New Episode of Ryan Podcast Features Student Who Chairs Honor Committee
The newest episode of “Inside UVA,” the podcast hosted by the president of University of Virginia, dives into one of the University’s most revered traditions: the honor code.
In his sixth episode, President Jim Ryan interviews the Honor Committee’s student leader for “Inside UVA,” which can be found on most podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.
Ryan conceived the podcast as a way to bring to light the inner workings of the University, with previous episodes featuring such guests as Executive Vice President and Provost Liz Magill, head football coach Bronco Mendendhall, and Whittington W. Clement, rector of UVA’s Board of Visitors.
Andy Chambers, who chairs the student-run Honor Committee, took a seat behind the mic this week. Chambers is the Frank W. Hulse IV Jefferson Scholar, and hails from Columbus, Georgia.
When students enroll at UVA, each makes a commitment not to lie, cheat or steal, and the Honor Committee helps adjudicate accusations that a student may have committed an honor offense. In his conversation with Ryan, Chambers talked in depth about his role as chair and how seriously students and the University take the honor code.
At turns lighthearted and serious, the discussion also veered into some surprising territory. Without giving away too much before listeners tune in and hear for themselves, we can tell you that Chambers also builds guitars and once ran his own landscaping company. Listen to learn more.
Audio: Inside UVA Episode 6: Andy Chambers(18:30)
Andy Chambers 0:00
Often the sort of rhetoric is of the dark Honor Committee on the hill, who, you know, rules with an iron fist...
President Jim Ryan 0:07
You're almost administrators!
Andy Chambers 0:10
We're like watered down administrators!
President Jim Ryan 0:18
Hi, everyone. I'm Jim Ryan, the President of the University of Virginia and I'd like to welcome all of you to the sixth episode of Inside UVA. This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the university, and to learn more about what they do and who they are. And my hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is. I'm thrilled to welcome Andy Chambers, fourth year student and the current Chair of the Honor Committee to today's episode of Inside UVA. Andy, thanks very much for being here.
Andy Chambers 0:55
Yeah, thank you for having me. I'm really excited.
President Jim Ryan 0:56
So I thought I would start by asking you the same question I ask every guest at the beginning of an episode. And that is, have you ever run a landscaping company or built an electric guitar?
Andy Chambers 1:10
You know, I've, ironically, done both of those things.
President Jim Ryan 1:13
No kidding. Wow. Yeah. We're like five for five then.
Andy Chambers 1:16
Yeah. It's a it's a good group of aspiring luthiers and grass cutting.
President Jim Ryan 1:23
So when did you do those things?
Andy Chambers 1:25
Yeah. So those were both in high school. As a sophomore in high school I was working a minimum wage job as a host at a restaurant. And you know, it was kind of fed up working $7.25 an hour. And so I said, 'oh, what can I do to, you know, make my time a bit more valuable?' And I said, well, I could cut grass. And so I started a landscaping company with my buddy, who lived down the road from me. And we ran that for about two and a half years. And then my senior year of high school, my public school had a weird tradition of the senior project, which is supposed to be this ominous and difficult thing that you learned a skill or did something kind of daunting. People ran marathons, people learned to cook. And I wanted to learn how to build guitars. And so I built electric guitar that year and worked with a local luthier. And he and I went from two big blocks of wood to a refined electric guitar.
President Jim Ryan 2:13
Oh, and do you have the guitar now? Do you play it?
Andy Chambers 2:17
Yeah, it's back home. I play it when I'm back home a lot. In the lawn room, the electric guitar is a little much, but I have the acoustic for when I want to play there.
President Jim Ryan 2:26
And did you say luthier? Yes. Is that the name?
Andy Chambers 2:29
President Jim Ryan 2:29
Okay. Um, for those, like me, who have never heard that term, is that basically the term for someone who makes guitars.
Andy Chambers 2:36
It's a maker of stringed instruments. So it comes in the word lute. And so, you know, a luthier would make anything from a guitar or a bass to a violin to a banjo or anything like that.
President Jim Ryan 2:48
So where did you grow up? And how did you make your way to UVA?
Andy Chambers 2:54
Yes, I'm from a town in kind of Southwest Georgia called Columbus. It's right on the border of Alabama, about five minutes from the Phoenix City, Alabama. It's a city. It's 200,000 people but bolstered mostly by a military community. So Fort Benning is the largest army base in America. It's there. That's where a lot of their training goes through.
President Jim Ryan 3:14
Were your parents in the military?
Andy Chambers 3:16
So my... I had like a grandfather and a step mom in the military, but my direct parents weren't. My dad is a mechanic, and my mom is a bookkeeper. And so I'm a first-gen college student. But I, when I was going through school, I was kind of trying to figure out where I could go, that would make the most sense, you know, financially and also academically, and I came down to a few options. And I thought that UVA, after visiting, was kind of the best way I could go. And so that's where I ended up.
President Jim Ryan 3:45
And am I right, that you are both an Echols Scholar and a Jefferson Scholar?
Andy Chambers 3:49
Yeah, no, no way to out me on the podcast, but yeah, sure am.
President Jim Ryan 3:53
Well, those are two of the most prestigious scholarships we offer and is it even legal to have both?
Andy Chambers 4:00
Well, you know, the, the the Echols I always thought was the the nice benefit to the Jeff Scholar because the Jeff scholar's the money but the Echols was getting out of the graduation requirements, which made it really helpful to never take Chemistry again.
President Jim Ryan 4:12
So let's move on to talking about the Honor Committee. I understand you have been involved with Honor every year since you started and what drew you to it in the first place?
Andy Chambers 4:25
Yeah, well, ironically enough that you bring it up after the the Jeff Scholar thing when I was here, at the selection weekend for the Jefferson Scholars, the director of the program, who was doing a lot of the selections, he handed us a math test. And we had had a snow day in the middle of our selection weekend. So half people are flying in late and people are, you know, having trouble getting to Charlottesville. And so he said, listen, we'd normally have you say this in one big room, but I'm going to give you this exam and tell you to take it on, your honor. Right. And so here were a bunch of 18 year old kids who weren't UVA students, right. We were high school students around the country. And he trusted us, in competing for this giant scholarship, to take it on our honor. And that really spoke to me it was something I was raised with. And so when I came to UVA, there was nothing I thought was more worthwhile, right. It wasn't necessarily the most fun thing I was going to be doing. But it was certainly the thing that I believed in most.
President Jim Ryan 5:15
And as honor chair, what's your job, essentially? I mean, what's the day-to-day role or week-to-week role of the chair of the committee?
Andy Chambers 5:24
Yeah, so it's, it's pretty loosely defined in our governing documents. The constitution prescribes that I chair all meetings of the Honor Committee and the Executive Committee. The bylaws, let me know that I have ultimate power to administrate and lead the Honor System. So it's pretty woolly. Generally speaking, I've taken it as a sort of far more administrative role. So I case processed a lot in my time, but I've done that less so this year. My job is mostly to, kind of help the committee along to wherever it's going. Policy-wise, it's to kind of field the one-on-one conversations people need to have with Honor as the sort of face of honor, in a lot of ways. My role is a lot like a prime minister, rather than a president. So I represent a body and my my job is to, you know, kind of keep their will at the forefront of that.
President Jim Ryan 6:14
Who else serves on the Honor Committee? First of all, how big is it? And how do people become members?
Andy Chambers 6:22
Yeah, so it's there's two different bodies. There's the Honor Committee, and then the Honor Support Officer pool. The Honor Committee is theoretically 29 members, though we currently only have 28 seats filled, with five representatives from the college and two from every other school at the university. So we have all manner of graduate students, school continuing professional studies students, we have a representative from the new school of data science, we have, you know, all walks of the university, and they are elected. And if they aren't elected, they're appointed through their school councils. The Honor Support Officer pool is a little bit different. They're the ones who do all of our day to day case processing. They're the folks on the ground doing the hard legwork of the Honor System. And they are selected, through our selection process that's run by other fellow support officers, and then the executive board of the committee. So there's about in a given year, give or take, about 100 support officers and about 29 committee reps.
President Jim Ryan 7:15
And what's your favorite part of the job as chair? And what's the most challenging part?
Andy Chambers 7:20
Yeah, I would say, my favorite part is definitely the the people. Interacting with everyone and kind of, you know, fielding a lot of different components of the system, you get a bird's eye view that I don't think you get in any other role. I served as the Vice Chair for Hearings last year, which is the sort of second in command. And even there, I got 30% of what I get now, and that is simply because I'm looped in on every conversation. And so I see, you know, when I go to committee, and we're discussing policy, I'm thinking oh, well, here's these other six conversations I've had that aren't necessarily missable here, but that influence my decision and trying to bring people along, without betraying that sort of thing. The hardest part is exactly that. It's bridge building, it's making sure that people feel both heard, and that the community is safe and represented. You know, it doesn't sort of fall to baseline politics in the way that a lot of the rest of the world seems to these days, and making sure that we can still come together as people and as friends on the committee, while also disagreeing vehemently on philosophy and how the system ought to be led.
President Jim Ryan 8:26
Yeah. And I, I imagine that it's been put to the test a little bit this year, there's been a lot of conversations about changes to the Honor System. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about those and let us know, and the listeners know, where things stand?
Andy Chambers 8:43
Yeah. So kind of where we've been is, the current committee and elections last spring, pretty well decided that constitutional reform was something in which we were very interested. You know, we kind of see a couple of internal policy problems in the Honor System that we thought might be remedied through, you know, substantial changes, and we had a very experienced committee who we thought would be really well equipped to create those sorts of solutions. We came to committee in the fall, kind of having a host of options on the table. And recently, we've, you know, kind of descended upon one option. However, it doesn't really seem to have, you know, maintained the sort of steam that it had. At the beginning, there's a very high threshold to put something on the ballot from the committee. It's two thirds of the whole committee, which of our 28 member body is 19 people, you know, and there are some people who can't make it to every committee meeting. And so if we have 23 people in the room, then you need to get all but four to pass it and so, we haven't quite reached that yet, or, you know, I don't know if we necessarily will. But what we have been doing is having these kind of rigorous conversations, meetings have been perfectly friendly and meetings have been heated. It's, you know, been a wide swath and it puts to test the sort of ideals of self governance. It puts to test the ideals of trusting one another. Ory Streeter, who was the chair about three years ago, he reached out to me when I first took on the role, and he's a med student in residency right now. And he texted me says, hey, you know, I know this role can be really challenging, and you'll learn more from it than anything else. And I was like I don't know man, I was vice chair, maybe I won't. And I got about three months through committee deliberation said, ah, nevermind, he was right.
President Jim Ryan 10:25
Right. Yeah. And my guess is that you hear from a decent number of alums, is that right?
Andy Chambers 10:31
Yeah, they, you know, some of them have my phone number, many of them just email me. So I definitely get a lot of them interacting.
President Jim Ryan 10:38
So I will say that whenever I speak with alums, almost without fail, they will point to the Honor System as one of the most important aspects, not only of their time at UVA, but that it's shaped their life beyond UVA. And I'm curious, from your perspective, why do you think it has so much staying power?
Andy Chambers 11:05
I think there's something really intrinsically difficult about it, right? The status of academic honesty in most high schools is pretty limited, right. And when you come to UVA, you are now told that you do not lie, cheat or steal. And it's a tough thing to switch to. Because if you are in a class that's difficult, it's really tempting to cheat, especially when UVA professors would trust you to take exams at home. And so to graduate from Virginia, it means that you made the difficult decision to say, I'm going to do worse on this exam, and not cheat, because it's the right thing to do. And I think that once you make that decision, that's a sort of discipline. It's a sort of pedigree you take on that you say, Okay, well, I've done that I can do other things, I can be trusted, I can trust myself. And I think that's why it sticks with many alumni. And it's certainly why it stuck with me.
President Jim Ryan 11:54
And in terms of students, how important do you think the honor system is to life at UVA? Just in terms of the culture of UVA or students life? Does the honor system still matter?
Andy Chambers 12:09
You know, I think it's, you know, it's a diverse university, right? You're gonna have perspectives all across, I've read Cav Daily articles arguing to dismantle the Honor System. Similarly, I've hosted town halls where, you know, we handed out things we could to attract opinions, and people came, we had, you know, say, half or more say, I like the Honor System, I don't have any great opinions on it. I think it's good. I still with regularity, you know, when I used to go in libraries, I would see laptops left unattended, right? When I walked on the lawn, I'm very grateful that the, you know, my chair and the chairs around me are all unlocked, right, because we trust that. And so I think, you know, to some degree, that it's still very much so alive. I have professors who leave the class when we take midterms, right. And that's a crazy thing to do with, you know, this isn't even a graduate seminar. This is 2000 level class that these just students taking class. And so there are obviously gonna be detractors, there have always been detractors, people, you know, dislike the idea of, you know, a harsh system, or they dislike the idea of a system at all that makes you adhere to these values that they may think are archaic, or vestigal. But I would say, the majority of UVA students, it's still something that I think holds value, even if it's not heavily upon their minds
President Jim Ryan 13:23
Yeah, that's a sense I've gotten from conversations I've had with a number of students this fall. And it makes me wonder, and I'm curious of your opinion about this, that we don't spend enough time talking about the benefits of living in a community of trust, as compared to the amount of time we spend talking about the appropriate sanctions. And I know, part of your job, and especially this year is to be talking about sanctions. But when I listen to students, I realize there is a tangible benefit to being a part of a community of trust.
Andy Chambers 13:57
Yeah, I mean, that's, that's absolutely true. You know, that's something that we are really looking forward to in the spring with a popular assembly is to show students that this is you know, a positive force in their lives and get their input on the sanction. Right, that's something that's on their mind. Let's hear it, but I think more so to show them what the system actually means what it does for them. I think it's all a really important component of this.
President Jim Ryan 14:20
What's one thing or two things about the Honor System or the work of your committee that people might not understand or realize that you think they should?
Andy Chambers 14:32
Yeah, I would say, and it comes mostly from panel interviews. So after every hearing, we have our 10 to 12 panelists, we will hand them a survey and they'll fill out how they felt about the day what they thought about it and panelists, for those who are unfamiliar, it's more like a juror, right. They are random student who are tapped to come and determine guilt. And consistently, 85-90%. They talk about two things. They talk about how tight of a ship, we run. And it's, you know, obviously a lot of it's behind closed doors to protect our accused students, right? Because regardless of if somebody has committed an honor offense, we owe them that decency. Right. And so that's something we're very serious about and keep very, you know, locked up tight to protect them. But we do work really hard, we have a great group of dedicated people who, you know, run a pretty tight ship and put a lot of hours into this without, you know, a lot of payback. And the second component is that, you know, we're fellow students, and we care a lot about the folks that we work with, you know, the faculty that, you know, they report to us, our folks that we could have taken classes from the students that we, you know, process, our students that we've taken classes with, or we could have, you know, hang out with on the corner, any given weekend. It's, we try to look at this with compassion, and decency, but also trying to protect this community. And so I don't think many people recognize that the level of empathy and the level of care that I think 99.9% of folks in honor put towards this.
President Jim Ryan 16:03
So how many hours a week do you spend on this, would you say?
Andy Chambers 16:08
Oh, you're gonna drag my sleep schedule out in here? Probably close to, you know, in a light week, maybe 25-ish on a heavier one, maybe 35-40? I think that's true for me and most of the vice chairs.
President Jim Ryan 16:21
Yeah. So you don't have that much time outside of this. But tell me a little bit about what if anything you can do aside from your current job as chair of the Honor Committee.
Andy Chambers 16:32
Yeah, so I study history. And I'm in the distinguished majors program for history. So I'm writing my thesis in the spring, and I take an inordinate amount of history classes, because they're the things that I really enjoy taking. Beyond that, I've worked at The Virginian this semester, as a server, I love to run, in a past life and I had a kitchen, I love to cook. And I, you know, on my rare moment of time, downtime, I love to, you know, just spend good fall days on the lawn with my friends, or, you know, just find whatever kind of trouble I can get into.
President Jim Ryan 17:06
Right. And what's next for you? Do you know?
Andy Chambers 17:09
Yeah, so I've signed with a management consulting position in Atlanta. So I'll be working for McKinsey & Company.
President Jim Ryan 17:15
Oh, great. Terrific. Well, Andy, I want to thank you for your time. I've really enjoyed the conversation. I appreciate all the work that you're doing for the Honor Committee and for UVA, generally. And thanks again for being here.
Andy Chambers 17:29
Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate the opportunity.
President Jim Ryan 17:32
Inside UVA is a production of WTJU 91.1 FM and the office of the president at the University of Virginia. Inside UVA is produced by Mary Garner McGehee Brooke Whitehurst, Matt Weber and Nathan Moore. We also want to thank Andrew Chambers, Monica Shack and McGregor McCance. Our music is "Turning to You" from Blue Dot sessions. Listen and subscribe to Inside UVA in Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. We'll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the university.