The Honor Code on Trial
by Stephen Measure
Jeffrey didn’t have time for this. He had to be at the airport in two hours, and if he missed his flight, he’d miss classes tomorrow. But here he was, walking into the offices of the Northeast Accreditation Commission in Boston, delivering a message that could have just as easily been delivered over the phone.
“I don’t get why you want me to tell them,” Jeffrey had told his friend Scott on the phone that morning.
“Because you’re the perfect messenger for this,” Scott had said.
“That makes no sense. I’m a computer guy. I don’t do politics or logistics or nonsense like that. You work in the admin office. Get someone from there.”
“No, you’re perfect for it,” Scott said. “You’re blunt. They need to hear blunt.”
“What is this even about?” Jeffrey asked.
“Oh, you’ll see. I only wish you could videotape it.”
“What exactly are you getting me into?”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll do fine. I’m telling you, you’re the perfect messenger for this.”
“Okay, but you’re paying for dinner when I take your sister on that double date. And I’m not talking about fast food, either. I’m talking about a nice steak house. It’s going to be a big bill, a really big bill.”
And that was why Jeffrey had agreed to this annoying errand. He had been bribed. He would deliver this little message to the accreditation commission and then he would get to go out with Scott’s sister. A fair trade, Jeffrey had decided, so long as this stupid meeting didn’t make him miss his flight. He did wonder, though, about Scott’s comment. Why would Scott want to videotape it, and why did Scott think Jeffrey was the perfect messenger? What was Scott expecting him to do exactly? Sure, Jeffrey might drop his filter at times and be a little too blunt, but he would be representing BYU here. He couldn’t say or do something inappropriate or something that would reflect poorly on the school. What was Scott expecting?
Pushing open the door, Jeffrey walked inside the conference room. There was a large table in the middle of the room, three people seated on the opposite side, one man and two women. None of them rose as he entered the room and no one offered to shake his hand.
“Take a seat,” the man said, gesturing to the single chair on Jeffrey’s side of the table. The man had a wide, friendly face and was wearing a large sweater, its pattern enhanced by the rolls down his sides.
“Okay,” Jeffrey said as he sat down. “But I have to make this quick.”
“Will anyone else be joining you?” the woman sitting on the left asked. She too wore a sweater, but hers was trim and pink. Jeffrey thought she probably had a lot of cats. He was about to ask her how many she had, but then he reminded himself he was representing BYU and needed to behave.
“No, just me,” he said. “Listen, I have a flight to catch, but here is what I was asked to tell you—”
“Hold on just a moment,” the pink-sweatered woman said. “Let’s get some introductions first. My name is Professor Carroll, and this is Professor Walsh,” she said, pointing to the large man who sat between her and the other woman.
“Hello!” Professor Walsh said, and he offered the most natural grin Jeffrey had ever seen.
“And that’s Ms. Hursh,” Professor Carroll continued as she pointed to the woman sitting on the right. Small and slender, Ms. Hursh had the prettiest face in the room, yet it somehow made Jeffrey think of long-term food storage, dried-up and tasteless. He didn’t think she had any cats. Reptiles seemed more likely, but Jeffrey kept that opinion to himself. He was representing his school, after all.
“Great, well, I’m Jeffrey Bruder. I’m a graduate student at BYU and I was asked to deliver a message on their behalf. I’m in a bit of a rush so I’ll just say—”
“Wait . . . what?” Ms. Hursh said, leaning forward across the table. “BYU sent a graduate student to represent them?”
“That’s highly irregular,” Professor Walsh said, his grin gone, replaced by a look of confused concern.
“Yes, this is quite unexpected,” Professor Carroll said. “Given the potentially serious consequences of this discussion, we expected that someone from BYU’s administration would be attending.”
“How predictable,” Ms. Hursh said. She folded her arms, every angle of her body looking like it could draw blood. “They aren’t even taking our concerns seriously.”
“Please don’t take this personally,” Professor Carroll said, “but why did they send you?”
Jeffrey shrugged. “Apparently I’m the perfect messenger.”
Professor Walsh turned to Professor Carroll. “Can we even proceed? Are we allowed to?”
“I think we have to.”
Jeffrey put his hands on his knees. “I just have a short message to give.”
“How predictable that their perfect messenger would be male,” Ms. Hursh said, glaring at Jeffrey. Definitely too cold-blooded for cats, he thought.
Professor Carroll and Professor Walsh were whispering back and forth. Then Professor Carroll patted Professor Walsh on his arm and nodded in Jeffrey’s direction.
“Mr. Jeffrey,” Professor Walsh began.
“Bruder,” Professor Carroll corrected him. “It’s Mr. Bruder.”
“Jeffrey is fine,” Jeffrey told them, anxious to move the conversation along.
“Oh, my! Thank you,” Professor Walsh said. “Now, Jeffrey, you said you were the perfect messenger, yes?”
Jeffrey shrugged. “Sure, and I was just asked to say—”
Professor Carroll held up a hand. “Please let Professor Walsh continue.”
Jeffrey leaned back in his chair and glanced at his watch, his foot starting to tap on the ground impatiently. If this meeting makes me miss my flight. . . .
Professor Walsh cleared his throat. “Thank you, Professor Carroll. Now, Jeffrey, as we mentioned in our letter, the reason we summoned you here today is to talk about your school’s honor code.”
“Okay,” Jeffrey said. Lots of people complained about BYU’s honor code. Of course, that was the nice thing about having so many universities to choose from. If you didn’t like the standards of one university, you were free to go somewhere else.
Professor Walsh went on. “We are concerned that your honor code violates our non-discrimination policy.”
Jeffrey wasn’t sure if he’d heard Professor Walsh correctly. “Our honor code violates your what?”
“Our non-discrimination policy,” Professor Walsh said. “Our policy against discrimination. We’re concerned, Jeffrey. It is imperative that a university not discriminate against any of its students.”
Jeffrey thought through the rules of the honor code, but sitting there in front of these three members of the accreditation commission, he couldn’t think of anything that would justify that concern. “I don’t get it,” he said. “We don’t ban anyone from attending so long as they agree to abide by the honor code.”
Then Jeffrey got a little mischievous. “I guess you do need pretty good grades and test scores to get in though,” he said. “That’s not really because of the honor code, but is that what you’re getting at? You’re worried that we discriminate against people who don’t get good grades?”
“Oh, my!” Professor Walsh said. “I never thought of that before. That is discrimination, isn’t it? Oh, my! That’s something to think about.” He turned to Professor Carroll. “Should we ban colleges from having grade- and test-based admittance criteria?”
Professor Carroll shook her head. “No, no, no. That’s not what we’re talking about at all.”
“Then what are you getting at?” Jeffrey asked, reminding himself that now wasn’t the time for poking fun. “We don’t ban anyone. If you want to attend, then you abide by the standards in the honor code. It’s as simple as that.”
Ms. Hursh scoffed at his answer, her arms seeming to fold even further into herself, but it was Professor Carroll that responded. “But that’s just it, Jeffrey,” she said. “You say that it’s simple, but that’s only because you are looking at it from a privileged viewpoint. What you fail to realize, what BYU fails to realize, is that your honor code restricts some students from being themselves, and to restrict a student from being herself is just as bad as banning her. It’s discrimination, Jeffrey. It needs to stop.”
Jeffrey had no idea what they were talking about. Scott is probably back in Utah laughing right now, he thought. Perfect messenger? Why did he think I was the perfect messenger? I don’t even understand what they’re saying! Privileged viewpoint? What am I supposed to say to this nonsense?
But he had to say something. “How,” he began, straining to be respectful. Then he adjusted his question. “Who—”
The door behind him burst open and a woman walked in, carrying a paper drink carrier with three steaming coffee cups.
“Our coffee!” Professor Walsh cheered.
The woman placed a coffee cup in front of each of the three at the table. Then she turned to Jeffrey. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “Did you want some coffee? I didn’t realize there was going to be four of you. When I heard that Professor Murray would be gone, I thought it would only be three.”
“Oh, no,” Jeffrey said, smiling at the woman, who was actually quite pretty. “I’m alright.”
She smiled in return, causing Jeffrey to forget his annoyance for a moment. Then she left the room.
“Oh, my! That’s good coffee!” Professor Walsh said after his first sip.
“It certainly is,” Professor Carroll agreed.
“I’ve never had coffee from this shop before,” Ms. Hursh said, scowling at the logo on her cup before taking a drink. “Is it organic?”
“Oh, my! Definitely!” Professor Walsh said.
“And their workers, are they paid a living wage?”
“Oh, my! Yes!” Professor Walsh said. “It’s a very progressive corporation.”
Ms. Hursh sniffed. “They all claim that.” She stuck her nose to the opening and took a brief sniff. “But what about the beans?” she asked suspiciously. “Are they fair trade?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Professor Carroll said, waving her hand to ward off further questions. “Take a drink. It’s wonderful.”
Ms. Hursh grunted, but she put the cup to her lips and took a small drink. Then she nodded. “It’s acceptable,” she said.
“This is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had!” Professor Walsh said. He tilted his cup up higher and took another drink. “Oh, my! I burned my tongue!” He laughed. Then he looked over at Jeffrey. “Are you sure you don’t want any? I’m telling you, the best coffee I’ve ever had!”
“No, thanks. I don’t drink coffee.”
“You don’t drink coffee?” Ms. Hursh said. “Why would someone not drink coffee?”
“I’m Mormon,” Jeffrey said. “Mormons don’t drink coffee.”
“Why not?” Professor Walsh asked with the honest curiosity of a grade-schooler.
Jeffrey shrugged. “It’s a religious dietary code.”
“How bizarre,” Ms. Hursh said. She took another sip of her coffee but then suddenly stopped, panic filling her eyes. “Wait,” she said and turned to her colleagues. “Is this coffee non-GMO?”
“Yes!” Professor Carroll said. “Yes, yes, yes! All the check boxes. Every one.” And she waved her hand in the air as if she were holding a pencil and marking a check box.
“Well, that’s a relief,” Ms. Hursh said. “I was afraid I’d have to purge myself.”
Jeffrey glanced at his watch again.
“Are you positive you don’t want some?” Ms. Hursh asked Jeffrey, giving him a condescending look. “We won’t tell on you, I promise.”
“I’m sure,” Jeffrey said.
“Your loss,” she replied. “You church-goers and your religious dogma. I don’t know how you enjoy anything in life.” Then she took another sip of her organic, living-wage, fair-trade, non-GMO coffee.
Jeffrey put his hands back on his knees. “Well, how about I deliver my message and let you three enjoy your coffee. I gotta say, I really don’t understand what you meant about us restricting people from being themselves, but as the message I was asked to deliver should make clear . . .”
Then Jeffrey paused, his attention caught by Professor Carroll, whose face was bright red, her lips pulled tightly together. “Uh, what is she doing?” he asked.
Professor Walsh glanced over. “Oh, she’s just holding her breath. Go on . . . go on . . . she’ll be done in another thirty seconds or so.”
But there was no way Jeffrey was going to leave it at that. “Why in the world is she holding her breath?”
“She has to hold in some of her carbon dioxide to make up for the carbon footprint of her coffee,” Professor Walsh said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Breathing produces carbon dioxide; carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas; greenhouse gases cause climate change; and climate change will cause the apocalypse if we don’t stop it; so Professor Carroll, quite rightly, strives to be as carbon neutral as possible.”
He turned to Professor Carroll, who was staring at her watch, her face bright red. “Speaking of which,” he said, “I don’t quite remember how much penance I must pay for my coffee, and I seem to have left my book of dogma and my scale at home. Would you be willing to weigh it out for me?”
Professor Carroll held up a finger, asking for more time as she continued to stare at her watch. Then she opened her mouth with a gasp.
“Professor Walsh explained it well,” she said to Jeffrey after a moment of huffing and puffing. “It’s all very scientific!”
She reached down and lifted her bag up onto the table. Then she pulled a well-worn leather book and an old two-sided scale out of the bag and placed them in front of her on the table.
The book was interesting (you don’t see leather books very often anymore, other than scriptures), but it was the scale that caught Jeffrey’s eye. Made of metal, it had a woman engraved in its center. But this wasn’t blindfolded Lady Justice like you might expect. No, this woman had her eyes wide open and a finger pointed in a manner that can only be described as accusatory. She also had the most scolding expression on her face Jeffrey had ever seen. He would hate to meet her in real life.
Professor Carroll opened the book and flipped through the pages. “Let’s see,” she said. “Coffee . . . coffee . . . coffee . . . ah, here it is.” She studied the page for a moment. Then she pulled a few small weights from her bag and placed them on the scale.
“Hmm,” Professor Carroll said. “Looks like two minutes.”
“You’re going to hold your breath for two minutes because you enjoyed a cup of coffee?” Jeffrey asked. And people think I’m missing out because I don’t drink the stuff?
“Oh, my!” Professor Walsh said, looking disturbed. “Jeffrey is absolutely right. You forgot to add my enjoyment penance!”
“There’s an enjoyment penance too?” Now Jeffrey was really glad he didn’t drink coffee.
“Oh, my! Yes!” Professor Walsh said. “Because the more I enjoy it, the more likely I am to do it again.”
“It’s all very scientific!” Professor Carroll said. Then, after she tinkered with the scale in an arcane fashion, she told Professor Walsh, “Two and a half minutes.”
“Thank you,” Professor Walsh said. “I’ll perform my penance as soon as I finish my coffee.”
“Then that will be extra,” Ms. Hursh said.
“Why?” Jeffrey asked, unable to contain his curiosity at their ritual.
“Because it will still be hot,” Ms. Hursh replied. “Better make it three minutes,” she told Professor Walsh.
Wow, Jeffrey thought. What kind of craziness is in that coffee? “On that note,” he said, starting to rise. “Let me just say what I was sent here—”
“Oh, no you don’t!” Ms. Hursh cut him off.
Jeffrey sat back down. “What?” he asked. Ms. Hursh had seemed cold before. But it felt like she had just slapped him in the face.
“Check your privilege,” Ms. Hursh said. “I don’t know what it’s like at BYU, but with us your Y chromosome doesn’t make you entitled to speak first.”
“But I have a flight to catch,” Jeffrey said, looking again at his watch. “Can’t we at least make this quick?”
Professor Carroll shut her book. “Jeffrey, I don’t think you’re taking the situation as seriously as it warrants.”
You just held your breath because you’re afraid your carbon dioxide is going to cause the apocalypse, Jeffrey thought. But then he reminded himself he was representing his school, and he did his best to remain calm. “As I told you before, our honor code is a code of behavior. Everyone that wishes to attend our school is expected to follow the same standards. It’s all equal. We discriminate against no one.”
“Your truth-capable privilege has made you blind,” Ms. Hursh said.
“What in the world does that even mean?” Jeffrey asked, starting to lose his cool. Perfect messenger? I’ll show Scott a perfect messenger.
Professor Carroll held up a hand. “Let me try to explain,” she said. “What you seem to not understand is that there are parts of your honor code that some students cannot choose to follow.”
“They can’t choose to follow some of our standards?”
“Are they robots?”
“Of course not! We’re talking about students!”
“Okay, well if they aren’t robots, then they can choose to follow our standards.”
“No, Jeffrey,” Professor Carroll said. “No, they can’t.”
“So they’re robots, then?”
“No! They’re not robots! They’re humans just like you and me, and they deserve the same respect as you and me!”
“Robots deserve the same respect as you and me?”
“We’re not talking about robots!”
“Are you sure? I did a project on robots when I was an undergrad. They just follow their programming. They don’t really have a choice. But people have a choice. They can choose if they want to follow our standards or not.”
“They can’t choose to follow your standards because doing so would be denying a core part of themselves!” Professor Carroll said. “You are denying their humanity! You are asking them to be mute! You don’t expect yourself to be mute, yet you demand that they be mute! They can’t choose to not be human. They can’t choose to not be themselves!”
And that was it. Jeffrey was fed up with the nonsense. Were these people even speaking English? “Okay, stop being so vague. What in the world are you talking about? Who are we discriminating against? What is this rule in our honor code that you think is so horrible?”
The three members of the Northeast Accreditation Commission looked at each other for a moment. Then Professor Carroll answered him. “The problem is that your school forbids lying.”
Jeffrey stared at Professor Carroll. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Could you repeat that?”
Professor Carroll folded her arms and leaned forward on the table. She spoke slowly. “BYU’s honor code forbids lying. That’s the problem. The problem is your policy against lying.”
“Our policy against lying? What’s wrong with our policy against lying?”
“It discriminates against the must-lies.”
“Yes, the must-lies, those who must lie. You can’t require them to be honest. Telling them they have to be honest is like telling them they cannot be who they are. For you, lying seems like just a behavior that can be chosen or not chosen, but it only seems that way to you because of your truth-capable privilege. What you need to understand is that telling a must-lie to not lie is like telling them to not breathe.”
“It’s nothing at all like telling someone to not breathe!” Jeffrey said. “If someone doesn’t breathe, they’ll die!”
“Yes,” Professor Carroll said. “It’s exactly like that.”
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s not.”
“We’re talking about communication, Jeffrey, communication! What could be more central to human identity than communication? It’s a necessity of life!”
“So is peeing,” Jeffrey said, no longer caring that he was representing his school. “But that doesn’t mean I should just whip it out and pee whenever I please.”
“How predictable that you would bring that up!” Ms. Hursh said.
“Mr. Bruder!” Professor Carroll said. “Your crudeness is entirely unjustified. You don’t understand what you’re saying. For must-lies, lying is part of their very existence. To deny them the right to lie is to deny them the right to be.”
Jeffrey laughed at her. “That’s got be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. You could take any of our standards, declare that a certain group of people have to break it, and then demand that we throw that standard out and not teach against the behavior. Either right and wrong exist, or right and wrong don’t exist. But if right and wrong exist, then some people are going to want to do wrong, and some people are going to be upset when we tell them that what they want to do is wrong.”
“It’s immoral to moralize,” Ms. Hursh said.
Jeffrey grunted in shock. “Are you even listening to yourself?”
“It’s all very scientific!” Professor Carroll said. “Must-lies are people who must lie. Lying is who they are and we need to affirm that fact. Oh, I wish Professor Murray were here. He’s a must-lie. I wish you could hear directly from him how rules like your honor code affect must-lies. Ms. Hursh, why did Professor Murray claim he couldn’t come today?”
“He said his car broke down on the freeway.”
“That’s right. Which means he is probably home taking a nap. You see, Jeffrey, for people like Professor Murray, lying is simply part of their nature. It would be wrong for us to expect anything different from him. We must affirm him and celebrate the diversity he brings to our commission.”
Jeffrey held his hands up. “Listen, you can celebrate whatever you want, but BYU is a Mormon school, and we have a right to base our standards on what Mormons consider to be right and wrong; and we believe that lying is wrong. That’s why our honor code requires students to be honest.”
“You can preach your beliefs of right and wrong in your church,” Professor Carroll said, “but BYU is a university, and universities are not allowed to discriminate, which is why your honor code needs to change. Must-lies are who they are. They are people who must lie.”
“But you could say that about any behavior you wanted to force people to accept!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Must-lies are a special case.”
“No, lying is just a behavior like anything else. Must-lies claim that they are that behavior and now we’re suddenly forced to accept the behavior and pretend there’s nothing wrong with it. Hey, what if I say that I am a polluter. Filling the air with apocalyptic greenhouse gas is part of the core of my existence. I was born to drive an SUV with zero passengers. You can’t tell me to watch my carbon footprint anymore because telling me that is like telling me to deny who I am. See what I mean? You could say that about any behavior. Everyone has their own definition of sin. Worrying about carbon is no different than worrying about lying.”
“No, we worry about carbon because pollution affects everyone else.”
“So does lying! It’s moral pollution. No one is an island. The actions of one affect the actions of another. Like I said, we all have our own definition of sin, and worrying about carbon is no different than worrying about lying.”
“No, it’s completely different,” Professor Carroll said. “Lying is only prohibited for religious reasons, but our concern about carbon is completely logical. It’s all very scientific! Do you think Professor Walsh would be holding his breath right now if the scientific consensus didn’t tell him to?”
Professor Walsh nodded vigorously and gave two thumbs up, his face turning a pale shade of blue as he suffered through his coffee penance.
“You can’t compare things like that because they are completely different,” Professor Carroll said. “Must-lies are actual people, not some theoretical construct you dream up to try and justify your discrimination of others. Discrimination is always wrong.”
Part of Jeffrey wanted to continue to reason with them even though they had shown little evidence of being influenced by reason. “Why did you call BYU here if not to threaten to rescind our accreditation unless we stop discriminating against lying, but if you rescind our accreditation because we discriminate against lying, then you would be discriminating yourselves, and I thought you just said that discrimination is always wrong?”
“It’s not wrong to discriminate against discrimination,” Ms. Hursh said.
Professor Walsh nodded. His penance was apparently complete as he was now gulping air, his face slowly returning to normal.
“So you say it’s not wrong to discriminate against discrimination because the act of discrimination itself is wrong?” Jeffrey asked.
“Exactly,” Ms. Hursh said.
“So basically,” Jeffrey said, “it’s wrong to discriminate against actions that I think are wrong, but it’s not wrong to discriminate against actions that you think are wrong?”
Professor Carroll replied, “Discrimination is wrong, period. We only discriminate against those who discriminate because society needs to learn to stop doing it.”
Jeffrey smiled. “So, if it’s okay to discriminate against those who discriminate, does that mean it’s okay for me to discriminate against those who discriminate against those who discriminate?”
“Yes,” said Professor Carroll.
“No!” said Ms. Hursh.
“Oh, my!” Professor Walsh said, still panting. “Oh, my!”
Ms. Hursh scowled at Jeffrey. “Stop being microaggressive.”
“What does that even mean?” Jeffrey said, throwing up his hands.
“Ah! Wonderful!” Professor Walsh said, sounding genuinely excited as he turned to Ms. Hursh. “I’ve been trying hard to identify microaggressions, but it’s difficult for me. I’m sure it’s just my white-male privilege getting in the way. Could you please point out how he was being microaggressive, so I can better understand and avoid it myself?”
Ms. Hursh transferred her scowl to Professor Walsh. “I don’t recall the exact reason,” she said, “but he made me feel uncomfortable and feeling uncomfortable is a sure sign of microaggression.”
Professor Walsh frowned, the gears in his head moving slowly. “I’m sorry, but that’s not very helpful.”
And Ms. Hursh absolutely exploded. “Helpful? Why is it my job to be helpful to you? Is it because I’m a woman? Am I supposed to just help any man who asks? What am I, some sort of universal ‘helpmeet’ for every man?”
“Oh, my! Certainly not! I’m just doing my best here, Ms. Hursh. I’m just trying to do the right thing, but how can I do the right thing if I don’t know what the right thing is? It’s very frustrating!”
Professor Carroll put a soft hand on his arm. “It’s not about your white-male feelings. You need to defer to the perceptions of the unempowered.”
“Oh, my! Oh, my! You’re quite right!” Professor Walsh clasped his hands together. “Oh, my! I shouldn’t have said you are right because that implies I am in a position to judge you are right. How wrong of me!” He grabbed his hair, ready to pull it out. “Oh, my! Oh, my! I just implied that I, a white male, am in a position to judge myself. How wrong of me!” He shook his head, hands still clutching his hair. “Oh, my! Oh, my! I just can’t stop myself. Please, Professor Carroll. I must do penance before I make this worse. Please! Tell me what the appropriate penance is for this.”
Professor Carroll patted his arm. “Of course, Professor Walsh. You try so hard. You really do.” She opened her leather book again, flipping through pages until she came to the one she was looking for. “Now, let’s see,” she said. “What rating on the sexism scale would you say that was?”
Professor Walsh turned a fearful glance to Ms. Hursh, apparently too scared to even open his mouth.
“Alpha Five at a minimum,” Ms. Hursh said. “And you have to intersect his white-male-truth-capable privilege as well.”
“Yes, yes, Ms. Hursh. It’s not my first time at the scales.” Professor Carroll fiddled with her scale for a moment, loading various weights on both sides.
“Alpha Five? Oh, my! That’s very serious. Oh, my! I just made it worse. Oh, my! Saying I made it worse just made it worse and I just did it again. Please, Professor Carroll, please. What’s my penance for an Alpha Five sexist remark?”
“Hmm . . . looks like ten lashes. Self-imposed, of course.”
“Oh, my! Of course. Of course.” Professor Walsh pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. He looked to the ground from side to side and then turned sheepishly to Professor Carroll. “I forgot my whip. Do you happen to have one I can borrow?”
“Yes,” Professor Carroll said. Then she pulled out a small brown leather whip from her bag. It appeared to be a matching set with her leather book of dogma.
“You call that a whip?” Ms. Hursh scoffed. “Here, use mine.” She handed Professor Walsh a black leather whip, small chunks of metal attached to its tips. Jeffrey could see dried blood on the sharp edges.
Professor Walsh took the whip and laid it on the table in front of him, spreading it out to its full length. It was as long as a man’s arm. He touched the sharp metal barbs gently. “Has it been sterilized?”
“Do you deserve for it to have been sterilized?” asked Ms. Hursh.
“Oh, my! No! You’re quite right. I positively reek of privilege. It disgusts me.” He picked up the whip, pushing his chair farther back behind him.
“Can I leave my sweater on?”
“If it doesn’t pierce skin, then it never happened,” Ms. Hursh replied, looking eager.
“Oh, my! Excellent point.” He pulled his sweater up over his head, exposing pathetic rolls of pasty white skin. Then he closed his eyes and held the whip out in front of him. Jeffrey grimaced in anticipation.
“One!” Professor Walsh swung the whip over his shoulder, the leather making a cracking sound against his back. He jumped a little and let out a soft squeak at the impact. Then he slowly drew the whip back in front of himself.
Little drops of blood were flung onto the table when he brought the whip forward again.
“Can you please stop doing that?” Jeffrey asked, trying unsuccessfully to look away.
“Quiet,” Professor Carroll said. “He’s doing his penance.”
Professor Walsh was huffing now, his face full of pain.
“Wincing shows that you lack remorse,” Ms. Hursh said. “Maybe you haven’t checked all your privilege after all.”
Jeffrey could almost feel the barbs of the whip tearing into flesh.
Professor Walsh pulled the whip back, slower this time, more and more drops of blood falling onto the table.
“That’s really disturbing,” Jeffrey said.
Professor Walsh opened his eyes, face frozen in an attempt to hide the pain. “Why? Is it because I’m overweight?”
Jeffrey gaped at the half-naked man. “It’s not that,” Jeffrey said. “Well it is that. But it’s not that. It’s just that . . . please stop doing that!”
“You’re fat-shaming me!” Professor Walsh said, leaning against the table as he gasped for air. His thick shoulders showed thin red lines above where the whip had struck his back.
“No, I’m just not a fan of watching someone self-flagellate.”
Ms. Hursh cleared her throat. “Being fat-shamed doesn’t absolve you of your penance,” she said.
“Quite right,” Professor Walsh said. He swung the whip again. “Six!”
Jeffrey looked away.
“You can borrow my whip after him if you’d like,” Ms. Hursh said to Jeffrey. “To pay penance for your fat-shaming.”
Jeffrey thought she sounded a little too excited at the idea. “Oh, I’m quite alright. Thanks.”
“Almost there!” Professor Carroll said, cheering him on.
He collapsed forward, dropping the whip to the table as he leaned hard against it, the table moving forward a few inches under his weight. Ms. Hursh collected her whip, running a finger along the fresh blood before putting it away in her purse. Then Professor Carroll stood up to help Professor Walsh back into his sweater.
“You’re an inspiration to us all,” she told him. “I don’t know what I’d do if I had as much privilege to work through as you do.”
“Oh, my!” Professor Walsh said, unable to say anything more. “Oh, my!” His face pale, he sank into his chair. Then he jerked forward after his fresh wounds touched the seat’s back.
“Do you whip yourself for all your sins?” Jeffrey asked, too disturbed by the spectacle to say anything sarcastic.
“Not sins!” Ms. Hursh said. “None of your foolish religious dogma here! Not sins!”
“Definitely not,” agreed Professor Carroll. “It’s all very scientific! Not sins at all.”
“Then what do you call them?” Jeffrey asked. “What do you call things like fat-shaming?”
“Those are things that thou shalt not do.” Professor Carroll said.
“Things that thou shalt not do?”
“That’s right. Things that thou shalt not do,” she repeated.
“So, basically . . . sins,” Jeffrey said.
“No!” Ms. Hursh said. “Not sins! None of your foolish religious dogma!”
“They aren’t sins,” Professor Carroll said. “They are things that thou shalt not do.”
“It sounds to me like we’re talking about the same thing.”
“No, we’re not,” Professor Carroll said. “This is completely different. It’s all very scientific!”
“I’m sure it is,” Jeffrey said, regaining his sarcasm now that color was returning to Professor Walsh’s face.
“Did we talk about their speech code yet?” Ms. Hursh asked her two colleagues. “They need to ban any discouragement of lying. Preaching against lying is hate speech.”
Jeffrey had been so disturbed by the latest ritual that it took him a moment to recall the prior conversation. “Speech code? Hate speech? No . . . just no. Listen, I have a small message to deliver. It should clear all this up—”
“I think requiring a speech code right now might be too large of a step,” Professor Carroll said, ignoring Jeffrey. “We can’t expect BYU to switch overnight from being a discriminating campus to being a completely affirming campus. Banning any opinions against lying can come next. First, however, they need to get rid of their requirement for honesty.”
“What? No!” Jeffrey said. “We’re not going to do that. As I already told you, we aren’t discriminating against anyone. We don’t care if they call themselves must-lies. We don’t care if they want to lie. Lots of people want to do all kinds of wrong things; there’s nothing special about that. What we care about is what they choose. We require everyone to be honest because lying is wrong.”
“Oh, my!” Professor Walsh said, his voice sounding as if it was painful to talk.
“Oh, my, what? Lying is wrong. Some might disagree, but this isn’t their school. Let them start their own school if they want to permit, encourage, or celebrate lying.”
Professor Carroll shook her head. “Jeffrey, what you’re saying is that some people—some people themselves—are wrong.”
“No, I’m saying that lying—the action of lying—is wrong.”
“But, Jeffrey, you aren’t listening to what I’m telling you. Lying is in their nature. You can’t just tell them to not lie.”
“Why not? You just told me to not do something. Why can’t I tell others to not do something?”
“Because lying is who they are!”
“Really? Well what if scolding is who I am? What if I was born to scold others?”
“Stop being ridiculous,” Professor Carroll said.
“That’s not very affirming of my identity as a scolder.”
“Stop being ridiculous!”
“I wish Professor Murray were here,” Professor Walsh said, his voice still sounding wounded. “Maybe Jeffrey would understand it better if he heard it straight from a must-lie. If only Professor Murray’s car didn’t break down . . .”
Ms. Hursh snorted. “His car didn’t break down.”
“But he said it did,” Professor Walsh replied. “He said that, and I was assuming he was telling the—”
Ms. Hursh slammed her hand down on the table. “Telling the what?” she yelled. “Telling the truth? Why would you assume that? Why would he do that?”
Professor Walsh paled again. “Oh, my! I just thought it was better to assume—”
“Better to assume he was telling the truth?” Ms. Hursh spat. “I can’t believe you just said that. How disgustingly truth-normative.”
“Oh, my! I didn’t think of that! I’m so blinded by my truth-capable privilege. Oh, my!” Professor Walsh reached for the whip again, which Ms. Hursh had quietly placed back on the table.
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Professor Carroll said, grabbing Professor Walsh’s arm and setting it back down on the table. “We all have a lot to learn.”
Jeffrey shook his head in disgust. “Professor Walsh, if you were caught by a cannibal tribe, you’d scrub out the cook pot for them, wouldn’t you?”
“Cannibal tribe? Scrub out the cook pot?” Professor Walsh still looked flustered. “I don’t rightfully know. Are these hypothetical cannibals people of color?”
“What!” Ms. Hursh yelled. “How dare you!”
Professor Walsh winced. “I was just trying to determine if we were talking about an empowered group of people or not.”
“But think what you’re implying,” Professor Carroll said, looking a little disturbed herself.
“Oh, my! Oh, my!” Professor Walsh reached down and grabbed his sweater as if he were about to take it off again.
“Wow, look at the time!” Jeffrey said loudly, slapping his hands on his knees and leaning forward as if he were once again about to stand up. “Like I said, I have a message to deliver to you, the message is—”
“You’re not leaving without agreeing to a new speech code!” Ms. Hursh demanded.
Professor Carroll shook a finger at her. “I told you it’s too soon for a speech code! First, they need to stop punishing people for lying. Punishing people for telling others to not lie can come later.”
“No!” Jeffrey said. “No, no, a million times no! Listen, all of you! Pull all the academic goop out of your ears and listen to reason for once! Lying is behavior! Okay? Lying is behavior, and we ban lots of wrong behavior. We don’t allow cheating. Should we allow that? We don’t allow stealing either. Should we allow that?”
“That’s completely different,” Professor Carroll said. “We’re talking about students’ identities here. BYU needs to affirm everyone’s identity!”
“What a complete load of—oh, I’m sorry but I can’t finish that sentence. Do you know why I can’t finish that sentence? Because our honor code prohibits swearing. It doesn’t matter how much you deserve it. It doesn’t matter how much I want to do it. What matters is that I choose not to. These are actions. These are behaviors. These are things that we have as much right to expect people to not do as you have the right to expect us to not expect people to not do them. The identity thing is BS. People are not their wants and desires. If I like to scold people, can I call myself a scolder and forbid you from telling me not to scold? If I like to cheat, can I call myself a cheater and forbid you from telling me not to cheat?”
“We’ve told you again and again,” Professor Carroll said, her voice rising. “That’s completely different. Must-lies must lie! It’s all very scientific! You can’t ask them to not lie. That’s asking them to be mute their entire life. That’s wrong, Jeffrey! It’s wrong for BYU to tell people that lying is wrong! Stop bringing up these disrespectful comparisons that have nothing to do with what we’re talking about!”
“They have everything to do with what we’re talking about! Here, how about this.” Jeffrey turned to Professor Walsh. “Professor Walsh, you seem like a very nice man, perhaps a little bit too nice, but a very nice man nevertheless. But, Professor Walsh, you really need to lose a few pounds.”
The three members of the accreditation commission gasped in unison.
“You just fat-shamed him!” Professor Carroll said, her face red with anger.
Jeffrey threw his arms in the air. “So what! You can’t tell me not to fat-shame. I’m a fat-shamer! It’s my identity. I can’t not fat-shame! You can’t expect me to not do it!”
“That’s completely different!”
“No it’s not! Fat-shaming is an action just like lying is an action, and now that fat-shaming is part of my identity, you can’t tell me to not fat-shame anymore!”
“That’s completely different!”
“How is that in any way different?”
“Because that’s something we think is a sin!”
And the whole room paused for a moment. Then, Jeffrey broke the silence. “Don’t you mean ‘things that thou shalt not do’?”
“Oh, whatever,” Professor Carroll said.
The door behind Jeffrey opened, and the woman from before stepped back into the room. “I’m sorry to disturb you all,” she said, “but I just wanted to remind you that we’ll be turning off the power in ten minutes in observance of Earth Hour. So if you need to use the elevators to get downstairs, I suggest you do so now. I’ve been told that the stairwells will be dark as well.” Then she left the room.
Jeffrey stood up. “And with that, it’s time for my message.” He held his hands out toward Professor Carroll and Ms. Hursh. “Ladies,” he said. Ms. Hursh growled in response. “Gentleman,” Jeffrey said, gesturing at Professor Walsh. “The message I was asked to deliver is simple: You are the Northeast Accreditation Commission, but BYU is not in the northeast. I pity the schools that are, but BYU is not one of them, and therefore I bid you adieu.”
Jeffrey turned and walked toward the door, the three members of the Northeast Accreditation Commission talking hurriedly to each other.
“Utah isn’t in the northeast?”
“BYU is in Utah? I thought it was in Pennsylvania.”
“Isn’t that where the Amish live?”
And then Jeffrey walked out the door, the nonsense of the Northeast Accreditation Commission fading into nothing. Oh, that all nonsense could be left behind so easily!