but the language and the practice can be, and in fact have been, separated in Honor trials. The formal granting of Retraction rights is a façade, made to fool you and I, the University students, into abetting the crime of ignoble ego masturbation. It’s manipulative, unproductive, and voting for Option 1 makes no practical change than does voting for Option 2. Indeed, voting for either institutes no practical change than by not voting at all. Honor should feel ashamed: Honor is not a platform for you to develop your resume. We have plenty of organizations designed for that.
For the coming vote, I ask for you to vote for neither. To voice your concern for what Honor has become: an annual plaything for social climbers. If Honor means anything to you (and it doesn’t have to), do something about this travesty.
A Concerned Student