Rare Protests at Brigham Young Over a Planned Cheney Appearance
By MARTIN STOLZ
PROVO, Utah, April 10 The invitation extended to Vice President Dick
Cheney to be the commencement speaker at Brigham Young University has
set off a rare, continuing protest at the Mormon university, one of
the nation's most conservative.
Some of the faculty and the 28,000 undergraduate and graduate
students, who are overwhelmingly Republican, have expressed concern
about the Bush administration's support for the war in Iraq and other
policies, but most of the current protest has focused on Mr. Cheney's
integrity, character and behavior. Several students said, for example,
that they were appalled at Mr. Cheney's use of an expletive on the
Senate floor in a June 2004 exchange with Senator Patrick J. Leahy,
Democrat of Vermont.
"The problem is this is a morally dubious man," said Andrew
Christensen, a 22-year-old Republican from Salt Lake City. "It's
challenging the morality and integrity of this institution."
Students and faculty at Brigham Young a private university sponsored
by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are expected to
adhere to an honor code, which emphasizes "being honest, living a
chaste and virtuous life, abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, using
clean language" and following church doctrines. They are also required
to follow strict modesty guidelines for grooming and attire.
In the two weeks since the university announced that Mr. Cheney would
be the speaker at the commencement on April 26, hundreds of students
have attended respectful and quiet campus demonstrations about his
presence, and some 3,600 students and alumni had signed petitions by
Tuesday afternoon seeking a "more appropriate" replacement speaker.
Warner P. Woodworth, 65, an independent and a professor at the
university's Marriott School of Management, questioned Mr. Cheney's
assertions about Al Qaeda's ties to the government of Saddam Hussein
and his involvement in disclosing the identity of Valerie Wilson, a
covert officer in the Central Intelligence Agency, which led to the
conviction of I. Lewis Libby Jr., Mr. Cheney's former chief of staff.
"It just feels like too much sleaze and not the right values for
B.Y.U.," Mr. Woodworth said. "We espouse honesty, chastity, integrity,
ethics, virtue and morality, and he does not epitomize those values."
Several students said they would welcome Mr. Cheney on campus at a
forum where he could be questioned. "I just don't feel that Cheney
represents what we want B.Y.U. to represent," said Sharon Ellsworth,
23, a junior and a Democrat from Marietta, Pa. "It would be cool to
have him in a different setting."
Some students said they were looking forward to Mr. Cheney's speech.
David Lassen, 23, the chairman of the B.Y.U. College Republicans, said
he hoped to present the vice president with petitions of support for
his appearance on campus, signed by about 2,000 students and alumni.
"We're excited for the world to see what B.Y.U. really is," Mr. Lassen
said. "No matter what you think of Cheney, he's easily the most
powerful man in the world."
Mr. Lassen also said the debate about Mr. Cheney's speech proves that,
despite its reputation, Brigham Young "is a place for minority voices
and healthy political discourse."
Mr. Cheney's deputy press secretary, Megan McGinn, said Tuesday that
the address would not be a "political speech."
"The vice president is looking forward to attending the graduation
ceremony at Brigham Young," she said.
Early this year, the White House asked university administrators for a
chance to speak at the graduation, a Brigham Young spokeswoman, Carri
Jenkins, said. The church's president and prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley,
and his two top counselors, "in their capacity as members of the board
of trustees" of Brigham Young, then extended an invitation to Mr.
Cheney, Ms. Jenkins said.
She emphasized that neither the university nor the church viewed the
invitation as an endorsement of Bush administration policies or the
Republican Party. And most students said that despite their concerns,
they respected the authority of university and church leaders.
Here in Utah County, 85 percent of voters supported the Bush-Cheney
ticket in 2004, a higher percentage than the rest of the state. Those
opposed to Mr. Cheney, Mr. Lassen added, represent Democrats and a
small number of Republicans, and the university remains a firmly
Currently, 49 percent of voters in Utah are Republican and 18 percent
Democrats, with the rest independents or divided among minor parties.
That represents a six-percentage-point decline for Republicans since
January, based on telephone surveys conducted by Dan Jones, a
political science professor at the University of Utah and president of
a polling firm that began measuring public opinion in Utah in 1960.
The surveys also show that Mr. Cheney's stature among Utah Republicans
has declined in recent months and that more Republicans are
identifying themselves as independents, Mr. Jones said.
Many students who oppose the invitation to Mr. Cheney describe Brigham
Young's commencement as not just a ceremony but also a religious
service, which in the past often featured top church leaders who
shared spiritual messages.
Tricia Campbell, 21, a senior from Orem who is a Republican, said Mr.
Cheney's behavior in office "just doesn't fit" with what she had
learned from the university's mission of promoting of "integrity,
character and moral development."
"I thought commencement would be a spiritual, uplifting exercise in
which I could take advice from someone I held in the highest esteem,"
Ms. Campbell said. "It seems that was an extremely idealistic notion."