Friday, October 06, 2006

rare protest at byu

JEREMY HARMON/Daily Herald BYU students Jake Melzer, left, and Dan Gilman participate in a large student protest on BYU's campus Friday, March 31, 2006. Students protested the recent firing of Todd Hendricks and many students expressed frustration at their inability to voice any kind of criticism about the school's administration. Melzer said BYU administration needs to pay more attention to the concerns of students. "Free speech at BYU has totally been stifled," he said.

Saturday, April 01, 2006
Students protest firing of adviser, demand more voice in university affairs PDF  | Print |  E-mail

A protest over the firing of a BYU employee received last-minute approval, and about 60 students stood in chalk circles with tape over their mouths in Brigham Square on Friday afternoon.

Some removed the tape, marked BYUSA, to talk with friends and fellow students, but their signs did most of the protesting. They proclaimed, "Honesty is the best policy," "Criticism is not disloyalty," and, "Do what is right, let the consequences follow." They also took aim at what they called a lack of student voice at BYU, with signs that read, "BYUSSR -- We want a leader, not a tzar." About 200 people watched the nearly two-hour-long protest -- a rare event on campus.

Todd Hendricks was fired on March 17 after he wrote a letter to the student newspaper criticizing the election process for the Brigham Young University Student Association. In his letter, he said a 10-member committee that has the power to disqualify candidates is anonymous and open to influence by administrators. He refused to sign an agreement that would have given him a month of pay and three months of insurance benefits, but would have required him to keep quiet about the firing.

BYU has said that other factors were considered in the termination. Hendricks was asked to meet with BYU administrators on Friday to discuss an appeal he filed, but that meeting was postponed until next week. "It's my understanding that the person he was going to talk to was busy with student protest," said BYU spokesman Grant Madsen.

Senior English and anthropology major Ashley Sanders, one of the protest organizers, said after media reports about the protest, administrators contacted her and offered to fast-track a required approval for public expression on campus. The approval could have otherwise taken weeks, organizer Kate Kelly said.

She thought the offer was insincere and initially didn't accept. "I said, 'I won't come until after the protest, because I feel like this is a PR move that you guys are making so that you can say you gave us a chance to try to express ourselves, and I just don't accept it.'"

Kelly said she sent her friend, Jason Brown, to talk with administrators. He filled out an application and Jan Scharman, vice president of student life, approved it at about 10:30 a.m., two and a half hours before the protest began.

"We're not trying to be destructive," Brown said. "We just want to work towards positive change and a more user-friendly student association."

Before the chalk circles were drawn, Brown told protesters the event was BYU-approved. "No one's going to face academic or legal consequences for participating in the protest."

Madsen said administrators plan to meet with the protest organizers to hear their concerns. "This is an opportunity for them to do their public expression, and in the future we'll have a meeting with them and get more information."

Senior communication major Abe Gong watched the protest. He said he tried to take concerns about parking and bookstore policies to BYUSA but got frustrated. "I started out with BYUSA and then became convinced that they don't have that much influence."

BYUSA Executive Vice President Chrissie Broadbent said students do have a voice at BYU, but "they just don't know how to channel it properly." The Student Advisory Council is the best way to get problems resolved, she said. "I know that in years past it probably hasn't been as effective, administrators weren't as willing to work with them in years past, but immense progress has been made."

She said she stopped by the protest and thought the students' message was mixed. "We just kind of got the feeling that a lot of them didn't know what they were out there for."

Sanders said many students were worried about being punished if they participated, and Kelly said professors warned her about protesting. "I've had professors say, 'You need to consider graduation,' 'You're graduating in August,' 'You need to consider if you're willing to transfer to the U,' 'You need to consider what your options are before you do this.' "

Some students also were unhappy about the protest. "We've had lots of students writing in saying, 'How dare you do this. Why don't you just go to Berkeley?' "

Kelly said she hopes the event got enough attention that administrators will listen now. "BYU only responds to PR disaster after PR disaster."

The group will probably need to follow up with petitions and more action, Kelly said. "But at least now they know it's not just a few students, and it's not anyone on the fringe. A lot of students are really concerned with the lack of voice."

Some changes might be needed to the election process, but that would take time, BYUSA's Broadbent said. "It's good to know it does happen, even if it is slow."

Warner Woodworth, a professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership & Strategy at BYU, stopped by the protest. "We need to reinstate the credibility and power of our students to have a voice in BYU's present and future actions," he said.

Woodworth also spoke out against the firing. "In the case of this Hendricks individual, who I don't know, who I've never heard of, I just feel like his speaking out ought to be acceptable as part of being a conscientious member of the BYU community."

Anna Chang-Yen can be reached at 344-2549 or

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.

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