The following is a short story written by a faculty member who wishes to remain anonymous. The writer submitted this work to me, and I thought that it would be a brilliant addition to the site. I hope that my readers like this story as much as I did.
A Barnard-Shea Man
Barnard-Shea was a small private all-male college, one of only two such institutions in the United States. After 235 years of higher education in the U.S. these two colleges had succeeded in staying true to their original mission to educate “men only”. And of this history, Barnard-Shea students and alumni were most proud. Their pride demonstrated itself in a variety of ways. From the much quoted catch phrase “200 years of brotherhood” to the controversial bumper sticker “Barnard-Shea College, where men are men and women are guests”, the students were not lacking in ways to showcase their heritage. But it is possible that the greatest of these was the College’s honor code “A Barnard-Shea man will not lie, cheat or steal. Nor will he tolerate those who do.”
The honor code was carved in stone in the upper arch of the front gates leading to campus. It decorated the home page and adorned the glossy promotional materials sent out by the College. There was even a beautiful silk banner inscribed with the code. In the old days it had been hung high on the wall behind the pulpit in the chapel. But the banner was now kept carefully folded in a box gathering dust in the chapel’s basement. The vice-chancellor of the College, Allain Jackson, had ordered it put away for “safe keeping” soon after he arrived. “Such a priceless relic of the College’s glorious history is not meant for everyday use, but should be preserved for special occasions”, he had explained in one of his first addresses to the College community.
It was in one of those first addresses to the College that two freshmen, Grayson Ward and John Page, sat and listened, first skeptical but later enthralled by Jackson’s powerful rhetoric, satisfyingly seductive in its promise of hope, purpose and strong leadership. When Jackson said, “Barnard-Shea College has been blessed to play an important role in our country for over 235 years”, Grayson and John felt a connection with the College that they had not sensed before. They were part of the history of this place and they had a role in its future.
Jackson continued, “Although as an all-male institution, we now appear to be an irrelevant anomaly to some, we most assuredly are not! I am here to tell you that Barnard-Shea College is relevant, especially now. And we must ensure Barnard-Shea’s relevance by continuing to provide an intellectual haven, a fitting and suitable place for the leaders of tomorrow, a seat of learning where masculinity can be celebrated.”
Grayson and John were not the only ones impressed by Jackson. Although some faculty had been harder to win over, eventually most of the community celebrated his arrival. Allain Jackson brought new energy and a clear vision to Barnard-Shea. He knew the College needed to increase enrollment and regain economic strength. And he knew how to make this happen. Allain Jackson had gone to a top business school, where he had graduated with highest honors. He unapologetically endorsed a blatantly corporate organizational model. He was a master of marketing strategies and he had exciting ideas for selling the public on Barnard-Shea College in order to bring in more students and more donors. The community could hardly believe their good fortune. Jackson’s main strategy was to polish, promote and advertise the College’s image because “Image really is . . .”, he’d often start, waiting to hear his audience finish his quote by saying “Everything!”
“We’re competing for recognition in a saturated market,” he’d often tell them. “Skillfully marketing our image is essential. How we look to others is so important. We must keep that image polished.” The students especially listened to and learned from Allain Jackson.
The vice chancellor position was the second most important position in the college, right under the President. Bernard-Shea’s dear old President Garland was loved by all but he was a president who leaned heavily on his vice-chancellor. Vice-Chancellor Jackson stepped naturally into his role as campus leader. He quickly won the hearts of the students by joining them for breakfast in the cafeteria and recruiting anyone available for impromptu soccer matches on the quad. If he found out a student was having problems, he often took that student aside and advised him on how best to handle the situation. He had even taken the upper hand with the fraternities, establishing clear policies and administering swift punishments and sanctions when necessary.
And when the Dean of Students suddenly retired in the middle of his first semester, Jackson chaired the search committee for the new dean. He needed someone in that office who saw things the way he did. It would greatly facilitate communication and decision making would be so much easier. Any problems with fraternities, with student life, with substance or alcohol abuse went through the Dean of Students’ office and it was critical that anything potentially negative or damaging to the College be handled swiftly and quietly. There was too much at stake to let just anyone have this position.
Since the faculty and some members of his administration were sticklers for details, Jackson was careful to put together a search committee with representation from different parts of campus, including two faculty members and even a student. Grayson was honored when Jackson personally invited him to be a member of the search committee. But no one ever saw an official job ad announcing the position and inviting applications. Instead one day Jackson simply provided the search committee with a list of three candidates and their resumés. Two were unknowns but one was Barnard-Shea’s assistant football coach. This raised a few eyebrows, although Coach Jenkins was such a bad fit, no one took his candidacy seriously.
Jackson quickly organized the interviews and invited the search committee to have lunch with the candidates when they came to campus.
“Ask them the important questions. Don’t hold back,” he encouraged. “And then send me your comments by e-mail. Please be honest and detail for me any potential concerns you may have with a candidate. I want to know exactly how you feel.”
The committee was pleased that Jackson was open to hearing their opinions, although communication by individual e-mail to the Vice Chancellor raised a few eyebrows. It seemed odd to send an e-mail to him instead of having a meeting. But everyone expected that Vice-Chancellor Jackson would convene the committee for at least one meeting, even if it was at the end, so that everyone could share their opinions and vote for their candidate. Because this was how search committees worked. Everyone had a chance to be heard and to vote.
The two unknown candidates came to campus and the committee ate lunch with each of them before they went to the Vice-Chancellor’s office for the other part of the interview process. After the lunches, as the committee members talked amongst themselves, they realized they really liked the first candidate, a Dr. Thomas. He was thoughtful, reasonable and very personable. And not only did he have five years’ experience in a Dean of Student’s office on another campus, he was also a trained counselor. Perfect fit, thought the committee members and they described in detailed e-mails to Allain Jackson why Dr. Thomas was their first choice and why Coach Jenkins could not seriously be considered for the position. As one faculty member wrote, “I have known Coach Jenkins for years. He is a nice man, but he has no experience in administration, social situations are awkward for him and he hates to disagree with people. He’s a great assistant coach but he is not the right man for the Dean of Students position.”
Like most members of the search committee, Grayson preferred Dr. Thomas for the position as well. He seemed easy to talk to and he had some creative ideas for changing things up around Barnard-Shea. So when Vice-Chancellor Jackson called Grayson into his office and asked him his thoughts about the candidates, Grayson told him his first choice was Dr. Thomas.
Immediately Vice-Chancellor Jackson’s smile disappeared. He looked worried.
“Grayson, you can’t be serious. You know there are some real concerns about Dr. Thomas. I don’t know if you have heard, but there are some rumors circulating about why exactly he wants to leave his current job. I think it’s important for you to remember that we don’t know Dr. Thomas. And it’s not a good idea for us to put someone we hardly know into such an important position. No, Grayson. We need to think about what is best for the College. And I’m counting on you to vote for someone who knows Barnard-Shea College and loves it as much as we do.”
Vice-Chancellor Jackson put his arm around Grayson’s shoulder.
“I know I can count on you to make the right choice, Gray. The College is in a delicate position just now, economically speaking, and a smooth transition to a good candidate like Coach Jenkins is just what we need to keep everything stable. Now, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that this conversation is just between the two of us. Information like this is strictly confidential in order to protect each of the job candidates. Remember, if you are a Barnard-Shea man, you are a man of integrity. Always remember that it is our honor code that sets a Barnard-Shea man apart from the rest.”
Jackson gave Grayson a meaningful look before he ushered him out of his office.
As Grayson reflected on the conversation later on that night, he felt a little uncomfortable. It didn’t seem right that Vice-Chancellor Jackson should tell him how to vote. But maybe this is how it was supposed to work. The Vice Chancellor must have his reasons for preferring Coach Jenkins. And since Grayson really looked up to Vice-Chancellor Jackson, he voted for Coach Jenkins when he sent in his e-mail comments, although he really wanted Dr. Thomas to be the new Dean of Students.
The faculty representatives to the search committee also felt pressure from Jackson to vote for Coach Jenkins but they voted unanimously for Dr. Thomas. Because everyone sent in their vote by e-mail to the Vice-Chancellor and there was never a meeting in which opinions could be shared and listened to, no one knew that at least half of the committee members had resisted the pressure from Jackson to vote for Coach Jenkins and had voted for Dr. Thomas.
A week or so later, Vice-Chancellor Jackson announced in a faculty meeting in the chapel that the College was pleased to appoint Coach Jenkins as the new Dean of Students. There was a shocked silence in the room. Coach Jenkins! This couldn’t be. No one liked the idea of questioning the Vice-Chancellor, but one brave history professor finally raised his hand and asked, “Are you telling us that the majority of the search committee voted for Coach Jenkins?”
Vice-Chancellor Jackson’s reply was confident. “I am happy to report that a real consensus emerged from the search committee in favor of one candidate. I asked for all the committee members to write me their comments and I am pleased to say that any differences of opinion were marginal.” Here he stretched out his index finger so that it hovered about a quarter of an inch above his thumb to indicate the minimal differences in opinion among the committee.
The history professor bravely continued. “I, uh, I, well there just seem to be some irregularities here, Vice-Chancellor.”
The room was silent as everyone watched the Vice-Chancellor stare coolly from his podium down on the professor.
“I’m not sure what you are insinuating, Professor Morris. I can assure you that the College followed every federal and state regulation concerning the job search. There was a search committee, there were on-campus interviews, all committee members shared their opinions and a decision was reached.”
Another faculty member spoke up. “Was there a job announcement or even a job description?”
The Vice-Chancellor’s voice had an edge to it now. “Of course there was a job description. I am happy to show it to anyone who wants to see it. And I want to take this opportunity to affirm to everyone here that this was a legitimate job search. I also need to remind you that specific job search details are confidential and protected under state law. I am afraid that I am not going to be able to speak with any more detail in order to protect each of the candidates. And I remind all search committee members of the confidentiality agreement they are obliged to follow in this regard. He paused and changed rhetorical strategies. “As you all know, the College was under a good deal of pressure to find a candidate quickly and without a lot of expense. And we did this.”
At this point, a professor from the math department stood up and said “There is a general concern among the faculty that search committee never met-“
Before he could finish, the Vice-Chancellor interrupted him and said, “I don’t understand. Are you all questioning how I did my job as head of the search committee? I can assure you that the search committee was consulted at every point in this process. I guess in hindsight I could have called everyone together for one final meeting, but the majority of the committee made their choice for the position clear and I appointed Coach Jenkins.” Here his look became very stern.
“I am sure that I do not need to remind everyone that the College is on the verge of emerging from significant economic difficulties and we are looking forward to entering a period of financial strength. But those who would sow seeds of doubt and mistrust among us could do us great harm. And do great harm to our students who look to us as role models. It is my job to guide this college and to lead these young men forward to secure and good careers. Help me help them!”
Grayson and his roommate John sat with the other student representatives to the faculty in their corner of the chapel.
John leaned over to Grayson and whispered mockingly,
“Jackson is brilliant. Do you see how he turned old Morris on his head? Ha, Ha! A Barnard-Shea man does not lie, cheat or steal. Nor does he …”
Grayson smiled and finished the code for him. “Nor does he tolerate any bullshit from anybody who gets in his way!”
“Jackson’s the man!” another student whispered.
And as Grayson was careful to point out to John after the meeting, Jackson had never really lied. He’d just rearranged the facts so that they looked better. It was clear he had wanted Coach Jenkins to be Dean of Students because this was what was best for the College. And he had made it happen. Jackson was still their hero.
And so it was painful for Grayson Ward and John Page, a year later, to be called to the Vice-Chancellor’s office, and to be seated in front of his desk with Dean Jenkins in attendance.
“You know, Mr. Ward and Mr. Page why you are here today?”, the Vice-Chancellor asked.
Grayson and John looked at Vice-Chancellor Jackson. Both nodded.
“You understand, Grayson and John, that hazing is a serious offense and that the College takes it very seriously.”
Both nodded again.
Vice-Chancellor Jackson continued, “I take it that you understand, then, what it is your fraternity is being accused of?” The Vice-Chancellor looked at the Dean of Students and then back at Grayson.
“Yes, sir,” said Grayson in a very small voice.
“Please explain it to me then. I want to make sure we are all clear on the charges.”
Grayson cleared his voice and began, “Someone made an anonymous call and reported an incident of hazing on the back porch of Epsilon Kappa Nu last night.”
“Specifically?” prompted the Vice-Chancellor.
Grayson looked nervously at John and then continued. “The anonymous caller reported that some of the pledges were told to drink a bottle of hot sauce, followed by a beer and then the bottles were broken and the pledges were told to do pushups on the broken glass.”
There was complete silence in the Vice-Chancellor’s office. The two men looked at the students. Both looked miserable. Grayson was the president of Epsilon Kappa Nu and John was the pledge master and both realized the gravity of this situation. They had been in the house last night and both of them had seen Jake and Patrick, two of the brothers, order five of the pledges to the back porch. Although Grayson and John had stayed in the living room with other members of the fraternity, they knew what was happening because it had happened to them. When they were pledges they had been separated from the rest of the group, ordered onto the deck and had been forced to eat cat food until they vomited. Last night they could see through the sliding glass door to the porch and it was clear that Jake and Patrick were bullying the pledges. They could hear shouting and they saw Jake shove one of the pledges onto the deck when he refused to drink from the bottle Jake was holding in front of him. Grayson and John and the rest of the brothers laughed and kept talking and were careful not to look out on the deck anymore. John had seen one of the pledges vomiting later on. One pledge had a purple bruise on his face near his eye and another had a fairly deep cut on his hand.
The Vice Chancellor’s voice broke the silence. “Is this hazing allegation true?”
Grayson and John looked at each other and it was John who spoke up. “Not exactly, no sir, that’s not really what happened.”
“Oh?” questioned the Vice-Chancellor Jackson.
“No, it wasn’t quite like that, ” continued John. “A couple of the brothers thought it would be funny to have a hot sauce tasting contest between them and the pledges. So they asked the pledges if they wanted to participate and when the pledges said yes, they offered the hot sauce to them, but as I understand it, only after they themselves had had some.”
Grayson broke in at this point. “And they didn’t really force the pledges to do this either. The pledges knew it was a contest. But they told us later they wanted to do it because they wanted to win.”
The Vice-Chancellor looked sternly at the two students. “And the push-ups on the broken glass?”
John was quick to answer. “Well, that never really happened. Granted, the two brothers who organized the hot sauce contest were going to ask the pledges to do pushups near the glass, and one pledge actually started to do pushups, but another brother went out on the porch and talked the other two out of that idea.”
John and Grayson did not look at each other. They looked straight at the Vice-Chancellor. They had gone over their story several times before the meeting to make sure it was consistent. They had decided that the best strategy was not to deny the actual incident but to make it appear less serious than it was by claiming that the pledges knew it was just a silly contest. The College policy regarding hazing was clear. Any suggestion or attempt to degrade, humiliate or bully a pledge was wrong. But John and Grayson had already spoken with all of the pledges and had warned them what could happen if they told the administration what really happened last night. The fraternity would be shut down, the pledges would never become brothers and the pledges would have no friends on campus if they ratted out the fraternity. And so through fear and manipulation they had guaranteed the pledges’ compliance. Everyone would tell the same story.
As John and Grayson sat in the Vice-Chancellor’s office they felt a sense of relief begin to rise in them. Although this was a serious situation, at least with their sanitized version of the facts the punishment would be limited to Jake and Patrick. They would most likely be banned from house parties for the rest of the semester, sanctioned with mandatory community service hours and required to apologize to the pledges for asking them to be a part of the contest. But the rest of the brothers would be safe. And the house would dodge a major bullet. They would be able to keep their pledge class and continue to have parties at the house as well as other social events.
The Vice-Chancellor looked at the Dean of Students and then back at Grayson and John.
“Gentlemen, is this the truth?”
“Yes, sir,” they both answered looking directly into the Vice-Chancellor’s eyes.
“I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the College’s honor code. A Barnard-Shea man does not lie, cheat or steal. Nor does he tolerate-”, before the Vice Chancellor could finish speaking John interrupted him.
“We know the code, sir. And I can assure you, we are Barnard-Shea men to the core.”
The Vice-Chancellor nodded. He looked pleased.
“Well, gentlemen, we will be following up on this conversation by talking to the pledges. If their story corroborates what you are saying, then the sanctions will be limited to the two brothers who suggested the hot sauce contest.” Here Vice-Chancellor Jackson looked sternly at the students.
“I know I do not need to tell you how serious it would be for this to get out to the public. This is not the kind of publicity Barnard-Shea needs right now. In fact, it could be quite damaging. Speaking of which,” and here the Vice-Chancellor turned to the Dean of Students, “Coach, will you make sure your office issues a statement regarding our “zero-tolerance” stance toward hazing. We want to remind everyone that this kind of behavior is not tolerated on our campus. We don’t need any bad press right now.”
Coach Jenkins nodded an affirmative. Grayson and John left the Vice-Chancellor’s office. Allain Jackson left soon after as well. He was headed to another meeting. On his way to the meeting, he saw a piece of trash on the beautifully manicured quad. He shook his head, stooped and picked it up, carefully depositing it in one of the new, over-sized trashcans he had recently ordered for the College.