The Welcome Matt <$BlogRSDUrl$>

Saturday, March 05, 2011

This Week I Am Proud To Be a BYU Cougar 

The BYU Honor Code has been in the news a lot this week. The starting center of the basketball team, Brandon Davies, was suspended from the team for violating the Honor Code. Because BYU is ranked #3 in the nation and was in the discussion for possibly receiving a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, it was big news. It ran on just about every national news outlet. A couple of co-workers have asked me about it. Although most of the press and commentary I’ve seen have been positive, praising BYU for sticking to its principles even when it might mean sacrificing a deeper run in the tournament, there has been some controversy and criticism, even from among the BYU faithful.

I believe BYU handled this situation absolutely perfectly. It’s unfortunate that Davies got himself into this situation, though he should be applauded for coming forward himself. But given that it happened (whatever it was), BYU did the right thing by suspending him from the team quickly and decisively.

When I was a senior in high school, I decided to apply to only two colleges: BYU and Stanford. BYU was more of the safe bet, the sure thing, the comfort zone for a kid who had grown up in Salt Lake City. Stanford was the stretch, the prestigious national university for the smart kid I hoped I was. I was accepted by both. I seriously considered Stanford, and from the moment I got their acceptance package, I was kind of assuming I would go to Stanford. But then I went to Palo Alto for a campus visit. I was wowed by the beautiful architecture, the pervasive aura of intelligence and learning, and the sense of fun that the students all had. The thing that stuck with me most, though, were the advertisements around campus and the conversations among the students I talked to and observed, about a certain party that weekend – apparently sponsored, or at least condoned, by the school – called the Exotic Erotic. This party, as I came to understand it, was deliberately and overtly sexual in nature: you were supposed to “dress up” in some way for it, and the greater the proportion of your body was exposed by your costume, the better. I didn’t attend, obviously, and I don’t pretend to assert that everyone at Stanford attended either, but the scuttlebutt about it left an impression on me that was one of the biggest factors in my decision to attend BYU over Stanford.

When it came down to it, I chose BYU because I felt like I would be more comfortable there. I chose BYU because I wouldn’t have to worry about things like the Exotic Erotic happening. I chose BYU because I wanted to be with and associate with people who wouldn’t go to that kind of party. In short, I chose BYU because BYU has an Honor Code and it expects its students to live by it.

A lot of people – even a lot of BYU students and alumni – misunderstand the Honor Code. They think that it is a mechanism for enforcing righteousness. They see it as a Big Brother who is always watching out to make sure everyone keeps the commandments. They think it’s a means to take away personal freedom and your ability to make choices for yourselves. But as I understand it, the Honor Code has very different purpose that it almost entirely unrelated to keeping the commandments. The Honor Code exists to maintain a certain image and environment at BYU. It makes BYU a special, unique place, unlike any other. The Honor Code keeps things like the Exotic Erotic from happening at BYU.

Yes, a lot of the things the Honor Code requires are also required by God. The universe of sins and the universe of Honor Code violations substantially overlap. But there are sins that are not Honor Code violations (failing to read your scriptures, unkindness). And there are violations of the Honor Code that are not sins (staying in the apartment of a member of the opposite sex after midnight, growing a beard). The difference is that the requirements of the Honor Code serve to make BYU what it is. The requirements of God serve to lead you to eternal life.

So when Brandon Davies commits a sin (as has been widely reported, but never confirmed by any official source) that is also an Honor Code violation, BYU absolutely should punish him by kicking him off the basketball team. But the reason he should be kicked off the basketball team is not because he sinned. It’s because he can’t be an official representative of the university to the world when he’s not living the kind of life that is expected of everyone who goes to the university. The fact that he sinned is not the concern of the Honor Code office – that’s the concern of Brandon Davies and his bishop. When people react to the Honor Code Office as though it were the caretaker of Davies’s repentance process, they miss the point. Yes, we should show Christlike love toward sinners. Yes, Jesus almost defended the woman taken in adultery and told her he didn’t condemn her (but he also told her to sin no more). But those are the reactions that should be directed toward sin. The Honor Code Office is not concerned with sin or the repentance process or Davies’s eternal salvation. That’s not its function. Its function is to make sure BYU remains a very different institution from Stanford and every other university in the land – somewhere where the Exotic Erotic would never happen. Somewhere where people like me and the hundreds of thousands of other students who have passed through BYU since 1875 can be comfortable in living the kind of life we want to live.

I don’t understand when people say there’s something messed up with the Honor Code Office because it suspended Brandon Davies from the basketball team. Yes, it was very harsh in this particular situation because he’s a high-profile player on a high-profile sports team, and it’s heartbreaking that he’s been through the media wringer that he’s been through. But that’s not the Honor Code office’s fault. If he feels like he has a scarlet A pinned on him, he knows that he pinned it on himself. He knew the rules of BYU and he knew the consequences of breaking them and he agreed to abide by them. Then he broke them. No one forced him to come to BYU, but in choosing to do so, he was obliged to abide by the rules that make BYU what it is. In this situation, it’s more about keeping your commitment than anything else (something BYU is institutionally very big on – remember Karl Maeser’s chalk circle?).

In such a situation where a student violates the rules he has voluntarily committed to keep, the Honor Code Office could do one of the following things:

1) Don’t enforce the Honor Code.
2) Enforce the Honor Code for all students except athletes.
3) Enforce the Honor Code for all students except star athletes.
4) Enforce the Honor Code for all students except star athletes on nationally-ranked teams that are receiving coverage from national media outlets.
5) Enforce the Honor Code for all students equally.

Is there really a choice here? Choices 2, 3, and 4 are a double-standard (BYU has been criticized in the past for having a double-standard for athletes *cough*McMahon*cough, and to the extent there has been a double-standard, that is unjustifiable). And Choice 1 means that BYU is no different than any other university in the country – bring on the Exotic Erotic.

The only choice is to enforce the Honor Code for all students equally, and that is exactly what BYU did. Brandon Davies broke the rules, and he, like everyone else, has to live with the consequences. I suppose some might claim that the enforcement was too harsh – maybe he should have only been suspended for one game, or maybe he should have just had to write sentences on the chalkboard. But if the violation is what it is rumored to be, I agree with the decision that he should not be a representative of the university for the foreseeable future. At least until he gets his life turned around and starts living like everyone is expected to live at BYU.

I am proud to be a BYU Cougar this week because the Honor Code is getting so much press. I’m proud to be affiliated with an institution that sticks to the old-fashioned standard that says that it’s a desirable thing to be in a place where people don’t drink, smoke, or have extra-marital sex. I’m proud that BYU decided that maintaining its standards is more important than making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament (and remember, BYU just declared independence in football for one main reason: EXPOSURE. How much exposure do you think The Jimmer & Co. going to the Final Four would have garnered for BYU? But the university made a decision that makes that far less likely). I’m proud that national sports pundits are applauding BYU’s decision to stick to its standards, even when they don’t relate to or agree with them. I’m proud that BYU takes its role as an educational institution more seriously than its role as a provider of athletic entertainment – after all, do you think perhaps Davies and the rest of the team (and who knows who else from among those watching the proceedings) have learned something about making and keeping commitments and letting people down? I’m proud to be a Cougar.

Brilliant, spot on assessment!
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?