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Rare Protests at Brigham Young Over a Planned Cheney Appearance

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  • Ram Lau
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/11/us/11byu.html Rare Protests at Brigham Young Over a Planned Cheney Appearance By MARTIN STOLZ PROVO, Utah, April 10 — The
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 11, 2007
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      Rare Protests at Brigham Young Over a Planned Cheney Appearance

      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
      conservative place.

      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."
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