The Faculty Member and the Honor System

Initiated in 1842, the Honor System originated as an effort to ease tensions between the faculty and the student body. Today, however, the central purpose of the Honor System is to preserve and protect a Community of Trust in which students can enjoy the freedom to develop their intellectual and personal potential. Unlike many other institutions where student systems and disciplinary processes include administrative oversight, the Honor System is administered solely by students, who are responsible for all decisions and changes within the Honor System. Over time, the Honor System has evolved to meet the needs of each successive generation of students.

The Honor System is maintained by the Honor Committee, which is elected by the student body, and a pool of support officers, which is selected by the Committee. The Committee is comprised of 27 elected representatives – five from the College of Arts & Sciences, two from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and two from each of the other 10 University schools. Committee members oversee Honor investigations and Hearings, disseminate information to students, and establish the Honor System’s policies and initiatives. Support officers are selected by the Honor Committee through a rigorous application process and trained extensively in the Honor System’s philosophy, policies, and procedures, especially as they relate to the support officers’ particular roles. Support officers serve as Advisors, Investigators, and Counsel, working directly with reporters and reported students to thoroughly and efficiently process every case reported to the Honor Committee.

An Honor Offense is determined by three criteria – Act, Knowledge, and Significance. The three criteria are defined in the Honor Committee’s By-laws as follows:

  • "Act" shall mean any specific event or occurrence of Lying, Cheating, or Stealing.
  • "Knowledge" shall mean, with respect to a particular Act, that the actor knew, or a reasonable University of Virginia Student should have known, that the Act in question might be considered an Honor Offense. Ignorance of the scope of the Honor System shall not be considered a defense.
  • "Significance" shall mean, with respect to a particular Act, that open toleration of such Act would be inconsistent with the Community of Trust.

The Honor Committee recommends that faculty work to be as explicit as possible in their syllabi and communications with students as to what may constitute cheating in their course. The Committee also recommends requiring all students to write out and sign the Honor pledge on all graded work. The pledge serves as a signed reaffirmation of the student’s commitment to academic integrity; the standard pledge reads: “On my honor as a student, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment/exam.”

Faculty members who suspect an Honor Offense has occurred should contact an Honor Advisor or an Honor Committee representative elected from their school. Honor Advisors can be contacted by filling out the form at honor.virginia.edu/contact-honor-advisor, visiting the Advisors’ office hours in Newcomb Hall room 479 Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, or calling the Honor offices at (434) 924-7602. Contact information for individual Honor Committee representatives can be found at honor.virginia.edu/representatives. Conversations with an Honor Advisor or Honor representative are confidential and do not bind the faculty member to file a formal report.

To file a report, a faculty member must provide the name of the reported student(s), their Computing ID(s), and a description of the suspected Offense(s). Once a report has been filed, it cannot be rescinded. After a report is filed, the reporter is required to participate in an initial reporter interview and will be asked to provide any relevant evidence. If the student elects not to file an Informed Retraction and the case proceeds to a full investigation (as described below), the reporter must also provide a response to the reported student’s interview and evidence, and, should the case proceed to a Hearing, testify as a witness for the Community.

Through the Conscientious Retraction and Informed Retraction, the Honor System affords a student who commits an Honor Offense with multiple opportunities to take responsibility for the Offense and remain in the Community of Trust. Both the Conscientious Retraction and Informed Retraction, as described below, reward integrity by allowing a student to admit their actions, accept the consequences, and reaffirm their commitment to the Community of Trust.

If a student commits an Act of Lying, Cheating, or Stealing and wishes to come forward and make amends for it of their own volition, they may file a Conscientious Retraction (“CR”). In order to file a CR, the student must describe the Act in writing, admit the conduct to any affected parties, and agree to make amends. As long as a CR is both complete (i.e., meets the requirements set by the Honor Committee) and valid (i.e., is filed before the student has reason to believe that anyone suspects them of having committed the Act), it will serve as a full defense if the student is later reported for the Act covered by the CR.

If a student is reported for an alleged Honor Offense, and has not previously filed a CR for the underlying Act, they may file an Informed Retraction (“IR”). After an Honor report is filed, the reporter is interviewed by two Honor Investigators. This interview, and any evidence that the reporter submits, is presented to the reported student at the outset of the “IR Period,” a seven-day period in which the student may decide whether they wish to file an IR. Similar to the CR process, if the student elects to file an IR, they are required to admit the Offense(s) in question to any affected parties and agree to make amends. Since they did not admit the Offense until they were reported to the Honor Committee, however, they are also required to take a two-semester leave of absence, during which the notation “Honor Leave of Absence” will be placed on their transcript. Upon completion of the leave of absence, the student is permitted to return to the University to complete their studies, and the notation “Honor Leave of Absence” is removed from their transcript.

A student may file only one IR during their time at the University. As of April 2018, the scope of an IR was broadened to allow a student to take one IR for any Offenses that the student has been reported for, as well as any additional, unreported Offenses that the student wishes to admit, as long as they were committed on or before the date of the most recent Offense alleged in the report. The reported student must make amends for each Honor Offense they wish to include in their Informed Retraction, regardless of whether it is a reported or unreported Offense.

For both the CR and the IR, the “amends” are determined by an agreement between the affected parties and reported student, in accordance with guidelines set forth by the Honor Committee. Generally, in cases of Cheating, the amends may be any conditions imposed by the relevant faculty member for academic reevaluation.

If a student elects not to take an IR, the case proceeds through a full investigation, in which the Investigators interview the reported student and any additional witnesses. Following the conclusion of the full investigation, the Committee convenes an Investigative Panel (“I-Panel”), which decides whether it is more likely than not that the reported student committed an Honor Offense. If the I-Panel finds that this standard is met, thereby formally accusing the student, the student may request an Honor Hearing before a panel of their peers. If the Hearing panel finds the student guilty of committing an Honor Offense, the student is permanently dismissed from the University; a student who is found guilty of an Honor Offense after graduating is referred to the general faculty for degree revocation proceedings. Since permanent dismissal is the only possible sanction in an Honor Hearing, it is often referred to as the “single sanction.” Dismissed students may receive assistance from the Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer in transferring to another institution.

Faculty members have the discretion to assign grades, or take other appropriate academic measures, regardless of the outcome of any Honor proceedings. The assignment of grades and other academic measures are subject to University policies and procedures, including grade appeals. For further information on faculty and the Honor System, please contact the Honor Committee or refer to the faculty resources on the Honor Committee's website.