Olden Polynice, the starting center on Virginia's Final Four basketball team last season, was cleared last Saturday of charges that he violated the school's honor code even though he admitted to turning in another student's paper for an English composition course, knowledgeable sources said yesterday.
According to the sources, Polynice, now a sophomore, admitted to Virginia's student honor committee that he turned in the paper last spring after failing a credit/no credit freshman English composition course during the fall semester. Polynice and his lawyers said mitigating circumstances led him to turn in the paper.
Polynice's lawyers and Virginia basketball Coach Terry Holland contended during the trial that pressure from Virginia's coaches to complete his work for the course led him to turn in the other student's paper. Polynice and his lawyers said that he was not attempting to defraud the University of Virginia's grading system.
On those grounds, the 12-member student committee, which would have been compelled to expel Polynice if it found an honor code violation, cleared Polynice.
Reached in Hawaii last night, Holland said he could not comment. He also said Polynice would not comment.
Reached in Charlottesville, Virginia Athletic Director Dick Schultz said that he could not comment. "Under state statute we are barred from making any comment one way or the other on any honor committee trial," Schultz said.
Polynice's 17-year-old brother Widmark, reached at home in New York, said he first heard of the trial from his brother Friday. "He called Sunday morning and said he had been cleared, that they found him innocent," Widmark Polynice said. "He said he was glad they cleared him and he was going to Hawaii." Widmark Polynice said his brother did not give him any details about the trial.
The honor committee trial took place one day after an Albemarle County Circuit Court judge had turned down a request from Polynice's lawyer for an injunction to bar the honor committee from holding the trial.
Attorney John Lowe argued before Judge E.G. Tremblay that Polynice -- who was identified in court only as "Chris Doe" -- would have his civil rights violated by the student trial. After 30 minutes of arguments, Tremblay refused to grant the injunction. Tremblay said last night that he did not ask for the identity of the student involved "because no motion was made asking me to do so."
The honor committee trial took place at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and the student jury returned its verdict at 4:30 a.m. Sunday. Sources said that one of the witnesses was Holland. Polynice was represented by Lowe, a Charlottesville attorney, and several law students. The two students who filed the complaint against Polynice were represented by three law students.
Sources said the chronology of the case is as follows:
Last fall, as a freshman from New York City, Polynice flunked English composition. Students at Virginia take the course on a credit/no credit basis. It does not count as part of a student's grade point average, but it must be passed in order for a student to graduate -- unless the student receives a waiver because of advanced-placement testing in high school.
Students must write 11 papers for the course and must receive credit for at least seven of them to pass the course. Polynice had six such papers. Since there is no makeup work in the course, Polynice was told that if he had a paper that the teacher had mistakenly not given him credit for, he might have his grade changed. He allegedly told the teacher he had such a paper.
When Virginia's coaches heard this, they told him to turn in the paper. At that point, Polynice allegedly borrowed another student's paper. He showed it to the coaches, who, thinking he had written it, told him to submit it. Polynice delayed for several weeks. Finally, on March 2, he turned in the paper.
Sources said Holland, during two hours of testimony, testified under cross-examination that Polynice may have, in his panic, confused loyalty to the basketball team with loyalty to the university. Polynice is taking English composition again this semester.
Had he been found to have violated the honor code, Polynice would have been expelled. The Virginia honor code does not provide latitude to a jury for any lesser punishment if it finds against a student. If it clears a student, even if it is because of mitigating circumstances, all records of the trial are destroyed.
The honor committee at Virginia has existed since 1842. It is made up of 11 students: the student presidents of Virginia's 10 schools and the student vice president of the main college. Neither faculty nor members of the school administration play any role in the proceedings.
For an honor committee trial, four members of the committee and four to eight other students are selected as jurors. Unless a student says otherwise, honor committee trials are confidential.
Polynice came to Virginia a year ago under difficult circumstances: taking the place in the starting lineup vacated by Ralph Sampson. Born in Haiti, Polynice, who moved to New York at age 7, did not play basketball until he was 14.
Virginia coaches expected him to improve slowly, but he turned into one of the surprise players of the year, playing extremely well. His performance was vital in Virginia's drive to the Final Four; and better things are expected of him when Virginia opens its season Friday against Providence in Hawaii.