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The Daily Tar Heel

New Honor Court leaders push transparency

ånna Sturkey, the student attorney general for the Honor Court this year, said she knows there are a lot of eyes on the honor system.

“I think we have to recommit ourselves to our core values,” she said. “We’re an extension of the University that creates community standards.”

The Honor Court and system as a whole has made many headlines throughout the past few years, especially regarding its procedure when handling sexual assault cases.

Though sexual assault no longer falls under the Honor Court’s jurisdiction as of April 2012, the court’s handling of academic cases has also been called into question by faculty members.

A spring 2010 survey conducted by the Faculty Council’s Educational Policy Committee found that some department heads refused to participate in the Honor Court and discouraged their junior faculty from participating due to a lack of trust in the system.

In an effort to address these concerns, the council, student attorney general and former Chancellor Holden Thorp approved several changes to the Honor Court last spring, including changing the burden of proof from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “clear and convincing” evidence.

In addition, faculty members will be able to participate in the information-gathering phases of academic misconduct cases.

The changes will be implemented in fall 2014.

I’m really excited about these changes because they represent the hard work of all three hardworking bodies — faculty, students and administrators,” said Nathan Tilley, who will serve as chairman of the Honor Court this year.

Sturkey said the changes were a product of a campus dialogue.

“I think the honor system is a service to the University and has to reflect University standards,” she said. “We have to listen and respond.”

Andrew Perrin, a sociology professor and a member of the Committee on Student Conduct, said he was satisfied with the changes made.

He said lowering the burden of proof would keep students from avoiding culpability for academic misconduct charges and said giving faculty a voice during the information-finding stages was a step forward.

Before the changes, many professors felt like the student-led court allowed students to get away with academic misconduct because the burden of proof was so high.

Sturkey and Tilley said they want to promote the values that the court was founded upon.

“The Honor Court is a partnership between students, faculty and administrators,” Sturkey said. “We have a vested interest in promoting honor, which creates a safe environment.”

The honor system will emphasize the training of new and returning members this year, Sturkey said. Honor system members will be trained by professors and professionals this year, such as a seminar on diversity with Lisa Freeman, who works for the Department of Housing and Residential Education.

“Students have doubts about the seriousness and equity of our process,” Tilley said. “The idea of a student court sounds lightweight in terms of legal-type proceedings, but on the other hand, students and faculty who have gone through have given us good feedback on professionalism and seriousness.”

Tilley said helping students is the Honor Court’s priority.

Sturkey and Tilley said they plan to host office hours in the Pit every Monday afternoon, as well as publish quarterly reports about the system’s activities.

“We want to be more transparent and make sure every student knows what the Honor Court does,” Sturkey said. “People think of it as this scary body — but we want to help.”

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