Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

God, sex, basketball and BYU

Basketball player Bandon Davies suspension from BYU supposedly resulted from his violation of BYU’s Honor Code, a code which all BYU students must sign.

So supporters of this code argue that the suspension was all about “honor” and honor in this specific case is living a chaste life, a life which precludes pre-marital sex.

Or to put it in dankprofessor terms,  BYU in essence argues that all sex outside of marriage has no value and brings  dishonor to those engaging in such sex.  So not suspending Davies would bring dishonor to BYU. Such is patently anti-sexual and patronizing.  It reduces students to children who must obey the codes of their elder parents.  To become a student member of  BYU, one must sign an oath that reduces the signatories to that of children who have no personal autonomy, no zone of privacy and intimacy.  Such represents a form of totalitarianism, a form of totalitarianism that has no place in college athletics and certainly no place in NCAA sports competition.

The BYU punitive public response to Brandon Davies so-called code violation becomes a public degradation of a young talented athlete.  Certainly, BYU authorities could have handled their sexual bigotry in a discreet manner; dealing with what most people consider a private manner in a private and personal way.

The dankprofessor says shame on BYU and calls for the NCAA to consider sanctions against BYU for abusing a student athlete.

And I understand that others may see this quite differently.  For example, some BYU supporters hold that BYU is beyond secular regulation and that the team is on a “mission from God.”

To gain some historical perspective on this, I present the following.

The Brigham Young University’s so-called Honor Code is given some historical perspective in the following passage from BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY; A HOUSE OF FAITH by Gary Bergera and Ronald Pridis-

Early Rules and Enforcement

Brigham Young University is perhaps best known for its proscriptions against alcohol, coffee and tea, tobacco, premarital sex, coeducational housing, long hair, and short dresses. But only since the late 1960s have specific rules regarding behavior and dress become institutionalized as permanent standards of student conduct. Although previous BYU presidents had emphasized or de-emphasized adherence to moral standards according to their particular ideological bent, the trend during the 1960s towards greater regimentation was largely a reaction of President Ernest L. Wilkinson to developments on other American college campuses during the same era, when traditional western values were being questioned by students nationwide. Initially, officials at Brigham Young Academy offered relatively little supervision for undergraduates outside of school, which was an unusual approach to discipline for the period, especially in view of the average age of the student body–fourteen years–and the fact that many students were away from home for the first time (Smith). The academy’s 1876 Prospectus contained only a vague warning that “every student shall, in and out of school, cultivate a gentlemanly or lady-like deportment, and avoid all unbecoming associations that might reflect discreditably upon [themselves] or the institution [they have] the honor to attend.” Students were told that if they committed acts of delinquency, they would be “reprimanded by the principal,” and that in serious cases a note would be sent home to their parents. Otherwise, students were apparently free to do as they pleased off campus. Such an approach reflected BYA principal Karl G. Maeser’s European upbringing and education, where the closely supervised dormitory system of British and American schools was untried. In fact, compulsory dormitories originated in seventeenth century England, where undergraduates enrolled in college at the age of fifteen, and gradually disappeared in the late nineteenth century as the age of entering students increased to nineteen years.1

[p. 94] As steeped as Maeser was in the Saxon method of leaving after-school discipline to students’ parents, after three years as principal he came to realize that because “the students behaved so badly” off-campus, additional measures would be necessary to guarantee his pupils’ moral safety and to protect the good name of his academy. Maeser thus devised a housecheck program, christened the Domestic Organization, which provided that students would be “visited in their residences at stated intervals by [faculty] representatives.” Furthermore, one student per house was to be appointed to “act as Senior,” to attend meetings with the principal, and to encourage conformity to BYA standards among peers. Defending his Domestic Organization at an 1880 assembly, Maeser answered critics, “Some may think it none of my business where they are or what they do when out of school, but that is the law of the academy, and if they wish [it] to be none of my business, all they have to do is leave.”2

During the Domestic Organization’s first year, 1881-82, Maeser forbade “vulgar language, profanity, or obscenity in any form, smoking, [and] the use of strong drinks.” Three years later, Maeser’s pupils were forbidden from attending “public or private parties without a written permit from the principal.” In February 1885, twenty-two-year-old chemistry instructor James E. Talmage was appointed “assistant to the principal over giving permission to go to parties and [over] receiving excuses for being away from home after academy hours,” defined as eight o’clock on week nights and ten o’clock on weekends. The previous year, faculty also advised students against “attending the skating rink” and loitering near stores, on street corners, or near the train station.3

Although these and other regulations appeared extensive, students soon discovered that enforcement of Maeser’s rules would be minimal. Students learned, for example, that faculty assigned to visit their boarding rooms visited them only for “counseling and advising,” not for “espionage or individual surveillance.” Maeser kept his 1880 promise to the students, when the Domestic Organization was first introduced, that they would be “on their honor” to confirm or deny accusations made against them and that “any student who [wanted] to make himself smart by disobeying the rules without being found out [was] perfectly welcome to all the honor and glory resulting from such a course.”4

Besides being privately reprimanded by the principal, students who were observed–or admitted to–violating Domestic Organization rules could also be placed under “house arrest.” But as one faculty member recalled, “House arrest was too formal and did little to retard the natural exuberance and instincts of normal young men” (Swensen). House arrest and curfew both proved simple enough for enterprising students to circumvent by sneaking out of back windows. The BYA [p. 95] Studentnewspaper joked that “since the subject of marriage was considered in Brother Keeler’s theology [class], domestic visitors complain that they can’t find the boys at home. Probably the young ladies can tell where they spend their time.” In 1895, under Maeser’s progressive successor, Benjamin Cluff, Jr., the Domestic Organization was reorganized so that students were assigned to visit fellow students, thus relieving the faculty of this largely unwanted chore. Determining and enforcing rules, according to the school catalog, was placed “as much as possible in the hands of the students, with the view of developing in them the power of self-government.” “The greatest liberty possible [is] allowed the students,” Cluff added the following year, “until by some overt act they demonstrate that they are not able to use that liberty with wisdom and discretion” (“President’s Report”). Specific rules were eventually eliminated in favor of the general statement, “Students who are irregular in their habits, keep late hours, have improper associates, or visit any place of bad or questionable repute, are liable to be placed under special restrictions and regulations” (Circular).5

Although Cluff had little tolerance for adolescent mischief, he considered it futile to try to coerce students to behave–a viewpoint he probably acquired while studying at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. When at Cluff’s invitation, acclaimed liberal educator John Dewey delivered ten lectures at the BYA Summer School in 1901, he told his audience that “the reason for giving [children] freedom . . . is to be found in the fact that only through freedom can [they] develop responsibility.” Too many educators, he added, “carry the entire burden of the school themselves, leaving the children barbarians and savages–unable to face any responsibility of life when it comes.”6

Under Cluff’s replacement, George H. Brimhall, the university gradually reverted to increased regimentation and administrative surveillance. The 1910 Quarterly instructed students that within the limits of “honor and personal righteousness demanded of good citizens and consistent Latter-day Saints,” they would be given “the fullest freedom.” Brimhall’s interpretation of this broad statement included a ban on “pool halls and bowling alleys,” which had not been specifically forbidden since Maeser’s time. Furthermore, students were told, “the president of the university may announce additions to these rules at any time.” Brimhall asked theology teachers in 1911 to make periodic inquiries into student behavior and to “hand in to the presidency a list of students violating the regulations.” The Domestic Organization was converted into a student court, through which students were encouraged to try classmates for such infractions as “profanity, persistently idling away time, use of tobacco or intoxicants, and frequenting places of questionable repute” (Quarterly, 1919-20). Those found guilty were required to apologize for their behavior, pay [p. 96] a small fine, or renounce their student body privileges. An adverse judgment from the student court often also resulted in a further hearing with the BYU Administrative Council, where penalties included suspension and expulsion. Besides establishing a student court, the faculty/student Board of Control, which oversaw student government, suggested the establishment of a “student police force,” with a “chief of police” and “secret service men.” The board finally settled for a “Social Service Committee,” which sounded less clandestine but probably served the same purpose (WB, 16 Feb. 1915). Another innovation of the Board of Control was a 1916 staff of “student disciplinarians,” who were responsible for “clear[ing] the halls and radiators of loafers” at the beginning of each class period.7

When Brimhall was succeeded by Franklin Harris, BYU experienced yet a third shift in discipline, this time towards the former, more lenient policies of Benjamin Cluff. Harris assured students that during his tenure there would be “no particular rules to live up to except to be men and women in the real sense” (YN, 26 Sept. 1923). He reported the following year that the university took pride in being “an institution practically without rules,” adding, “We simply expect every student to be a gentleman or a lady, and [we] leave largely to each individual [the] responsibility for doing this as best he [or she] can.” Six years later in 1930, Harris again emphasized, “Brigham Young boasts that it gets along without disciplinary rules of conduct for the students,” reiterating that the school “merely requires that students shall be Latter-day Saint ladies and gentlemen.” In 1925, at the recommendation of Dean of Women Ethel Butt, Harris authorized a curfew for coeds–11:00 on week nights and 12:30 on weekends–which was subsequently expanded to include men, but the curfew was never conscientiously enforced. Butt later successfully pushed for a regulation prohibiting men and women students from living in the same house or building (YN, 15 Sept. 1930). With these two exceptions, however, Harris held to his promise of keeping rules to a minimum and of leaving their enforcement to students. Only when he was abroad for the 1939-40 school year, overseeing the establishment of an Iranian department of agriculture, did the faculty Attendance and Scholarship Committee break a twenty-year tradition and enunciate a list of specific regulations for students. The committee’s “Standards and Rules Governing Student Conduct at BYU” prohibited the use of tobacco and “intoxicating liquor,” required that students “maintain order in all buildings of the institution,” and stipulated that “women are not permitted to enter the living quarters of men except when properly chaperoned.” Despite the committee’s best intentions, however, their list did not last long and was never printed in the school catalog

 

March 13, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

   

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