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Faculty Council to hear proposed Honor Court changes

Faculty might soon serve on the traditionally student-led Honor Court if the Committee on Student Conduct and the Faculty Council approve a series of several changes to the court today.

The proposed changes include reducing the burden of proof when making rulings and including faculty on Honor Court panels.

If approved, the proposal will be sent to Student Congress and then to the chancellor, but it would not be implemented until fall 2014, said former Student Attorney General Amanda Claire Grayson.

Richard Myers, chairman of the committee and an associate professor in UNC’s School of Law, said the changes stem from three years of planning and are not in response to the recent publicity of how UNC handles sexual assault cases. As of Aug. 1, 2012, sexual assault is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Honor Court.

Myers said the initial push for the changes began after a 2009 survey indicated low faculty approval of the Honor Court system.

“We found that for some significant portion of the faculty, they weren’t using the honor system based on prior experience with it,” Myers said.

With the changes, each case where a student pleads not guilty would include a faculty member along with the standard panel of four students.

Myers said faculty involvement wouldn’t create any major change in protocol but would allow faculty guidance when assessing academic integrity.

Grayson said previously voiced faculty concerns focused on the severity of the court’s sanctions and the required burden of proof.

“The largest concerns we heard were that sanctions for academic cases were too harsh and that the court had too high of a burden of proof to find students guilty,” Grayson said.

The Honor Court previously required proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to charge students. It would now only require “clear and convincing evidence.”

She said the reduced burden of proof would allow professors to more effectively charge students with Honor Code violations, adding that the higher burden has discouraged some faculty involvement.

Victor Schoenbach, an associate professor of epidemiology and a Faculty Council member, said he approved of the reduced sanctions but had concerns about lowering the burden of proof.

“Some of these sentences have very severe implications,” he said. “You could lose your scholarship or your visa if you’re an international student. I’m not sure I would be comfortable with reducing the standard of proof.”

Grayson said she hopes the changes will make students feel more comfortable using the Honor Court.

“My goal in this all is that the student body will embrace these changes,” Grayson said.

“I think a lot of the student body views the Honor Court as the University substitute for a criminal court, and that’s not something it’s designed to be.”

Junior Schara Brooks said she approves of the changes, but she voiced concerns about the diversity of faculty involved.

“It’s really dependent on who the faculty member is,” Brooks said. “Do you have the diversity? Are you representing everyone?”

Andrew Perrin, an associate professor of sociology and committee member, said diversity wasn’t a focus when discussing the involvement of faculty.

“The point of having faculty isn’t to represent students,” Perrin said. “Students are doing a fine job of that.”

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