Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two Much Honor

UVA has an honor code and I like it a lot. One interesting thing about it, beyond the actual code of conduct, is that it is entirely student run: students wrote the honor code (and can amend it), students report possible violations, students investigate the reports, students advocate for defendants and prosecute cases, and students make the decision about guilt or innocence (and if you're found guilty of cheating, it's automatic dismissal from the University). This strikes me as a great example of Joseph Smith's famous dictum about how to govern such a large body of people: "I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves."

At first I was sad that BYU doesn't follow a similar method. [Of course, the BYU honor code was instigated by students and originally was based exclusively on academic honesty, Ernest Wilkinson was the one who appropriated (some might say hijacked) it into an administration-run system that expanded to include things ranging from modesty to advocating homosexuality as moral.] But then I thought about it and I think I actually prefer it the way it is now.

To some extent, and in an idealized world, I do wish BYU's honor code were run by students. But... I also worry that if we handed that duty off to students today it wouldn't work too well in practice, in fact I would argue that in many ways it would be more strict than it is today. I mean, I could just see too many people who are the hardcore-"honor" types taking over the enforcement and not showing any mercy on people who leave a person of the opposite gender's apartment at 12:15, or on people who support civil unions for gays, or who wear tights underneath a skirt that doesn't reach their knees. While I admittedly haven't had any personal run-ins with the honor code office under the current regime, I would think administrators, who have had a lot of experience with people in bishoprics and relief societies and wards in general, would have a bit more mercy on things.

Or maybe I'm way off.

If it were up to you, would you have BYU's honor code enforced entirely by students? Are my fears of honor fundamentalists taking control and ruling with an iron grasp paranoid?


  1. I wish I had better demographic information about the general liberalness and beliefs of all students on campus. Right now it seems that those with the most extreme honor fundamentalism get a lot of unhindered attention and room to speak their minds while other opinions are more easily silenced...but I have a friend who is really into BYUSA, and who always reminds me,who am prone to mock it, that BYUSA students are the ones who fought and gave BYU-U-ites the right to wear shorts and sandals, and not have a curfew to be inside by midnight( instead of one for just being outside of opp gender's dorms). And he's right. Students DID fight for and make those changes- admin didn't think of them out of the ether. I think that student run honor codes would be more merciful than admin ones........but it depends on which students "run" them. Is there an Honor Code president that is voted for or something at UVA? Is there a random jury of peers for each case?

  2. And I might be more afraid of fellow student "honor code" informants if it was a student created honor code. With a sense of ownership, students might be more inclined to gang up on a rival student, or someone they just didn't like, and look for any flaw. At least fellow BYU students might have an Us vs The out of touch Admin sense about them. But then again, the religious angle of the honor code here seems to create a stronger moral imperative to snitch on one another than any sense of ownership could provide. ( Also, I am sooo tired right. I hope this is coming out clearly.)

  3. Ms. Harris, you bring up some good points, which is precisely why I sometimes like to outsource my thinking to my readers. You might be right that there's a silent majority that is quite rational and lenient, but I also don't think they'd be the ones who volunteer to run the system--that takes a lot of time and only people who are really really into enforcing the rules might sign up. But maybe not, it would certainly be interesting to see.

    As for the jury in UVA cases, I'm not sure (can you believe it? I haven't been accused of any infractions yet!) but I know the judges are elected and I think that they have a panel of 3 judges or something decide each case, not a jury of random students. I could be wrong about that though. I think the difference here though is that the honor code is just about, well, honor. Meaning honesty and not assaulting people. At BYU those things are included too, of course, but I feel like there's a big religious component that makes it too easy and natural to start enforcing "one-earring" rules or "no pro-gay marriage public statements" or other rules that aren't even part of the institutional church but are more of a hedge around the law, like curfews. In other words, sort of a police arm of the Church.

    So yeah, it probably wouldn't be so bad as I first feared to have BYU students run the honor code office... but I'm still not convinced that it wouldn't be worse than it is now, even if only slightly.

  4. Yeah, I think that only the people who care passionately about the Honor Code would volunteer to be the "bad guys". Most students already do not like SHA at BYU, and that's run by students.

  5. Adeline, I didn't even remember that we had a Student Honor Association at BYU--what do they even do? Also, you should blog more.

  6. Adeline! AH! You might not remember me...but I visiting taught you.


    I just found this. This is the input site that the SHA uses to feel out student thoughts. Do you think the server would explode if I said what I thought? Could someone...hypothetically...(please, I want to keep my job)...write what they feel about the Homosexual advocacy be reprimanded for it later? (Or, you know...They could always just win the promised Ipod.)

  8. I can't read this and not say it's fascinating, esp. the "let them govern themselves quote."

  9. The honor code certainly has its uses, and I imagine that at the very least it reminds people of commitments they have already made (politics aside). The biggest problem I have with the current system is that it seems like the university is exercising unrighteous dominion over the students and unjustly taking over the responsibilities of ecclesiastical leaders. When someone is in violation of the honor code for immorality, for example, why is the matter not referred to that person's ecclesiastical leader? And why does the ecclesiastical leader have no say in a proper consequence for violating the code? Granted, the university is a private university and can punish people for violating the code, but when a person has to interview with countless secular leaders about issues that should not be talked about with anyone besides a bishop, I believe that is completely inappropriate. Whether the enforcement is run by administration or by students, I would like to see more involvement of ecclesiastical leaders. Aren't they already "judges in Israel?"

    As for the little stuff like spitting on campus or leaving at apartment at 12:15, students could definitely handle those situations in a fair manner. But I don't think elections is the way to do it. Imagine someone running for the position of honor code judge and their slogan is "Vote for me and I'll be lenient with you," or "Vote for me and I will root out the unclean from among you." That would be even more ridiculous than BYUSA elections. Better to be chosen completely at random and trust that statistically you will have relatively fair representation. I believe that there are enough people on campus who would be reasonable and fair in their judgments.

    As a side note, I really do believe that the current honor code administration suffers from the "as soon as they get a little power or authority..." issue. From the experiences of many who I am close to, the focus does not seem to be on helping people become better, but rather on ruining their lives after one infraction (and not even necessarily for the so-called serious infractions).

  10. Kartmatu, (love the nickname, btw) I think those are good points. I especially like the idea of not having elections in favor of random selections--though those campaign slogans are pretty great. I too would like to see more input from ecclesiastical leaders in Honor Code office decisions, but I think the Honor Code office sees its jurisdiction as ultimately separate and independent, as evidenced by the fact that the Honor Code is actually more strict than Church requirements (beards are one of many examples) so I don't think they really want to have any more outside input.

    I can't speak to particular abuses of power, but D&C 121 doesn't say "almost all men except at the BYU Honor Code office" so I certainly believe that they fall victim to it. More openness and accountability would be wonderful.