Open Code: Honor trial gives behind-curtain peek
UVA's vaunted Honor Code came under national scrutiny this summer after several stories revealed that two non-UVA students were thrown of the UVA-run Semester at Sea cruise ship, thus forfeiting academic credits and thousands of tuition dollars, after a faculty tribunal found that they'd plagiarized. A case closer to home offers another revealing view of the controversial Code.–editor
At UVA’s School of Architecture, being in the wrong place at the wrong time can certainly be costly.
That’s what third-year Emily Bauer found Sunday, July 20 as her seven-month ordeal drew to a close inside the trial room of Newcomb Hall. There, a panel of 12 randomly selected student jurors (including three from the “A-school") and a trial chair sat facing three student lawyers representing Bauer, and three representing the community.
Ticket-holding observers sat in the back of the room. Thanks to Bauer's decision to go public, this was UVA’s first open honor trial since 2005.
Bauer was accused of lying and cheating, an incident spurred by the A-school’s only firm deadline, when they construct “site models.” While due dates are fluid because of the evolving nature of work throughout the semester, the A-school has a firm “pencils down” policy the day of the final review. In Bauer’s case, the the Architecture 201 deadline fell on December 6, 2007.
“It’s pretty easy to tell what is cheating in other classes,” Bauer, who hails from Fredericksburg, told the Hook before her trial, “but in the A-school, it’s less clear. If your model breaks after the deadline and then you fix it, that’s cheating.”
Sitting before the jury with trembling hands, Bauer told them she would prove that she was on trial because of “an unfortunate series of misunderstandings backed by honorable intentions.”
She contended that based on the three elements that decide whether an act qualifies as an Honor offense– act, intent, and seriousness– she was innocent.
Heather Fischer, the student who reported the possible Honor offense, testified via telephone link call that she saw Bauer at her desk working on something around 1am, seven hours after the Final Review deadline.
Fischer testified that she asked Bauer if she was working on something for the studio, and Bauer said no.
Jen Siomacco, chair of the Architectural Design Committee, a student group in the A-school, with whom Bauer was acquainted, testified that later that night she asked the same question, and Bauer said yes.
Every A-school student who testified characterized the time period before the 6pm final review deadline as “very taxing,” and that’s why some said Bauer’s late-night work on an architecture project on deadline day seemed suspicious.
Bauer, however, testified that she was in the A-school building that night to help a friend. Her friend– fellow undergraduate architecture student Lauren Rybinski– had cut her finger but refused to go to the hospital for fear she would not be able to finish her project. As her friend was feeling weak, Bauer testified, she urged her to seek permission to get dinner and then pin up her work later.
A student lawyer for the community stressed in her closing remarks, “Bauer cheated by working past deadline and lied in more than one way to more than one person.”
A student lawyer for the accused maintained, however, in his closing remarks, “The purpose of an Honor trial is not for a student to prove her innocence.”
After the trial– which lasted from 10am to 3:30pm– the jury deliberated for another hour before deciding that the evidence against Bauer was not enough to prove her guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Bauer criticized the die-hard mentality of the architecture school. “In the A-school, you are seen as weak if you are sick,” she said. “And the medical policies they do have in place are not well advertised.”
“I think she did the right thing,” says her mother, Mary Bauer. “At the architecture school, there’s a very individual mentality; they want you to leave others hanging.”
Under UVA’s single-sanction policy, if Bauer had been found guilty of either lying or cheating, she certainly would have been left hanging. UVA’s one-strike-you’re-out honor code would have dictated expulsion.
–last updated September 11