University of Virginia Judiciary Committee Drops Charges Against Cavalier Daily Editor-in-Chief

A judicial board at the University of Virginia has dropped “breach of confidentiality” charges it previously brought against Cavalier Daily editor-in-chief Jason Ally.  The decision– announced after Ally appeared yesterday before a trial panel– ends a month-long saga that initially implicated five members of the paper’s managing board for not keeping quiet about an ongoing student investigation.

The case emanated from an editorial published last month in the Cavalier Daily apologizing for repeated plagiarism by a staff writer.  The piece angered the University Judiciary Committee (UJC) at UVA, which contended that it violated the confidentiality required during its investigation of the student plagiarist (for violating the school’s honor code).

Of course, the paper countered that it was simply informing readers of a significant misstep by a staffer in a manner similar to many other student and professional news outlets.

At the time, as I reported, the UJC officially cited the Cavalier Daily editorial team with “intentional, reckless, or negligent conduct which obstructs the operations of the Honor or Judiciary Committee, or conduct that violates their rules of confidentiality.”  The committee later dropped the charges against everyone but Ally.

Yesterday’s dismissal against him as well confirms what free speech and free press advocates and even the UJC’s own constitution states: The judiciary committee does not have the right to interfere with the workings of the school newspaper.

As the Cavalier Daily confirmed, “The UJC’s decision hinged on the fact that the body felt it lacked jurisdiction in this particular case because of Article II, Section D, Clause 5 of its constitution, which exempts from its oversight ‘the exercise of journalistic and editorial functions by student groups.'”

While praising the dismissal, the paper also expressed concerns that the decision ultimately carries no weight.  Since the UJC doesn’t operate on precedent, future members not as cognizant or caring about its constitution could similarly attempt to subvert student journalism at the school.  Even scarier, the UJC can change its constitution at any time without a university-wide vote, meaning the clause protecting the Cavalier Daily could simply one day disappear without first garnering campus support.

As a related staff editorial headlined “Trial and Error” notes, “This not only leaves media organizations at the whim of individual trial panels that may or may not be aware of the body’s constitutional history, but also it removes from the student body’s hands the authority to determine the structure and activities of the UJC. Although cases such as the one against the Cavalier Daily will not arise often, the precedent that has been set here is so threatening to the principle of self-governance that not even the UJC can ignore it.”

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