Monday, September 11, 2006


The Cavalier Daily reports that Stephanie Garrison has been acquitted on appeal. I wish the article were more detailed, but the gist of it is that in order for an honor code violation to occur, three factors must be present: act, intent, and non-triviality (or seriousness, as this article says). The jury found that Garrison's lie was not serious enough to make it an honor code violation.

I applaud this verdict. If there's one thing I've learned in law school so far this semester, it's that you can't convict someone (or hold him or her civilly liable) because you feel like that person's done something wrong and deserves to be punished. If the actual sequence of events doesn't match what the law says is necessary to produce liability, then you find for the defendant. Of course, that doesn't always happen, but I'm very pleased that it has happened here.

How are we to judge non-triviality? The Honor Committee website says the question we should ask is: "Would open toleration of such an act impair the community of trust sufficiently ... to warrant permanent dismissal from the University?" The University Judiciary Committee is empowered to impose sanctions on students, and those sanctions ought to be completed. From the facts as stated by the Cav Daily, it seems to me that Garrison made a good faith effort to complete her sanctions. She didn't go about it in the world's smartest way: it was unwise for her to interpret the sanctions as broadly as she did, and when threatened with suspension for being late with her completion form, she ought to have explained her situation to the UJC rather than just figuring she'd sign the form and everything would be okay. But is this the sort of behavior that, if other people did it, would damage the community of trust here at U.Va.? I have to say I don't think it is.

The Honor Committee website also says that "the Honor System can only act effectively where it is reasonably well-known and understood." They're referring to the reasons for the geographical limitations on the system, but I think their statement applies here too. How many of us, when hearing that Garrison had turned in her sanction completion form believing that she had completed two of the three sanctions, and being scheduled to complete the third soon, would have thought, "Oh, that's an Honor Code violation!" Since the purpose of the Code is to protect the integrity of our community, its implementation should reflect our community values. That means that, at least outside the realm of academic dishonesty (for which the rules are more severe), we should tolerate no arcane implementations and no charges based on technicalities.

Honor Committee tryouts are next week. I'm thinking of going.


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