In the 1980s and 1990s Georgetown University (I am a 1998 graduate) became nationally known for its men's basketball team. A national title under coach John Thompson (his son is the current coach) and such players as Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutumbo, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson made the school a fixture in the NCAA Tournament.
At the same time, the school shed its Catholic identity more and more. The university is no longer run by a Jesuit priest. Cohabitation among its male and female students is quite common. Excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking in the numerous bars near its historic campus are a rite of passage among students.
Many student groups openly advocate positions and lifestyles that run counter to the teaching of the Catholic Church, often with university funds supporting them. What Georgetown gained in national recognition it lost in Catholic identity.
Thus, it was with interest that I have followed the recent Brandon Davies suspension for breaking Brigham Young University's honor code.
First, let us all give this good young man a break. If Georgetown were to enforce a Catholic version of the BYU Honor Code, I can assure you that I, most of my undergraduate friends and almost all our basketball players would be kicked out of school.
When it comes to young men at religious colleges, rarely has a better line been written than that from the Holy Scriptures: "The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Still, it is remarkably refreshing to find a school that takes its charge to educate the whole person seriously. Honor codes are not set up merely for the good of an institution (be it at West Point or BYU), they are set up for the good of the student and the dignity of the human person.
The first honor code, The Ten Commandments given to Moses, isn't a cruel dictate from a merciless Father. It is a moral compass to guide us through a dangerous world. Whether the Ten Commandments, the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the BYU Honor Code, our problems in life arise more from abandoning these guideposts than from following them.
As the great writer G.K. Chesterton once noted, "The Christian life has not been tried and found wanting: It has been found difficult and left untried."
We refer to the colleges and universities we graduated from as our alma mater. This Latin term translates as nourishing mother. A good mother feeds and clothes her children. She teaches them and prepares them for the world. Yet, a good mother also teaches her children right from wrong. She gives her children a moral compass, and yes, when her children err, a good mother punishes ... for the sake of that child.
As a graduate of America's oldest Catholic university, I would like to applaud Brigham Young University for understanding the true meaning of the term alma mater. If, by chance, BYU and Georgetown were to meet in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, one would witness a clash greater than East vs. West.
One school long ago abandoned its charge to educate the spirit as well as the mind. The other stays true to its mission to educate the whole person regardless of winning basketball games.
Cain M. Pence is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minn. He can be reached at CainPence.com.