Community of Trust
The University of Virginia’s Honor Committee —the Committee representatives elected from every school, the trained support officers who staff cases, individuals who report offenses—exists for a single purpose: to uphold and support the Community of Trust. We believe that students, faculty, and administrators are not passive recipients of culture, but rather are active agents in creating and maintaining the ideals of our community. As students at the University of Virginia, we have made the conscious decision to not let personal gain, ambition, or future advancement become the defining characteristics of our years at this university. Instead, we seek to conduct ourselves with integrity, respecting the work and property of our fellow students and the wisdom of our professors. We aim to cultivate habits that will inform our work habits long after we graduate; to assume the best in each other; and to hold fast to notions of right and wrong, even when doing so comes at personal cost. Through this collective effort, our ultimate end is to live and work in a Community of Trust, where honesty and mutual respect are the baseline for all our interactions and academic endeavors.
Scope of Honor System
By today’s standard, an Honor Offense is defined as a Significant Act of Lying, Cheating or Stealing, which Act is committed with Knowledge. Three criteria determine whether or not 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 student have known, that the Act in question was Lying, Cheating, or Stealing?
- Significance: Would open toleration of this Act violate or erode the community of trust?
Although a student should always conduct themself honorably, a student is only formally bound by the Honor System in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and elsewhere at any time when they identify themself as a University of Virginia student in order to gain the reliance and trust of others. The geographic limitation is intended to prevent an overextension of the System, for the Honor System can only act effectively where it is reasonably well-known and understood.
One of the hallmarks of the U.Va. Honor System is that it is entirely student-run. Elected student representatives sit on the Committee, and student Support Officers investigate cases, advise accused students, educate the community about Honor, and serve as advocates at trial.
In addition to acting as Committee members and Support Officers, students serve as jurors at Honor trials. In the Spring of 1980, over 80% of the student body voted by referendum to allow randomly selected students to serve as jurors. The change allowed an accused student who requests trial the choice of a jury panel composed of all Honor Committee members or a mixed panel of Honor Committee members and randomly selected student jurors. In providing this right, students also accepted the responsibility to serve as jurors when requested. In 1990, the student body voted in favor of allowing an accused student to have the option of an all-randomly selected jury panel.
In the 2023 multi-sanction referendum, students voted to prescribe the jury panel to a fixed mixed composition, known as a Panel for Guilt, in which randomly selected students are the majority (seven randomly selected students and five Committee representatives).
Hearings are generally held on the weekends and last multiple hours. The Hearing Chair provides knowledge of the Honor System and hearing experience. The randomly selected panelists ensure that a decision reflects the views of the current student body. The Committee representatives ensure that Bylaws are appropriately applied and that sanctions are restorative. By devoting time to participate as a panelist, each student can guarantee that the Honor System remains a vital and responsive aspect of University life.
President Emeritus Teresa Sullivan: “The Honor Code is one of UVA’s distinctive hallmarks. Employers tell me that their employees from UVA stand out for more than their intelligence and skills—the UVA alumni stand out for their integrity.”
Virginia Simms, CLAS ’06: “Honor empowers students to take ownership and responsibility for their community. Students do not pass through this University, they shape it.”
Lytle Wurtzel, COMM ’04: “In terms of logistical benefits, I enjoyed being able to take tests outside of the scheduled test dates at my own convenience. It’s helpful during a stressful exam period to set your own priorities. I appreciated being treated like an adult – and trusted like one. In a broader sense, I think the real benefit is learning what it means to be an honorable student and person. It’s an important base to have before you go out into the “real world” where your honor is tested on a daily basis.”
Professor Lucien Bass, COMM: “I would not want to teach anywhere a community of trust did not exist. It is an honor in itself to be accepted as a student or faculty member into this community.”
Dr. Susan Allen (alumnus): “I graduated almost thirty years ago, and I still think about Honor code at UVA almost every day of my life. Anytime I’m confronted with a situation that might work to compromise my integrity, my recollection of the values that Honor at UVA instilled in me helps me choose the right path.”
Gibbs Fryer, CLAS ’06 & Law ’09: “Apart from Thomas Jefferson, Honor is the single most distinctive feature of UVA. I think it forms the background fabric of all the interactions-both academic and social-with other UVA students and professors. The tangible meaning is obvious-no cheating, lying, stealing, etc. But I think on a more abstract level it has a general meaning of attempting to hold both yourself and the community to a desirable standard.”
Scott Blackwell, CLAS, Alumnus: “Honor is a time-tested program. Faculty and students have challenged the foundation of the System, and it has yet to be changed. It is student-run, with very little intervention. It is not simply a set of rules, but a way of life.”
Lytle Wurtzel, COMM ’04: “To be a member of the community of trust, you have to realize that it’s only as strong as its weakest link. Like any beloved institution, the Honor system requires continual support from its members. It means you have to make choices every day to uphold the system. Sure, you can make dishonorable choices and no one may ever find out, but you know in your heart that you’ve taken yourself out of the community.”
Jordan Dods, CLAS ’10: “The Honor system provides the framework and platform for the community of trust. This suggests that UVA is a close network of people who respect each other. Honor brings diverse people together.”
Professor John Colley, Darden: “UVA’s honor system is the best preparation we can offer for the ‘real world’.”