Monday, March 21, 2011

BYU’s Marketing Genius and Lack of Honor

By Andrew Jones

When Brandon Davies was dismissed from BYU's basketball team for having pre-marital sex, most people seemed to have two immediate reactions.

1. Well, there goes BYU's shot at a national title.
2. Really? He got suspended for having sex with his girlfriend? Give me a freaking break.

What Davies did would be considered tame on nearly any other college campus in the United States, even others with religious affiliations.

BYU is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They are more commonly known to the world as Mormon. This group of people seems to be very odd to the general population since they disallow certain things that the average American loves to consume daily, such as coffee.

What Davies did was break the honor code that every BYU student, athlete or not, signs and commits to. I'm guessing that you haven't read that code. Here it is, taken from BYU's website.

As a matter of personal commitment, students, staff, and faculty of Brigham Young University seek to demonstrate in daily living on and off campus those moral virtues encompassed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and will:

* Be honest
* Live a chaste and virtuous life
* Obey the law and all campus policies
* Use clean language
* Respect others
* Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse
* Participate regularly in church services
* Observe the Dress and Grooming Standards
* Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code

Now, before you decide that what is demanded is ridiculous and crazy, let's just accept that this code is a set of standards that every student must adhere to or suffer the consequences.

What BYU has done? The school has taken a profession that is vastly deteriorating in regards to its quality of people and made a commitment to producing higher quality people. Let's face it, as a loyal reader of any sports news, you can't go two days without reading about a professional athlete committing a criminal offense. Oftentimes it's drugs, sometimes drunk driving, sometimes assault, sometimes worse.

In an atmosphere where athletes are daily doing things unacceptable to general society and getting away with those actions or at least getting far less punishment than normal people, BYU has put in place and kept in place a set of standards that when broken have consequences, not only for the individual who broke the rule but for his or her teammates, his or her school and the school's fans. A student's celebrity status will not save him or her.

BYU is asking its students and student-athletes to rise to a standard that no other school is demanding and the result is that BYU is getting noticed by all the right people. They're getting noticed by the student-athletes who think to themselves, "There is absolutely no way I am ever going to play at BYU." Good, that's what BYU wants. If you don't take their standards seriously, go somewhere else.

This publicity also attracts all the students and their parents who are interested in helping their sons or daughters become better people and as we can see from some of BYU's current and former students, there are really high quality people who are also really high quality athletes. Jimmer Fredette being the obvious example of the day.

Now, let me make it very clear that the particular standards that BYU has chosen are not the ones I would choose (***see authors note at the bottom), tea and coffee being the foremost, but I am not the audience BYU wants to attract. I swear. I drink alcohol. I drink tea and coffee. I don't always respect others. I'm not always honest and I would certainly not claim to be virtuous. Do I wish I were capable of such things? Some no, some yes. I have no reason to give up coffee. I don't believe drinking coffee is sinful or hurtful to my body, mind or soul. I love coffee. I do wish I were capable of being more honest, of respecting others more, of being virtuous, but those things are not exactly measurable.

All of this made me wonder if other schools have honor codes. Are there any other colleges where students are signing similar agreements?

Notre Dame has nothing of the sort. While over 90% of its students self-identify as Christians (80% as Catholic) there are no rules excluding anybody for reasons of religion, beliefs or any life-style choices.

Marquette is also affiliated with the Catholic Church and they also have no honor codes or policies for any students to sign that have to deal with leading a chaste and virtuous life.

Army does have an honor code. It goes as follows:

A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.

Nice, isn't it? A very honorable charge in my opinion.

Navy has an Honor Concept that is very similar to Army's honor code, but a bit longer:

Midshipmen are persons of integrity: They stand for that which is right.

They tell the truth and ensure that the full truth is known. They do not lie.

They embrace fairness in all actions. They ensure that work submitted as their own is their own, and that assistance received from any source is authorized and properly documented. They do not cheat.

They respect the property of others and ensure that others are able to benefit from the use of their own property. They do not steal.

Now if somebody breaks the rules at Army or Navy, what do you think happens to them? They face a trial, are judged by their peers, and if found guilty can be expelled from the school. I would say that is fair, wouldn't you? After all, I would greatly appreciate it if the soldiers protecting my freedom were high quality people who didn't lie, cheat, or steal. I think most every student who signs their name to such a code is not doing it lightly.

Other prestigious colleges and universities also have honor codes, such as Harvard, Princeton, Davidson, William and Mary, and Vanderbilt.

Of all of these, BYU's seems to be the only one that addresses anything other than ethical academic behavior. No cheating. No lying. No stealing. Have integrity. Be truthful. Be fair.

I think all of these are reasonable for every person in the United States to adhere to. I think BYU's take on what it means to have integrity, virtue or honor is vastly different from mine.

If a student is caught plagiarizing or cheating in any way at any institution, they deserve to be punished accordingly and if that means expulsion from school, so be it. If it means failing that particular class, so be it. People need to learn there are consequences for their actions. While many students may not know the full consequences of cheating, they certainly know that there will be consequences if they're caught. I think having academic consequences is admirable.

Let me tell you what BYU has done that is not admirable. They have absolutely humiliated a young man in the national spotlight. If Davies goes on to the NBA, do you think he'll be able to be known as anything other than the guy who got kicked out for having pre-marital sex?
If somebody cheats at Harvard, Princeton, Army, Navy or any other school in the country, do you think it will show up on national news? I doubt it highly.

Perhaps if the student in question were a nationally known athlete there would be national press for a cheating scandal, but even if there were, I think that would be more reasonable than what is happening to Davies because plagiarism is something unacceptable to every university (I would hope). Sex is addressed by BYU and seemingly BYU only.

That's what makes this so terrible in my eyes. This guy is at the one school in the country where the rules are stricter and he does something that the average college student does. And because BYU is so vastly different from every other university in the nation, he's suddenly in the spotlight, shamed and humiliated for doing what the average college student does.

Davies has been humiliated not because of his actions, but because of his school's desire to stand out and be different.

I've got nothing against standards. I've got nothing against being different. I've got something against humiliating a student to show off your standards, to show off how different you are.

Yes, Davies should have taken the honor code he signed seriously. Yes, BYU has every right to hold their students to whatever standards they choose. Yes, they shouldn't let their athletes get away with more than normal students. They're doing exactly what they want to do and getting the exact results they want.

But should they have humiliated this young man? No. He didn't deserve that. That wasn't the honorable thing to do. Where are BYU's virtues of forgiveness, grace and mercy? Maybe those are just important to a different type of quality people.

Author's note: This sentence initially read, "Now, let me make it very clear that I think the particular standards that BYU has chosen are completely ridiculous." Comments referring to this are accurate. I believe using the phrase "completely ridiculous" was hurtful and I apologize if I offended anyone in saying it.

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