Michael Karlik is one of the Batten School’s representatives to the Honor Committee. His office hours are every Wednesday from 4:30-5:30 pm in Garrett Hall L033.
Most of us have heard of the Honor System’s “founding myth.” In 1840, law professor John Davis tried to quell a disturbance on the Lawn, only to be shot dead by a masked hoodlum. In response, the University enacted an Honor Code by which students pledged never to lie, cheat, and steal. Although Davis’s murder did not, in fact, lead to the Honor System’s creation, there is a large irony to the misconception: the Honor System would be unable to punish a similarly unscrupulous assault by a student today.
In fact, there are many behaviors that students consider to be dishonorable but the Honor System does not recognize. Students who cheat on a test must leave UVA—but what about a person who physically abuses a roommate? Or a student who sexually assaults a female friend? Or a group of people that harasses someone because he is gay? The fact that the Honor System can expel a student who simply formats her citations incorrectly while doing nothing to identify people who bully or intimidate others leads me to believe that the Honor System’s priorities are wildly misplaced.
Last week, 56 Batten students responded to a survey that asked whether they would classify certain behaviors as dishonorable. The four common offenses that the Honor System punishes—lying, cheating, stealing, and intentional plagiarism—are all dishonorable in the views of nearly every student.
However, there are many other behaviors that over 90 percent of Batten students consider dishonorable, including sexual and physical assault, harassment or intimidation, and vandalism.
There are also many behaviors that might be wrong, but are not dishonorable. Although such activities as speeding, trespassing, and consumption of illegal drugs are against the law, a majority of students does not view these as being dishonorable. Interestingly, 68 percent of students do not believe that unintentional plagiarism—an offense which could currently earn someone an expulsion under the Honor System—is dishonorable.
The Honor System tries to promote a “community of trust,” in which students, teachers, and others in the Charlottesville community can depend on students to act honorably. But making the foolish mistake of copying exam answers off of a classmate seems relatively minor compared to other behaviors that clearly lack integrity. What signal does our Honor System send if we dismiss academic offenders from the UVA community but not vandals or assailants?
That is why I am leading a group within the Honor Committee to investigate this question. Over the coming months, I hope to incorporate the perspectives of Batten students into our study. There are very good reasons for limiting the Honor Code to academic offenses and it may be difficult to completely discern which acts are dishonorable or not. But ultimately, the Committee will have to decide whether it makes sense to run an Honor System that treats someone who absent-mindedly omits a citation from a research paper as a worse offender than a sexual predator.
Post by Michael Karlik (Acc. ’12)