Honor Code Skits?

Late August is when freshmen at semester schools move to campus and start learning what campus life is all about. At BYU, a fair percentage of campus life seems to be centered around the Honor Code these days, as reflected in this Deseret News story about Honor Code skits performed during Orientation Week. My recollection of how the system worked a few years ago was that if you didn’t drink beer or coffee, sleep with your girl friend, steal from the Bookstore, or get caught cheating, you were more or less safe. Seems like rules have proliferated.

This strikes me as odd, since the increasing size of the applicant pool and more stringent admission screening (seminary attendance, a searching Bishop’s interview, etc.) arguably delivers an increasingly well-behaved and religiously dedicated group of LDS students to BYU each Fall. So what exactly is behind the increasing emphasis on the Honor Code? Is it the looming presence of a GA as BYU President? Is it that more religiously dedicated students means an increased demand for detailed rules? I’m curious to know what motivates the ever-increasing emphasis on the Honor Code and how it is perceived by the average BYU student (off the record, as opposed to as quoted in the Daily Universe).


  1. “Finally (and this is my weakest point I think) the honor code makes allowances for the BYU athlectic program by not having a policy on tattoos”

    Actually, I think this is one of your strongest points. This certainly wouldn’t be the first case we’ve heard about where athletes (particularly football) are catered to when it comes to the Honor Code. If you live in Utah, you’ve seen many of the stories in the newspaper over the past two or three years on this point.

    If tattoos aren’t banned from the Honor Code, why do they need to be airbrushed out of photographs promoting the athletic program? This certainly appears to be a double-standard.

  2. “J. Reuben Clark even used it to decsribe how the Church governs BYU! Just because these Church leaders may have been misinformed about the origins of the statement doesn’t necessarily make their own usage of it incorrect.”

    Given the way BYU is administered though, doesn’t that say something about how he viewed the meaning of the quote? That’s more of what I was getting at. I happen to like the quote too. I just think they way it is used tends to be a bit. . .excessive.

    John, the burden of proof rests with you because you are claiming that the honor code is inappropriate to a University Education.

  3. “my sister, in Econ, was encouraged by her profs to go on and get a doctorate and then return to teach.”

    Did she? Because there are a LOT of hoops to jump through if you want to be female and teach at BYU. (For instance, they have no maternity leave policy. (!!))

  4. ignorance by employees is no way to judge a policy


    The real-world implementation of a policy is a rather practical measuring stick as to its effectiveness and appropriateness.

  5. As an alum of the same university as John “didn’t go to the Y” H, I too think these BYU rules are at best only so much frippery and at worst an impediment to healthy social relations and a misplaced limitation on personal choice. As an undergraduate, I knew the commandments and I followed them. What more is there to say? In my opinion, part of the reason people at church-sponsored schools make decisions I don’t agree with, like 18-yr-old women marrying the first RM to spread rose petals up to their door, is because they are so consumed with the ins and outs of the honor code that they never develop the strong male-female friendships that are so healthy in life (and later on, in marriage too).
    What a loss!

    I understand that church schools can be a great environment for students and many people love them. I just know I would hesitate to send my daughters there.

  6. Bryce:

    I think comparing BYU and missions in many ways is comparing apples and oranges. Going on a mission is a commandment for young men, going to BYU is not. The missionary environment is one of extreme focus on one task – missionary work. Therefore, rules are in place to help facilitate that. These rules are important given that *everyone* is expected to go on a mission and that with such a diverse group of people, some structure is necessary to prevent chaos.

    However, I actually have a problem with plenty of the mission rules. It is an overly militaristic environment, IMO. I do think the notion of “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” could be better applied to mission life, despite the need for some rules.

    BYU, on the other hand, is an entirely voluntary endeavor. Not only that, but as the other John pointed out, people compete pretty intensely to get accepted there. Generally speaking, the people who are there want to be there and worked pretty hard to get there. It seems like they could be trusted to make many of their own decisions without an Honor Code.

  7. Bryce:

    I think you have some really good points, and I especially appreciate your perspective as someone who attended BYU but didn’t grow up in Utah.

    The problem I think some of us have, is that we’ve known too many Latter-day Saints who were from Utah, who went to BYU, and now don’t know how to deal with conflict in the Church for the very reasons you spelled out. They just don’t get that there can be Mormons in the Church that don’t see eye to eye on every moral issue with them and still be good members. I don’t mean to blame BYU entirely for this – I suspect most of it is just their personality type. But it doesn’t help when they go from one structured environment with lots of rules to another structured environment with lots of rules.

  8. Christina,

    I should probably point out (and you probably already know all this but others might not) that while I am a “John H.” I am not the “John H.” on this board, that is John Hatch. I was going by simply “John” which seemed to be unclaimed, but I have been told to knock that off (though I think that was at T&S). In any case I have adopted the confusing habit of adding a different descriptor to my name for each story as appropriate. Hopefully other Johns won’t adopt the same method of distinguishing themselves. These systems really out to have unique usernames and log-ins…

    As you might expect, I agree with your post. I would add that I won’t encourage my children to go to the Y, male or female, though I would probably steer the as of yet non-existant girls away from it more than the boys. Which raises the question, if the Y is extra bad for women, then wouldn’t it be similarly bad for men because of how women are treated in that environment? The classic example that I cite comes from one of my wife’s med school friends who went to BYU and was actively discourage from going into medicine by the faculty. She was shocked when flyers were put up all over campus for a pre-med party with the notice that, “Wives are invited too!”

    I should probably also point out that while in college I (and other LDS students) violated the BYU Honor Code nearly every day without falling into sin.

  9. Christina,

    I think often you are right, that the institution or at least many people who are at BYU, feel that women have certain (traditional) roles and get a bit irritated with a woman who is seriously seeking a career path or professional skills.

    My wife was president of the Women In Medicine group/club at BYU when she was a pre-med student and I think part of the reason this organization was created was to give some extra help and moral support to those BYU women who were going down that path — to attempt to counteract some of the negative feedback women were getting as a result of that decision.

  10. Christina, just to clear things up, I am John Harrison, and I assume I am the John you though I was. Sorry if I caused confusion.

  11. Christina, non-John H,
    As much as I enjoyed vocally chafing at the rules at BYU, I don’t see any perniciousness attack on the self-esteem of women or men at BYU. I realize I’m not basing this on anything more scientific (or economic :) ) than myself, my sisters, and the people I knew there.

    It’s not a good fit for everyone; that goes without saying. But I don’t understand what you feel is damaging about the school.

  12. Clark,

    I assume you are talking about me here:
    “John is no so subtly suggesting that any restriction ought to be justified on some Utilitarian basis. Yet it seems to me that it is John who has the burden of proof here.”

    Could you explain in more detail why the burden of proof should rest with me? Are you saying that any restriction added to the honor code is okay with you? What would I have to prove? That nobody would ever fornicate if they were allowed in the dorm room of a member of the opposite sex?

    I’ll go back to the free speech example. Who should have the burnden of proof when trying to restrict freedom of expression? I think that when placing restrictions in a college atmosphere the burden of justifying the restriction should rest with those advocating the restriction. Otherwise you could say, “As part of the honor code you can’t breath.” I then being unable to speak (requires breathing) would pass out before I could write fast enough to prove that the restriction did more harm than good. I suppose that if I were a true blue zoobie (and I mean royal blue, not the more marketable new color) I would make every effort to continue not breathing even after I had passed out. :)

    Also thanks for the link. While the statement seems well documented it would be nice to have an earlier source, wouldn’t it. Still, it seems more likely to have been uttered than, “This is the right place, drive on!” Which wasn’t mentioned by anyone for 40 years and then only by WW.

    I do think the statement fits in nicely with what we know of Satan’s plan and the nature of free agency. Again I will repeat that I think BYU students should have an honor code and that breaking the commandments (or the law) should have consequences. I just think there are restrictions for the sake of restrictions which strikes me as inappropriate for a college environment. I will admit that my experience living in the dorms where I went to school is something that I cherish and has informed my opinion of what kind of environment both LDS and non-LDS students create for themselves when left to their own devices. I am more familiar with BYU than some here seem to think. I have spent time studying on the campus and all of my wife’s family either went there, teaches there or works there. My wife is the lone exception, and her opinion of BYU mirrors Christina’s. Some of my siblings have attended the Y. So my opinion might be better informed than some of you are implying.

  13. Clark,

    I have to say that I grew spiritually in an environment where I had to stand on my own two feet. I was able to learn that my beliefs and standards were valid even though many of those around me disagreed. Again, to each their own, but to imply that spiritual development in college is best done at BYU is simply proving my point that the honor code leads people thinking that it is needed when in fact it is not.


    Please explain how not allowing someone to take a test if they have a beard is not an artificial consequence.

    As I have said before I think that BYU students should have to keep the commandments. What I don’t understand is why things that won’t keep you out of the temple will keep you out of BYU. Is the campus more sacred than the temple?

    Why not teach students that they can be in the dorm room of a member of the opposite sex without fornicating? Instead the implication is that they can’t. Again, where does “Teach correct principles and let them govern themselves” come into this? What are we so afraid of?

  14. Clark,

    Is that what you think BYU would turn into without the honor code? I would think that it would actually fare quite well. Nobody here is asserting that the Y should be like any other college. The question is what does the honor code bring it?

    I never had problems finding roommates that I was comfortable living with. The only “situations” I was aware of were caused by showing up to school at the last minute and getting randomly assigned to someone rather than planning things out the previous spring.

  15. Clark,

    My comment that you quoted was in response to the following paragraph of yours:

    “As to the issue of whether spiritual is affected by people acting in the sorts of ways I mention. Of course it is. And I can attest to it after having been around it a fair deal. Once again I’d argue that anyone who thinks having a roommate doing drugs, carousing, abusing alcohol (as opposed to drinking in moderation) and so forth with *not* affect your spirituality is simply dreaming pipe dreams.”

    I just wanted to point out that these things are not inevitable and even if such things happen in the same dorm building it doesn’t have to mean that I am damaged by it, and I could in fact be strengthened.

    As for the rest of your most recent post, I agree that BYU can be great for many people, especially those raised outside of Utah. For those born and raised in Provo, I have to say that I don’t understand the attraction other than loyalty to the “local school”. Back to the topic though, I don’t see why the honor code in its current form is needed. How would beards change BYU? Would not having the honor code have runined your BYU experience?

  16. Clark,

    This is rich. Not only can BYU students not be trusted to behave without the honor code, they can’t even realize to whom it does and does not apply. You excuse this because you think they aren’t properly trained? Sounds to me like they are over-trained by the honor code. Doesn’t it frighten you that the students (and others) involved in the library story don’t seem to understand that the honor code doesn’t apply to everyone? :)

    Just a clarification, in my story, the woman was probably in her 40s or 50s and didn’t seem to be a student. I am sure that what she really wanted was a peek at my manly torso!

  17. Clark,

    What can I say? I think that as an institution of higher learning a university should strive to encourage the free exchange of ideas. As part of that it seems to me that any restriction of freedom of expression should have a clear purpose and reason for being. It is the university that is actively creating a new restriction. They should be able to justify it beyond, “Because we say so!” If you think that a university should be able to restrict free expression at will and that the burden of proof rests with those that are against the restriction we are at an impasse.

    I don’t think there is anything I could say to convince you that any part of the honor code is inappropriate in a university environment. I have already listed what I feel are the potential harmful effects of the honor code. These effects extend beyond BYU to the greater LDS community, such that members who have never set foot in Provo can be affected. Most of those arguements have been ignored, though I admit that you have provided some great information of the “teach them correct principles” quote. Again, I do not think that the honor code is all bad, but I do think that BYU students are mature and honorable enough to do well without parts of it.

    This is definitely colored by my own university experience. The motto there was, “Die Luft der Freiheit weht”, or “Let the winds of freedom blow” which could be interpreted as “let them govern themselves” minus the “teach them correct princples” part. Not surprisingly (to me at least) LDS students are able to thrive in such an environment. Perhaps if I had attended BYU I would share your views.

    I have appreciated this discussion, which if nothing else has given me ample opportunity to vent about what is obviously a pet subject. I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

  18. Clark,

    You are very focusd on this concept of the home, though BYU is much more that that. What does a beard have to do with the home? Would you feel the spirit less if your roomie has a beard? I have repeatedly said that asking students at the Y to live the commandments is a good idea. I would think that students at the Y would have judgement enough and have the social skills to choose good roommates.

    As for people appreciating the extra rules, hey they are free to set extra rules for themselves! I certainly set rules for myself in college that were above and beyound what the university expected of me. By enforcing minute details such as grooming there is an implication that all the rules have been made for you. Why not leave more of this up to the individual?

    You say:
    “The libertarian ideal is a great ideal. But if you are trying to establish a basic living condition, then it doesn’t work.”

    Which sounds fine on its own. Please explain this in context of the Joseph Smith quote that John H. and I keep asking about. Was Joseph wrong?

  19. Clark,
    Your post implies that the only way to feel the spirit (as you put it, “to try and have a celestial home with the spirit present”) is if you are surrounded by only those who are doing and thinking exactly what you are. Don’t you think this is extreme? How weak are we if the person smoking pot down the hall fouls our mood/spirit? I think our purpose in life is higher than just avoiding what we think is bad.

    To respond to Sam, I didn’t say that the honor code itself was creating the sexist environment (although, arguably, the whole idea of modesty in clothing could be seen as springing from sexist assumptions about women’s bodies). My view on BYU as a whole is that it is not a place that encourages women to take paths outside the traditional wife/mother roles, with maybe a detour for a mission beforehand. I wouldn’t wish that kind of limited option set on anyone. I love being a wife, and I’m sure I’ll love being a mother. Teaching women that these are the only places for them is a little limiting.

  20. Clark, I followed your link and read the piece on the “teach them correct principles” statement. Very interesting! It’s one of those things repeated so often, I had no idea it wasn’t right in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Words of Joseph Smith, etc.

    I also suspect you’re correct that people read too much libertarianism into the statement – Joseph certainly doesn’t strike me as the libertarian type.

    But I’m the kind of guy that it doesn’t really matter to me if Joseph said it, when, and under what context. None of that makes the statement any less appealing to me or any less true. (It does mean we should all be a bit more careful in whipping it out whenever it’s convenient and grandly attributing it to Joseph, as if once we say the line, the discussion is over.) I like the statement and all that it implies. I like the idea of trusting that people will do the right thing. Sure, we all understand that there’ll always be some who don’t, and they’ll need to be dealt with.

    Of course, attempting to dispute the statement too much runs into the fact that John Taylor seemed to be the main source of it, and he certainly liked it. He was around Joseph enough to have heard it, and there seems little reason to believe he would have made it up. Subsequent Church leaders have used it on many occasions – in some cases to infer libertarianism. J. Reuben Clark even used it to decsribe how the Church governs BYU! Just because these Church leaders may have been misinformed about the origins of the statement doesn’t necessarily make their own usage of it incorrect.

    But I suppose my main objection to the Honor Code is more philosophical than practical, because it betrays this notion of “correct principles”. I’d much rather have a community or a society where we have to deal with bad apples on occasion than one where there’s tons of rules in place to try and avoid bad apples altogether. As you said, people still break the Honor Code anyway. I think some people are rule breakers, and some are rule keepers. In some ways, the Honor Code seems like a formal way to make the rule breakers feel bad about themselves, and the rule keepers feel superior or good.

  21. Clark:

    I’ll echo Christina’s comments. This was kind of my point above – the assumption is that if you don’t go to BYU, your rommate’s going to be a porno watching perv. The reality is, life outside of Mormonism isn’t the extreme we sometimes paint it as.

    Not everyone who has premarital sex, or sex outside of marriage gets pregnant, gets an STD, or is miserable with themselves. Not everyone who drinks is a wild, drunk partier.

  22. Clark:

    Sorry for my comment before about living in a bunker. I had to run out the door and finished my thoughts pretty sloppily. What I really wanted to say was that I think avoiding the kinds of things the Honor Code may help one avoid (I still think you are *grossly* overexaggerating college life outside of BYU – rooms filled w/ condoms, drunkards everywhere, etc.) just isn’t that big of a deal. Having a six pack of Budweiser in your fridge isn’t the end of the world.

    I appreciate what you’re saying about the benefits you had at BYU, and that others have. No one has challenged those things though, and no one has suggested that going to BYU is a really dumb thing to do. Academically, it’s certainly the best school in Utah and one of the best in the west.

    But one more time, I think you continue to deflect the issue of the Honor Code by talking about how great BYU is or using what I see as extremes to demonstrate that the Honor Code in general is necessary. Saying students don’t want to live with a heroin addict doesn’t answer the question of why legal adults can’t stay up talking after midnight in a friends apartment.

    So I’ll ask the question directly: Why do you think the Honor Code is necessary, instead of Joseph Smith’s injunction to teach correct principles and let people govern themselves? I certainly see the two as being in conflict. How do you respond to the other John’s comments that the Honor Code seems more demanding than the temple recommend interview. Why, oh why does someone need to shave before they can show up to class?

    I’m not trying to engage you in a debate – you’ve just been one of the most outspoken folks thus far in favor of the Honor Code, so I’m kinda picking on you :) I’m really interested in what you think of these issues.

  23. dgty John,
    My intent isn’t to say, It’s not so bad to me. Rather, it’s to ask what is pernicious about the rules (to answer your question though, I always assumed they were the result of Wilkenson and institutional inertia. But I have nothing to back that up).

    There seems to be an assumption that rules inherently prevent adultness (and I admit to making that argument plenty of times while I was at BYU). But how? (Let me also add that the military acadamies, the pseudo-military ones [e.g., the Citadel], various Christian schools [one of my best friends went to Wheaton, which just had its first co-ed dance in, like, 150 years], I’d assume various Orthodox colleges, etc., have very restrictive behavioral codes, but allow their students to grow up.)

    I think it’s sad that a school (or community, or whatever) suggests that education for women is so that they can be better mothers. My institutional experience at BYU (as a man, so it’s far from comprehensive, or even necessarily accurate) is that that isn’t the university’s focus (admittedly, I was an English major, so I was in a more liberal program). I heard that pressure more from Bishops and peers. But is that significantly different from other places with Institute programs and singles wards? (And my sister, in Econ, was encouraged by her profs to go on and get a doctorate and then return to teach.)

  24. didn’t go to the Y John–

    a) You’re too hung up on the beard thing. I agree that it’s arbitrary, but I do not think that the injuctions agaist beards is unreasonable. However, by hanging all your objections on one relatively insignificant part of the honor code, you undermine your argument. I’ve come to believe that you think the Honor Code is nothing more than a set of dress and grooming regulations, which is a gross mischaracterization.

    As for not being allowed to take a test if you aren’t clean-shaven being an artificial consequence, you’re claiming an overly broad range of consequences as “artificial.” Would getting a ticket for not wearing a seat belt be an “artificial consequence”?

    b) Your disdain for rules in general is puzzling. Full-time missionaries are screened carefully for worthiness. Why shouldn’t they be taught correct principles and be allowed to govern themselves? They seem to be the perfect population to apply your philosophy to.

    Yet I never lived under so many rules as when I was a missionary. Is this a foolish policy? I have my answer, but I’d like to hear yours first.
    (John H. too, who seems to espouse this viewpoint).

  25. Err…let me challenge the premise for a second. In the desnews article, I didn’t see a single new rule that had been established since I started at the Y in 1994. What exactly are the rules that have proliferated?

  26. For the two or three people still reading this, I feel that I should document my first brush with the “honor code” which has colored my opinion of it to this day. It also is probably the genesis of why I think BYU caters to football players. I hope that you enjoy it.

    I attended a two-week computer programming course at the Y during the summer before my senior year of high school. I went to have lunch at the Cannon Center. There was a long line because the football team had just arrived from practice. Peter Tuipulotu was a few spots ahead of me in line. He was wearing only a t-shirt, a towel, and flip flops. It appeard that he had just gotten out of the shower and thrown a t-shirt on his wet torso. He entered the dining area without a word being spoken to him. I arrived at the head of the line a few moments later. The woman checking dinning cards asked if I would lift my shirt up. I refused on principle. She said that she suspected that I was “low-riding” my shorts to get into the dining area. I assured her that I wasn’t and that I had simply purchased baggy shorts to be able to be dressed appropriately for BYU during the summer. She again asked me to lift up my shirt. I refused. She told me that she couldn’t let me in if I didn’t. At this point I yelled, “I can believe you just let Peter Tuipulotu walk in here nearly naked and then choose to pick on me. I’ll lift up my shirt if he lifts up his towel!” Peter was kind enough to turn my way and smile and wave before turing his attention to the meal line again. The woman was aghast and kicked me out. I never did eat lunch that day.

  27. For those born within Utah there are still plenty of reasons to want to go to BYU. Part of it might be being close to home or ones significant other. I tend to think getting far away from ones parents is a good idea, but money issues often make that more complex. The other reasons are the reasons I mentioned: BYU has many things to offer than other schools don’t. Further it is quite cheap to Mormons considering the quality of the school. I think many issues relating to dating also are significant. The fact is that it offers a dating pool that most other colleges can’t offer. But of course the reasons people pick for colleges are subjective and often personal. I can’t say why a local might go. I will say that I find people criticizing their choice to be engaging in questionable activities though. If BYU students judging people who go elsewhere is wrong, surely the reverse is as well.

    Regarding the original topic of the honor code, I think I mentioned the reasons why it is a good thing. Now if you want me to justify everything in the honor code, that’s a different matter.

    However I can certainly understand why people might not want members of the opposite sex in their apartments late at night. Having that as a rule might be convenient. I suspect the reason for the rule is less that than the fact that it helps avoid late night make out sessions and other such things. But, to be truthful, that rule is one of those things like the speeding limit in terms of how people view it. For minor infractions, no one cares. *Lots* of people have groups watching videos past midnight. No one cares. But it provides a rule so that more egregious issues can be dealt with.

    As to why the honor code is necessary, I think I already explained it. The libertarian ideal is a great ideal. But if you are trying to establish a basic living condition, then it doesn’t work. Let me put it this way, how does someone with a roommate who decides not to govern themselves in accordance with LDS principles respond if they want LDS principles in their home?

    I recognize that you seem to find the notion that having a home where such things are found doesn’t make sense. As I said, I do think they have a strong effect and we’ll have to agree to disagree on that matter. (Although I think the majority of members definitely agree with me as does church counsel) But the real issue is how to allow people to have such a home when they are single, don’t know anyone, and are attempting to live at BYU. Just because *you* don’t care doesn’t mean others do.

    The honor code establishes that.

  28. Great story, John. Here’s another fun one:

    A friend of mine is a donor to the Harold B. Lee Library. As a donor, he’s entitled to a library card, despite not being a faculty member or student. He went to get his card, which included getting his photo taken. At the time, he had a beard. When he showed up to get his picture taken, the girl snapping photos refused. He smiled and explained that he wasn’t a student or faculty member, and that he was just a donor. Silly him, he thought that would resolve the issue. She still refused, insisting that she couldn’t do it since he had a beard. So she found her supervisor and my friend assumed the problem would be cleared up. He explained that donors to the library are eligible for cards, and he once again presented his paperwork given to him by the library. The supervisor explained that they couldn’t take his picture with the beard. At this point he’s been there for 15 or 20 minutes and he’s starting to get annoyed. At first, it was a quirky little thing – where else could you not get a library card for having a beard? But he had better things to do. So a higher up manager eventually shows up and they *still* refuse to take his picture. Long story short – 45 minutes later a *vice-president* shows up (that’s right – a vice-president) to clear things up. To his credit, he pulled my friend aside, apologized profusely, and said that he thought this was all “B.S” (but he didn’t abbreviate the BS :) ). My friend finally left with his library card.

    For the most part I just think this is a funny story about rules run amok. But I think there is something to be said for the fact that environments with tons of rules may breed people who aren’t capable of making decisions unless the rules specifically spell everything out for them.

    For the record “didn’t go to the Y John”, I wouldn’t have lifted my shirt up either. I know there will always be people who can justify anything, and perhaps in future posts we’ll hear a spirited defense of this woman. But if you can’t eat lunch without being subjected to a strip search, something is seriously wrong.

  29. Gunner:

    The equation (more rules) = (less personal growth) doesn’t necessarily hold except in a situation where it is impossible to break the rules.

    At its best (when applied consistently and fairly), the Honor Code teaches that actions have consequences. If you sign your name agreeing to follow certain rules, and then you break them, you may have to leave school. This seems a pretty important lesson for people to learn immediately upon leaving home (if they haven’t already learned it).

    Now, of course, at its worst (or even at its normal standard of mediocrity), the HC is enforced inconsistently and tends to give the impression that the administration (which = the Church) doesn’t trust kids to make their own decisions.

    This lack of trust doesn’t seem to me the most effective sort of environment within which to teach people how to govern themselves, or to inspire correct decisions, which is probably what you and John H are getting at.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t thin most of the rules (ie, no members of the opposite sex in your dorms except at certain times; no drinking, etc.) are inherently bad or terribly onerous. And you know what they are going in.

    What’s really scary to me about the HC is its apparent (though hopefully rare) capriciousness, and the stories I’ve heard about students ticked at other students reporting the latter to the HC for fabricated or exaggerated infractions.

    The question for me is how to create an environment where a certain standard of behavior is required without concomitantly creating a police-state mentality in students and administrators.

  30. How are kids going to learn to be adults? They go from the shelter and rules of home straight to a school with even more strict rules. A lot get engaged and married and have never lived outside of a authority style environment.
    When all the rules are made for them it is hard to grow. You have to make te rules for yourself.. Yes they probably would have personnal rules very similier, but they never have a chance to find out.
    I have openly advised my neice not to go to BYU-Utah because of the rigid culture there. She will be going to either a local community school or BYU-Hawaii.
    Going from home to mission to BYU offers no chance to mature and make your own decisions. While many think the rules protect them, it looks like to me it leaves them unprepared to make their own when they leave.

  31. I got cut off! Here is the rest:

    Now lets look at the beard and test example. If I were to continue taking tests while wearing a beard then I would suffer dire consequences, right? I might die or be seriously injured. Thus it is imperative that I shave before taking a test. Any intelligent person can see the benefits of shaving prior to test taking but since some BYU students are not intelligent enough to see the natural consequences of bearded testing, BYU has a rule that you can’t take a test with a beard. A few hardy individuals, under supervision of a medical doctor, are willing to take the risks associated with bearded test taking and are granted a beard card.

  32. Multiple schools says:

    I grew up in the midwest, and attended BYU and another school as an undergrad, plus a third (outside of Utah) as a graduate student. The comments being made about the honor code by those who never went are simply not applicable.

    “a system of snitching” – This is a gross exageration. I know of one occurence where one roomate out of 6 kept surfing (and leaving up!) p!rn on the computer in the living room of the apt. After a few months of ignoring it, one asked the bishop in a private conversation if he was aware of the problem, which he was. End of story. No secret police. No “system.” No grade inflation for “snitching.” No spotlight on the kid tied up in a dark room depriving him of his free will and right to safely p^rn surf while being questioned by evil-intentioned white patriarchal despots.
    [end of sarcasm]

    “Going from home to mission to BYU offers no chance to mature ” How do you know if you never went? Does BYU really graduate several thousand immature people every year? No room for growth?

    How many people out there bash BYU or Utah simply to assert their religious independance?

  33. I have to agree with John H. here. It is my long-held opinion that the Honor Code provides artificial consequences for actions that are not against the commandments for the benefit of the university rather than the students. I have yet to be convinced that it isn’t a miniature version of Satan’s plan, which hampers personal growth by forcing you to obey rules. Yes, I know that Elder Oaks thinks this is a childish opinion.

    Also note that while you know what the honor code is when you enroll, it can change at any time and you have to comply with the new rules.

    My opinion is probably colored by the fact that I went to an institution where I lived for four years in co-ed dorms and had every opportunity to drink. Non-miraculously I (and plenty of other people) managed to come through with not only my virtue and tea-totaling ways intact and unscathed, but healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex that I was able to interact with every day (in their own rooms!) as friends rather than potential eternal companions. Somehow I think that I am better off for having had this experience than I would have been had I gone to BYU.

    I am sure that BYU is the right place for some people to go. I would love to see if all hell broke lose if they reduced the honor code to the commandments or just the ecclesiastical endorsement. If so, what does that say about BYU students? If not, then why do they need the honor code?

  34. John Mansfield says:

    I hear the “correct principles/govern themselves” line used in a way that makes “then they govern themselves” sound equivalent to “then they do what they choose.” “Govern” is really a bit stronger verb than that. The meaning of the line may be closer to the scriptures and Boyd Packer talks about the powerful effect of teaching true doctrine.

    The quote’s use in this discussion is interesting given the question that it is supposed to answer: How can Zion function? I am probably disturbing some by equating BYU with Zion; however, it is the strongest experience I have of saints forming a community. There are requirements that community members govern themselves by. In turn, there are expectations that the members can demand of the community, the same that are demanded of them. Some who don’t like the demands will mock those who chose to bond themselves to one another.

    Concerning the BYU testing center, that is a resource for those professors who wish to use it, a quite flexible alternative to administering an exam themselves at a fixed time for all the students. In my experience it was used only for auditorium-sized classes. Some of my BYU professors used self-timed take-home exams instead.

  35. I might add that now I attend NYU, easily in contention for the most liberal school in the universe. I don’t know what it’s like living in the dorms, but I find my classes to have diverse, wonderful people who don’t spend all their time smoking, drinking, and carousing. Just a small portion of it:) They are respectful of my beliefs and standards as I am of theirs.

  36. I think “didn’t go to the Y John H’s” points are important and are being overlooked.

    There are some good points being made about some of the rules and why they might exist, and I do think Bryce’s distinction between those who grew up elsewhere and “Utah Mormons” is a good one. But these also don’t answer some of the questions that have been raised from the beginning:

    What about “teach them correct principles and they govern themselves?” I don’t think it’s addressing John’s points to simply point to horror stories about broken rules or use extremes like waking up to a roomful of used condoms.


    Going to BYU does lessen the chances of running into the things you’ve described, that’s true. But so would living in a bunker in the middle of North Dakota. At some point, people need to learn to handle conflict and different situations.

  37. I think that while the students at BYU get more religious and frankly more of the academic type, there is also a growing “wild” side to Provo. I lived at Belmont for a few years and I could tell you some pretty wild stories.

    BYU is trying to avoid some of this by changing the apartment policy more and emphasizing the honor code more. How much of this is good or not, I don’t know. I know a lot of people were upset by the upcoming changes to the apartment policy. But at the same time I do think they need to improve the way the honor code is handled. It used to be handled in a ridiculously inconsistent fashion.

  38. I think the issue is less the accuracy of the quote (which I agree is likely authentic) than the meaning. Given church history under Joseph I simply have a hard time seeing that Joseph really did let the saints “govern themselves.” We’re talking about the period when Mormon bloc voting makes Utah politics seem evenhanded and diverse. Further I have a hard time seeing that the saints, when able to govern themselves did a terribly good job of it. Brigham says he learned all his leadership skills from Joseph, but even there Brigham seems considerably more successful than Joseph. And Brigham was frequently very heavy handed.

    Regarding policy. While I’d normally agree with you Doug, I think in this case I don’t. The case at hand is relatively exceptional and further most employees at BYU are students given “make work jobs” in leu of scholarships. One can, of course, criticize their training. But I think one ought to separate the honor code from the training regarding it to minor roles of students.

  39. I think to say that students are being repressed is a bit much. The vast majority of students go to BYU because they *want* to. Further many simply don’t want roommates who are watching pornography, drinking and so forth. For those who wish, as singles, to try and have a celestial home with the spirit present, having some way to have a reasonable chance of finding roommates with equivalent values seems very fair.

    Why people see this as repression or narrow mindedness escapes me. It is primariliy about having a certain kind of environment. To suggest that the only way to “discover oneself” is to have the environment that other colleges have seems quite dubious an assertion.

  40. I’ll admit I don’t go to BYU, so I may be wildly misinformed. But what’s the point of going from your parents rules to the university’s rules? Isn’t college supposed to be an opportunity to find yourself and experience life?

    Is part of the problem the Utah-Mormon tendency to view people in certain situations in extremes? For example, just like everyone who drinks is seen as an alcoholic, is everyone who goes to a school not owned by the Church a drunk, partying, sexed-up slacker? Do we have to justify the Honor Code by painting an extreme picture of what life would be without it?

    For those of us who dare go to state institutions or schools without a Mormon affiliation, the crazy, drunk, girls-gone-wild-esque parties just aren’t the norm or even part of our lifestyle.

    It seems like the rules exist because of the Mormon tendency for a doomsday outlook sometimes. Just *one* slip up with a member of the opposite sex can ruin your life FOREVER!!! So we need to have these rules that prevents you from even looking at their bed and thinking nasty thoughts.

  41. I’ll second Bryce with the idea that for students who come from outside the Mormon Corridor, BYU seems like a nice change (in some ways), whereas some who grow up in LDS communities and need a little elbow room to grow might be better off going out of state for college (but often end up at BYU anyway).

    As well, it’s worth noting that other universities have more rules than they used to: campus speech codes, detailed honesty policies, and so forth. It would be interesting to compare BYU’s moral rules with those at the many Christian colleges out there. It strikes me that some of them must have rules similar to BYU’s, but I’ve never seen it discussed.

  42. Interesting observations, John H. Viewed rather cynically, one potential reason the Church/BYU gets gun shy about encouraging the reporting of sexual assaults to law enforcement is that control of the situation would shift to law enforcement. If it stays “in house” with BYU, then the Honor Code office calls all the shots. And questions of control and authority are always paramount in LDS hierarchies. Sorry, but I see BYU and the Honor Code officials primarily concerned about BYU and the Honor Code rather than about any of the students as individuals (either perpetrators or victims, in assault situations).

    I suppose there’s also the simple desire to avoid legal entanglements, buttressed by Paul’s injunction that Christians should work things out on their own without going to “gentile courts.” That advice is easily abused, however.

  43. It doesn’t frighten me, of course. And not everyone experiences what you experienced. I was in a long distance relationship with a non-Mormon and she was visiting from the east coast. She wanted to do some genealogical work on campus and I forgot to tell her about the honor code. So she went to the library in a very low cut navel baring shirt with a fair bit of cleavage and didn’t have any trouble getting service. Although she did feel uncomfortable as she quickly realized that her dress didn’t fit in. (My bad — I felt rather bad about forgetting to clue her in)

    But my point just was that a lot of jobs students aren’t given a lot of training for. No offense, but I doubt the lunch lady spent hours in extensive training. I suspect they just told her to stand there.

    At worse you can criticize the training and I’d probably agree with you in many cases. But I don’t think we ought to judge the honor code because of poor training of a few students. I think Nathan’s comment about bureaucracy is probably apt too. There is what is the actual honor code and then there is the hazy notion people have of it. (Let’s be honest – probably few students actually sat down and read the thing)

  44. It looks like this topic is winding down, but I actually just read the Honor Code and there are certainly some interesting aspects.

    First, the section on cheating, honesty, etc., seems similar to that of most universities.

    Second, something that I find a bit bothersome is the repeated references to BYU students as either representatives of the Church or representatives of Jesus Christ. This seems to be the justification for the grooming standards, for example. This seems to go back to other John’s points about the temple recommend interview. Any member is a representative of the Church, so why are standards higher for BYU students? Perhaps this isn’t a big deal on campus, but I find it a bit troubling that kids who are supposed to be focused on their studies are burdened with this expectation to be good representatives of the Church, beyond what is expected from other members. Also, why are BYU’s definitions considered the “right” way to represent the Church? Perhaps a tattooed, earring sporting hippie could also represent the Church by demonstrating that not everyone who’s a good Mormon has to be a suit-wearing, clean-shaven white guy.

    3. The section on encouraging others to obey the Honor Code is also troubling. On the one hand, it is nice to know the office won’t follow up on anonymous tips. On the other hand, there are lengthy quotes from prophets and other statements that certainly infer that self-righteousness is ok and that ratting on people is the right thing to do.

    4. Perhaps I’m just trying to find too much fault, but the section on rape or sexual assault really bothered me. It’s a very cautious explanation that says *if* victims want to file a report the Honor Code office *may* investigate *if* there’s enough information provided. It seems to imply that there isn’t much difference between forcible sex or voluntary sex, since they both are unacceptable at BYU. It also says that the Honor Code office may defer making its decision in the wake of a civil or criminal trial, but that’s the only reference to involving law enforcement. There’s no encouragement to victims to report the crime to the police.

    Again, maybe I’m just trying to find fault too much, but with all the lengthy introductions decrying pornography, alcohol, cheating, etc., I guess I expected a little bit more of a condemnation of sexual assualt, given what a problem it is on all college campuses, including BYU.

  45. Mephibosheth says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how hard people will fight for their right to be a pig.

    The spirit of the honor code dress and grooming standards is simply this: dress better than the world.

    It’s true that Joseph Smith taught the Saints correct principles and they governed themselves, but in the past BYU students have proven that they do not do a very good job of governing themselves. It makes sense to me; the same goes for missionaries. They are at the age where they tend to need more hard and fast rules as opposed to general guidelines.

    With regard to facial hair, if you really want a beard you can grow a beard, you just need to decide that you want it enough to get your picture ID with it. The thing with beards is most guys I know will grow out their stubble for a few days, look like a homeless guy for a while, then shave when it gets too itchy or whatever. They’re not really into the beard thing, they’re just lazy and don’t want to shave.

  46. It would be interesting to know which is said more:

    “If you don’t like it here (Utah) you are free to move to another state.”


    “If you don’t like it here (BYU) you are free to attend another university.”

  47. John H.

    I made a comment a while ago on T&S about the BYU honor code and cheating. Most people there dismissed it but you might find it illustrative.

    At BYU you take actively proctored exams in a testing center where you can be kicked out for not meeting dress and grooming standards. People take the honor code setriously.

    Where I went to college you take a test in a room with only students. Proctors are not allowed in the room. The professor waits outside in case students have questions. You sign the honor code prior to taking the test and it is taken seriously.

    A friend that went to Cal Tech tells me that there tests are time limited and closed book. Interestingly enough they are also take home and you can take the test at any point during the week. Students sign an honor code and take it seriously.

    Whose “honor code” shows more honor? To me there is an analogy here to Alma 32, when Alma tells the people that it is good that they are humble. However it would be even better if they were humble without being compelled to be humble.

    I should also note that BYU is a quality academic institution. It is hard to get into. Many of the cream of the crop of mormondom go there. If any group of people should be capable of being taught correct principles and governing themselves it would be this group. It they can’t do it, then perhaps we need to reevaluate what it was that Joseph Smith meant.


    You are right. I probably appear to be a lunatic for focusing on the beard thing. Perhaps I enjoyed having a beard during college too much. I keep going back to that specific example because people don’t seem to be doing a great job of answering my more general questions. You can rest assured that I have read the BYU honor code recently and I know that it is more than beards, earrings, and the length of your shorts. That said, if someone could demonstrate to me why the beard rule is a good policy then we have probably found a basis for defending the other rules that go beyond the commandments.

    I appreciate your response about artificial consequences. Let’s compare the seatbelt example and the beard example carefully. I for one wear a seatbelt because it is a smart thing to do. It decreases my chances of injury in an auto accident. I wore one prior to it being a law. Now why should it be a law? Is it good public policy? It seems to me that if everyone were smart enough to think through the consequences of not wearing a seat belt then everyone would wear one. However is seems that some people don’t wear them for whatever reason. The deaths and inuries that occur to people not wearing seatbelts are an unneccessary drain on our society. I don’t want you to become a ward of the state because you didn’t want to wear a seatbelt. So the government has decided to present a more immediate consequence for those unable to connect the dots. Seems fine to me.

    Now lets look at the beard and test example. If

  48. John said:
    “As a more specific reason, the honor code also leads to a subtle effect in the LDS community in which having a beard is considered somehow less righteous. Other innocous behaviours that are prohibited fall into the same category.”

    For what it’s worth, this has been my primary problem with BYU’s Honor Code. Too many members of the Church turn any and all restrictions at BYU into cosmic litmus tests of righteousness for Church members, and occasionally even for other human beings in general. Maybe the problem isn’t as big as I think it is, but I’ve seen it enough to know it’s at least something of a problem. We’ve got a number of behavioral rules in the Church that set us apart from “the World” and that bring us blessings and benefits. I’d rather that we didn’t try to concoct new ones.

    If we’re aspiring to be a universal Church, I wish we’d start acting like a universal Church, rather than a parochial sect that is easily identified by cute dress standards that are considered normative.

    Aaron B

  49. John: “Again, to each their own, but to imply that spiritual development in college is best done at BYU is simply proving my point that the honor code leads people thinking that it is needed when in fact it is not.”

    Note that I never said that. I explained why many *want* the honor code. But I most definitely never said BYU was where everyone should go. Had I grown up in an all Mormon area of Utah I’d most likely have gone elsewhere. Since I grew up the only Mormon in most of my schooling and one of the few Mormons in the college prior to my mission, I rather enjoyed BYU.

    Further the fact of the matter is that there are many, many opportunities at BYU that simply don’t exist at other universities, even with the Institute program. I rather enjoyed, for instance, the discussions with physics professors and philosophy professors concerning my religion. Those sorts of things just *aren’t* there elsewhere. Further while the majority of religion classes are, in my mind, little more than Institute classes, there were plenty of amazing classes – especially those taught in the honors department. I recall a six credit philosophy class that focused in on Mormonism. I just can’t imagine that opportunity elsewhere. So too the library was filled with resources that you don’t get at most universities. Yes you can order many resources via inter-library loan. But as anyone who has done that knows, it never is the same as having the resources there.

  50. John: “Going to BYU does lessen the chances of running into the things you’ve described, that’s true. But so would living in a bunker in the middle of North Dakota. At some point, people need to learn to handle conflict and different situations.”

    I most strongly reject the premise in your comment that the only way to “handle conflict and different situations” is to be exposed to such things in ones *home*. Sorry I just don’t buy it. Further I don’t buy that one can’t learn those things at BYU.

    Certainly there are people at BYU who do their best to be sheltered and remain hidden to all culture outside of Mormon Utah culture. But the fact is that you can so hide in any place. I’ve seen people doing the same thing in Southern Alberta, in Louisiana, and even back home in Nova Scotia. While University may offer exposure to new ideas, it certainly doesn’t necessitate whether people make use of the opportunities. Further even going to BYU most people I knew went elsewhere for summer jobs, where they were exposed to what you describe.

    I think the stereotype of BYU Students as naive and sheltered and unable to deal with anything outside of Mormon culture is distasteful as well as being wrong.

  51. Keep the commandments. Break the rules.


    That saying doesn’t always work, but it’s fun to throw around occasionally, especially in the presence of the self-righteous.

  52. Kristine,
    She’s not going–she’s a SoCal girl; still, she did wonderfully there, and (as of 4 years ago) BYU had no women in the finance department.

    I was single the whole time I was at BYU; thus, 95% of my friends were single. No pressure was ever brought to bear on women not to get educated. I had one bishop’s wife who had interestingly backwards opinions on women in various workplaces which she said in Relief Society and then Priesthood. But she was an older woman, and nobody that I knew took it to heart.

    I don’t consider bishops to be BYU institutional pressure, because I never had one who had any connection to the University beyond living in Provo. So I guess I’m not considering that institutional. And, in my whole time there, I heard anti-work comments once from the bishop’s wife and a couple of times from peers.

    That said, I’m still not arguing that it’s for everyone. And I’m sure some women are pressured into marrying at an age I’d consider too young, by peers or family or RMs or ecclesiastical leaders, or religion professors, or someone. But I don’t consider most of those to be institutional actors (besides, obviously, professors. Fellow students, maybe, but again, I never met more than 1 or 2 students who felt that a girl had to be married by 19 and never leave the kitchen again). Again, that’s my experience.

  53. Multiple schools,

    While I have never been to BYU I can pass along what a good friend in my current ward has told me. He worked in the “honor code society” or whatever it is called. He tells me this was the year after the disbanded what he calls the “SS”. They recieved calls multiple times per day with students “snitching” on other students for a wide range of often hilarious activities. So maybe what I said was a mischaracterization, but that was the source of it. I fail to see how this weakens any of my arguements which have yet to be addressed.

  54. Nate Oman had some interesting thought on this issue here:
    He’s half kidding of course, but I agree with him to a certain extent. I would rather have my children rebelling by growing their hair out or wearing short skirts rather than binge drinking or serial sexual relationships.

    I should say, looking back on my time at the Y, other than the freshman dorms, I honestly can’t think of one time where the existence of the honor code made a difference in my actions. It was totally irrelevant to my life.

  55. Nathan Tolman says:

    No Y John,

    The story illustrates problems with any type of bureaucratic structure (like a library). Were there is a rule people will reluctant to break it even if it seems obvious they should. Have you never heard other stories about bureaucracies that were similar in nature.

    If you want an example I can provide you one or two from the school I attend currently, the University of Washington.

  56. Not to state the obvious, but ignorance by employees is no way to judge a policy. . .

  57. One has to wonder about the general idea that “the commandments are not enough” as applied to adult college students at BYU. That said, it’s not like I’d argue that BYU should be an “unregulated campus.” But I rarely hear any serious discussion about (1) what the content or level of detail of the Honor Code or (to use the old, more descriptive name) Standards regulation should be, or (2) how it should be applied or enforced. And the pernicious role that snitching or (worse) false snitching seems to play in the current system is simply ignored by BYU officials.

  58. One of my reasons for not attending BYU was that I wanted to live my standards because it was my choice from day to day to do so. I attended USU where there was still a large percentage of LDS students, but no honor code. The sky did not fall. The university did not turn into Babylon U. Many students attended the Tuesday devotionals at the Institute, even though the campus eatery was still open (gasp!).

    I had great roommates and wards, and a wonderful experience. There were no “wolves in sheeps clothing”, in that people who lived certain standards did so because they chose, and those who didn’t want to didn’t have to pretend to be something they were not. I could focus my attention on my academics and my life rather than worry about following rules.

  59. Personally I find the whole “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” line, as frequently used, a bit eye rolling. First off there are, so far as I’ve been able to discover, no copies of any sermon by Joseph saying this. So it’s hard to know the context. Second, one needn’t read much church history to know neither Joseph nor Brigham acting in accordance to the Libertarian principles people see entailed in the quote. I think this is really people reading their personal political views back into Joseph.

    (As an aside, I tried to find the origins of the quote and couldn’t. I wrote up my attempts here: http://www.libertypages.com/clark/arc1217-1220.html)

    Anyway, my point being, that there seems to be the presumption that a proper university education ought to entail a pure individualistic libertarian spirit. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. Certainly there are places like that. (I would have said Berkeley save for the anti-conservative, anti-semetic tone there of late) But I don’t see why all colleges ought to be like that. John is no so subtly suggesting that any restriction ought to be justified on some Utilitarian basis. Yet it seems to me that it is John who has the burden of proof here.

    Don’t get me wrong. As I said earlier, I certainly don’t agree with everything in the honor code. I personally don’t think neatly trimmed beards is a problem. Nor long hair. As I recall those parts were originally added in response to the counter-culture movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. I think they are a bit of an anachronism today. But I understand wanting some kind of dress code. Ideally everyone would dress nice, but to be frank BYU students are frequently more slovenly than many eastern colleges I’ve been to.

    However it seems to me that the dress code is probably the least significant aspect to the honor code.

  60. Regarding cheating and just trusting students. The problem is that students do cheat and students are expelled or put on probation every year over this. I’ve certainly had many exams at BYU where your honor was trusted. Further even at the testing center no one looks to see if the books you are using are technically allowed for the exam. So there is a high degree of trust accorded students. Far more than at other colleges I’ve been to.

    Likewise with the honor code. If students could be trusted to live it on their own then why do we see so many students breaking it?

    Regarding sexual assault, I think you are perhaps exaggerating things. I’ve no love for the honor code in that regard, since I reported a roommate who was a peeping tom and they did nothing about it. (Heavens, I discovered the guy even had a long criminal record) So if anything I find the problem with the honor code to be inconsistency and not taking reports seriously. (And yes I did give my name and phone number along with the numbers of many who could corroborate it)

    But for sexual assault that seems always to be taken very serious in my experience. The problem some run into is that when someone gets found in a sexual tryst, some relatively unethical people sometimes cry assault to get off the honor code violation. I’ve seen it happen several times, although in all cases they eventually recanted. Unfortunately those sorts of occurrences then can make it difficult for officers investigating real date rape or the like. How does one sort it out? Perhaps some might see this as a reason to get rid of the honor code but the problem with ones bishop and family remain. A few (hopefully small minority) don’t mind violating the law of chastity and are more concerned with public consequences than lying or the spiritual consequences to their acts.

    In either case, any sexual assault I’ve known of has been seriously investigated. All the police I’ve known, both on campus or with Provo city take it very seriously.

    As for John’s comments about “ratting people out” I’m afraid I can see it both ways. I’ve had people I’ve reported because I worried the effect they were having on others. Then there have been people I’ve known breaking the code which I’ve not reported. It really depends upon context.

  61. Regarding the questions about roommates. I know the roommate hell I’ve been through here in Provo *with* the purported honor code restrictions. I’ve also lived elsewhere, both while working in Los Alamos as well as going to a non-Mormon school before transferring to BYU.

    I certainly don’t think that without the honor code you are doomed to “pervs.” However without the honor code the probability of getting someone bringing over women for wild nights, leaving spent condoms around the room, drinking, drugs and so forth *is* significantly more likely. To argue otherwise is, I think, more than a little naive.

    Also the allusion to “my country: love it or leave it” is inapt. The whole point of BYU is to offer a choice of a different environment. Since there are several excellent colleges here in the state *without* BYU’s standards along with hundred others out of state, I don’t quite fathom the problem.

    As to the issue of whether spiritual is affected by people acting in the sorts of ways I mention. Of course it is. And I can attest to it after having been around it a fair deal. Once again I’d argue that anyone who thinks having a roommate doing drugs, carousing, abusing alcohol (as opposed to drinking in moderation) and so forth with *not* affect your spirituality is simply dreaming pipe dreams.

  62. Ryan,

    There have been new rules about earrings (though not tattoos) since 1994, in what was seen as a response to a speech that President Hinckley gave. I think this was in about 1997. I am not familiar enough with the history of the honor code to answer in detail.

  63. Sam B.,

    Though you didn’t answer my question about what would happen if the honor code were gone (and I would love to know what you think, why not share?) I will go ahead and answer yours.

    I think that the honor code is pernicious for a few reasons. One is that it implicitly teaches that the best way to run a large LDS community is to impose rules that go beyond the commandments and to impose artificial consequences for breaking those rules. This is directly counter to what Joseph Smith taught as John H. mentioned above. Why do we love to say, “Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves,” while at the same time implementing, “Teach them correct principles, throw in some other stuff that may or may not matter, and then enforce it all with a system of snitching and consequences that are artificial.”? Are we afraid of how BYU students would represent the church if left to their own devices? In any case this is pernicious in my mind because it seems contradictory to the teachings of the prophet. Nobody has explained to me yet how it isn’t Satan’s plan in miniature. There is a lesson to be learned here about the nature of free agency.

    It also breeds a certain attitude of, “If it doesn’t bother me then why NOT have it?” which you and others on the board have expressed. I think if you are going to have a policy of this type there should be strong active reasons to have it. You should be able to provide me ten good reasons off the top of your head. If it isn’t a big deal then why have it? Let me put it another way. I am sure that there are plenty of words that you would never utter and opinions that you would never express. Does that mean that you would be comfortable with outlawing those?

    As a more specific reason, the honor code also leads to a subtle effect in the LDS community in which having a beard is considered somehow less righteous. Other innocous behaviours that are prohibited fall into the same category.

    Finally (and this is my weakest point I think) the honor code makes allowances for the BYU athlectic program by not having a policy on tattoos, which were focused on much more than two earrings in the speech that Pres. Hinckley made that led to the sudden change in earring policy. Besides being a double standard that seems to put more of a burden on women, it also teaches that keeping the athletes happy is a top priority. While there are lots of great things about the atheletic program at the Y there are also some things that aren’t so great, which I am sure you are aware of. Of course you could argue that tattoos are permanent, and I would counter that they can be removed. If nothing else you would think that the honor code would prohibit new tattoos, which it doesn’t.

    I for one see nothing wrong with having a beard while in college. I am not a fan of ears full of earrings but I think that is a personal choice. I put tattoos (which I would never get myself) in the same categ

  64. Sam B.,

    Why are the responses always in the form of, “It’s not so bad, it didn’t bother me”? It is easy to say that the restrictions are fine because they are benign to you.

    I think it is reasonable that students at BYU should live the standards of the church, which it seems reasonable to interpret as the WoW and 10 commandments. But the rules way beyond that. Why shouldn’t a college student be able to grow a beard? (I could make a terrible joke here, must resist…)

    So rather than saying that it is fine because it did hurt you, tell us something else. Why does BYU need the honor code? What would happen if they dropped it tomorrow?

  65. Sam, I understand that people experience any one environment in a myriad of different ways. But let’s talk about what makes an institution. You say the oppression of women wasn’t the focus of the institution, but in the same sentence acknowledge that type of pressure from bishops and peers. Isn’t that enough to constitute an environment that is hostile to women’s development?

    I have never attended BYU, but I have, as any LDS person, many friends and family members who went to school there, and I don’t mean to suggest it is a terrible place for everyone. I wouldn’t know. My observation is that there are elements of the approach that don’t suit me and I wouldn’t invite into my life.

  66. Someone asked a while back how the rules for students BYU compare with those at non-LDS Christian schools. I have two nieces who recently attended a college sponsored by a conservative evangelical Chrsitian denomination. In some areas, what was expected of students there isn’t much different than what is expected at BYU: cheating was a no-no, as were alcohol and tobacco use both on and off campus (although the school says it makes no attempt to enforce its anti-alcohol rule for students who are at home with their families). Students couldn’t visit others of the opposite sex in their rooms after (I think) 1 a.m. , and students (at least in theory) can be disciplined for non-chastity. Although participation in a congregation is encouraged, it isn’t required. There school has no rules whatsoever about attire or grooming.

    My personal view: Since BYU is heavily subsidized by the church, I have no objection to basic behavioral standards such as abstinence from alcohol and tobacco. And I suppose I wouldn’t even object to a “garment friendly” attire policy. But anything beyond that I find both absurd and insulting. What possible harm could there be in growing a beard or wearing coveralls, for example?

  67. Sorry, John, thought you were another non-John Hatch John H. Too many John H’s floating around. Of course, the sexist environment is pernicious to all, not just women, as you point out. However, it is damaging to women’s self-esteem and self-image, while for men, it likely influences their view of women and enhances their view of self in an unhealthy and incorrect way, but distinct from how it affects women. Hence my primal urge to keep my future female offspring from there, and my more lukewarm but still-existing desire to keep future sons from the Y and Utah in general.

  68. Summarizing, most comments seem to be saying that there are various arguments in principle against the Honor Code as a too-detailed code of conduct for BYU students, but that in practice it has little impact on the average student.

    In fairness, here’s one practical reason BYU as an institution feels compelled, I think, to keep a strong Honor Code in place. If even five or ten “morally straight” BYU freshmen students got paired with Joe Sleazeball as a roommate and BYU couldn’t get rid of Sleazeball in short order, that would be Very Bad Publicity. Parents, GAs, and Bishops would all be upset; they play the “tithing card,” BYU officials have to answer lots of questions, and so on. So just because 98% of BYU students wouldn’t change their behavior if the Honor Code was pared down, the other 2% could cause a lot of trouble for BYU as an institution.

  69. Thanks for your thoughts, Clark. Those are actually interesting points I hadn’t considered before (though we obviously still disagree about some things).

  70. Typically when an environment that is already structured gets more and more rules, it’s in an attempt to stop problems before they get out of hand. Chances are, none of these rules would exist if somebody, somewhere, hadn’t done something foolish to inspire the rule.

    That said, more rules hardly seems to be the solution. Whatever happened to, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” More rules almost always means unintended negative consequences. Could this be the case of a few ruining it for the many?

    As another comment on the BYU Honor Code, there was a story last year about some football players involved in a bit of a sex scandal. Let’s just say there were multiple football players, and one female BYU student involved in this unpleasantness. Early on, the girl actually accused the players of rape, but later changed her story and admitted it was consentual. She said she was afraid of getting in trouble with the Honor Code office.

    How screwed up is it that this girl was more afraid of the Honor Code office than she was of filing a fake police report??? I’m not suggesting all, or even most, BYU students would do the same thing, but it does seem indicative of how seriously the rules are supposed to be taken at BYU.

  71. When I was at BYU I found the rules to chafe, though I kept them pretty well. There was a neverending debate among all there about what was ok and what was not ok, what rules were foolish and what rules were wise, etc. and etc. After four or five years (I can’t remember which) I was glad to be done and go to other university institutions that didn’t worry about what sometimes felt like a lot of nonsense.

    There was always a feeling at BYU that the paternalistic bureaucracy was rather condescendingly telling you: “we know what’s best for you, better than you do. We know we have the right Spirit and we’re going to make sure you have it as well.”

    It was never smothering or hugely coercive (mainly because I complied) but it was simply annoying to have to go get an ecclesiastical endorsement to attend classes or to not be able to buy a doughnut at the BYU bookstore during a BYU devotional (since they closed everything down as an effort to encourage attendance). These are merely inconveniences, not oppression — and I recognized that.

    When dealing with these and other similar bothers that would arise, I would sometimes think about Daniel’s (in the Old Testament) vision of the Church filling the whole earth. I’d wonder then (and maybe now) what the larger church culture and government would be like if it filled the whole earth. Would everyone have to perpetually deal with these kinds of rules, regulations and inconveniences due to a paternalistic Church-run bureaucracy? Maybe someday when I have kids who are about to go to college, I’ll see things differently. Then again, maybe not. < / end of foolish rambling thoughts >

  72. Why have rules indeed? In general, rules are instituted as a means of heading off disputes over intepretations of prinicples in situations where such differences of opinions might have serious consequences.

    In a small community, such differences can be worked out informally. In large communities, rules are set up to avoid conflict — “Why are you punishing me when so-and-so did such-and-such, which is clearly more offensive than my behavior, and got off scot-free.”

    When the potential penalty for an Honor Code violation is dismissal from the University, I for one would want to have baseline standards of conduct spelled out, rather than depend on someone else’s interpretation. Sure the application of the Honor Code is somewhat arbitrary, but it’s a whole lot less arbitrary than leaving the entire interpretation up to some unknown administrator.

    The consequences are not artiifcial. It’s difficult to argue that students should not be dismissed from BYU for behavior that is grossly out of line with the teaching of the Church. The parts of the Honor Code that are rule-specific serve to protect students in such instances.

    I think the discussion of the Honor Code here is entirely too focused on the negative, in how the Honor Code can be used punitively, and I see that I have contributed to that discussion. Let me add that as a former BYU student who never had any issues with the Honor Code, I can tell you that the Honor Code made my life much easier as a student. Instead of having to negotiate behaviors with other students on campus, I knew what I could expect from them on the areas of behavior that were most likely to cause contention.

    “Oh, but that’s not the real world” you say. No, it’s not. I grew up in New York — I had enough of the real world growing up. If I lived in Utah County, I don’t think BYU would have been a good choice for me. But coming from where I did, it was a welcome environment.

    There has been much discussion about the BYU Honor Code with very little direct examination of the actual code. Here is a link for anyone interested: http://campuslife.byu.edu/honorcode/honor_code.htm (can I use tags here? I haven’t seen any other links in this thread. Go ahead and cut and paste).

    BTW, I couldn’t grow a beard even if I went the whole four years without shaving.

  73. With regard to the origins of the “teach them correct principles, let them govern themselves” quote, I too once upon a time went in search of it in original JS sources. Clark came up with a lot more than I did, although I think that the best source is the John Taylor Journal of Discourses quotation from the early 1860s since that is the earliest report. I also concur that the quotation is authentic. It seems to have occurred in a private conversation, and as a close colleague of JS and frequent co-host for distinguished visitors, John Taylor certainly was in a position to have heard it. Also, it is hard to see any reason for Taylor to have made it up. (My own candidate for the “man” who asked the question is the English socialist John Finch who visited Nauvoo in September 1843, but I haven’t been able to clinch that yet with sources.)

    What intrigues me is the extent to which Latter-day Saints have seized upon and repeated the expression over generations. I have heard in used in numerous contexts unrelated to radical libertarianism. Does anyone know of any research or publications exploring the expression’s use over time by the LDS?