PROVO — BYU's Honor Code Office announced Tuesday specific "improvements" it has made since multiple students in recent weeks publicly raised concerns about the way it has sometimes enforced the school's code of conduct.
The announcement came in the form of a letter from Honor Code Office Director Kevin Utt, and was posted on the school's website Tuesday. It specified three areas of change:
• Students will now be told during their first contact with the office what they were being accused of.
"I want to reiterate that you will not be presumed in violation of an honor code policy unless you either accept responsibility or the investigation process makes such a determination," Utt wrote.
• Accused students will be given the names of those making the allegations against them, "except in situations where it is a matter of safety to a member of our campus community."
• Students will be told from the beginning what they can expect from the investigation process and what support resources are available.
"This includes an explanation of the steps we will take to find information that corroborates or disputes the original report; the preponderance of evidence standard that universities use; and the possible outcomes if found responsible for the policy violation," according to Utt.
A spokesman for one of the student groups pushing for changes welcomed the school's statement.
"We're feeling very optimistic that they're publishing something like this because we've had radio silence since the initial Q&A was released (about a month ago)," said Riley Madrian, a spokeswoman for the Restore Honor Movement. "We're very excited we have a formal statement from BYU, especially one that comes directly from the director of the Honor Code Office."
Madrian said she believes Utt has brought a "different attitude" to the Honor Code Office since holding the position in January.
"It's just not enough to have one person trying to change things from the top down, when there has been a culture in place for decades. We're very excited to be working with him, and he seems very committed to reviewing the process and fixing what needs to be fixed," she said.
BYU, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, requires its students to sign an honor code promising to be honest, live chaste lives, obey the law and campus policies, abstain from drinking alcohol and regularly participate in church services, among other things.
Protests and a social media campaign by students and former students targeted the school over claims from some that they have been treated unfairly, harshly or intrusively by BYU's Honor Code Office.
Utt said he has welcomed discussions with "several hundred students — and counting" in recent months and said his office has began reviewing procedures and making changes.
"For instance, when we learned that an online form associated with our housing office was creating confusion about reporting honor code violations, we removed the confusing language. As I mentioned in the Q&A posted in April, encouraging others in their commitment to comply with the honor code is not synonymous with 'turn someone in.'”
Utt wrote about what it was like to take over in January and what his first impressions of the honor code were.
"When I was hired as the director, I was asked to review each of the policies and practices of my office to be in accordance with current best practices," he wrote. "The honor code process should serve to help students reflect and commit to the honor code, as they strive to achieve the high standards set forth by BYU’s mission and aims.
"I want students to be respected and treated fairly throughout their interaction with this office. I understand the concerns that have been raised with some of our procedures, which we will continue to address in the months ahead. The constructive dialogue that I and others are having with students is helpful as we continue to refine our policies, trainings and practices," Utt said.
Madrian, who got involved when a friend who was part of forming the group graduated, called the changes "not just words" and very promising, although the group hopes this is just the beginning of substantive changes.38 comments on this story
"We're very excited about the cooperation happening," said the senior majoring in Middle East studies and Arabic. "They're committed to improving their relationship with students, and to improving the honor code process."
She said Restore Honor has several events in the works for this summer. She said its most substantive meetings occurred after the protest on the BYU campus last month, which drew several hundred people in a rare on-campus action.
"We're still pushing for some other changes," she said. "This is a good baby step in the right direction."