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UNC reviews honor system as latest piece to emerge in post-NCAA puzzle

Exploring the UNC honor court

The scandal that has mired the University’s athletic program in uncertainty has also engulfed one of its oldest institutions: the
student-led honor system.

After it was revealed this summer that the 136 year-old institution had not detected substantial plagiarism in a paper by former defensive end Michael McAdoo, Chancellor Holden Thorp initiated a review of the system.

“Regardless of the situation with football, it just makes good sense to seek ways to improve our commitment to honor and integrity,” Thorp wrote in an email to UNC students and faculty earlier this month.

Any concrete goals of the review remain unclear. What has become apparent is that nearly every aspect of the system — which is responsible for addressing student misconduct ranging from plagiarism to rape — is up for discussion.

That includes the involvement and influence of UNC’s faculty in the Honor Court process.

“Some faculty feel alienated from the system,” said Chairwoman of the Faculty Council Jan Boxill, who is charged with forming a task force to conduct the review.

“They report (violations) but don’t really have a connection with it. It’s just something they have to do,” Boxill said, adding that the task force will likely be formed in mid-September.

Review preceded football

In October, the Honor Court found McAdoo guilty of one count of academic fraud — receiving help with a works cited page from tutor Jennifer Wiley on a paper that was later found to be largely plagiarized.

The revelation lent widespread publicity to the Honor Court, which was already being examined on a smaller scale.

“It isn’t like the McAdoo case now all of a sudden said, ‘What’s wrong with our Honor Court?’ It just raised awareness for everybody,” Boxill said.

A University committee was formed in 2009 to evaluate a survey of the faculty regarding satisfaction with Honor Court cases.
The survey revealed that more than 70 percent of faculty support the student-run nature of the Honor Court, but nearly a third don’t.

Jay Smith, head of the committee, said there is “complete consensus” among its members that there is a high level of general ignorance among faculty about the system, particularly its handling of plagiarism.

Student Attorney General Jon McCay said this perception is exaggerated, but that the members’ inability to discuss specific cases is partially responsible.

“We operate under the University’s interpretation of (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and there’s nothing we can do about that,” he said. “What we can do is be clear and concise about how the process works.”

Reconsidering faculty’s role

To help mend the relationship between faculty and the honor system, officials favor instituting a measure outlined by the Instrument of Student Judicial Governance: a faculty advisory committee.

The committee’s five members would advise on cases but also communicate faculty concerns about the system.

The University of Virginia’s Honor Committee features a faculty advisory committee similar to the one being discussed for UNC.

The committee is a public forum open to all faculty who have concerns, but is generally made up of about 10 professors well-versed on the honor system’s history, said Ann Marie McKenzie, chairwoman of the Honor Committee.

McKenzie said the committee’s assistance is invaluable.

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“It would be hard to function without a place to get some outside feedback,” she said.

But the problems of disgruntled faculty still persist even with an outlet for their input, McKenzie added.

“If you get a case that is a not guilty verdict and the reporter is a professor, naturally they’re going to feel disenchanted with the system,” she said.

To help address plagiarism — the Honor Court’s single most persistent charge — Boxill is exploring the feasibility of using Turnitin, a plagiarism-detecting software, across campus.

The program, which scans academic papers for sections common to other works, would ease faculty’s workload, Boxill said.
She added that the implementation would cover all of campus.

Contact the University Editor at