The Dean gave a sideways glance to Ross and then finally said something. “Mr. Noyes, it should be emphasized that our focus is on whether or not Miss Smithers is disruptive to the mission of the college. Whether she profits from the situation is irrelevant. That is her business. It reminds me of when Karl Rankin donated to the college and had his name put on a couple of college buildings. He advertised the fact widely and it ended up being a very good deal for him, but only a somewhat good deal for the college. Still, the important factor for us was that we got the donation and it was, on the whole, a good deal for us.”
Noyes was not moved by this analogy. “She is dangerous and potentially very disruptive. She should be expelled.”
After another glance at Ross, the Dean said, “She has an absolute Constitutional right to be naked. It is her religion and we have been unable -- I mean she has declared it to be her religion and we are bound to accept her representation as to that. To expel her we have to have clear and convincing evidence that the practice of that religion is disruptive to the educational mission of the college. I don’t see any such evidence.”
The tension was thick in the air. Noyes looked at the Dean with a steady stare. “Whether you will expel her or not, it still must be done.”
The Dean exhaled. “Well, the trustees are in control, they can overrule me or even the recommendations of this committee.” There was more tense silence.
Noyes took a few breaths and seemed to calmed down, though his gaze was cold and steady. “We trustees must think of the future of this college. Some of us, our families have been involved with it almost since it was founded. I respect your viewpoint, but you must understand that we must do what we must do.”
I think we all realized at that point that this committee was to be a useless endeavor. Maybe it served as political cover for the Dean; I don’t know. I find it hard to think that the Dean, who seemed to me to be fairly sincere (for a bureaucrat), would have (or could have) engineered such a confrontation.
I said, “I would at least like to go on record as defending Miss Smithers against anything the trustees would want to do.”
Mrs. George quickly said, “That goes for me too.”
I wish the Dean had fought some more. But he seemed to capitulate, saying, “I suggest we not issue one report. I suggest we each submit our own individual observations and conclusions.” There was a nodding of heads around the table. “Is five pages maximum enough? Have them in my office in two days, April 1st.”
Comstock gathered up the pictures. We all got up and left, leaving the cups of coffee half-full. Once again, it was truly terrible coffee.
I walked out with Mrs. George. Snow had fallen earlier, though it was not that cold and the snow was beginning to melt. It was dark by now; the reflection of the snow against the full moon illuminated the campus with a ghostly glow. Mrs. George and I glanced at each other and parted wordlessly. Who knows what will happen now? I have a bad feeling about it. But maybe the individual reports by me and Mrs. George would carry the day with the rest of the trustees.
As I passed by the dorm complex I was surprised to see Miss Smithers herself in the field in front of the dorms. My last observation of her was the most intriguing. She was shuffling about in the snow which stuck to her bare feet. She was a lonely and striking figure; even after all this time, I still can’t get used to seeing her nakedness in such an inhospitable wintry setting. As I stood and watched from a distance I realized that with her feet she was making a big drawing in the virgin snow. I looked at her bare skin flushed with the cold, her nipples hard and erect as they have been for months, as she slowly completed her task. She finished and then climbed up onto a low brick wall nearby. She sat on her haunches, hugging herself, her freezing toes hanging over the side of the wall, as she looked down at what she had done. Her skin was flushed and her breath came out in clouds in the cold dampness, lit by the nearby floodlights that illuminate the field in front of the dorms after sunset. Then she hopped down and ran into the dorm.
I started the walk home, going up the rise toward the edge of campus. When I got to the top of the rise I looked back and from my prospect I could see what she had written in the snow. “53 DAYS”. What did that mean? I wished dearly that I could ask her. Alas, there are many things about this interesting and brave young woman that I will never know.