Proposals to Change Honor System

Submitted on Jan 21, 2013 by Bill Irvin (Com ’73)

Having elected jurors is a good idea, and it probably would strengthen the conviction rate, because only those who really care about honor would choose to run. But offering a one-year suspension if you’re caught? Please don’t argue that’s not a second, lesser sanction. And is it really wise to promise beforehand that if you’re caught, the worst case is a year off where you can work or volunteer to pad your resume for that first tier grad/law/med school you so coveted you were willing to cheat in the first place?

The single sanction of expulsion is the reason students do not support the system. No other criminal system in the world does not recognize degrees of wrongdoing and sentence accordingly. Is the student who copied one sentence or phrase into her paper deserving of the same punishment as the one who bought an entire paper, or the one who lied to a professor about being sick to get an extension on handing in a paper deserving of the same punishment as the one who copied all the exam answers from the person sitting next to him? Seriously?

I always was a supporter of the single sanction system. But if more enter the University from a culture of cheating in high school, few are reporting violations, and fewer are voting to convict, obviously it’s a broken system. Instead of giving everyone one free shot with virtually no consequence, which may encourage cheating, study the ramifications of multi-tiered sanctions. Perhaps start with violators of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Attorneys, where depending on severity of the violation, sanctions can range from private reprimand to public reprimand to suspension to disbarment. If the punishment is proportionate to the crime, I think more will report violations and vote to convict.

Comments (13):

  1. Bruce Milam BA '74, M.Ed '76 on said:

    The Honor System has come up for change in referendums as long as I remember. I think Mr. Irvin makes a good argument that it is time for restructure, aind hopefully the changes will strengthen the system rather than put it on a slippery slope. It breaks my heart to learn of a kid have his dream destroyed by one mistake (or perhaps of course just caught once out of many mistakes, but one never knows). I’d like to see the students try this new model.

    • Michael Lawler on said:

      The Honor System is not a criminal system. It is a social contract, a compact of like minded individuals, a community of students who pledge to respect the integrity of the academic endeavors of their fellow students. At the outset, the single consequence of taking academic advantage is understood. Having a tantrum or insulting a friend is an adolescent mistake. Plagiarism and contriving a strategy to cheat on a test are planned in advance, reconsidered over time and executed as chosen behaviors. I have no sympathy for a “kid’s dream destroyed by one mistake.” It was his intentional behavior to violate a promise to his community which ends his career, not a juvenile mistake. I have sympathy for the young man or woman whose dream of attending the University of Virginia was destroyed because the admissions office was one matriculation less for having admitted the cheater. Furthermore, the University is not the 25,000 on the Grounds for the current year. It is the sum of all its parts and there must be 250,000 alumni. We should be participating in this election! Ladies and Gentlemen of the University, I call on you to consider that this class, which has only distinguished itself as Playboy Magazine’s Drunkest in America, is about to determine the direction of the Honor System with its vote February 25-28. Consider every moment in your career you were given deference and compliments for your education at Virginia. This was due to the understanding that you were educated at a school with a disciplined and meaningful Honor System, that your mind was the product of honest effort. I beg you to demand participation in this referendum about the Honor System. There must be a great body of wisdom in the quarter million and certainly financial leverage. I beg you to insist on alumni participation at this critical moment.

  2. Shawn Grain Carter on said:

    Thank you Michael for your insightful comments. The “single sanction” system has been debated frequently. All admitted students sign the pledge when they attend UVA. I hope we uphold the Honor System as it stands.

    Sincerely yours,

    SGC College ’82

  3. John Fornaro on said:

    The students at UVA have decided to scrap the single sanction honor system in favor of what is called an “informed retraction”. Bottom line for this change is that there will now be a “least untruthful” fashion in which the definition of “honor” can be re-framed.

    This article in “UVA Magazine” ( shows how the new system will change the traditional concept of absolute honor, with one of relative honor. To justify the change, the article presents an hypothetical tale of two students accused of clear honor violations. The one who proceeds “honestly”, suffers the single sanction of expulsion, but the one who proceeds “dishonestly” escapes the single sanction of expulsion.

    Left unsaid in the tale of two students, is anything about the fundamental dishonesty which initiated the original accusation.

    But there is still a falsehood in the honor committee’s proposal, stated further down in the linked article. The authors of the article then compare a student who admits of wrongdoing, receiving the one year leave of absence from the University. This student is portrayed as “honest” in the same way that the “honest” student is portrayed in the comparison above.

    However, in this latter example, the “dishonest” student, who lies about his wrongdoing to the investigators and jury will be found guilty and subject to expulsion.

    Left unstated by the article, is the motive force of the magic which, given a clear honor violation in all four hypothetical cases, results in “not guilty” under the single sanction honor code, and “guilty” in the new relative honor code.

    This article presents a false comparison as its only justification for watering down absolute honor into a negotiated relative honor. The result will be a new standard of honor which could only include the “least untruthful”, ever shifting, redefinition of honor.

    John Fornaro BS Arch 1976, MS Arch 1979


  4. Ilya on said:

    Thanks for the article, guys, very informative

    • Ilya on said:


  5. John Fornaro on said:

    Thanks for that input! See ya!

  6. Bruce T. Chodosh,MD, 1958-65 (Med) on said:

    As an alumnus of a combined seven year education at the undergraduate and graduate levels of UVA, my beloved college and medical school, and having ascribed to and written the Honor System pledge innumerable times, I now believe as Mr. Lawler, that a graduated punitive system should be instituted taking into account today’s circumstances (a much, much larger student.body, the internet,etc.) Punishment befitting the crime has been adopted by society in general. Furthermore, the only circumstance I can think of which guarantees inviolate honor would be a one to one faculty to student pairing, I.e. one totally impossible.

    A system denoting permanent violation and punitive action can be adopted, for instance, through a thoughtful, painstaking process with due consideration to the degree of severity of the nature and intent of the action, such to be noted on permanent transcripts and records. An all or none sentence seems far too punitive. It will always remain a wise, necessity to educate each entrant with the nature and intent of the Honer System and its deep importance, and to add the pledge to each test and document at the University.

    A goal of total complicity is an admirable one, but foolish mistakes, especially by the young are assuredly going to occur. Drastic, irreparable measures may foolishly ruin a well-intentioned career and life. I urge the committee charged with this momentous obligation to consider these thoughts in its deliberations.

    Bruce at. Chodosh, MD, Med. ’65

    • John Fornaro on said:

      I’m sure that is is possible to institute a “graduated punitive system”, using a “thoughtful, painstaking process with due consideration to the degree of severity of the nature and intent of the action”. How this could happen is unclear, due to the today’s circumstances, which include a “much, much larger student body, the internet”, and other things.

      It is by no means clear how the internet and the number of students would preclude a single sanction, yet somehow guarantee the development and implementation of a graduated system.

      • Bruce T. Chodosh,MD, 1958-65 (Med) on said:

        Jan. 3, 2014

        I agree that revisions would be very difficult, but should probably include computer engineers and technicians. A thorough search of institutions using the honor system would help, but I believe UVA’s prototypical here.


  7. Sally McPherson on said:

    It would be nice if the honor code was increased to include sexual assaults. Last October a freshmen raped a 16 year old and then got drunk and raped a female student. How can that be allowed?

    • John Fornaro on said:

      I thought that rape was a crime, and that it was not “allowed”, under our criminal justice system.

    • Bruce T. Chodosh,MD, 1958-65 (Med) on said:

      Rape, assault, murder, etc. are crimes, not violations of veracity and honor. These acts belong in the courts. What the University does about these matters is , in my opinion, separate.


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