Student Self-Governance


By Patricia M. Lampkin
Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer

Student life at the University of Virginia is as individual as each student. With academics as its foundation, student life encompasses both the spaces where students spend time outside class and the activities where they develop new interests, make friends, and learn new skills. From the residence hall to the playing field, from music to community service — students discover countless avenues for personal and academic growth. Choices are everywhere, and sometimes learning how to balance all the choices is part of the growth process.

Student life at the University of Virginia is built on six core values:

  • Academic rigor
  • Honor and integrity
  • Student self-governance
  • Public service
  • Diversity
  • Health and wellness

These values guide our work with students. Together they create a strong residential community that is focused on academics but balanced with opportunities for leadership, service, self-discovery, and fulfillment of individual talents. From leadership positions in student organizations to service experiences in the local and global communities, life outside the classroom enriches the academic experience.

From their first day on the Grounds, students become part of a strong residential community based on student self-governance, an experience that builds knowledge, character, and independence.

Self-governance means that students have significant freedom to develop their talents and make decisions that matter to University life. With that freedom come high expectations of responsibility. Students are expected to hold themselves and their peers to high standards inside and outside the classroom, and to engage ethically in their local, national, and international communities. Preparing students for global citizenship relies on the high expectations and levels of responsibility that come from student self-governance, a combination that makes the UVA undergraduate experience unique. Within the framework of student self-governance, students have the latitude to be creative, assume ownership, develop leadership, take risks, and learn from their mistakes. At the same time, the University provides support and guidance.

At the broad, systemic level, student self-governance means that students own the Honor System and the University Judiciary Committee. Students derive authority to run these systems directly from the University’s Board of Visitors. Students elect their own leaders, and those student leaders are responsible for operating these governing bodies on a day-to-day basis, for initiating policy revisions and other changes, and for making all decisions about disciplinary actions.

Unlike other institutions that employ administrative oversight, UVA truly grants ownership of these systems to the students. A huge responsibility to delegate to students, yes — but this tremendous educational opportunity has proven over time to be effective and of great value.

Students also assume responsibility for running the numerous student organizations that operate independently of the University but represent the vast range of student interests. Reflecting this autonomous relationship, these groups are known as CIOs, or contracted independent organizations. These groups can apply for funding from the Student Activity Fee, and they enliven the Grounds in numerous ways.

At the individual level, student self-governance means that students are responsible for their own actions. They have great freedom and latitude in making decisions about how to conduct themselves on a dayto- day basis. Most students come here already functioning at a high level, and they thrive on this freedom. Even if they make mistakes, this too becomes a valuable part of the educational process. Students also learn from and are influenced in positive ways by their fellow students, either through informal interactions or through formal peer support programs.

Within the framework of student self-governance, students still receive considerable support and guidance. Members of the University community, especially those of us whose daily responsibilities revolve around students, provide mentoring and support, and we continually work to ensure the overall safety and well-being of the community. We rely on students, too, to help in all of these areas and to demonstrate leadership within the community at large.

True to Jefferson's founding principles, students learn to become educated citizens by experiencing student self-governance while they are part of this community. We believe they leave the Grounds well-prepared to assume positions of responsibility and leadership within larger society.

Many alumni say that the opportunities afforded by student self-governance were some of the most rewarding and significant aspects of their education. As new generations of students come and go, we believe that UVA's strong residential community based on student self-governance continues to define the UVA experience.