The Honor Code: How It Works


MaeserKarlHonorWhether it’s a basketball player having premarital sex or two guys holding hands, BYU is often mentioned for what many non-Mormons would consider as relatively normal behavior. However, regardless of what others think, BYU stands by its Honor Code.

One could look at the aforementioned examples and see a slight discrepancy. How is it possible that the Honor Code Office gives the same punishment to two males for holding hands as they did to someone guilty of a full-on sexual relationship?

Obviously both are Honor Code violations. But is it fair to say both violations were equally as bad? I mean really, holding hands?

To understand these stories when they emerge, one needs to understand how the Honor Code works and is enforced.

There are three Brigham Young University campuses; BYU (in Provo, Utah); BYU-Idaho in Rexburg, and BYU-Hawaii in Laie. Each campus is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, each campus runs independently of the other two.

After a lot of persistent phone calls, emails, and waiting for Honor Code answer committees to be formed, I finally got an idea of how the three campuses enforce their Honor Codes. And to be honest, I can’t really see a difference between the different Honor Codes based on the information they gave me.

First someone must report an Honor Code violation. This can be done via email, phone, or walking into the office.

After that, the case will be assigned to an Honor Code Office Counselor who will investigate the case in greater detail.

“The counselor then meets with the student involved to discuss and respond to the allegation, as well as gathers pertinent facts” said Larry Neal, Honor Code Office Director at the main BYU campus in Provo. “Once the necessary facts are gathered and reviewed, a determination is made as to whether the allegation more likely than not occurred. If a determination is made that it is likely to have occurred, then a decision is rendered regarding how best to work with the student to resolve the matter in order to be returned to good Honor Code standing.”

All three campuses’ Honor Code offices chose not to define the words “necessary facts.” BYU-Idaho’s Student Honor Administrator Tyler Barton would only say “Really we talk to witnesses, other people that reported it; those are the kinds of things that we do. Just the same kind of things, we just investigate it.”

A hypothetical situation was discussed with all three Honor Code representatives where a student reported that he saw one of his peers at a party where there was alcohol and this peer was seen drinking from a red solo cup. Upon being questioned by a counselor, the student being investigated admits to having been at the party, but he says that he was only drinking 7 Up. All three Honor Code offices gave different answers to what would happen.

Barton said BYU-Idaho would probably discipline the student because even if he wasn’t drinking he wasn’t where he should have been. BYU-Hawaii’s Honor Code Answer Committee said that they would “look for independent witness[es] and check [the student’s] record for a pattern.”

BYU’s main campus Honor Code Office chose not to answer the question. They only said that they would investigate the situation and come to a decision.

When asked about an ecclesiastical leader’s role in the Honor Code enforcement process, all of the schools said that the Honor Code offices operate separately from church leaders.

“The two operate separately. Bishops determine worthiness issues and [the] Honor Code determines eligibility” said BYU-Hawaii’s Answer Committee in regards to disciplinary action taken by the Honor Code in relation to actions taken by a Bishop. “Sometimes the Office of Honor may find relevant evidences which the bishop does not have and this will be used to support a sanction or more serious one.”

In the case of all three campus Honor Code offices it is possible that they can discipline students who have been judged by their bishops as either guilty of lesser sins or not guilty of any sin at all. Honor Code enforcement is completely dependent on the ambiguously defined “necessary facts” found by Honor Code counselors.

What was most surprising about these interviews was the seeming lack of concrete answers the various Honor Code offices were willing or able to give.

And maybe it is for this reason that two guys can hold hands in Idaho and can receive the same level of punishment as does a student in Utah who has had premarital sex.



  1. I’ve got to push back on this a bit. As a student I was volunteered by my office to be its representative on an HC committee hearing and I found that that “worthiness” issues and “eligibility” issues were inextricably linked in the case I participated in. From my perspective, the whole case revolved around worthiness as dictated by a bishop impacting student status. It was a deeply important experience to me as a student and later as an employee at BYU, and fundamentally changed the way I view the HC.

    You’re absolutely spot on about the lack of concrete information though. My experience has led me to believe that the HC office is largely an arbitrary institution, and a few “concrete” reforms are needed in it.

  2. Great article. It’s true, for something that can really affect our lives in the long term (getting kicked out of school for a year is a big deal) it is quite inconsistent. Even the little things are noticeable. I used to work as a custodian in Lavell Edwards Stadium, and it always annoyed me to find a small fridge full of energy drinks in the men’s football locker room. Who pays for that? The school does. And yet they refuse to sell caffeinated drinks in the Cougareat, claiming that there is a lack of demand. And this was before the church clarified its stance on caffeine. Double standard. And I really can’t see why the standards have to be different from school to school. Is it because the average entrance GPA and ACT scores at Idaho and Hawaii are lower, so they are easier to dominate and control? I know it sounds bad, but, what is the explanation exactly?

  3. Interesting article. Good follow up. After reading however, it dawned on me that this is no different than how the church treats any other issues. There is never a mechanical response nor a scripted reaction to any certain sin or broken rule. There is always council, careful consideration and (I would assume) prayer. As to the severity of one versus the other, well I guess that is determined by this same process.

    I have heard of Bishop’s treating the same issues with a different solutions as well. I just understand that God would never let anything get so far out of hand that the live’s of both parties are ruined, but rather leaves some amount of discrepancy for us to learn and grow. As previously stated, there’s no mechanical response. I like the perspective though.

  4. ExMoHoMoDon /

    BYU’s HC at least in its treatment of gay students is completely arbitrary and disfavors gay people. Would two opposite sex students be disciplined for holding hands, hugging or even kissing? Of course not–but two gay students would. Would straight students attending a rally at the State Capitol supporting ‘traditional marriage’ be disciplined? Of course not…but what about gay or straight students attending a marriage equality rally? Totally different standards for gay people because BYU is the Cosmic Center of the Hate Homosexual Universe, along with Mormon Church HQ. I got out of BYU without losing my sanity–but barely. I had aversion therapy at BYU in the 70′s, and after I left, BYU outright lied and said it never occurred, until I and others threatened a lawsuit and produced the doctoral dissertation the aversion therapy was part of: ‘Use of Visual Stimuli in Electric Aversion Therapy’, BYU 1976, McBride. Within minutes of being confronted with the dissertation, BYU backtracked and said it was all a ‘misunderstanding’. BYU is the perfect reflection of the so called Mormon Church, hateful, bigoted and willing to lie to give a better PR cover to its hatred.

  5. Sierra A. /

    It is interesting that the same punishment could be enforced for those two very separate “infractions” of the Honor Code. Although I do not like it, it makes sense that the Church-sanctioned schools would respond in such a way given LDS stances on both chastity and the “inappropriateness” of acting on homosexual feelings. Would a case involving girls be handled the same way? I’d say not, because it is socially acceptable for women to be touchy-feely with same sex peers, but men are not allowed to have the same sort of physical contact with other men. It will always be seen in our community as non-platonic, which I think is unacceptable. Where’s the equality of treatment?

Feel strongly (or maybe not)? Comment away.