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.
In terms of structure, the formal Honor System is maintained by a 27-member committee, elected by the student body, and a trained pool of Support Officers. The Committee is composed of five elected representatives from the College of Arts & Sciences, two from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and two elected representatives from each of the other 10 University schools. Committee members oversee Honor investigations and hearings, disseminate information to students, and establish special programs and policies for the Honor System. Support Officers are selected by the Honor Committee through a rigorous application process and work directly with students and faculty to process every case reported to Honor. They are trained as advisors, investigators, and counsel for both reporters and reported students.
In terms of scope and process, an Honor offense is defined as a significant act of lying, cheating, or stealing, where the student knew (or a reasonable University of Virginia student should have known) that such an act was or could have been considered an Honor offense. Three criteria determine whether an Honor offense has occurred.
- Act: Was an act of lying, cheating, or stealing committed?
- Knowledge: Did the student know, or should a reasonable University of Virginia student have known, that the act in question was or could have been considered an Honor offense? (Ignorance of the scope of the Honor System is not considered a defense.)
- Significance: Would open toleration of the act in question be inconsistent with the Community of Trust?
If a student has committed an Honor offense, but has no reason to believe they are under suspicion for the offense in question, they have an opportunity to file a Conscientious Retraction (CR). CRs reward integrity by allowing a student to admit their actions, accept the consequences, and reaffirm their commitment to the Community of Trust. If the student is later reported for the act in question, a valid and complete CR, one filed with no knowledge that they might later be reported, will completely exonerate the student.
After a student has been reported, they have the opportunity to take an Informed Retraction (IR). An IR requires the student to admit to the act in question, make amends, and take a two-semester Leave of Absence from the University. Following this Leave of Absence, the student is able to return to the University, with no evidence that an Honor report had been filed against them.
On April 10, 2018, an updated Informed Retraction policy went into effect which greatly expanded its scope. In the past, students were allowed to take an Informed Retraction for one single Honor Offense. Now, a student may take an Informed Retraction for any number of offenses that the student has been reported for, plus any other unreported offenses which the reported student wishes to voluntarily admit. Student must make amends with any affected parties with respect to any and all offenses that the student wishes to be covered by the Informed Retraction.
If a student elects not to take an IR, a full investigation occurs. If, at the conclusion of this investigation, the student is formally charged with an Honor offense, they can request an Honor hearing before a panel of their peers. If the panel finds the student guilty of committing an Honor offense, the only sanction is permanent dismissal from the University - often referred to as the "single sanction". A student who is convicted of an Honor offense following graduation will have their degree revoked by the general faculty. Dismissed students may receive assistance from the Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer as they apply to transfer to another institution.
Faculty members who suspect an Honor offense has occurred should contact an Honor advisor or the Honor Committee representative elected from their particular school by visiting honor.virginia.edu or calling the Honor offices at 434-924-7602. Faculty members can also speak with an Honor advisor during their offices hours, which are held on the fourth floor of Newcomb Hall, Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm. Honor consultations are non-binding and contacting an advisor or representative does not obligate the faculty member to file a formal report. If a faculty member decides to report a student, they will be required to provide relevant evidence, an initial interview, one or more secondary interviews, and testimony if the case goes to hearing. Once a report has been filed, it cannot be rescinded.
Faculty members have the discretion to assign grades, or take other appropriate academic measures, regardless of the outcome of an Honor investigation. The assignment of grades and other academic measures are subject to University policies and procedures, including grade appeals.
More information specifically for faculty is available in the University of Virginia Honor System Handbook for Faculty Members and Teaching Assistants.
THE PLEDGE: The Honor Committee recommends requiring all students to write out and sign a pledge on all graded work. Appended to an assignment or examination, the pledge is 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 aid on this exam [or assignment]."