A student walks past the entrance of Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo on February 16, 2012. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/George Frey *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-BYU-COMPLAINT, originally transmitted on March 18, 2015.

BYU graduates complain to accrediting board over school's treatment of lapsed-Mormon students

A student walks past the entrance of Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo on February 16, 2012. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/George Frey *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-BYU-COMPLAINT, originally transmitted on March 18, 2015.

A student walks past the entrance of Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo on February 16, 2012. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/George Frey
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-BYU-COMPLAINT, originally transmitted on March 18, 2015.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) A group of Brigham Young University graduates is strengthening its push for students who lose their Mormon faith to retain their spots at the private school.

Students do not have to be Mormon to attend the Provo university, but those who enter as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and later leave the faith face expulsion from BYU.

Activist group FreeBYU filed a complaint last week with the nonprofit accrediting board that evaluates the LDS church-owned school for the U.S. Department of Education. The filing alleges that the policy hinders academic and intellectual freedom at BYU, which is due for a seven-year accreditation review in April.

Organizer Brad Levin says many students who are “in the closet” about changing or leaving their faith must censor themselves in classrooms, online and in the wider BYU community. Such students should receive the same religious protection as non-Mormons, FreeBYU contends.

“They don’t know what’s going to put them in hot water,” Levin said. “They have to adjust their scholarship, their research or whatever they say.”

But BYU administrators believe the school complies with Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities standards.

“BYU is very open and clear about its mission as a religious institution,” BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said in an email statement. “We also strive for academic excellence in an environment of intensive learning and rigor, where students and faculty on a daily basis are exploring, developing and creating ways to make our world a better place.”

Levin expects the Washington state-based commission to receive the mailed complaint this week.

In November, FreeBYU sent a certified letter to church President Thomas S. Monson urging LDS leaders to update the university’s honor code “to promote freedom of thought and freedom of religion.”

Levin and two other BYU graduates leading the campaign say they have seen Mormon students in a “faith crisis” lose their standing, school housing and campus jobs.

At the time of the letter, Jenkins acknowledged that Mormons who change faiths are treated differently from those who start classes as non-LDS students.

“Nonmembers have not made promises and commitments that a member of the church has,” she said in November. “A former Mormon who decides to leave the church distances themselves from those promises and commitments. The result is that they are not eligible to attend BYU.”

The standard does not apply to someone who struggles with faith issues for a short time but remains in the church, Jenkins said.

The university’s honor code maintains that for Mormon students at the Provo school, “excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the loss of good honor code standing.”

It adds: “Disaffiliation is defined for purposes of this policy as removal of an individual’s name from the official records of the church.”

Levin says the policy violates the accrediting board’s standard that students are free to “examine thought, reason and perspectives of truth” and “share their reasoned conclusions with others.” He believes the complaint will highlight a violation that will affect BYU’s accreditation.

Commission officers did not respond to requests for comment.

FreeBYU contends that bishops are inconsistent in issuing honor code “ecclesiastical endorsements.”

The accreditation board requires that student rights and responsibilities “are clearly stated, readily available and administered in a fair and consistent manner.” Levin believes BYU’s policies violate that standard because honor code signoffs are up to each individual LDS bishop’s judgment.

Universities may hold students to a particular “personal, social or religious philosophy,” the Northwest Commission policy says, but must allow them to be “intellectually free to examine thought, reason and perspectives of truth.”

FreeBYU contends students who resign from the LDS church should still qualify for an ecclesiastical endorsement from the BYU chaplain or their new religious leader and pay the non-LDS tuition, which is double the LDS undergraduate cost of $2,500 a semester.

If they abide by the honor code’s other standards of no alcohol, smoking, coffee, tea or premarital sex, they should be allowed to remain at the church-owned school, Levin says.

Levin, who graduated in 2011 with a law degree and master’s in public administration, began questioning his Mormon beliefs while still at school but waited until after graduation to share his doubt. His older brother was expelled for revealing his questions.

MG END KNOX

Comments

  1. I kind of get the frustration, but honestly, what kind of opinions are being suppressed by religion? I don’t mean that hypothetically. It seems to me that by nature any religious institution worth its salt will allow complete academic freedom within the confines of its doctrine. That was my experience at BYU. I wouldn’t expect to enroll at Notre Dame and go about making anti-Catholic statements under the guise of academic freedom. That much is a matter of propriety.

    As for being able to leave the Church and remain a student, that makes sense on one hand, but on the other, why leave the Church? Likely thousands of students go through BYU questioning their faith, but having your name removed from the records of the Church is a very resolute, definitive action. And while it may not be anti-mormon as far as people are concerned, it is, by definition anti-mormon from a faith perspective.

  2. What is possibly inappropriate and what is grounds for penalties and censure are two very different things.

    “I wouldn’t expect to enroll at Notre Dame and go about making anti-Catholic statements under the guise of academic freedom.”

    Except it would not endanger your ability to be a student there. Nobody there is in the business of enforcing Catholic dogma among its students. There is no policy of censuring students based on religious dissent at Notre Dame. BYU on the other hand has a very open and obvious one.

    “As for being able to leave the Church and remain a student, that makes sense on one hand, but on the other, why leave the Church? ”

    So just fake it and keep your mouth shut until you can get away.

  3. The problem here is what the Church always does, which is say one thing for outside consumption, but mean something else for the insiders. In this case they say that “disaffiliation” is defined as removing your name from the records of the Church, which seems reasonable to outsiders. However, the reality is that you have to have an ecclesiastical endorsement to remain a student at BYU. So let’s say a student quietly decides that the Church is not true and stops going to church for that reason. The student does not know the bishop and therefore cannot get the ecclesiastical endorsement. That student is asked to leave BYU. It is simply lying to say that voluntary name removal is what gets students with “doubts: kicked out.

  4. Or, transfer your credits to a different school? Don’t mean to state the obvious.

  5. The eclesiasrical endorsement requirement is clearly described on the college application in 12 point font.

  6. The inability to publish research findings, or discuss findings, is problematic. Also, since BYU admits non-Mormons, it would then make sense for a Mormon who questions their faith to have the freedom to do so. Attending a private institution should have no bearing on one’s freedom of religion, which is a public right. Further, our own articles of faith allow it, no matter the reason: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates or our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how where or what they may.” And next verse, we believe in honoring and sustaining the law. Since free religion is a constitutional right, one upheld by our own doctrine,it is preposterous to me that BYU would take issue with students who question their faith. Why would they ANYWAY? Only to encourage conformity of thought. WHY would they do that? What is the threat? The truth will stand, regardless of who believes it. Let people believe as they wish.

  7. The point is that the BYU spokesperson is deceptive saying that only name removal is at issue. That is simply not true.

  8. And lose all those useless religion credits? They aren’t worth squat at most other universities.

  9. The hypocrisy runs deeper than that. If the student would like to stop attending LDS services and start, say, attending a local Presbyterian congregation and have that pastor sign his ecclesiastical endorsement, he is not allowed to. And even if we went through the steps to remove his name completely from the LDS records and get baptized a Presbyterian, he could not return to BYU at the non-member tuition rate, even though a Presbyterian who was never a former Mormon certainly could.

    BYU intentionally punishes dissenters and holds them to an entirely different set of standards than “Gentiles.” They punish people for reneging on covenants and commitments they made when they were eight years old, even though no eight-year-old is competent in a legal sense of signing a contract.

  10. BYU students that get disenfranchised with the LDS faith lose their ecclesiastical endorsement and may be forced to find an alternative education, it may not be logical for them to stay. People that leave the LDS faith generally don’t “just leave” they actively fight against the church and its teachings. Why? The standards are high (following the teachings and principles of Jesus Christ only from the New Testament takes a certain degree of effort. The church also teaches to abstain from alcohol, drugs, sex and there is a big time commitment) leaving is a great loss, they could have spent their resources elsewhere. Why would one that disbelieves in an organization want to participate? Keep in mind that every BYU class starts with a prayer and students are expected to attend one region class every semester and they have an honor code to match their faith. If a student actively disagrees with the teachings and the school, why would they participate in it? It may be best for them to…

  11. To clarify: LDS students who leave the fold don’t “face expulsion”; they are expelled. They then lose their housing (BYU students are required, with few exceptions, to live in BYU-approved housing), a campus job if they have one, and the school may or may not release their transcript (necessary for transferring credits). It’s not mere inconvenience — but calculated brutality.

    I loved my time at BYU. But this practice must end.

  12. People that leave the LDS faith generally don’t “just leave” they actively fight against the church and its teachings. Why? The standards are high (following the teachings and principles of Jesus Christ only from the New Testament takes a certain degree of effort. The church also teaches to abstain from alcohol, drugs, sex and there is a big time commitment)…

    Based on census data within and outside of the USA, it is estimated that between 50-60% of Mormons are inactive. They don’t go to church. This little stat strongly suggests that most people that leave the church leave it alone. Many simply decide LDS dogma is too much and they go to other churches.

    As for those that don’t leave it alone, it’s because they discover the true history of the LDS church, break free from its subtle mind control and then feel compelled to help others break free of of the LDS corporation. Their goal is to teach the truth, not to “go against God”.

  13. While I think its harsh on one hand, I don’t want BYU to become Notre Dame where you have professors writing op-eds in the NYT stating that the church is totally wrong about its position on sexuality, and should lax standards on gay marriage, premarital sex, and divorce. A church should not have to pay a professor to blast the church from a tenured position. If a professor feels intellectually that he can no longer suppport the core claims/beliefs of that religion, he should do the honorable thing and resign and find work at another university/college. There he can state/publish anything he wants.

    Students should be able to remain in school as long as they are not violating the honor code or advocating/promoting views against the church position. If they feel so strongly, they should transfer or speak out on the issue after they graduate. I strongly feel that people should have freedom of speech and concience, but I fear what could happen to religous schools if FreeBYU gets its…

  14. “I don’t want BYU to become Notre Dame where you have professors writing op-eds in the NYT stating that the church is totally wrong about its position on sexuality, and should lax standards on gay marriage, premarital sex, and divorce.”

    Why would that be a bad thing? Why is freedom to speak one’s opinion a dangerous thing. You are saying that students and professors must always be on guard to avoid offending church authorities in order to keep attending or working at the school. Such a policy is chilling to legitimate studies and discourse. What you are saying is that education must be limited to what is dogmatically pure at the expense of all other considerations. How very soviet of you.

    The honor code itself promotes dishonesty and a climate of persecution and fear. It undermines the reputation of the school. Turning it from a nationally respected institution for education into a Mormon Madrassa.

  15. Having your name removed is not the only action that often results in expulsion. Expressing thoughts on blogs and social media that are not in line with LDS doctrine has led a few doubting LDS students to be expelled, even when they were following the official Honor Code.

    Also, from what kind of faith perspective is it anti-Mormon to remove your name from the records? Have the Latter-day Saints decided to no longer follow the 11th Article of Faith? (http://ow.ly/KBNZJ) If a former LDS student decides to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, and that requires them to remove their name from the church, shouldn’t they be allowed to?

  16. And that is the reason that BYU has difficulty attracting and retaining top professors. For and institution the size of BYU it produces less quality scholarship than one would expect. I know several very smart, faithful people with Ph.Ds who do not want anything to do with BYU because of the lack of academic freedom. My experience the was that the quality of students exceeded that of the faculty.

  17. There is a lot that is getting glossed over by people in this discussion, here and elsewhere. The facts are: if an endowed BYU student answers “no” to any of the belief questions in the temple recommend interview, they are not eligible for an ecclesiastical endorsement, and they are put on academic probation. That means the student cannot graduate, and they cannot transfer any of their credits to a different school.

    Carri Jenkins should have said “All students who struggle with the faith but remain in the church, are subject to possible expulsion. Their individual bishops have the final decision, however.”

  18. Boy is that true! I confessed a sin to a bishop at BYU. I thought I was bettering myself and I was only not reported because my Bishop didn’t do it – even though he was supposed to report it. Realizing that I should have just lied hurt my testimony of the Gospel and the atonement.

  19. The standard of what may be required to obtain the endorsement is subjective and unknowable. Here is one of the many deviations from the NWCCU requirements. The problem of having an unknowable, subjective standard is no standard, but a huge club that can be used at will.
    Of course, since the Magna Carta, such Rule by Theocratic edict has been a pariah and avoided by free people since the Reformation. The BYU’s culture surrounding the enforcement of the unknowable requirements for the E Endorsements may be a code, but a sham of a standard as defined by English speaking civil society. The power of such a sham has is too seductive for authoritative organizations to resist. Powerful yes, but educational and intellectually honest No. BYU has duties to the Students by their detrimental reliance on the NWCCU accreditation. BYU may, as others, including LDS Authorities, more honestly serve its mission by resigning from the NWCCU, openly come out as a LDS Seminary & part of the LDS…

  20. Okay, now you have my interest. Any data on this or just guessing? My department at BYU was just ranked between 15-25 worldwide across a variety in research publication quality and volume metrics. Several other departments in my college are at a similar level.

    I keep reading about how my academic freedom is restricted but I have yet to see how. This topic also came up in a recent college meeting and there have been literally zero complaints (at least from my college).

    So I’m curious…have you or any of these “Ph.D.s” you know actually performed research at BYU and had your/their freedom restricted? Or are you/they just guessing about this? I know there have been faculty who spoke out against the church and lost their jobs (which were funded by the tithing dollars of active members), but that’s it. Do you really know several Ph.D.s who are performing anti-Mormon research? I can’t imagine any other kind that would be restricted.

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