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The Blue & Gray Press | December 15, 2017

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Honor Council Gets Advisor

Dr. Chirico and his stuffed  armadillo reflect on their new position as advisor to the Honor Council.  (Beth Wilkins/Bullet)

Dr. Chirico and his stuffed armadillo reflect on their new position as advisor to the Honor Council. (Beth Wilkins/Bullet)

By KATIE MORGAN

Dr. Bernard Chirico, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, was selected as the University’s advisor to the Honor Council in September. The position was created when President Frawley and the Board of Visitors delegated procedural and supervising powers over the Council to Chirico. Chirico’s appointment signifies an unprecedented administrative involvement within the Honor Council.
This involvement, intended by the Board of Supervisors and Frawley to fix potential problems and inequalities within the honor system, may change the way the Honor Council works in the future and the amount of influence student leaders have over the honor system.
According to Frawley, the change is intended only to protect students who appear before the Honor Council as well as to protect the Council itself.
“The long-running of the honor system revealed two significant issues in its operation— some decisions could be made that might put the institution at risk without the institution having a commensurate position as a responsible agent in the decision; some decisions could be made that may put the students at risk without them being able to be indemnified,” Frawley said. “The Board of Visitors, long before I arrived at UMW, had seen these risks and had decided it needed to act; I also saw the risks when I arrived and agreed with the Board. So we put in place the system we have now.”
Both Frawley and Chirico emphasized the role of the advisor in over  seeing Council decisions to ensure fairness during student trials and fix problems and inconsistencies in the system.
“I want to ensure fairness and due process for everyone involved,” Chirico said, listing it as his number one goal as advisor. “We wouldn’t even need checks and balances at the federal level if everyone did everything right…any system needs oversight.”
According to Honor Council President Stephen Gregg, a junior, the change has not affected the normal operations of the Council.
“Dr. Chirico has mainly left the operation of the Council to itself…his main job is to ensure consistency,” Gregg said.
Freshmen Council member Sarah Bosworth agreed.
“I’m not sure that it’s really changed much during hearings,” Bosworth said. “Its played a more significant role administratively, on decisions made outside of the Honor Council.”
According to Frawley and Chirico, Chirico’s influence on the basic operation and individual members of the Council is limited to supervision and advice.
“From an authoritative standpoint I’m a pretty significant supervisor in that the President and I have a lot of discussion about how the hearings may go and how investigations are conducted,” Chirico said. “When it comes to the council meeting, that’s the Honor Council president’s arena. We have committee meetings now looking at things, and those are put to together by the [Council] president.”
Frawley also stated the same influences, adding that Chirico has the ability to cancel cases as he sees fit.
“His role in the process is to facilitate, manage and mentor, not to intrude, although he does have authority to cancel a case if he so decides,” Frawley said.
According to Chirico, he expects his use of this privilege to be “very seldom” and is a measure to protect prosecuted students from legislative mistakes.
“[I would cancel a case] if due process had not been followed… if mistakes had been inadvertently made,” Chirico said.
The process also allows the Board of Visitors and other administrators to protect the Honor Council from legal actions against it when cases are mishandled.
However, Honor Council members and administrators are prohibited from commenting on specific cancelled cases. The Honor Council is required only to report its activities to the Board of Visitors, another role that Chirico now serves.
According to Frawley, besides maintaining consistency and fairness, one of the reasons the Board of Visitors created the new system was because other Virginia schools, including the University of Virginia and Virginia Polytechnic University, have similar positions in place.
Most members of the Council would prefer that the power of the Council remains in the hands of the students.
“I think a little more faculty or administration involvement could be beneficial but it’s important that it not override student involvement,” Bosworth said.
Gregg explained that core strength of the honor system is the sense of responsibility and values it instills in students by participating.
“Here the administration would like to stay out of it and let the system be student run so students understand the system and cherish it more,” Gregg said.
Currently, Chirico does not believe that his presence will significantly change the influence of student Council members over proceedings.
Other students, like freshman Sunnan Yoon, find the new administrative presence positive
“I don’t think students should have that much power,” Yoon said. “The Honor Council can erase your entire semester or kick you out of school for one thing. Other groups like the [Judicial Review Board] don’t have that kind of power.”
Freshman Antwon Washington agreed Chirico’s influence could help the Council work more effectively.
“Even Honor Council members will momentarily stray from the Honor Code, even though they expect other students to uphold the principles,” Washington said. “There is sometimes hypocrisy in the system. In my opinion, it needs a whole lot of administrative involvement to be fair.”
Chirico expects that his presence in the Honor Council will be enough to change problems within it without affecting the Council’s traditional power system.
“I think this general idea of having an advisor with authority is going to remain,” Chirico said. “However I’m already seeing I can back off as systems are going into place to ensure fairness. I feel very confident that that’s going to happen.”
He hopes that the new system will help students better understand the honor system so that it can be upheld, not changed, in the future, and has confidence in the student body’s capacity to fix current problems.
“These young people are really earnest and work really hard at making things occur in a good, fair way,” Chirico said. “The difficulty probably arises in that I’ve had more administrative experience. This is a learning institution, and they’re learning from it. I wouldn’t be in this position if I didn’t feel students—all students, not just those 16 or so on the Honor Council—were capable.”