Well, I’m back. The plucked chicken has landed.
Now I have to deal with the fallout and the wreckage, and with whatever additional unpleasant surprises may have been prepared for me during my absence.
I’ve mentioned my sadness that my brother wasn’t on this trip with us as we had planned, and my deep and continuing sorrow at his loss. But I have to say that, in a certain very minor way, his not being along was a mercy. He was my most enthusiastic fan, excessively proud of his little brother’s achievements (such as they are) and sometimes more offended than I was at slights or insults. He would have been absolutely indignant over recent events; they would have had a significant effect on the tenor of our trip.
I have loved BYU since my teenage years, and my ten-years-older brother was largely responsible for it. He had led a somewhat colorful life in his teens, but he finished his college degree with a senior year at BYU. He fell in love with the place. He had me come up by train and spend time with him and his wife at their little Wyview Village apartment at Christmas time, waking me up every morning with the Cougar “fight song,” and he sent me BYU memorabilia of all kinds, encouraging me to come to “the Y” when it was my time for college. For many years, I did my homework under a large poster of a painted aerial view of Brigham Young University that was mounted above the desk in my bedroom.
I was fairly heavily recruited out of high school — I won the “Best Student” and “Most Likely to Succeed” awards, was on the debate team, served as student body president, lettered in swimming, had a very good grade point average and excellent test scores, spoke at our graduation exercises (this isn’t boasting; it’s so long ago that that seventeen-year-old California high school student seems an entirely foreign person to me, and I don’t think I’ve lived up to my potential) — but, thanks to my brother, I really only wanted to come to BYU. It had been life-changing for him, and it has proved life-changing for me. My mind was already made up when, during the summer just before my senior year in high school, a family in the ward convinced me to attend the old “BYU Education Week” program in Covina or West Covina, California. For four days, from morning into the evening, I sat at the feet of Hugh Nibley, Truman Madsen, Daniel Ludlow, and even Bruce R. McConkie (who was not yet an apostle). I couldn’t get enough. That sealed the deal. I really, really wanted a good education in a Gospel-influenced setting, as those men had illustrated the life of Mormon scholarship for me. I understood why my brother loved BYU. I was aflame with enthusiasm.
Although inevitably, with the passage of time, “all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell,” although I’ve certainly seen flaws and lamented shortcomings, I’ve never really lost that enthusiasm. I’ve never become jaded. I’ve never been able to be cynical about Brigham Young University. But my recent treatment by at least one or two people in authority at the University has wounded me deeply, and has left me more disheartened than I can ever recall. It hurts, and I can’t pretend that it doesn’t.
By coincidence, my wife and I ran into a BYU colleague at Heathrow Airport who was returning from a pair of academic presentations at a very prestigious European university. This colleague was a victim of some unusually fierce academic politics a number of years ago, at a particularly vulnerable personal time, which led to a transfer from one BYU department to a department in an entirely distinct BYU college. (It could have led to dismissal from the University altogether, though there was not the slightest justification for that.) I knew something of the circumstances then, but learned much more yesterday. Things have worked out for the best for this colleague, whom (for reasons of feared consequences) I won’t identify, but it was terribly, terribly painful. My colleague’s very first comments were of shock at the way I’d been treated and of support, and of assurance that others on the faculty support me. (I hope that’s true.) We shared flights home, and we shared horror stories. I was surprised to learn of common elements in our stories, and . . . well, I won’t elaborate further. This morning, I woke up to a very pleasant note of strong support from a former student who is now a senior official at another major university. Such expressions mean more to me than I can say.
And now to work.