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BYU Honor Code Office to students: We’ll tell you upfront why we want to meet with you

BYU students call for reform of the university’s honor code and how it is enforced during a demonstration on the Provo campus on Friday, April 12, 2019. Laura Seitz, Deseret News

PROVO — New software allows BYU’s Honor Code Office to send a secure letter to a student informing him or her why an administrator is scheduling a meeting and to measure the actions of office staffers to ensure timely, consistent case management.

The secure letter will either state the student’s reported misconduct and provide information on students’ rights in the process or tell the student he or she is invited to meet with an administrator only as a witness.

“In both scenarios, the more detailed initial communication improves transparency and reduces anxiety regarding the process,” said Kevin Utt, who has been revamping the Honor Code Office’s practices since he became its director in January.

Students have been receiving a generic phone call asking them to schedule an appointment, according to a news release issued by BYU. An administrator then would inform the student of the reported misconduct at the beginning of their first meeting.

The new software will let an Honor Code Office administrator send an initial communication with a message that allows the student to log in and view the letter.

Utt said the new system is expected to increase transparency and ease anxiety.

Wednesday’s announcement about the software came a month after Utt introduced other changes intended to reduce “misunderstanding and anxiety” and increase transparency.

Those changes included presuming students are not in violation of the Honor Code unless they accept responsibility or the office makes a determination, allowing students to bring a support person with them to meet with honor code staff and ending the use of the title “counselors” for Honor Code Office employees.

Complaints about the Honor Code Office reached a tipping point in 2016 after reports that a member of the University police had shared information from a police database about a student who said she was sexually assaulted. In response, the university overhauled its practices regarding sexual assault. The university has said those changes are working. Still, hundreds of students held a protest in April, saying they love BYU but still found fault with practices in the Honor Code Office.

The changes come after meetings between Utt and students. He posted a Q&A in April right before the protest in which he said an average of 10 to 15 students a year are expelled for honor code violations from a student body of 33,000. He previously announced other changes in May. Those changes included a policy for staff to provide the nature of the reported violation at the start of the first meeting with a student, and to provide the name of the person making the report unless safety is a concern.

On Wednesday, Utt said the new software will allow him to measure staff performance and assess patterns.

“The hires we have made in recent years have increased the diversity of our Honor Code Office administrators,” he said. “This software will help identify specific areas for training and track overall outcomes. We are ready for a new school year and look forward to implementing these changes and assessing their effectiveness.”

BYU’s fall semester begins Sept. 3.