Just the Facts

A once popular program, in the days of black and white television, was a detective show called Dragnet. The famous sargeant on the program had a simple line that he used all the time to interrogate people: "Just the facts, Mam, just the facts." I have thought about how often we think that truth is simply getting the facts right.

My college student newspaper (The Wheaton Record) recently ran an editorial that underscored this business about "the facts." I was party to the facts in this case and I know that, though the facts seem very clear on the surface of the matter, the real facts are quite different from the assumptions made by the student editorial. The short version of the facts are as follows. A program was altered by the administration, over the course of more than twelve months, and in the process several popular professors were impacted directly, one choosing to leave the school. Both professors happen to be very good friends! At the same time I served on the committee that was convened by the administration to actually recommend these changes that became quite controversial. The man who was eventually hired to fill the spot vacated by the departing professor was also on this committee with me. (What the paper didn’t know was that I was on this committee and I too was hired, subsequently, as an adjunct faculty member to teach in the revised program!)

Based upon the committee participation of the man later hired as the full-time professor, and the impact of this hire upon the man who is now leaving, the editor used the facts of this case to agrue that the college had breached a code of ethics by creating a clear "conflict of interest." Well, the facts do seem to support the editor’s view. But in reality the facts do not support the view at all. Neither I, nor the new chair of this program, was hired because of what we recommended on this committee last year. Furthermore, we were we never asked to consider the jobs that opened up to us as a result of the changes that we recommended. We gave our counsel, met with several groups of fauclty and administration, and walked away from the process fully believing that we had done a task as well as possible and that this was the end of the matter. No promises were ever made to us about future employment and nothing was expected by us from the college beyond our work on this revision committee.

The story gets even more interesting at this point since we were both hired to teach in the very program we revised. My friend, who will now head up the program, was not only qualified to be hired, but eventually applied with a large group of other qualified people. He was interviewed, carefully examined, and only then chosen for the new position. There was no connection to his being hired and the "facts" that he served on the earlier committee, thus there was no conflict of interest. I know this for a fact since I was his partner in the events that are now being interpreted as simple facts.

I have learned once again, from this episode, that "just the facts" is never enough. You have to interpret the facts. Since love "thinks no evil" and "always believes the best" Christians have a divine duty to make sure that they do more than simply get the facts right. When you hear the clear facts and wonder, "How could that be anything but what it seems to be" remember this—"the facts" are never neutral. They must be interpreted correctly and this can only be done by interpreting them in love, thus by believing the best and not the worst.

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