Our Honor

In the late fall of 2010 as the economy was beginning to recover from a crisis that destroyed so much of the wealth of the middle class, a number of documentaries and docudramas appeared that asked probing questions about the causes of this catastrophe. One such film was Inside Job, about the culpability of the nation’s elites—not just on Wall Street and Capitol Hill but at research universities, in faculty offices of “thought leaders” who influence policy. In this film professors appeared as technocrats, publishing papers whose economic analysis benefited the corporations where they served as consultants.

Another 2010 film approached a similar subject from a more celebratory angle. The Social Network is about the founding of Facebook in the dormitory rooms of Harvard. Larry Summers, who was then president of Harvard after stepping down as Secretary of the Treasury, is played by an actor who is a dead-ringer for Summers—with the same astute bluntness. Two students, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, had arrived in his office to accuse their fellow student, Mark Zuckerberg, of stealing and profiting from their original idea for a social networking site. The Winklevoss twins are handsome, strapping children of privilege, with a clear sense of entitlement, so it is hard to feel sorry for them.

Interesting, however, was the argument the twins advanced: Zuckerberg had violated Harvard’s honor code. Cameron Winklevoss recited it for President Summers: “The College expects that all students will be honest and forthcoming in their dealings with members of this community. All students are required to respect public and private ownership. Instances of theft, misappropriation. . . .” Summers interrupts and calls out to his secretary. “Anne?” “Yes sir,” she says. “Punch me in the face.” Tyler Winklevoss continues quoting from the code: “or unauthorized use will result in disciplinary action, including requirement to withdraw from the College.” Summers looks up lazily from his desk, eyes full of exquisite contempt, and says: “and you memorized that instead of doing what?” He tells them that students do not enter into a code of ethics with each other—only with the University, and shoos them out of his office. But all was not lost: the brothers eventually accepted a settlement from Facebook worth a reported $65 million.

The first student-run Honor System in the country was established in 1842 at the University of Virginia. In 1965, Professor Robert Gooch said in an address at Finals that he regarded it as “the finest thing about the University,” adding that “the great body of alumni are convinced that their association with the Honor System was the most important, the richest, and the most permanently influential experience which they had during their search for truth as students in this institution.” The same could be said today, 170 years after the establishment of our code of honor.

The Honor System at Virginia is renowned not just for its resilience and the reverence with which the students and alumni regard it, but also for the non-negotiable quality of its essence. Administration of the honor system is entirely in the hands of the students, with offenses presented to the Honor Committee, which makes the final decisions, and no appeals are possible—not to the faculty, not to the administration, and not to the Board of Visitors. And year after year, the students affirm the policy of “single sanction”: one strike, you are out.

There may be no single explanation for the persistence of these institutional features.  It illustrates what social scientists call path dependency—perhaps a clumsy way of saying that origins matter, and that once you are set on a course under a complex set of circumstances, it is difficult to veer from that course. The circumstances that set Virginia’s honor system off on its original track were violent ones, and hence dead serious.

In Mr. Jefferson’s mind the University was the fondest experiment of self-governance—that government is best that governs least. The genius of American institutions, he thought, was incongruent with a disciplinary system that hardens college youth “to disgrace, to corporal punishment, and to servile humiliations.” Self- governance, even for advanced teenagers, was the best policy. That proved to be a difficult proposition, however. Many of the first students in Mr. Jefferson’s University were from plantation-owning families, young men accustomed to privilege but not always to responsibilities, leading the founder to lament the “vicious irregularities” in habits and disposition among a few of his students.

Some of the irregularities were silly—making shrill noises like “split quill” that penetrated the silent night of the Lawn, tooting away on tin-horns, ringing the college bell, dragging iron-fenders over brick pavements just to hear the racket they made, and exploding fire crackers. (Living on the Lawn, I know whereof he speaks.) But others were, as Mr. Jefferson said, vicious: virtual riots, chanting epithets against European professors, hiding behind masks. Soon the riots became a “tradition,” and one unsuspecting professor, who tried to pull the mask off a student, was shot and killed on the spot. Out of this tragedy came a chastened university, and out of this chastening, came the Honor System in 1842.

However it was not until after the Civil War that the Honor System reached its finest hour. The students were from preparatory schools with honor systems, the culture of honorable gentlemen was a shared, living experience, and so the Grounds were simple extensions of hearth and home. As the College grew, there was a fear, reasonable but untested, that it was social homogeneity that made the spirit of honor possible; heterogeneity would render the continuation of the Honor System impossible. Even so the System survived and thrived, yet doubts about its viability persisted—in the 1920s the students were predicting that if enrollment went beyond 2,000 the Honor System would be no more. Today the University enrolls over 20,000 students, ten times more than the presumed breakpoint, with a diversity—in gender, race, class, and culture—of those who genially inhabit the Grounds that would flabbergast even Mr. Jefferson.

Along the way the Honor System has evolved. In 1935 the system adopted (in part to avoid an overload of cases) a simpler code focusing on the pledge not to lie, cheat, or steal. The code survived the challenges of the 1960s that came from many quarters, including the Radical Student Union, which called the Honor System one of the two greatest irrelevancies in the pursuit of knowledge (the other being grading). The students at the University’s Law School were equally disenchanted, with 85 percent of the students interviewed saying that “the spirit of the Honor System at Virginia does not correspond to the ideals and morals of the world outside our doors.” Then their report went on to pose this stunning question: “Since there is no honor in the world, why try to force an old outdated concept of integrity on students who are preparing to live in this modern world?” (Anne, punch me in the face.)

No honor in the world? As Prince Hal exits the stage in a scene from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, the corpulent Falstaff is left to muse on the meaning of honor. “Can honor set a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is honor? A word. What is that word, honor? Air… Therefore, I will none of it. Honor is a mere scutcheon.”

Today few of our institutions are unscathed by misbehavior and scandal: Wall Street, the church, big-time sports, government local and national, the mores of our politicians. Among the two institutions people still hold in high esteem are the military and higher education—two great institutions traditionally cherished for social mobility, and for social and racial integration. Yet only recently we learned of the careless burning of the Koran in Afghanistan, and of the racial hazing that led to the suicide of a Chinese-American solider. Academe grapples with its own sets of problems related to athletics—and at Virginia, we have all been tarnished by a senseless killing in our midst, an event that forces us to examine the terms and boundaries of our cultural norms and behavior. But higher education cannot escape its role in setting moral standards for our society. Honor is not a mere scutcheon—a ceremonial shield—nor is it simply empty air: it is an attribute without which our society cannot function, a principle without which we are left only with broken covenants. Whatever our faults, for two centuries the University of Virginia has pledged itself to the ideal that honor matters, that honor counts.

On many days I walk through the gateway to the University on Hospital Drive. On the arch—we can call it our escutcheon—is a marble slab. Inscribed in marble is this statement: “Enter by this gate way, and seek the way of honor; the light of truth; the will to work for men.”

88 Responses to “Our Honor”

  1. Molly Beauchemin says:

    Another beautifully articulated post. Thank you, Dean Woo.

  2. Daniel Herrick says:

    Dean Woo – It’s difficult to say how pleased I am to know that the students at the University are still fully immersed in the Honor System as they were when I entered in 1938. Of all the “traditions” at the University this must be the most lasting – making the vital contribution to the lives of each person enrolled, I, for one, find that more than courses taken (including one year at the Law School), more than any professors, Deans or President of the University (sorry about that) the honor system influenced my life. All these years. Today included.

    Today the country, no, the world has such a great need of more men and women of honor, integrity and character. The University deserves credit for the role it plays in developing such individuals. I can’t imagine how you enable so many young people – from such diverse and worldwide backgrounds -to comprehend the Honor System each year, and then learn to live by it. It’s a magnificent accomplishment. To which I add- Godspeed, and good luck.
    Daniel Herrick ’42

  3. MR says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011 and on several occasions earned worse grades in courses due to groups of students cheating and ignorance from professors. The hubris and idealism of the honor code blinds many to the fact that it is disregarded by a large number of students. Something more has to be done to prevent cheating than simply trusting that students will abide.

  4. Mike Sullivan, Col '72 & Darden '78 says:

    This note may be more for the young Wahoos: I felt privileged to attend class with people of honor. I enjoyed the liberties of choosing where I might complete my quiz or exam. I enjoyed the benefits with local merchants. I enjoyed being able to leave personal items practically anywhere, knowing that they would be there when I returned. I did revere the Honor System. But being a practical person, upon reading the blog, I asked, “Where is the contribution to society?”

    My reflection tells me that the privilege was, and is not free. A community of honor requires courage among its citizens, or students. Students must have the courage to maintain an honorable standard of behavior, and its administrative arm. It takes courage to say, “I choose not to live with dishonorable people” and act upon your choice, or be ready to act.

    I submit that living in a ‘community of honor’ builds good citizenship. When you leave The University, having lived the honorable life, you will carry ‘honor behavior’ with you the rest of your life. [Thinking back to one of my psychology classes, there is some cognitive dissonance working here.] You recognize honor and have the courage to “do battle” with dishonorable behavior. In post University life, it may be one of the differentiating features of the degree that you carry forward: honorable citizen – through example, s/he actively sets the integrity bar high.

    There are many great Universities throughout the nation. However, they may not launch the quality citizens as Virginia does. (Here’s a bit of trivia about an institution producing exceptional citizens: the US Naval Academy. The USNA honor system was fashioned somewhat, to the extent that it could be, after the Virginia Honor System. My son served as the Honor Chair in his fourth year, (first year at USNA). In browsing through the archives, he found Ross Perot’s notes when Ross was a Midshipman investigating the establishment of USNA’s honor system. Ross studied Virginia’s Honor System, among others, and incorporated a number of Virginia’s features.)

    So, I salute all you great Wahoo citizens!

  5. Richard Noell Coll '73 says:

    Perhaps they will report back in a generation or two when they have had a chance to share the anchor of honor with their children who are certain to be tossed to and fro on the winds of political correctness (the oxymoron of all oxymorons). Unfortunately the self-serve world we live in doesn’t benefit the self as much as it thinks it does. I thank God for the time I spent at Viriginia. It didn’t have to be perfect to be a place of higher learning for me, and a smaller percentage of people valuing honor does not diminish its value.

  6. Jake Steinmetz, College 88 says:

    I was heavily involved in the Honor System while at UVA as an Honor Educator of students and as a juror in an honor trial. I can most vividly recall, however, the tremendous benefit of freedom and integrity I enjoyed as a UVA student because of the Honor Code. I could walk into a final exam, pick it up, walk to the Virginian, order breakfast, and take the exam and all was well so long as I signed “the Pledge”. I could pay for the breakfast with a check (this was before debit cards) by simply showing my UVA ID.

    While I cannot speak to the Honor System of the many other eras represented here, for my time at UVA, I realized the benefits of the Honor System from the first day of college through the last. In talking with first years about the System, the acts described above were simple illustrations that I hoped would serve as gateways to a broader understanding on their part that any burden not to cheat, steal, or lie was so incredibly dwarfed by the benefits conferred on them by virtue of the fact that they were UVA students who promised to adhere to a moral code so simple yet so inclusive of the very basic acts of everyday life. In sitting as a juror in judgment of a fellow student accused of a violation, the somber duty to, in that very instance, be honest (even if it meant ripping apart someone’s life) seemed like a small price to pay for the freedom I enjoyed.

    When I attended Law School at another University with a much more detailed and not nearly as draconian of an Honor Code and then sat as an Honor Court Judge to administer that Code, its flaws began with its lack of simplicity and ended with its sliding scale of sanctions. Gone was the clarity and consubstantiality which we (my classmates and I) enjoyed at UVA. Also gone was taking my exam out of the classroom and showing my student ID to cash a check.

    All of this is to say that while I cannot write of the UVA Honor System in the lofty and floral tones of many before me on this blog, I can offer this small observation that I truly benefited in a most practical and frequent manner from the System. And after leaving UVA and then graduating from Law School and entering into a career which brings great fortune if one is adept at painting several shade of truth, I am left to reflect and subsequently conclude that the Honor Code of UVA will last forever in each of us because it reinforced the very simple truths found in most basic philosophies and major religions – do not lie, cheat, or steal. A good motto by which to live, be it in the most insulated and privileged world of the UVA student, or the very real and sobering world thereafter.

    Ultimately, it alone may stand as the true zenith of the UVA education, because if one takes nothing else away from one’s University experience, one leaves much richer and wiser than one arrived.

  7. Craig Bailey says:

    Exactly.

  8. MJMP says:

    You say, “U. Va.’s honor system only makes things worse.” I disagree with you. I think you’re only looking at UVA’s Honor Code from a narrow, punitive prism, but I have a different take. Honor is greater than a system or a code. If taken to heart, it becomes a way of life.

    A couple of years ago, I read an article that highlighted how honor codes REDUCE cheating. This was first highlighted in a 1964 study titled, “Student Dishonesty and its Control in Colleges.” And in 1999, another study revealed the following:

    “Students at institutions with honor codes frame the issue of academic integrity in a fundamentally different way from students at non-code institutions… Although honor code students feel the same pressures from the larger society as their non-code colleagues, they are significantly less likely to use such pressures to rationalize or justify their own cheating. Rather, they refer to the honor code as an integral part of a culture of integrity that permeates their institutions.”
    (Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-callahan/why-honor-codes-reduce-st_b_795898.html)

    I graduated from UVa in the 90s, and I return to Grounds every year because I’m very involved with the University. So, as a student and an alumnus, I have witnessed many personal examples of how having an honor code/system motivates students and alums to do that right thing. Here are 2 examples that come to mind: During my first year, I was hanging out in the UVa Bookstore, and a friend confided in me that in high school she often shoplifted just for the fun of it — usually a pencil here, a marker there. But she said she stopped doing that once she got to UVa, because she realized it was “dishonorable.” Secondly, I once lost my wallet somewhere on Grounds. A fellow student searched for me and came to my dorm to give it to me — my money & credit cards intact.

    UVA’s honor system isn’t perfect, but UVa is a better place because of it, not in spite of it.

  9. MJMP says:

    As always, great job, Dean Woo! I look forward to reading your essays — in contrast to SD’s contempt of you writing such missives during a recession (as if a bad economy is a good and valid reason not to write about any topic. It’s your free time; you can write about anything you want.)

    Thanks again!

  10. John D Stewart says:

    Meredith: wonderful dissertation. Universities must set the bar for idealism and honor. None
    higher or better than Our University. It becomes the student’s task to incorporate these ideals and apply them to that very real world that lies outside our grounds. It still works for me.
    JDS 1974

  11. Pat Sweet, MD says:

    I am not sure that your experience as a teaching assistant makes you an authority on the status of cheating in academic institutions anywhere. At least Dean Woo is willing to publish under her full name and is in a position to be an actual authority on the subject.
    Regards,
    Pat Sweet, MD
    CLAS 2001

  12. Pat Sweet, MD says:

    As a veteran of the current war and as one who has cared for our honorable sailors and marines, I am deeply offended by your post. The people that serve in the armed forces do so willingly for the commonwealth of everyone in our society — regardless of socioeconomic status. I leave you with J. F. Kennedy:

    “I can imagine a no more rewarding career, and any man

    who may be asked in this century what he did to make his

    life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of

    pride and satisfaction:

    ‘I served in the United States Navy’

    Regards,
    Pat Sweet, MD
    LT, MC, USN
    CLAS 2001

  13. Betsy Brentz '83 says:

    “Whatever our faults, for two centuries the University of Virginia has pledged itself to the ideal that honor matters, that honor counts”. Honor does count. Living a life in which one does not lie, cheat or steal is actually quite easy. The absolute quality of the Honor System is freeing for those who wish to abide…I felt that way when I was at Virginia and I feel that way now.

  14. Tyler Healey says:

    Honor demands that all employees of the University of Virginia earn at least a living wage applicable to the city of Charlottesville. In this current economy, they have no alternative except a period of unemployment, which is not an option for people who have families to support.

    Surely paying one’s employees a living wage is a leading character in the definition of “the will to work for men.”

    Sincerely,
    Tyler Healey

  15. Charles Harris says:

    Mr. Lequire,

    I shared this concern and removed the asterisk last year. This change apparently did not migrate to the page you referenced. The changed page is linked to from the “About the Honor Committee” page on the committee’s website and can be found here: http://www.virginia.edu/honor/honormen.html.

    Charles Harris’
    Coll ’07, Law ’11
    Honor Committee Chairman 2010-2011

  16. Charles Harris says:

    Ms. Aust,

    I agree that this is an unfortunate symptom of a growing UVA and a growing Charlottesville. I had the opportunity to discuss this topic with the members of the University Guide Service last year and one of them offered what I thought was a good explanation addressing this concern. He agreed that this was indeed unfortunate and noted as a point of contrast a small liberal arts college with an honor system where no locks on bicycles (or rocking chairs) were ever seen. He went on to explain, however, that while unfortunate at UVA and a visible sign of an erosion of trust, he wouldn’t trade systems or circumstances with the tiny liberal arts college. At UVA he said he sees the Honor System as being far more instructive as to how to conduct yourself in the real, imperfect world. It inculcates trust between peers, but does not teach naivety. As a Range resident, I was always happy to loan my rocking chair, key, or other belonging to another student. At a price tag of $300+ if lost, damaged, or stolen, however, I was not ready to leave it outside my room unlocked over night.

    Charles Harris
    Coll ’07, Law ’11
    Honor Committee Chairman 2010-2011

  17. Charles Harris says:

    In the current manifestation of the system accused students have a choice of jury pools. Randomly selected students, members of the Honor Committee, or a mixed panel of both randomly selected students and committee members. They also are assured in nearly every case that two members of the jury will hail from their respective school within the University.

    Charles Harris
    Coll ’07 Law ’11
    Honor Committee Chairman 2010-2011

  18. Jeff '07 says:

    Intriguing article, and most intriguing use of language. I must first admit that I am among those who support the existing Honor System solely because of its importance as an ideal.

    It strikes me that there is a juxtaposition predicting Honor’s demise next to a description of Honor’s evolution. The analogy is strange because evolution in particular evokes the entire lifecycle, as opposed to terms such as growth and adaptation. One might rightly think that the Honor System as it originally existed perished in the 1935 simplification and made room for its streamlined descendant.

    Change, although generally a good thing, also indicates that the prior state of affairs was unworkable. One thing we all share as UVA students over the generations is the wash of wave after wave of assertions that the Honor System is flawed and in some way need of revision, as constant as those in the sea.

    I would contend that if anything about Honor is a permanent source for our enrichment, it is our experience of acceding to a system of moral duties demonstrably heightened above our other respective communities, and our efforts to support that choice. Whether it is in defence of the current Honor System, a recognition that change is necessary, or even a brief pause to consider how our own actions fit within our understanding of Honor, our impenetrable defense is that we go further to bring more of Honor into the world through our efforts.

  19. MJMP says:

    If you knew rampant cheating was going on, why didn’t you do anything about it. I appears that you were part of the problem.

  20. AWG says:

    George:

    Students facing an Honor trial may elect to have a jury of randomly selected students rather than a jury of elected Honor Committee members. Like the American jury system it is not wholly perfect, but it does reflect the judgment of one’s peers.

    More generally, this is another superb essay by Dean Woo and is, in my view, a must read for alumni and current students alike. A great many of us believe that The University is a truly special environment in which to become prepared for the citizen’s life, and developing a passion for that which is honorable is a critical part of the experience.

    Allen W. Groves (Law ’90)

  21. KC says:

    Although some of the younger posters have expressed doubts as to the efficacy of the honor code as currently instantiated, they have not expressed contempt for the concept of honor, nor have they in any way suggested that honor is unimportant. To suggest that there is some sort of moral failing in younger generations because they have observed that the current system is not working as well as they feel it should is false and unfair. SD and others have noted that the system allows dishonorable things to go unpunished. If anything, the willingness of young graduates to say what is ‘unpopular’ amongst current and former Wahoos–namely, that there may be a problem with some aspects of the University culture–is a testament to how alive honor is: these students and alumnae will not stand silently and idly by when witness to problems.

    I don’t think the honor system at the University is perfect. I, too, believe that Honor (capital H) at the University would be better served if there were more a focus on content than on form: having an elected, incredibly small (in relation to the student body population) body that is in charge of the maintenance and administration of the honor code runs the risk of turning what should be a living, integrated part of life at the University into a political contest. However, I also agree what several others here have said: UVa’s honor code as it is enforced currently is *not* the same thing as UVa’s (and many many other places’) honor. Honor is still very much valued at UVa, as I think it is by individuals (if not all institutions), in the modern world. UVa’s focus on ‘Honor’ makes it a better place, even if I disagree with some of its institutionalized trappings.

  22. SD says:

    My willingness to publish under my full name rather than my initials has no bearing on the validity of my argument. Furthermore, I would argue that my position as a recent college student and current graduate student in the midst of college students gives me a much more accurate perspective on the true status of academic integrity at U. Va. and abroad that Dean Woo is likely to have, busy as she must be with all kinds of administrative business.

  23. SD says:

    I, and probably most recent graduates, don’t have a problem with the idea of the honor system. I think that most of us like the concept of a rigorous code of ethics that we expect to be held to and regarded by. The problem is that the honor system in its current form can no longer serve its objectives well. I took classes at U. Va. where I signed an honor pledge for an exam that I took in a classroom patrolled by TAs and the professor. I was expected to sign a pledge by my honor, and then accept being treated as dishonorable. Furthermore, the single sanction harms honor more than it helps now, and – at least in my opinion – should be removed.

  24. SD says:

    My quarrel is less with the fact that Dean Woo is spending her time writing these “missives” and more with their content. She has a nearly unlimited array of timely and appropriate subjects from which to choose, and she opts to write a misleading post about a controversial, but not currently important, issue. Posts from other students close to me in age should confirm my assertion that U. Va.’s students do not hold the current incarnation of the honor system in the regard that Dean Woo’s essay would have you believe they do. She should not be content with the honor system because U. Va.’s students are not, yet she seems satisfied to sit back and wax philosophical about a deeply dysfunctional system.

  25. UVa Parent says:

    As a person who has served in the military for my entire life – first as a dependent growing up in the military life, then a military spouse and now the mother of two military members, I am offended by your comments. Many of your statements are misleading -if not completely inaccurate. The US military is a completely volunteer force. All members serve of their own choosing. In fact, the call to serve and protect our freedom is so strong now that it is difficult to enlist in many branches of the military.

    Many, many soldiers and sailors complete their degrees while serving – using their military benefits to do so. My husband earned his bachelor’s and two master’s degrees while serving in the Navy. Military members are given experience and opportunities to advance. It is not uncommon for a sailor to progress all the way through the ranks and, even, eventually have command of a ship. The skills and experiences of a military career put veterans far ahead of their peers.

    As far as gender inequality, my daughter is currently serving aboard an Aegis class destroyer – a combat ready vessel that will enter the line of fire if called upon to protect our country – with my daughter (and many other women) working side-by-side with their male counterparts.

    Have you visited with our wounded veterans? A trip to National Medical Center in Bethesda might help you to understand the care and esteem that is given to the young men and women who have given so much to protect your freedom to dismiss the value of their sacrifice.

    The military is certainly not perfect – no organization is ever perfect, but I am proud to find myself again in the Honorable service of the US Military.

  26. C Celli Clas 86 says:

    I’m a Uva grad (86) and have taught as a professor around the country (Cali, deep south, Ivy League, midwest).

    Every academic institution where I have taught has a spirit and character deeper than its present occupants are often aware. The Uva mascot is the Cavalier – the losing side of the English Civil War, an identity that continued in the defeat of the American Civil War and arguably continues in the architectural and urban sprawl up 29 north (I am old enough to have gone fishing at the lake that was at the Cville Toys ‘R Us). There used to be a bumper sticker common in town – If you (Heart) Love NY take 29 north – the present layout of Cville as the latest defeat of the cavaliers.

    I remember calls to eliminate the honor system in the 80s and heard about previous attempts from my father (a prof at UVa) in the early 70s after the U went coed.

    The honor system has culled the positive aspects of cavalier gentleman culture into contemporary society (be it 1935, 1968 or the present). Students and professors are more likely to act with honor as an attribute inherited as part of the institution’s tradition.

    Woo is also correct to make a connection between the UVa honor code and the military – West Point is the only other school that has a single sanction honor code.

  27. Kevin Bishop says:

    You obviously have no idea what the Honor System is about. It has nothing to with endowments or living wages. The honor system is a shared value system that students will not lie cheat or steal. You said that you were a student at UVA. Didn’t you know this already?

    Also, there are training programs and apprenticeships for employees to participate. Employees are paid a fair market value for their services. If they want better – apply elsewhere.

    Endowments are just that. They are gifts for a specific purpose that are usually paid out in perpetuity.

    Are you sure you went to UVA? You appear to be quite uneducated on several key points that you babble.

  28. Mark Kington says:

    Meredith, it is a beautiful essay–thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  29. Tyler Healey says:

    It is self-evidently dishonorable to refuse to pay any employees of the University of Virginia a living wage for residency in the City of Charlottesville when it is self-evident that the budget could be rearranged to do so.

    Likewise, refusing to give to those in need constitutes an infraction of the Honor System. When we refuse to give to another something that would be theirs if we had “the will to work for men,” we are stealing from that person. We are cheating that person out of what should be theirs. To then regard ourselves as honorable people would be a lie.

  30. Jen Hoffman says:

    I remember my first week at U.Va. as a graduate student and leaving my backpack on the first floor of Newcomb Hall. Being a New Yorker, I had contemplated not returning for it; but, six hours later – feeling foolish for even hoping it would be there, I returned and lo and behold there it was – intact – lip gloss, wallet, and all. Thank you for your words Dean Woo. While attending U.Va., “honor” became a very real and profound concept for me. The existence of the Honor Code made a major impact on my life.

  31. Dave McCord says:

    Thanks very much for the great posting. I graduated in ’77 and the Code has certainly provided a great reference point for dealing with life and all the changes since then.

  32. Thank you for your excellent, concise review of our beloved honor system. One correction: there was no “careless burning of the Koran in Afghanistan.” The volumes in question had been defiled by Muslim prisoners who wrote extremist messages in the books, and the troops who burned them were following the generally accepted approach to disposing of defaced Korans. The lethal reaction was orchestrated by extremist leaders. Perhaps in a future blog you can explain why some people think that murdering troops who are trying to help them is a suitable response to the accidental affront of merely burning a book.

  33. Reggie Love says:

    A beautifully written piece. However, I think many readers would be surprised at the number of students who ignore the honor code. While I admire its idealistic principles, I’ve personally witnessed several fellow students cheating on papers and exams. Yes, I chose not to report these individuals as after the first incident I was told to keep quiet by a professor. While I do not advocate the abolition of the honor code, I hope people recognize that we cannot simply trust all will abide and do more at UVa to prevent cheating.

  34. J.Braxton Woody-A&S '54 says:

    From the late 1950′s to the late 1960′s my Father gave an introductory talk on the Honor System to First Year students. Many who heard this talk have commented on the profound effect it had on their University and life experience. Around 1969, Dad was asked to again give this talk. He declined then because he had become aware of widespread discussion of “degrees of honesty” and that certain dishonest behavior did not rise to the level of honor code violation. With great sadness, and realizing the futility of it, he never gave the talk again. Dean Woo has written a very nice letter which, unfortunately, expresses the nostalgic delusion to which many of us have succumbed.

  35. George says:

    Thank you for the clarification. I take it that you agree that plagiarism in an academic paper should not be an honor offense.

  36. Ross Spence says:

    My father, Bill Spence, was one of those students who heard your father’s lecture on the Honor Code. He took courses taught by Braxton Woody and introduced my to your father when accepted admission to U.Va in 1978. What a fun time we had discussing a broad range of subjects and the etymology of various words all afternoon. What a fine man your father was.

  37. Roger Millay says:

    Meredith, thanks very much for another thoughtful and enriching post. To me, the Honor Code is one of the most defining aspects of the unique Virginia experience. The challenge of personalizing the commitment to Honor was a profound element of my preparation for adult life. The ambiguities of how to apply the Honor Code are a reflection of the human complexity of the aspiration. Being required to take a personal stand on my relationship to the Honor Code was perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my undergraduate education and has paid tremendous dividends throughout my professional and personal life.

    Roger Millay, College ’79

  38. Charles Harris says:

    In fact, I disagree very much. Plagiarism is and should always be considered an Honor Offense. While the information age makes information diffuse and readily available, this does not give license to students or others to appropriate others’ writing and work as their own. The University exists to create critical, independent thinkers – not accomplished copy-pasters or those who simply regurgitate that which they read on their own. Diligent citation is a must for students in the University setting, as is taking the time to formulate one’s own thoughts about the information to which they are exposed.