Thursday August 14, 2008
"I just have a sour taste in my mouth whenever I hear UVa now, to be honest."
Mark Gruntz says he enjoyed the start of his semester at sea. That is until a UVa professor accused the California Baptist University senior of improperly citing his sources in a paper, a charge that got him booted from the ship.
"I asked if there was anyway I could stay on the ship just to get me back to America because in Italy I had my wallet pickpocketed, so I really didn't have any money," Gruntz recalls.
But he was told he had to leave the ship in Athens, money or no money.
Now back home in California, he says he wished he had been afforded the rights of a UVa student to a trial by student jury, instead of the faculty panel he faced.
"I honestly feel if I were to be judged by my peers on the ship, there would be no way I'd be found guilty of intentionally trying to cheat on this paper," he explains.
Jessica Huang is the Chair of UVa's Honor Committee and she says something like that is exactly why the rules are different during Semester at Sea.
"It's really hard to ensure a fair jury on a ship," Huang explains. "It's a very contained environment. It would be nearly impossible to find a completely unbiased jury."
She says in setting the policy, they determined a faculty jury actually is the best shot a student has at getting a fair trial during Semester at Sea.
But in light of what happened with Gruntz and his shipmate Allison Routman, who was also sent home from the trip, Huang says the policy could change in the future.
"The beauty of the honor system at the University of Virginia is that it's completely student-run. So that means if the students feel that there's something unfair about it, that there's something that they want to change, students have the ability to do that. Whether it be something like Semester at Sea or any aspect of the Honor System, it's really up to the students to want to change that."
Family, friends and supporters of the pair sent home from the trip say they're troubled by the way Mark and Allison were handled once they were convicted.
Because he had his wallet stolen, Mark says students on the ship had to take up a collection for him just so he could feed himself in Greece while he tried to get a flight back home. Allison says once she was kicked off the ship, she didn't have a hotel room and ending up having to spend the night sleeping in the Athens airport.
The Semester at Sea program has been around for 45 years; they've only been affiliated with the University of Virginia for the past two years.