Corruption rises to the top.
It may disguise itself as righteousness or good intentions, or appeal to its own authority, and those at its mercy often have no choice but to comply.
But sometimes they turn away and never look back.
Corruption will meet justice: That’s what many of us hope for.
I have a story that is not mine. But I know the person involved, a victim of a system that hides behind piousness while ignoring basic rules of fairness and decency. And legality. The story appeals to a lot of people, and maybe writing is my way to stop being so mad about it.
This person gave me permission to tell his story. I know him, his family, his ambitions and his disposition. I express my gratitude to him for letting me recount his experience. While this person will verify the story, I am writing the story from the recollection of a secondhand account.
It is my hope that readers could apply his situation to their lives; perhaps many do not have to experience it vicariously and have indeed also become victims of this system. Names and other details have been changed. I’ve abridged the story somewhat.
Some time ago Gary Avery was an alumnus working part-time during a winter semester at his alma mater in a department unrelated to where he earned his bachelor’s degree. The job often demanded of him to work many hours beyond his part-time obligations but still only paid him according to his contract. In addition to this job, he taught at another school and had other professional responsibilities that required him to travel.
The university was a private religious institution with a strict Honor Code; the university investigated Gary Avery’s life and discovered that he wasn’t attending church. As a result, the school put him on probation. He finished the rest of the semester and decided to quit and pursue other opportunities that meshed better with what he wanted in a career.
A couple weeks after the semester ended, Gary Avery planned a trip to another country to study with the native artists where a lot of his research originated. This gave him a rare opportunity to improve his skills at the feet of masters whose ancestors invented the art form. He would receive a deeper understanding of history, theory, and technique. He spent about five weeks in this country, from the beginning of May to the middle of June.
The Rest So Far
When Gary Avery returned to the United States, he considered what to do for work. He would continue teaching in various capacities and freelancing. As the new academic year approached, an opportunity arose for Gary to teach in a more substantial, full-time position at his alma mater. In the department where he received his bachelor’s degree. The faculty worked closely with him during his undergrad, and he kept in touch with them while he pursued a graduate degree elsewhere, so they knew of his talent and dedication to education. The faculty essentially created a niche position just for him, for which he was solely and uniquely qualified. In the years leading up to this point in his life, he established the best possible network for obtaining what seemed an ideal job.
Gary Avery had an interview with a hiring manager who dug into his file and saw that he was previously on probation. This manager, Colburn Patterson, asked what Gary did after he quit. He explained that he went abroad to study. Patterson then said that there was no way to keep tabs on Gary while he was out of the country. There was no way to monitor his nonexistent reckless behavior that was discordant with the Honor Code. There was no way Patterson would take Gary’s word that his behavior complied with the Honor Code. Patterson seemed to rather assume the worst.
So, Gary Avery was still on probation. Patterson said that if he could get an endorsement from his church leader affirming that he was complying with university policy, he would be freed from probation and get hired. This meant that he wouldn’t be starting fall semester, but Patterson would revisit his case in time to start for winter semester.
Gary Avery went to his local church leader and explained his situation. Pastor Parker understood and told Gary he would work with him to the best possible outcome.
Throughout that fall semester Gary attended church and checked in with Pastor Parker, who determined that Gary was complying with the Honor Code and gave him an ecclesiastical endorsement.
Gary Avery was now qualified for the position. He met the professional requirements, and his spiritual leader endorsed him. He was ready to be hired.
Stacking the Deck
In the last half of the semester Gary Avery learned the school added a separate position to the customized one he was applying for. This new position included more responsibilities and was opened to a larger hiring pool. Undoubtedly, Gary was qualified for this position as well, but was he supposed to apply? How would this complicate the hiring process in his situation? Gary wasn’t too worried, because he was still applying for the original position and knew most of the faculty supported him.
In November, Gary Avery gave Colburn Patterson an update via email. Patterson replied that he did not know the likelihood of reemployment at this point, that Gary was still close to an “unsuccessful probationary period,” and further decisions will be determined by feedback from Gary’s ecclesiastical leader. There were other clues in their email thread that implied that Patterson had not communicated with Pastor Parker. However, Patterson still encouraged him to apply.
Gary Avery was confused about his supposed “unsuccessful” probation. At the end of December he touched base with Pastor Parker, who confirmed by email that Colburn Patterson had not contacted him about the endorsement. Nothing else was keeping him from getting hired. The pastor further stated that he personally wouldn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t want to hire him, but that he’d love to talk to Patterson just to get a sense of his thinking, and so that Gary’s frustration with Patterson “doesn’t bug [Gary] the rest of [his] life.”
The associate dean of the department, Jeremiah Strang, was particularly upset by the school’s decision not to hire Gary Avery. He knew that the department and students would benefit greatly from Gary’s contributions; he knew that Gary was a good man with integrity, that although he had not attended church regularly in the past, he never truly rebelled against his religion: Gary never smoked, drank, or partied. He worked hard and built an impressive resume all before the age of 25. The department was powerless; whom could they hire now?
December ended, and the new semester began. Jerry Hough was another one of the faculty expecting Gary to start teaching the first day of class. His personality and temper overshadowed his slight frame, and people around him felt his presence wherever he went. When Hough realized that Gary wasn’t teaching, much less hired as expected, he demanded a meeting with members of the hiring board.
Strang and Hough met with Colburn Patterson and his superior, Lenk Douzebach. They discussed Gary Avery’s qualifications and process for receiving an ecclesiastical endorsement. Sometime during this meeting Douzebach went off the record and said that it’s his personal policy not to hire someone who isn’t a return missionary and isn’t married. Regardless of meeting the terms of his probation, Gary wasn’t going to be hired because he was single and didn’t serve a mission for the church.
On paper, Gary is qualified for this job. He has the entire department as well as his pastor to vouch for his character and desire to improve spiritually. It was his pastor’s decision—not the hiring board’s—to decide whether he met the worthiness requirements to work at the university. The hiring board’s job is to hire based on qualifications, not to judge based on their perception of spirituality.
Additionally, being a return missionary and married does not automatically make someone a good person, and being single and not serving a mission does not automatically make someone a bad person. Being single and not serving a mission should not diminish one’s chances of being hired. At all. Isn’t using marital status as a basis for making hiring decisions against the law, regardless of the privateness of the institution?
Other faculty are not members of the church sponsoring this school, but they have committed to live according to the Honor Code. Combined with the rest of the faculty, should we assume that all faculty are good, upstanding people? What about a religion “professor” who makes offhanded, misogynistic remarks during lectures all semester? An instructor. Of RELIGION. There are probably other examples.
Some professors with prestigious fellowships have come to work there, being neither married nor a return missionary, because they also are not members of the church. It’s hard not to assume they were hired to bring prominence to the school. Ideally, these professors would also follow the Honor Code. Realistically, not all of them do. Not even all professors who claim to subscribe to the religion do.
Never mind the process involved in recruiting for the athletics programs of this religious institution. Never mind the school dismissing students who change their religion after having crises in faith. Those are discussions for another day.
The university made a big mistake. They may never be penalized for illegal onboarding procedures, but not hiring Gary Avery—fully qualified and supported by department faculty—just because he’s not married and didn’t serve a mission sends the wrong message to that department and the individual.
The university will hire someone less qualified, but married and a return missionary. Yet the department will suffer, because their new hire can’t fulfill all the responsibilities and perhaps disrupt their organizational culture: They were expecting Gary Avery, they got someone else instead. That someone else will have an unfortunate struggle to meet the Gary Avery standards the department expected.
If Gary Avery still can’t be hired making a sincere effort to return to good standing in the church, how does that encourage him to keep going to church? Church attendance is his choice, but the university clearly conveyed that they don’t really care.
The university won the power struggle but ultimately lost a phenomenal potential employee: Gary Avery has decided to stop pursuing employment at this institution for now. He is free to seek other opportunities that may turn out to be much bigger than his alma mater could ever offer. That may be the best justice anyone can hope for.