Tell W&M Administration not to suspend students for honor code violations

Tell W&M Administration not to suspend students for honor code violations

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Katie Grotewiel started this petition to Associate Dean of Students & Director of Community Values & Restorative Practices Dave Gilbert and

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Williamsburg, VA, in March, students at William & Mary were asked not to return to campus following spring break. Eventually, the campus community was told that students would be attending class remotely for the remainder of the semester. The W&M administration requested that professors ease up on the difficulty in their courses as these were unprecedented times that called for flexibility and leniency. Several professors actually increased the level of difficulty in their courses. Some students were studying 20+ hours for exams just to fail them, with effectively no guidance from administrators as to how to navigate the rest of the semester. One student was basically told to ask his professor for study tips. 

The coronavirus pandemic left millions of families without income and health insurance, and some students were sent back to unsafe home environments. 40 million people (and counting) are unemployed in the United States. Unsafe homes, no job security or stable income, loss of healthcare, the cost of healthcare, increasing difficulty of classes, and the lack of response from professors and administrators create an environment in which it is nearly impossible to succeed. Furthermore, some professors explicitly stated that their final exams were open-note, open to class resources, or open to all resources. Ultimately, students in some classes were overwhelmed by these stressors or were simply following directions from their professors in the completion of their exams. Some ended up allegedly posting questions on the study aid website Chegg in order to complete their final exams. Others utilized the answers posted to those questions, believing that they were following their professor's direction that their exam was open to all resources.

At least one professor reached out to students in early/mid-June requesting that they either confirm or deny using unauthorized materials on their exams. The professor claimed to have had information about the computer's IP addresses and which computers accessed the information on Chegg. The professors also threatened action via the honor process. Following responses from scared students, the professor ceased all communication with students involved. 

At William & Mary, professors sometimes will report students to Honor Council without having real knowledge of wrongdoing. Professors also do not have to be made aware of the potential consequences that students may face if they are found responsible. Some professors have admitted in the past to not understanding the repercussions of pursuing cases through the honor process. This results in unimaginable stress for the student because they are at risk of no longer being welcomed in our campus community. 

The students who posted the questions are now facing suspension. Suspension can fully disrupt the course of a student's education, and make it impossible for them to complete their degree on time or impossible for them to complete it at their institution. For many folks, suspension is a life-ruining consequence. 

It is important to know that, while suspension remains on the table for some students, it is not the most likely outcome for the majority of students involved. Further, CVRP has advised Honor Council to consider reduced sanctions for most students. Still, though, given the COVID-19 pandemic, suspension seems like an extreme sanction for the remainder of accused students at this time. 

Through William & Mary's Honor Code, there are other ways of being held accountable. Other sanctions include probation, deferred suspension, a modified grade in the course, community service, university-administered courses on academic integrity and time management, and writing an apology letter to the professor(s) involved. All of these sanctions are possible through the honor process in this case. Many of these students involved are facing the gravity of these potential sanctions plus the prospect of suspension. Over the last three and a half months, all of us on campus have felt the effects of the pandemic and the isolation that it brings. How can integrity problems like these be solved by more isolation? Some folks might be worried about not facing consequences for honor code violations, but given the list provided above, there are many options available. Suspension, ultimately, just is not the right choice right now. 

It is also important to note that Honor Council is a student-run group. They ultimately determine the finding of responsibility and the appropriate sanctions. However, they are advised by the Community Values & Restorative Practices in the Dean of Students Office.

If you need help with your case, contact CHAP at chap@wm.edu. They can walk you through the process, help you write statements, and prepare you for hearings. They are not affiliated with the Honor Council or the Dean of Students Office. 

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