Standardless Standards: PCC’s Ultimate ‘Law’

Imagine living in a society where the posted speed limits were not set out in definable numbers; rather, they were posted in terms like “Do Not Drive Too Fast” or “It Is Illegal To Drive Faster Than What Is Safe To Drive On This Road.” If you were to be driving along the highway, and these were the types of signs you saw, how would you determine how fast or how slow to drive? (Some of us would continue as we always have, but this is beside the point. . . .) What is “too fast”? What is “safe”? Or more importantly,
what does the highway patrolman think? These are questions that could not be answered until you had broken someone else’s subjective interpretation of these posted “speed limits.” In our society, however, this has been determined to be unacceptable public policy. Why? Because for an act to be punishable by the proper authorities, people need to know precisely what that act is.

Imagine a plan of salvation that required us to live “good” lives in order to obtain redemption, a plan that did not set out any other requirements than that we must do what is “right.” How would we know what was “good” or what was “right”? What sort of life would we have to live? How would we ever enjoy life knowing that maybe our life was not “good enough. This would be left to each of our own finite and certainly less than divine subjective interpretation. This would be left to speculation and determination at a time when “life” would no longer be capable of redemption. Fortunately for our eternal souls, God has given us exact standards by which we can know we are saved (see the book of Romans).

This sounds quite far-fetched, and most of us can easily discern the problems and difficulties it would be to maintain such systems of vague and undefinable “standards,” yet these are precisely the principles that are used to govern the “community” at PCC. The PCC system contains few real “standards” for students to be able to rely upon. There are few actual “rules” at PCC, and leave it to The Student Voice to be the only one willing to maintain such a statement.

A “standard” is a “means of DETERMINING what a thing should be; a DEFINITE rule, MEASURE or principle established by authority; something set up as AN EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW.” (emphasis added) A “rule” is a “prescribed GUIDE for conduct or action.” (emphasis added) Inherent in these two concepts are (1) a definiteness by which one knows what the bounds of that required or prohibited conduct are and (2) something that remains fairly constant and predictable.

PCC, of course, prides itself on its “standards” and its “rules,” but those same guidelines which the school often incorrectly describes as “standards” and “rules” are often nothing more than open-ended, undefined “values” that no student can be reasonably expected to understand, predict and measure his or her actions by. Yet these same nebulous “values” are what is often used to sanction students and even to expel them from school. This, folks, is unjust.

One of the more specific goals of The Voice is to see PCC get rid of its current Student Handbook (although that is somewhat of a misnomer), and to replace it with a comprehensive Handbook that contains every single rule defined and proscribed as such, so that each student, parent, faculty member and staff member will know exactly what behavior is and what is not required. This essay is one in a series of essays that will go through the current Student Handbook and point out the problems and difficulties that need to be dealt with, and we will offer solutions to these problems so that no more students will be expelled on only the whims and unsubstantiated notions of the administration.

In our society, there is a concept known as the Principle of Legality (also sometimes referred to as the Rule of Lenity). This principle stands for the proposition that no person will be convicted of a crime and punished for something that is not specifically laid out in statutory form. In other words, if conduct is not prohibited by a written law that is clear and specific, no citizen can be punished for it, regardless of how “bad” it is.

“The same point may be put in terms of the relation of law to morals. That the criminal law derives from moral values cannot be doubted; some notion of right and wrong necessarily underlies the decision of what to punish. The principle of legality, however, does not identify which values the penal law should seek to enforce; it merely specifies the appropriate way to make that decision. In other words, the principle of legality asserts that certain constraints on the process of crime definition are essential to the ethical integrity of the criminal law as a system of rules, and it seeks to maintain those constraints without regard to the content of the rules chosen. Today, few would dispute the desirability in principle of advance legislative specification of criminal conduct.” [CRIMINAL LAW, 2nd edition. Low, Peter W.; Jeffries, John Calvin; & Bonnie, Richard J. Foundation Press, p. 34].

The rest of our society has recognized the principle that it is not good to have restricted conduct that is unknown, and “standards” which are vague and thereby difficult to follow. Why cannot PCC understand this? Well, it is true that someone who is able to maintain a society with this type of
vague authority will have much more control, because the general population will always be in fear of violating the authority’s view of its own vague values, particularly those whose minds are willing to intellectually challenge conventional thinking and are thus unwilling to simply follow the pack as if beckoned by the mere thought of more green grass beyond the next stream. Control, of course, is very important to those in charge at PCC, no one would deny that, and the best way to keep the most control over its subjects is to stay away from precisely defined standards of conduct.

Let us first start out this series by examining the ultimate “standard,” a standard which is, oddly enough, not even printed in the Student Handbook. So, while the administration will tell the students to read the Handbook carefully as it lays out the “rules” and “guidelines” for the students to follow, they will nevertheless expel students based on the “ultimate” law which is not even in the Student Handbook!

This “rule” is stated in the front of the college catalog, and it states, in part:

“Attendance at Pensacola Christian College is a privilege and not a right. Students forfeit this privilege if they do not CONFORM TO THE STANDARDS AND IDEALS of work and life of the College, and the College may insist on the withdrawal of a student at any time that the student, IN THE OPINION OF THE
COLLEGE, does not CONFORM TO THE SPIRIT OF THE MINISTRY.” (emphasis added)

This should be an insult to the intelligence, integrity and common sense of every student who has ever walked through the doors of PCC. What this is saying is that PCC is willing to take your hard-earned money, your time, and your efforts expended in working towards a degree, but regardless of all that, they can and will let you go FOR NO REASON AT ALL. This is the fine print.

1. This needs to be put in the Student Handbook.

For the administration to keep this out of the Handbook and still use it as the sole basis for expelling a student is highly unethical, for PCC holds the Student Handbook as being that which contains the rules and regulations to follow. Dr. Horton even sets this out in his opening remarks: “This student handbook contains the regulations and procedures that govern student life. . . .” WHY, THEN, IS THE “NON-CONFORMING POLICY” NOT LAID OUT IN THIS HANDBOOK? A student looks to the catalogue for academic information and to the Student Handbook for the regulations. Therefore, this very important regulation should be in the Student Handbook, and to keep it out has the appearance of trying to be less than up-front with students.

2. Define the “spirit of the ministry”

Is this a terribly unreasonable request to ask? Do not the students (and parents) have a right – yes, a right, to know what the “spirit” is that they must conform to? If anyone knows the answer to this question, please let us know (and then how about letting the students know)? The fact is that this is about as vague as one can get. The “spirit of the ministry”? Who
are they trying to fool? If it is possible to figure out what this means from a practical living standpoint, it would take several years to figure it out, and for a brand new student to begin immediately living under this “rule” and yet still have a sense of freedom is, I submit to you, virtually impossible.

The fact of the matter is that every one of us would have a different view of the “spirit.” I would wager that not even the individual faculty members could come up with the same definition. In fact, when different administration members were asked what it means, they REFUSED TO GIVE AN ANSWER!! This is being up-front? This is being honest? Or is there really, and intentionally, no definition? How, in the name of common sense, can the administration expect students to know what this means if they are not even willing to tell a student what it means? And how can they expect students to know how to follow it?

The sanction for not “conforming” to this spirit is expulsion. That is what the above-quoted paragraph states very clearly. Think about that. A “standard” that will not and has not been defined, a “standard” that has no recognizable definition and measurability, and yet a “standard” that is the ultimate “law of the land” will be, and has been, used to expel students.
Why? Because they did not “conform.” Conform to what? And how, then, does one “conform”? To conform, one must know of that which he or she is to conform TO. I cannot conform to something I cannot define, this is ridiculous! And yet when asked this specific question directly, Dr. Goddard, Mr. Ohman, and Dr. Horton refuse to answer the question. And some of you still think you can justify this?

3. The “opinion of the College.”

Let me just explain what the “opinion of the College” means. It means whatever the administration wants it to mean, and this is ALWAYS at the student’s expense. Not to mention the fact that this wording is very imprecise, it is also as vague as the “spirit of the ministry” clause. It is imprecise because it is not the opinion of the “college” that matters. The “college” is the entire community – faculty, staff, AND STUDENTS. This makes it sound as if there were some sort of body that represents the “college” that makes this determination, and I assure you, as I am sure you need no assurance, that this is NOT the case. The “opinion of the College” is NOT the opinion of the college; rather, it is the OPINION OF A FEW ADMINISTRATORS, or perhaps the Hortons alone.

If PCC were, in fact, a “community” or a “city” as it often likes to characterize itself, this “law” would not stand up for a second. It would be ruled unconstitutional for vagueness very quickly and very easily, because the rest of American civilization has come to recognize the principle of legality, the principle that in a community, defining the standards of conduct must be clearly spelled out so that those who are expected to abide by the standards know what is required of them. This is hardly an unreasonable request. Define what it means, and put it in the Student
Handbook.

Call me crazy, but if PCC is going to brag about its “Christian standards,” don’t you think it ought to, at the very least, let those who are subject to these “standards” know what they are?

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