Reforming the Honor Code Office

BYU Students are hoping to reform the Honor Code Office with a social media campaign, and students have been sharing stories online of their own run-ins with the HCO. The stories have a few recurring themes:

  • Gay students being targeted disproportionately, often for non-violations
  • Vindictive behavior between students that the HCO enables and promotes
  • Hints at breaches of confidentiality in the ecclesiastical confession process, putting repentant students’ educations on the line when they seek counsel
  • Policing of doubts and testimony by other students
  • Local police officers sharing information about BYU students that occurs off campus
  • The emotionally and psychologically unhealthy impacts of the HCO on students: paranoia, anxiety, depression, and the fact that some reported sins/violations are associated with psychological issues
  • That the HCO encourages lying and discourages repentance by inserting academic (and downstream financial) consequences to what should be personal spiritual matters
  • That there is an HCO file on each student, including fishing expeditions in their social media accounts. (FYI, they are legally obligated to show you your file if you request, and I would request the heck out of that thing.)

Additionally, an online petition seeks to modify some of the code’s more strict dress code norms such as no beards, no second piercings for women and no piercings for men, and knee length shorts. Students also seek a relaxation of the code’s curfews and prohibitions on using bathrooms in opposite sex apartments. [1] Since the code was theoretically created by the students, then theoretically the students should have a say in how it is enforced and when and how it is modified. I have a hard time believing that between 1992 (when I graduated) and now, anything approaching a majority of students felt that the code should become more stringent; yet it has. Given that the current petition has over 16,000 signatures (despite a stated fear that signing them will put them in the cross-hairs of the HCO), the university either needs to listen up or quit saying the students create the code.

It makes me question whether the Honor Code is really a golem, a thing the students created (in the 1970s, mind you) that has taken on a life of its own (and its own office full of employed enforcers) and now you can’t easily disempower it. The golem is a Jewish mythical creature with a holy word on its forehead that brought it to life. Someone would create a golem to carry out routine tasks like household chores, and eventually the golem would get larger and more powerful and dangerous and had to be taken down. The way to do this was to remove the holy word from its forehead, thus deactivating it, but the golem-creator was often injured by the flailing, threatened golem in the process. A valuable cautionary tale.

The Honor Code Office recently issued a Q&A to explain its actions and processes as well as a Tweet in response to the social media campaign:

So far so good. The Q&A from Honor Code Office director Kevin Utt also shows some promise, although he neatly elides some of the more important trends noted in the Honor Code Stories shared by students. You can read his remarks in their entirety here. I really do believe that his and the office’s intentions toward the students, at least in response to these stories, are caring and positive, and that he wants to uphold the university’s tradition of gospel-committed students of faith. I believe they are sincerely listening and hoping to make improvements. [2] Positive aspects and/or changes:

  • They appear to be addressing training gaps (if not hiring gaps) in their staff as pertains to psychology of students being reported.
  • They acknowledge and express concern about the anxiety their office and the process of being accused causes, even though there are no specific plans to curtail or address this outlined in the Q&A.
  • They claim the office’s role is rehabilitative and conciliatory, not punitive. Even if this is just an aspirational comment, it could have some positive effects.
  • They state that students will not bear consequences for not turning in other students.
    • This contradicts some honor code office stories that I personally heard at school (particularly if a student was unwilling to name a sexual partner), but here it is in writing which will hopefully empower students not to be bullied by administrators or teachers into tattling on other students. Please, BYU students, if you are reading this, know that your Religion Professor may tell you it’s part of being your Brother’s Keeper to tell on him (or a video about a fallen comrade may imply such. Hmmm.), but it isn’t so.
    • The downside here is that false accusations also hold no consequences to those who target others.
  • They claim that they do not act on anonymous reports, but with the caveat that they will if a student’s safety may be in jeopardy.
    • This begs the question exactly what do they consider to be “safety” (are there some Dolores Umbridge-like HCO employees who stretch the limits to include, for example, “spiritual safety” in which case, the safety caveat is meaningless.)
  • They talk about the importance of context in determining outcomes, specifically: motivation, intent, openness of the student (yikes), impact, and relative severity of behavior.
    • There is still plenty of risk in the ability of these HCO employees to assess such things when handling a distressed student whose life may feel upended by an accusation.
  • They explain that the office does not receive information from bishops about students unless the student has given prior written consent for that information to be released. That’s a game changer there, and I suspect that it’s about the first time any students have ever heard of that, but it should be shouted from the rooftops and nailed to the door of every BYU student-approved housing apartment.
    • This statement in the Q&A made me go “Say what now?”: “By far the majority of cases addressed through BYU’s student conduct office are initiated by students reporting themselves for a violation.” The only way I can imagine this statement to be true is if you consider the previous bullet: that students go to a bishop and don’t specifically require that the bishop retain what is said in confidence. I can only guess that the default setting is “Bishops have leave to spill the beans.” Students, as The Clash put it, Know Your Rights! Is there a caveat when you sign the honor code that you agree that your bishop can share your confession with the office? If so, YOU MARK NO.
    • There is some implication in the Q&A that bishops may not understand the confidentiality requirement and may unknowingly violate such and bring information to the HCO. In ecclesiastical trainings, bishops and stake presidents are invited to a meeting with university administration in which the HCO states: “We also emphasize that private information is not shared between ecclesiastical leaders and the Honor Code Office unless a student has signed a privacy waiver.” Something about this feels a bit hinky. They remind them at a non-mandatory meeting not to rat out students to the HCO for confidential confessions, but . . . how do they ensure the bishops aren’t violating confidence without express written consent?
  • The Q&A states unequivocally that if a Title IX violation is found, the case with the HCO is immediately stopped and referred to the Title IX office. As he points out, this is one of the most important reforms made in 2016 to address sexual assault.
  • Students have the right to request a staff member of a specific gender. As a woman, I’m not sure which gender I’d request because generally speaking they are both awful to women, but hey, at least it’s an option, and it will be honored if possible.

There are some elements to his answers and omissions, though, that are unsatisfactory, questionable or potentially misleading. Here’s a list:

  • There is no consequence for students who weaponize the HCO to attack other students or who make specious allegations about their fellow students. From my own time there, I was told that my informant’s identity was held confidential, and even though it was deemed a groundless complaint, I should be on my guard anyway, that it was my responsibility to defend against accusations. The accuser had no burden of proof to meet. The identity of this mysterious creep was sacrosanct, and I was told there would be no consequences to him for wasting everybody’s time and blowing my week up with needless worry.
    • This is particularly concerning if there is a trend of disproportionate targeting of LGBT students, even when they are not in violation of any school policy, as appears to be the case.
    • In my own experience, I found that women were frequently harassed by unwanted suitors through the honor code. I even found an RA who was peeping into my roommate’s window, “looking for honor code violations.” I can state with utter confidence that the “Standards” office that was in place back then would not have cared one whit that an RA was creeping around the bushes outside our apartment if they felt my roommate was breaking the school’s precious honor code, but as I pointed out to the creepy RA, the police probably would, and that’s who I would call if I ever saw him doing that again.
    • There’s a “fruit of the poison tree” line of thinking missing from the HCO evaluation of accusations. They should not accept information from bishops or off-campus police officers if these are people who should not be sharing information, regardless of what that information is.
    • From a credibility standpoint, they should be equally skeptical of every single complaint they receive to ensure it’s not the product of jilted exes or spurned suitors or jealous roommates / classmates or homophobic kids just figuring out their place in a church school. Haven’t these people ever watched Law & Order?
  • The ecclesiastical endorsement was a one-time thing when I attended BYU, something we did to be accepted into the school. We weren’t required to reaffirm our beliefs and commitment to the code every single year (as students are now). This was newly instituted in 1991 as an annual requirement. It seems that the issues with bishops violating confidentiality are an off-shoot of this more frequent forced interview process.
  • While there is some reason to believe that emotional states are part of the context being considered, it’s also incredibly hard for non-therapists to accurately assess things like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder related behaviors, and trauma-induced promiscuity. I had a roommate back in the 80s who was a survivor of childhood incest that resulted in her freezing up in sexual situations. As she told me, she just let the guys she dated do what they wanted because what she wanted didn’t matter. She wasn’t in a position to manage these encounters due to her childhood trauma, and she was suffering from depression. She was receiving counseling through the university (she was a Psychology major). Had someone turned her in to Standards, I can only imagine what would have happened, and it wouldn’t have been good for her.
  • He doesn’t mention the fact that the HCO keeps a file on students. Back in the day, we only had a file if a complaint had been made. There was no social media policing and people still had to guess at your private thoughts. Not so anymore. No wonder the office has grown so big. But that’s a huge part of the problem, too. Things that should be private, like conversations with bishops and what posts you like on Twitter, are being evaluated by a third party to ensure ideological and behavioral purity.

It’s encouraging that the school is listening. There’s still more to do, though. My list would be:

  • Scrap annual ecclesiastical endorsements and go back to entry-only.
  • Do not police social media accounts of students or accept such policing from fellow students. Someone’s academic standing shouldn’t be in jeopardy because a nosy parker read the tea leaves of their social media Likes and other emoticons.
  • Restrict “honor code” investigations to cheating and plagiarism like other schools and manage them through the Dean of Students. Keep the code or not, but completely scrap the culture of tattling and enforcing that currently exists that is truly unique at the BYU schools (come on, saying that “all schools have one” is disingenuous at best given the tattling environment that exists at BYU). Don’t reward or encourage or enable tattling, full stop.
  • Provide better access to free non-ecclesiastical counseling for students with emotional or psychological issues. Educate ecclesiastical leaders on these issues much better than they are at present.

Failing those reforms, my only recommendation would be for students to follow the excellent advice from the Book of Mormon, Jacob 6:12.

O be wise; what can I say more?

Let’s see what our readers think.


[1] I graduated from BYU in 1992, and back then I and the students I knew thought the beard restriction was dumb. Admittedly, I was in Humanities. Additionally, most of us ignored the curfews and prohibition on bathrooms, at least where I lived, and there was no restriction on piercings because that wasn’t a thing yet, still just an unexpressed preference of not-yet-President-Hinckley. I had three in each ear through my whole mission because who cares.

[2] This is a stark contrast to what I experienced as a BYU student, although my generation had no social media to empower us or allow us to be heard. My own encounters with the HCO (then called Standards) during the late 80s and early 90s can be found in a post I did many years ago on this blog.




  1. Perma banned says:

    I sometimes wonder should the entire USA become BYU, how similar would it be to Iran, with their moral police and such.

  2. Ryan Mullen says:

    The gaping hole in the FAQ claim that information from the bishop is only obtained if a privacy waiver is signed is that, apparently, students are told that if they don’t sign the waiver then they will be kicked out because the bishop can’t confirm they are repentant.

  3. Some suggestions:
    Burn down the Honor Code Office. Salt the earth where it stood. Leave the ashes as a memorial to its destruction.
    Keep an honor code that’s focused primarily on academic conduct.
    Let the Title IX office deal with sexual misconduct according to legal standards.
    Allow bishops to serve a genuinely pastoral role.
    Take the money that’s being wasted on the HCO and spend it on personal counseling.
    Embark on a future where BYU students can more fully learn adulthood.

  4. Kristine A says:

    Yeah I think that’s how the HCO is getting around the Bishop requirement is using high pressure tactics to get kids to sign a form of consent/release.

    Also I would LOVE is BYU-Idaho could be included in these discussions. :) My fear is Provo will make changes and these Rexburg kids will be left up here on their own. The conversations happening on Rexburg local FB pages are so embarrassingly along the lines of “Kick these kids out! They need to repent to their bishops for not sustaining leaders!” etc to the Nth degree.

  5. Michael Snow says:

    I would guess that the reason most cases are initiated by student self-report is not quite that students go to the bishop and the bishop himself passes it along to the Honor Code Office. Rather, it seems likely that not a few bishops counsel the student that as part of the repentance process, he or she has some sort of obligation to report to the Honor Code Office themselves. In part it’s equating repentance with facing the consequences of one’s actions.

  6. Bob Powelson says:

    The students at BYU are with a few exceptions, adults. There were terms and conditions when they were admitted. The answer is to live with it.

    I recognize the fact that the students are young and hormones are running hot and heavy, as mine were when I went there a long time ago. The young sometimes do stupid things so there should be a process to ameliorate the consequences of a first time failure.

  7. It’s time to start weaponizing the honor code ourselves. Report bishops. Report members of the honor code office including the director. Report professors, deans, academic vps. Report the president of BYU. Report members of the byu police dept, especially student officers

  8. Kudos to Angela for this terrific perspective. It seems we are contemporaries in terms of our experiences at BYU as undergraduates, and I could not agree more with most of her comments in the original post.

    Let me begin by being clear: I am not suggesting that BYU should not have an honor code. I have a friend who is a Catholic priest and a professor at one of the leading Catholic universities in the country. We have had many discussions about the relationship between faith and academia, and he consistently praises BYU for remaining true to its roots in an academic culture that prizes secularism over religiosity.

    The problem is not with the idea of an honor code; the problem with is the Honor Code Office and in the application of the parameters of the honor code in its current iteration. From my perspective, there are four main problems:

    * First, the focus on the external rather than the internal. As a BYU faculty member, I know of scores of examples of students who have violated the honor code’s prohibitions against academic dishonesty–which would make one ineligible for a temple recommend–who face only minor sanctions (if any repercussions at all) from the university. Yet try to check a book out of the library with five o’clock shadow or take an exam in the Testing Center in yoga pants…and wo, wo, wo unto thee.

    * Second, there is a disincentive to seek pastoral care and to avoid taking advantage of the Atonement because students do not want to run the risk of endangering their academic careers and futures based on leadership roulette that might expose them to the HCO. This is completely antithetical to the gospel.

    * Third, the fact that the “standards” in the honor code are higher than those required to enter the temple–the holiest place on earth in our theology–is ludicrous. Is BYU holier than the temple?

    * Fourth, the honor code contributes to the infantilization of the students. One of the most common complaints I have heard from BYU students is that they are not treated as adults. Opinions on beards, earrings, tattoos, and hair length are culturally constructed and reflective of personal proclivities, not eternal principles. Students should be allowed to make choices and learn lessons on their own, not have their decisions on minutia dictated based on a set of cultural interpretations from over fifty years ago. Teach them correct principles–or even recommended practices–and let them govern themselves. These are, after all, adults. A beard does not signal apostasy, just as a student who complies with the honor code metrics for appearance does not mean that they are living their lives in accordance with gospel principles.

    But, some might say, the students (and faculty) knew what they were signing! Our tithing subsidizes their tuition and pays their salaries! True enough. That does not mean, however, that those who recognize the problems with the honor code, the HCO, the enforcement mechanisms, the lack of privacy and transparency, the mistreatment of victims of sexual assault, the harassment of LGBTQ and other students with non-conforming ideas, and the fundamental disconnect between many aspects of the honor code and gospel principles should meekly submit and not try to do something to change the status quo.

    I could go on–this is a topic about which I have strong opinions–but let me conclude with this: the honor code started out as a student-directed effort (see this for a good review of the history of the honor code: It has evolved into something quite different and disturbing on many levels. Reforming the honor code is an idea whose time has come….and, frankly, is long overdue.

  9. HCO report for me says:

    The honor code is like the Kabuki theater that plays out at airports with the TSA. Superficial, ineffective, annoying, and enforced by petty functionaries whose self-importance belies their fundamental uselessness.

  10. My freshman year in Deseret Towers I had a roommate who came home drunk at 3 am and urinated out of our 4th floor window. He and some buddies had some scheme where they somehow stole phone service. I’d never been in a fist-fight in my life before coming to BYU and having that roommate. Dude didn’t just need to counsel with his bishop. He needed an attitude adjustment and he needed to do it somewhere else.

    I’m in favor of the honor code remaining mostly as it is with some small modifications (grooming/dress standards, using bathrooms, etc.). I’d also remove the annual ecclesiastical endorsement. What really needs reforming is the honor code office, and hopefully that’s already begun after the revelations of how it treated rape victims.

    But none of those concessions changes the fact that I have little patience for people who claim that since they’re adults and can make their own decisions that the rules don’t apply to them. An honor code that relies on self-policing alone just means every does what they want and everybody else has to put up with them.

  11. There were terms and conditions when they were admitted. The answer is to live with it.

    That’s one approach to living the gospel, I guess. Hardly an inspiring application of the life and times of Jesus but no doubt consistent with the message of the Little Red Hen.

  12. Happy Hubby says:

    I would like most of what is the HCO turned back to the students with elected student body representatives. I am sure they would fight hard against those that cheat on tests and such. They have “Cougar pride” and would do the school proud. Right now the HCO and the whole Title IX office mess is making the school look ridiculous. I am impressed that there is even protests going on in BYU-I and I do hope that gets attention as everything I have heard the culture there is even more out of whack.

  13. I got in trouble for breaking the honor code and am grateful for the way the honor code office handled it. They required me to see a counselor, which was way more helpful to me than talking to my bishop. I had a great counselor who helped me deal with the underlying problems in my life with out the condemnation I felt from my bishop.

  14. Brian Fabbi says:

    My one and only run in with the Honor Code Office was, unfortunately, as the tattler. I feel guilty about it some 13 years later. Some background, it was the 2005-2006 school year, and I was just home from my mission. I was in the Raintree Apartments with 5 guys I didn’t know from Adam. The first semester was ok, but the second, things went downhill. I started having a major depressive episode, my grades dropped, and it seemed like the world was ending. Into this milieu, a new roommate moved into my room. I woke up one night to find him on the phone with his girlfriend, hands down his pants, and making noises. It made me uncomfortable, and I asked him the next day to not do that when I was in the room. He continued to do it, and I woke to that scene multiple times. I talked to my therapist, a BYU Counseling Center one, suggested that I talk to the Honor Code Office about what was going on. I did, they did an investigation, and the guy got kicked out and he left the apartment.
    I did get better, but every so often I think about that guy, and I hope I didn’t ruin his life.
    It sounds like the HCO is more draconian and fascist now than it was. That needs to change.

  15. I didn’t attend BYU, and I don’t have children who will ever have to make the decision to attend there. Yet somehow I feel like I have a stake in what BYU does, mainly because I have to attend church with the insufferable clones churned out by that environment.

    Burn it down, and don’t look back. Abolish the honor code. Decouple academic performance/eligibility from church standing. Take the beam out of our own eye. Stop looking beyond the mark.

    Anyone who says differently is complicit in the harm caused by the current system.

  16. My interaction with the honor code office per se is nil. My interaction with the honor code, ecclesiastical endorsement, and the system big picture, leads me to the following:
    1. As an academic, professional, and father — for me and my house the BYU system is no man’s land. Stay away. (Notwithstanding a semester here and there, in different times, in pockets of sense. And notwithstanding the many students and especially faculty whom I count among the best people in my life.)
    2. As an ecclesiastical leader dealing with the system from the outside, there is no other structure or practice anywhere that has so influenced me to lie.
    3. As an observer on a sociology or organizational behavior level, the HCO and surrounding practices illustrate some of the worst of Mormon culture, including “more is better” and “if it sounds good do it, hang the consequences.” Everybody has difficulty with unintended consequences. We seem to be particularly bad on that score.

    I’d have to study in detail and really work at it, but the “burn it down” impulse is strong. The narratives strongly suggest that patchwork fixes are not enough.

  17. Roger Hansen says:

    I agree with Nate and Christian, the problems are much bigger than HCO. The whole environment at Church schools needs to change. The religion department needs to move off campus. Religion and academics need to be decoupled. Tattling over religious faux pas needs to end.

  18. If you talk to anyone in the BYU counseling office or to students who have dealt with it you will learn that it is an excellent resource and it is too small by magnitudes. Solution: limit the HC office to academic issues, transfer all the full time employment positions to counseling services and hire as many counselors as possible (it still probably won’t be enough but it will be progress). Relegate all matters of pastoral care and repentance to bishops and cut almost all ties between university and church units.

  19. Last Lemming says:

    The anti-tattling instinct, which I largely share, runs the risk of sending a message to the Brain Fabbi’s of the world that the only acceptable response to a hostile living environments (like having to watch your roommate masturbate in front of you even after asking him not to) is to keep your mouth shut and endure it. This is the wrong message. Does he really have to just live with that, or is there somewhere other than the HCO that he could have gone for relief? (I expect there is a good answer for that, but not being very familiar with BYU, I don’t know what it is.)

  20. Bro. Jones says:

    Nate S. “Yet somehow I feel like I have a stake in what BYU does, mainly because I have to attend church with the insufferable clones churned out by that environment.” — amen to this. People take the “Love it or leave it” rhetoric from BYU and apply it in church as well, which is incredibly disheartening.

  21. Eric Facer says:

    A friend of mine recently told me of his son’s decision not to attend BYU (the kid was accepted); instead, he will be attending an excellent in-state university. The boy also indicated that he had not yet decided whether to serve a mission.

    When his parents asked him why he had made these decisions, his response was as follows: “Though I value the church and its teachings, I nevertheless want to live my own life and make my own decisions. Knowing myself as well as I do, I fear that in a highly-regimented environment I will constantly be surrounded by people telling me what to do, how to think, and what I should believe. This would most certainly make me unhappy which, in turn, would make those around me unhappy. I don’t want that.”

  22. There are a lot of BYU grads in my ward and stake who are not clones and not insufferable and who don’t adopt the “love it or leave it” rhetoric. I’m not in Utah (nor in a Mormon pocket in AZ or ID) and not in CA or in a so-called liberal ward. My ward and stake are somewhat mixed on the liberal-conservative scale (both politically and religiously). Where are the insufferable clones? (Other than BYU where I encountered too many of them decades ago, but also very many who were not such insufferable clones.)

    Jared, sorry about the “liberal-conservative” scale. I don’t like it either, but don’t know how else to express the idea concisely.

  23. Burn down the Honor Code Office. Salt the earth where it stood. Leave the ashes as a memorial to its destruction.

    Bravo. I know this was likely a rhetorical flourish, but I think it should be taken literally. Imagine the powerful signal this action would send to the entire community: that BYU not only recognizes but regrets the malignancy that it has fostered, and demonstrates its commitment to forsaking it.

  24. Shy Saint says:

    This will all get resolved pretty quickly if alums (who are no longer subject to the HCO’s intimidations) will write to the various BYU Presidents and the Fifteen that they won’t consider financial gifts of any sort until the code is rewritten to eliminate all but the most serious infractions and all intimidation and focus on punishment rather than resolution.

  25. Chadwick says:

    I have been following the account on Instagram and the stories are truly heartbreaking. What I love about the campaign is they constantly repeat they respect the Honor Code, but not the Honor Code office. They want standards; they just wanted the enforcement of the standards to be more aligned with Christian compassion. #thatsnothonor illustrates they recognize the disconnect between the principles of the Honor Code and the way it is being administered.

    It irks me anytime someone pulls the “they signed it and they are subsidized” line. They are subsidized by me. They are subsidized by the lifelong contributions of their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, home ward communities, not to mention, themselves. We pay the tithing that subsidizes them, not some single donor living in Beverly Hills. As a member who currently subsidizes their BYU experience, I am more than happy to cast my vote to recognize that people change over time, people make mistakes, but that should not be allowed to derail years of hard work. I’m more than happy to continue to subsidize them to stay at BYU while they work through the challenges of life. I hope the other donors (ie their parents and neighbors) would feel the same way.

  26. Bob Powelson says:

    It seems that the secular types want to separate religion and education.
    I attended BYU a long time ago (the 1960s), but I went there after time in the military and a mission.
    First, some of the trivial things, that are prohibited such as beards and mustaches, longish hair are simply the asinine babble of the insecure.
    I had a part time job in the “housing office” way back then including some “mediation”. Some of the disputes were hilarious and others tragic, but that leads me to the next point
    Second, get back to basics, helping when needed, reproving betimes with sharpness (D&C 121) but thereafter doing good and showing love and compassion.
    The Honor Code system needs to get back to basics and not trivia like mustaches. Beards? Joseph F. Smith, Prophet had one of the best.

  27. Nathaniel Whilk says:

    As a legalist, I’d simply like BYU to remove the dead letters from the Honor Code. For example, it’s clear that neither the administration nor the students pay any notice to the “form fitting attire” clause, so why leave it in?

  28. I have a friend who was a bishop at BYU several years ago. He said he only got the Honor Code Office involved when absolutely necessary, such as when a sexual predator needed to be booted out of the apartment complex where most of the students lived. This would be the ideal. Of course, the ideal is rarely achieved, and apparently some bishops are regularly and unnecessarily in contact with the HCO. Sounds like bishops and stake presidents need some training.

  29. Many of the problems of the honor code, in my opinion, stem from lumping dress and grooming, academic honesty, behavioral standards, and worthiness all into one category and treating them as though they are all worthiness issues. My preference, were I in charge, would be to have (1) a dress & grooming standard (I would lose the prohibition on beards), with either no penalties or minimal penalties for breaking it, (2) an academic honor code, with potentially serious penalties, administered by a joint student and faculty body, and (3) behavioral standards (issues to do with drinking, drug use, etc.), with progressive discipline standards, administered by a joint student and administration body separate from the academic honor code body, but that refers Title IX issues entirely to the Title IX office.

    I would keep spiritual worthiness issues completely out of the University’s hands, leave it entirely with the bishops, and have the bishops observe strict confidentiality and not communicate with the university, other than maybe the ecclesiastical endorsement (even that I’m not convinced of the utility of).

  30. While I’m not in favor of granting a religious exception to mandatory reporting laws, I think Bishops ought to adopt something like the seal of the confessional.

  31. Have to be anonymous says:

    Just called the BYU President’s Office. Told the woman who answered the phone that I was concerned about the Honor Code Office and that I’ve heard concerning stories and reactions from current students. The woman first referred me to the recent response from the university. I indicated that that was not satisfactory and actually made me more concerned.

    The woman wanted to argue and said that everything I’ve read is from before the Title IX reforms. That is not true. My sources are personal (not online) and recent and I only heard about them because current students shared them after this whole scandal began. They are not my stories to tell, but include abuses by the school in regards to situations that had no business being taken before the Honor Code Office, and yes, I do believe the stories because I trust the people who reported them and they have no reason to lie.

    I suggested to the woman in the office the reforms someone offered above. Transfer ecclesiastical functions to bishops. Transfer academic issues to the dean of students. Transfer Title IX issues to that office. I mentioned that some percentage of gay students at BYU are frantic with worry right now. (It is absolutely not because of anything they’ve done. If they had not been fully aware of things that have happened to gay students before, they are now, including stories being shared privately that won’t show up on Instagram.) She said she would pass my concerns along. (We’ll see. She could tell I was angry, and may discount everything I said because of that.) I told her the university needs to take care of this problem because it’s bad PR. (Would they do something because it’s the right thing to do? I’d be surprised.) I should have recorded the conversation because she was very smooth and her responses would have soothed someone who wasn’t aware of personal details. I would hate to be in that position and lying to callers that this is not a current issue.

  32. Jared Cook: It would be a threadjack here, but I would be interested in a discussion about how to implement and how to draw the balance between a confessional seal and mandatory reporting. It’s a hard question, and I don’t know where to find people thinking about it The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints context. [stop there to avoid becoming that threadjack]

  33. Christian, I’d say: Something similar to the privilege exception for lawyers when revealing privileged information is necessary to prevent immediate serious harm to another person.

  34. I suggest beginning with the abolition of the HCO because mere procedural reform is inadequate, in my opinion. There are deep cultural issues that the university has to confront if it wants to fix this problem. Two of them are on display right now.

    First, the HCO is a deeply entrenched part of the BYU bureaucracy. A crucial part of that entrenchment is the Big Brother mentality that the HCO embodies. The people who run the HCO are defending both their personal perches and the idea, on which their positions depend, that the school should be in the business of spying on its students. If this mentality is not rooted out, it will surely infect whatever new procedures replace the old ones.

    Second, the school seems to have a knee-jerk CYA response to crisis. We see this in the experience that commenter “Have to be anonymous” relates above in this thread. We also see it in the school’s reaction to the crisis over its police department’s abuse of police investigation records. Briefly, what happened is this: the BYU police accessed investigation records from other police departments and shared that information with the HCO. That was illegal. The school is in court fighting the requirement to reveal how often the BYU police did this. The BYU police department has been decertified by the state because it dragged its feet in cooperating with the state’s investigation of these abuses. The school is doing everything it can to avoid being accountable for this. The school’s position seems to be that the Title IX Office reforms have taken care of these problems moving forward, so we should all just forget about the mistakes of the past and not worry. But of course, there is no good reason to trust people who are going to such lengths to avoid accountability for their past abuses.

    Leadership is needed to acknowledge these problems, bring them into the open, and really clear the air.

  35. Jared: It’s a start, but more complicated because it is (at least in part) a systems question . . . may vs must; ecclesiastical abuse and policing our own; intended and unintended consequences for reporting; hierarchy (who does the Stake President confess to and what are the rules, and consequences), etc.

    Which relates back to the Honor Code Office questions of the OP (no longer not a direct response to Jared) . . .
    To address the concerns constructively, I think we have to take a system approach that considers the entire cycle from high school year expectations when considering the school all the way through opinions and experience of the trustees (general authorities); possible good actors and bad actors including roommates, HCO staff, bishops, jilted lovers, and rapists; reporting to the police, to the press, to parents, to bishops; and every kind of ‘violation’ from beards to violence.

    In all of this, a benefit of a systems approach is that we natural include the possibility of bad actors in the middle of the system, something that is otherwise too easy to forget or ignore.

  36. Bob Powelson: You said “It seems that the secular types want to separate religion and education.” It seems that the secular social conservatives are using financial and academic pressures in an attempt to control spiritual outcomes. It’s becoming an auto-da-fe in which those deemed impure are consigned to their fate as if it’s a foregone conclusion. It’s only become a secular discussion because they keep introducing the secular into the spiritual.

    I love that there are standards, too. I was glad to be at a school where I didn’t have to stay away from my room at night because my roommate was hooking up in there with some rando or where people were throwing raging keggers when I had a test the next day. My first job was on a college campus (a religious school even), and it wasn’t a good environment at all because of those things. I didn’t want to try to get my degree in that kind of place. But the HCO is completely out of control now compared to when I attended.

    From the Q&A and Ryan Mullen’s comment here, the biggest change since when I attended is the circular logic that is resulting in all of these so-called “spontaneous confessions” to the HCO. That wasn’t a thing when I attended. NOBODY was voluntarily throwing themselves on the mercy of the HCO back then (requiring a growing HCO department to handle all the workload). Why is that?

    The reason for this change is that we didn’t do an ecclesiastical endorsement every year, only upon entry. When you require kids to do one of these every year or be kicked out (with all the accompanying social, financial and academic costs) and when bishops who identify “issues” with certain students REQUIRE them to confess to the HCO or withhold their endorsement, students can’t win.

    First of all, amen to the priesthood of any such bishop. That behavior is akin to blackmail. Which is the higher authority? God or the university? Isn’t that like a supreme court justice referring a case to a meter maid? In this scenario, the student is casting the pearls of their confession before swine indeed. This behavior of bishops is corrupt and unethical in the extreme. Any “confessions” to the HCO are clearly made under duress and should not be accepted for ethical reasons.

    When I was a student, you went to a bishop if you needed counsel in spiritual matters such as repentance. Bishops didn’t hold your ability to graduate in their arsenal. It wasn’t even conceived of. This is the core problem, and it needs to be fixed.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    I attended BYU long before EEs existed (76-77 and 80-82). The HCO was a thing, but it was a mere shadow of what it has grown to be over time. In four years of undergrad I only had one experience with the HCO: I was flagged for too long hair (presumably by a student employee at the Testing Center), and I had to get a trim.[1] That was it. It seems to me that the annual EE practice has weaponized the HCO in a way that didn’t use to exist.

    [1] Arguably I had the longest hair of any male student on campus, because I wore an afro. The Honor Code was drafted for people with straight hair in mind, in that hair couldn’t go down over the collar. But my hair didn’t go down; it went up and out. Arguably I was violating the spirit of the rule, but back then the HCO peeps were literalists, and as long as I wasn’t violating the literal wording of the HC, it didn’t matter whether I looked like Jim Kelly in Enter the Dragon.

  38. Happy Hubby says:

    Loursat – you commented, “the school seems to have a knee-jerk CYA response to crisis.” Isn’t that somewhat the MO of the church itself?

  39. What @Loursat said. My thoughts and list are nearly the same.

    I do not think the HCO is recoverable in its current form. The entire premise seems fatally flawed. The HCO was not well liked when I was a student 27 years ago, and it seems the office has become worse. I am also disappointed little has changed within the HCO culture despite the Title IX travesty looking back a few years, which includes the stunning actions of campus police which may lead to the department’s possible decertification. These all braid together and when taken as a whole…it’s pretty shocking BYU hasn’t been more proactive in driving change. A golem indeed!

    Or maybe BYU is engaged in meaningful change? The lack of transparency–despite recent press releases and FAQ’s which are simply not enough nor honest enough–from BYU administration is utterly frustrating to me as an alumnus. Equally frustrating is how Carri Jenkins seems to prevaricate on every question and issue put to the university. I say this knowing how difficult it is to balance interests and protect against liability when speaking on behalf of a large organization. (My background is in executive leadership, including crisis management). Drawing on my own experience, I level this criticism: Carri and the university (including President Worthen) fail to manage their constituencies’ expectations by not providing more transparency and explanatory information, and by not publically shouldering responsibility and being accountable for the problems they have created. This only compounds the challenges they face.

  40. Jack Hughes says:

    I went to school at a public university in my home state (not Utah). I got a great education, went to Institute and had an active and vibrant LDS social life. There were fraternities and wild parties for those who wished to take part in such things, and I simply chose not to. Nobody told me how to dress or shave. Nobody told me what kind of behavior was appropriate or not–it was just assumed that we were adults and we already knew. There was no Stasi-like office keeping a file on me, nor was there an army of informants disguised as classmates watching my every move. When I once had to confess a minor transgression to a bishop, I had no worries about the possibility of my academic progress being impeded–I wouldn’t have been able to confess otherwise. Nobody cared if I went to church or not (with the exception of my dear friends in that YSA ward who would have been genuinely concerned for my well-being if I happened to be absent). My school, church, housing and employment were completely separate spheres of life that had no bearing on each other, provided I was mature enough to manage my own schedule. I had the freedom to become an adult, make my own choices, occasionally make mistakes along the way but could quickly move on with no unnecessary layers of bureaucracy to complicate things. I had the freedom to grow emotionally and spiritually. During this time, my cousin started at BYU then left after two semesters for exactly these reasons. She transferred to my university (same system, different campus) and thrived.

    There are hundreds of thousands of Mormon college students around the world who are being educated in schools other than those owned by the Church. As far as I can tell, they are doing just fine without an Honor Code Office. BYU can do just fine without it as well.

  41. Husband of One Wife says:

    Free idea: Run an alumni fundraising campaign that stipulates changes to the honor code before anyone pays. A promise to remove the beard ban alone could earn the university millions!

  42. Happy Hubby, maybe so, but I’m not sure how that observation helps us. It seems to me that the leaders of the university should be accountable for the school’s response to this kind of situation. Can you flesh out what you are getting at?

  43. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the church’s MO is always only CYA. It’s always a relevant consideration, and there’s plenty to criticize, but I don’t think it’s correct that it’s the only consideration or even always the driving consideration.

  44. Jack Hughes says:

    The HCO is a self-licking ice cream cone. It looks valuable and productive from the outside, but ultimately it only exists to justify and support itself, and provides no benefit to any entity outside of its sphere. Naturally, the type of folks who end up working there are self-righteous tools who are virtually unemployable anywhere else–hence their incentives to keep the HCO status quo and the toxic culture that perpetuates it.

  45. Have to be anonymous says:

    Come on, Jack. The personal attacks are gratuitous.

  46. I agree with Jared’s latest comment. How an organization responds to crisis is complicated. The church doesn’t always stonewall legitimate questions, and it seldom tries to deny responsibility for its decisions. More pertinent to this situation, though, are the differences between the church and the university. Although the controversies surrounding the HOC are rooted in some people’s perverse ideas about religious obligation, these are essentially management problems. Revealed doctrinal/policy questions are not at stake. Good leadership and management are what is called for. I remain optimistic, and that’s why I think we ought to be demanding in our expectations. At BYU there are people of extraordinary character and ability, starting with Kevin Worthen. They can do this.

  47. I would like to disassociate myself from attacks on individuals and CYA comments.

    At the same time, where does the ball stop? My walking-around assumption is that daily administration and minor adjustments and accommodations are “local” to the campus, but everything policy-like, and anything like the issues discussed here, goes straight to the trustees. Is there any degree of freedom on campus to make real change? There are bad and less bad ways to cope with being in an untenable middle. Probably no good ones.

  48. Happy Hubby says:

    Loursat – I was only mentioning that BYU “acts” like the church often does. So it isn’t surprising. And yes Jared – it isn’t the ONLY way the church reacts.

  49. So great. I fullyheartedly support the campaign. The HCO really goes overboard. It is just so ridiculous. And I keep hearing the nonsense of “well, it’s a private university, they can do what they want, and the student can just up and leave at their own will.” No, no, no. No, the student takes huge risks by leaving. And no, students have a right to be treated with dignity.

  50. super anonymous for obvious reasons says:

    I had one encounter with the HCO and one near encounter.

    The first involved someone reporting me to the HCO for my hair being too long. I’m 99% sure it was an assistant professor or adjunct or something for a certain class I was taking, it was his first or second semester teaching because a few years later his contract or whatever was not renewed and didn’t get a permanent position in the apartment. Anyway this guy would indirectly but very publicly point out HC violations in our class. There was me with my somewhat long hair (past my ears) and a female student who often wore shorts above the knee. He would say things like “I’ve noticed some of you are not obeying the honor code, *some* of you need to wear more modest clothing and get haircuts….” I ignored this and a week leader I got an email from the HCO summoning me to go meet with a counselor. He said I had been reported by an anonymous source and told me to get a hair cut, he offered to go with me to the BYU barbershop make sure it was done right. I declined and said I would get a haircut from someone else. He said it was fine and that I had return in a week to prove that I had gotten a haircut. So I went and got a haircut and he said it was almost too short and that it didn’t need to look “so military”.

    The near encounter was a year later and it involved me being really dumb and ending up in a sexual encounter with someone who was not a BYU student. I went to see the bishop of my singles ward and managed to get the whole thing out. He reminded me that something like this could very likely get me kicked out of BYU. He luckily didn’t report me and kept the issue between us while we worked through the repentance process for several months. I only realized later how fortunate I was, after hearing stories from other students getting reported by their bishops to the HCO having their lives being ruined essentially. While I’m obviously grateful that bishop handled the situation in the ‘right’ way. I also wonder if my bishop would have done the same if I was a woman or POC…

  51. I got an undergraduate degree at not-BYU, then went to BYU for the graduate degree.

    I liked the Honor Code. It meant my roommate couldn’t move her boyfriend into our apartment. That was a problem at my undergrad college, and of course your were considered a prude if you protested your roommate moving her slob of a boyfriend in to crowd the tiny apt further and make it creepy if you wanted to go get a snack late at night or wear a bathrobe. Plus, then they had sex and all the roommates had to listen to it.

    At BYU, the boyfriends had to leave at a decent hour. Awesome.

  52. Anonymous says:


    My roommate at the AC said he was majoring in animal husbandry and he liked sheep. He moved one into the doom. He was the TA. The sheep was cute but it stunk and made a terrible mess and we had to listen to it bleat when…

    We didn’t need no Honor Code. We got rid of that sheep. We didn’t barbeque it. We didn’t stuff it down the garbage shoot. But it was taken on a long ride to join a nice herd of sheep in Wyoming who happened to be owned by my dad’s cousin. The TA was told he could sleep in the barn where he belonged or control himself.

    You didn’t have to put up with that roomie slob boyfriend. You chose by inaction to let him stay. You enabled your slutty roommate, by not sticking up for yourself. To hell with being called a prude when you want to sleep in your undies and get some ice cream in the middle of the night. Where are your priorities, girl? Kick the dead beat out.

    You could have been mature and politely made him leave. There are several ways. Or at that age you could be immature and prank him nigh unto death.

    Don’t like listening to them having sex? Get the biggest pot in the kitchen, fill it with cold water (mix with snow if in Utah). Yank the quilts off them and throw the water on them. Take pictures. Spray them with whipping cream. Salad dressing. Eggs. Be creative. Why listen when you can watch and laugh.

    College is a time to finally get the childishness out of your system and learn how to be an adult. The Honor Code teaches how to remain being a child trapped by rules that don’t make sense.

    The obvious solution to the BYU Honor Code is DON’T GO THERE!
    And don’t give them any money.

  53. I was at BYU in the early 2000’s, the only time the Honor Code Office came up was when talking about the annual endorsement. I never heard of anyone from the office interacting with anyone.

  54. Have to be anonymous says:

    You want to go there, jader? That’s the same argument people use to write off reports of abuse. Didn’t happen because I didn’t see it happening.

  55. I lived in BYU housing and/or attended BYU for 8 years. In all that time, I don’t recall any encounter that I or any of my friends had with the HCO. My sense is that the vast majority of BYU students never think about it beyond submitting their ecclesiastical endorsement, but those who interact with the HCO have some pretty negative experiences. (Which also causes me to take HCO stories with a grain of salt; people tend to minimize their own wrongdoing and exaggerate the wrongdoing of others. That’s doesn’t mean be dismissive of those stories; just understand that you’re looking through a particular lens).

    The Honor Code itself is an extremely important part of BYU culture, and one of the primary motivations for many students to attend. I’ve heard college roommate horror stories from friends who have attended state universities, and with many of them, there’s not much that could be done about it. Students should be able to attend a school with people who broadly share their values, and enforcement of those values is one of the only ways to make that a reality. I valued that experience enourmously, so I think “burn it down” is an instinct that fails to appreciate others’ experiences.

    That said, I like Jared’s idea of separating the three major categories of the Honor Code into separate enforcement mechanisms. For dress and grooming, I would only enforce in non-academic settings, where the stakes are pretty low (e.g. intramural sports, social events, etc.). I would also revise the dress and grooming standards to allow for well-trimmed beards and loosen up the enforcement of skirts+leggings for women.

    I would also implement a policy that, while continued attendance beginning the following academic semester could depend on behavioral standards, transfer of credits and graduation can only be affected by scholastic standards. I think that would strike the appropriate balance creating a unique and valuable atmosphere without endangering the academic standing of students who find that perhaps that atmosphere isn’t for them.

  56. Jared’s suggestion of an honor code rehabilitated by splitting it up (especially with a culture change in the bureaucracy) and the addendum above from Dsc is the best suggestion I have seen so far. It would allow BYU to continue to be BYU without the silliness and negative experiences many people have had.

  57. it's a series of tubes says:

    (Which also causes me to take HCO stories with a grain of salt; people tend to minimize their own wrongdoing and exaggerate the wrongdoing of others. That’s doesn’t mean be dismissive of those stories; just understand that you’re looking through a particular lens).

    Allow me to point you to one of my anecdotal experiences, summarized in a comment on this thread:

    There was no wrongdoing on my part. None. I suspect the report, whatever it may have been, came from a former non-member BYU student roommate of mine who was both (i) banging his GF on the reg in our apartment and (ii) committing identify theft using the name of a former apartment resident to the tune of him securing more than $5000 in online orders for premium Sony laptops on the credit of the former resident. He was pissed when we reported his theft to Provo police. Don’t think the cops ever bothered to do anything about it, though.

    What lens, exactly, should I view this through?

    Separate and apart from that, multiple people have indicated that the HCO is inquiring regarding social media posts they liked while in high school. That’s INSANE. Like, Gestapo-level insane. 1984 insane. Equilibrium insane.

  58. A Fellow Traveler Along the Path says:

    For those arguing the HCO is the only way to prevent/handle experiences such a roommates masterbating in front of them, having sex, or moving their boyfriend/girlfriend in with them, two things:

    First, regardless of the genders, those all describe unwanted sexual contact and come under Title IX and could be reported to the Title IX office.

    Second, as adults you will be surrounded by people who don’t believe as you do and will do objectionable things around you. College is a good time to learn how to effectively deal with such people, as a real-world skill everyone will need for the rest of their lives.

  59. Why don’t we just draw circles around around members of the opposite sex and ask them not to step out of it?

  60. Happy Hubby says:

    Karl – that is until they get married, then they need to only be inside the circle with their spouse – and feel the transition is natural and easy because marriage is THE BEST!

  61. How do you reconcile the Mormon bubble culture, the BYU HCO being only one manifestation of it, with the admonition of our Savior (in Mark 16:15-16) to go ye into all (not some of) the world….

    Perhaps, I should share stories of conversions and reactivations at Utah’s wicked party school. Except that would be a thread jack.

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