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A Time To Speak

When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.

David Brin

Chapter Seven

In which they learn a sad story


Alecia's message was a major shock to me. At first I thought she couldn't be serious. She really didn't think the school would push students to put itself over their family? Hadn't she worked there for over twenty years? Hadn't she ever actually seen anything about how they operated? She must have been hired by the school to harass me or something. There was no way she didn't know.

I copied what she had said into a new message and sent the whole thing to Win, along with a message of my own:


Your friend Alecia wants me to give her the name of that guy in my prayer group, the one who was the usher and wasn't allowed to go see his dying brother. She says she wants to look him up in the campus dabatase to verify it. Is she for real? Can I trust her?

She wrote back almost immediately.


Yes, you can trust Alecia. I know she works for the school, but she's not a bad person. In fact she's a very caring person who always wants the truth. If you ask her to keep the guy's name private, she will, but she will go and see what she can find out about him. It's up to you, but in my opinion, giving her his name might be a really good thing to do.

Win wanted me to trust someone from FU? Damn, she didn't know what she was asking. But because it was Win, I decided to take the chance.


Win says I can trust you, so I'll tell you: the guy's name was Micah Steele. He was a Bible education major, I think, from Michigan. DO NOT let the school or anyone else know you're checking this out. He was a good guy. I haven't seen him on Facebook anywhere, but I know his brother's on staff. I don't want to cause any trouble for him or his family. I'm sure what happened to him back then is recorded somewhere in that database of yours.

She wrote back a thank you and said she'd let me know what she found out. She didn't say anything in response to my dig about "that database." She knew better than to pretend that she didn't know what I was talking about.


John was talking about ED, short for Educational Datatrack, which was the software program the university used to keep track of everything about its students. I knew the information would be in there, if I wanted to go look for it.

All colleges keep information about their students, of course, but I've been told that Foothills keeps a lot more than what others do. And unlike other schools, Foothills never deletes any of it.

Being entered into ED happens the first time there is an "instance of contact," as the ED user's manual describes it. Typically that means that a high schooler has requested information about the college, or perhaps they have visited the campus during one of the quarterly Make Yourself At Home festivals. Information about the potential student is entered into the database-their name, address, high school and home church affiliation, along a copy of any correspondence from them. Other information is added over time-their high school transcript, of course, but also their parent's names and the name and contact information for their pastor, if we don't already have it. Recruiting officers are responsible for entering any information that they need to build up rapport with the student, which may include anything from knowing what sports they like to the majors they are considering.

After the high schooler enrolls in the university, their picture is added to their file, and more tabs appear under their name, with each tab labelled: Finances; Transcript; Extra Curricular Activities, and of course the all important Disciplinary Status.

The Disciplinary Status tab is mis-named, in my opinion. Most of what it records has nothing to do with disciplinary action, although it does keep a permanent record of every demerit earned and the reason for it. It also keeps a record of any time the student is socially restricted, has their dating privileges suspended, becomes campus-bound for the rest of the semester, or is suspended or expelled. But since most of that becomes irrelevant after the student leaves the school, the most important part of the Disciplinary Status tab is the letter prominently displayed at the top of it, right next to the student's name. A green C stands for Clear, and indicates that the student or alumnus is in good standing with the school. A yellow W indicates the need to watch this particular student or alumnus carefully, because somebody associated with the university has raised a legitimate reason for concern. An orange R means that person is restricted from visiting campus without permission from the administration. That person may have been expelled or else left the school on bad terms, or else they might have created an embarrassing situation for the school in some way, such as making a negative statement about the school to the media.

A person can only have one DS status at a time, but the status itself can change as often as necessary. And of course the reason for the status change has to be carefully documented, right next to the effective date. We staff members are frequently reminded to be diligent in maintaining these records, and to be aware of any students in our class who are on the Watch status.

It's a blessing to have all of this information in an electronic format, to have it so easy to access and modify so swiftly. When I was a student the records were only beginning to be entered into ED, and most records were still kept in manila folders. The file for a difficult student might be six inches thick, or more, by the end of their college career at Foothills.

I wondered briefly what John's ED file would show. He would probably have the most ambiguous status—the brown A for Avoid, which meant that anyone associated with the school, such as myself, should avoid speaking or interacting with him too much, since he presumably would be a bad influence. The A was used for alumni which the school knew to be hostile in some way, but who had never done anything to cause them to be considered an actual security risk and therefore not to be allowed on campus. A person with green status, like myself, could be changed to yellow for having too much close interaction with a red or brown.

I logged into ED later that night from home, wondering if the school would notice or care that I was using my home computer and not the one in my office. There were too many interruptions in the office, and too many prying eyes to see what I was looking into. I had never seen any policy that restricted what information we were allowed to look up in ED, so technically I wasn't breaking any rules. But I didn't want to have to answer any questions, either. Within a few minutes, I found what I was looking for.

What John had said was only partly true. The whole truth was even worse.


John and Win,

I hope you don't mind my including both of you on this message, since you are both aware that I was going to check out the story of Micah Steele and the circumstances of his departure from campus during Bible Conference. I thought Win would be interested.

I am sorry to say, John, that your information was correct, according to ED.

ED shows that Micah was a student from Gary, Indiana, who majored in Bible education. During his time at Foothhills he received a total of fifteen demerits, ten for being late for work one day and other times for not performing his room chores properly. He was made assistant room leader his sophomore year and then room leader his junior year, and his average student spiritual evaluation was rated as "superior."

From what I can see in his file, Micah's brother became gravely ill during Micah's junior year, and just before Bible conference time he lapsed briefly into a coma. Three days later he came out of it. Micah's parents (also FCU alumni) forwarded a note from his doctor to the school, indicating that end of life was imminent.

I found seven requests from both Micah and his family to the school over the course of the next ten days, asking for a hardship leave. The notes in the file indicate that the dean of students said that Micah should have known that his responsibilities as a Bible Conference usher could not be turned aside easily at the time he accepted the job, and they denied him permission to go. After that, the file says that Micah demonstrated an unteachable spirit, becoming angry and argumentative, until his pastor called the school and got permission for him to drive home. It looks like he made it back to Indiana seven hours after his brother had passed away.

From what I can tell, Micah would have been on spiritual probation the next year, but he didn't come back to finish. He is currently on Avoid status for having made critical comments about the school publicly.

Please do not share this information with anyone. I really should not be giving you details from Micah's private file, but this story has been on my mind ever since John brought it up. I thought it was only fair to let you know what I found out.