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The Daily Tar Heel

UVa. Investigates Honor Committee

By Jennifer Hagin

Staff Writer

The University of Virginia recently released a report questioning some of the rules and procedures of its honor court system - one of the university's oldest and proudest traditions.

The report comes just days after UVa. agreed to settle a case with a former student suing over an Honor Committee conviction.

The results of the study found three basic areas needing improvement - procedures in the courtroom, liability and diversity of the Honor Committee.

Thomas Hall, UVa.'s Honor Committee chairman, said the purpose of the proposed changes is to restore fairness and students' faith in the system. "As long as we have this legalistic system that puts students through a courtroom grinder, we're going to alienate students," he said. "If the system does not return consistent verdicts, it's hard to believe the honor system could be maintained."

The UVa. honor court system is similar to the student judicial system at UNC. UNC officials also have begun recently to question the effectiveness of its student-run Honor Court.

Sue Estroff, UNC's faculty chairwoman, said UNC's Honor Court has a similar reputation to the Honor Committee at UVa.

Hall likened Honor Committee proceedings to those of a courtroom drama with legal maneuvering of its lawyers.

"The central problem this report has focused on is the system has become too legalistic," he said. "It's like an episode of `The Practice.'"

To correct this problem, UVa.'s committee has proposed eliminating a statute allowing students to have random student juries. The proposal would require the jury either to be composed of four committee members and five random students or entirely of committee members.

Hall also said the committee recommended more jury interaction with witnesses, decreasing the role of student lawyers. Hall said UVa. has been sued over honor court decisions about six times in the past 10 years.

Student Council President Joe Bilby said there also has been tension between the black community and the Honor Committee stemming from a lack of diversity in the committee's members and the number of minorities brought in front of the Honor Committee. "It's been sort of a constant problem," he said. "Students of color are brought up on charges at a disproportional rate."

To correct this problem, Hall said a diversity advisory board containing students, faculty, administrators and alumni will focus on recruiting minority students to join the Honor Committee.

Estroff said UNC is in the process of starting a similar evaluation of its honor system. "It's hard to predict what will come of it," she said. "The system hasn't had a rigorous review in a long time."

Bilby said the review of UVa.'s Honor Committee will have a positive effect on the system. "I think it's a good thing to see the honor system giving itself an evaluation now before more problems arise," he said. "These steps will build an honor system that more students can believe in."

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