By Tad Walch
Deseret Morning News
PROVO — The only thing burned Wednesday at a midday campus protest at Brigham Young University was the students’ skin.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Students stage a sit-in Wednesday to protest Vice President Dick Cheney being the commencement speaker at BYU.
Student Democrats at the private, religious school left the burning-in-effigy of oppressive leaders to Cal-Berkeley and other public universities.
Still, they considered the relatively tame sit-in a success because more than 300 students, faculty and staff demonstrated their concern about the choice of Vice President Dick Cheney as BYU’s commencement speaker on April 26.
There were a couple of highlights. One woman wore a paper sack over her head. Another poured water over a second hooded student’s face to symbolize torture tactics supported by Cheney.
“This is much larger than anyone expected,” said Byron Daynes, a political science professor who spent last year at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. “As a William J. Clinton Fellow, I’m delighted.”
So was German professor Rob McFarland, who like many of an estimated 50 faculty who joined the demonstration, hoped the protesters would behave themselves so the administration would OK future rallies at a school where they are scarce.
“It’s very kind of BYU to provide this kind of venue where without vandalism and slander we can share ideas,” said McFarland, who earned a degree at Berkeley.
The group did not call for BYU to pull Cheney’s invitation, although some demonstrators would like to see that happen.
“I object to his speaking at commencement,” neuroscience major Heather Marsh said. “Generally commencement is for role models. I don’t think he is someone we should emulate. By protesting, we’re sending a message we don’t like the current trend, and that gives the government a chance to respond. That’s how a democracy works.”
Most objected to the vice president’s policy on torture and what they said was his war profiteering through Halliburton. They also wanted to make it clear that BYU is not exclusively conservative.
The White House offered Cheney as a commencement speaker to BYU this spring because President Bush couldn’t accept the university’s invitation last year. The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints then extended the invitation to Cheney in their roles as the leaders of BYU’s board of trustees.
“The church is neutral but says to be politically active,” McFarland said. “They invited a political speaker, and I think it was a good idea for BYU. They’ve handled it well by making it a catalyst for discussions.”
The dialogue will continue Monday with a panel discussion sponsored by BYU’s Kennedy Center for International Studies. Four panelists will discuss “Vice President Cheney and the Global War on Terror” in the Varsity Theater at 2 p.m.
Wednesday’s sit-in was organized by Diane Bailey, president of the BYU College Democrats student club. Bailey obtained permission for the public forum from the dean of Student Life, Vern Heperi, and she kept a tight rein on her charges, telling them to sit inside the orange-tape circle and talk quietly.
Bailey also asked Heperi for help policing the event.
“I told the dean I wanted help to make sure causes against our church did not hijack our event,” she said.
That led to a couple of scenes where administrators pointed out questionable signs to Bailey. She asked four protesters to put away their signs.
One of them, BYU graduate Tom Doggett, created a placard with pictures of four men — Cheney, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, deceased former LDS President Spencer W. Kimball and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve. Church members revere President Hinckley as a prophet and consider Elder Nelson one of 12 living apostles.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Matt Blood, right, holds a sign in favor of Vice President Dick Cheney. BYU’s GOP club held a rally in response to Democrats’.
The sign mimicked the “Sesame Street” song, “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.”
“I love the prophet and apostles,” said Doggett, who complied with Bailey’s request by folding the sign four ways and then refused to show it to photographers. “I’d rather have them come speak at commencement.”
While the message didn’t attack the church, some might take it that way, Bailey said.
“If you put up pictures of the prophet or First Presidency at a protest like this, the automatic assumption for some is that it’s an attack,” Bailey said. Bailey has applied for permission to conduct another demonstration on the day Cheney speaks.
Several Democrats expressed frustration with the College Republicans student club because it held a simultaneous “pro-BYU” party about 100 yards away. Most of that smaller group’s signs proclaimed the GOP club supported BYU and the church’s First Presidency.
“The implication is we don’t (support BYU),” complained German professor Alan Keele. “That’s a Karl Rove tactic — to take our message and twist it into something it’s not.”
While far fewer people stood inside the blue-tape circle at the Republican rally, club president David Lassen said the group gave away 600 cookies to passing students and about 400 BYU-blue armbands signifying support for Cheney.
The club also gathered thank-you notes for Cheney that Lassen hopes to deliver to the vice president.
The lack of sustained turnout was no surprise to Adam Stoddard, a political science major from Bountiful. “This campus is conservative but apolitical, not motivated to come out and hold a sign,” he said. The Democrats handed out BYU-white armbands. At the height of the sit-in, the club presidency counted 270 protesters. Several more came and went as the two-hour rally continued, putting total participation over the 300 mark.
The group ended the sit-in with a spontaneous, hearty rendition of the national anthem.
ALAN CHOATE AND NATHAN JOHNSON – Daily Herald
Brigham Young University students had three camps to choose from Wednesday in the debate over Vice President Dick Cheney’s scheduled graduation speech later this month.
THEY COULD HAVE JOINED the BYU College Democrats next to the Joseph F. Smith Building to criticize the decision to invite Cheney.
They could have gone one quad over to where the College Republicans were urging people to respect the school’s choices and honor the vice president.
Or, they could have joined the thousands of students who simply walked by one or both demonstrations as they went about their day.
In all, several hundred students expressed an opinion one way or another, and the discussion is going to continue: BYU Democrats President Diane Bailey said there will be another demonstration on April 26, the day Cheney’s speech takes place.
“We’re here to promote political dialogue,” she said. “We are so pleased with how many people came out, with how mature and responsible the dialogue was and how we focused on the policies and not on ad hominem attacks.”
For the most part, the protest was a quiet, seated affair, with Cheney critics holding up signs pointing to problems with the Bush administration’s policies and decisions.
The College Democrats passed out fliers listing reasons why Cheney isn’t a good choice as a commencement speaker.
The grievances included complaints that “Cheney’s controversial actions do not represent a model our students should follow,” criticisms of the Iraq war (such as the war being preemptive and the “misleading use of weak intelligence to elicit fear”), and ties to Halliburton and no-bid wartime contracts awarded to that firm. Cheney is Halliburton’s former CEO.
In the Marigold Quad, meanwhile, the BYU College Republicans organized a counter-demonstration meant to show support for the school and the vice president’s visit.
Students there handed out blue armbands, circulated a letter thanking Cheney for agreeing to speak and offered cookies, brownies and lemonade. People came and went, with between 50 and 75 supporters gathered at any given time.
It was much more informal than the anti-Cheney protest, more like a backyard barbecue than a demonstration — albeit a barbecue where a number of the attendees were journalists with cameras and microphones.
Supporters stayed away from political and policy statements, emphasizing instead Cheney’s long public service record and the distinction of having a vice president — any vice president — come to the school.
“We’re not just supporting Dick Cheney,” said student Amanda Malaman, who was handing out armbands. “We’re supporting the decision BYU has made.”
“We wanted to focus on showing respect for the office,” said David Lassen, chairman of the BYU College Republicans.
Lassen said he knew that viewpoint needed to be expressed when news of the anti-Cheney protests hit national news outlets.
“We decided that we definitely needed to have something to show what the majority of BYU students believe,” he said. “We wanted to show that BYU for the most part is still a group of conservative people who, though we have a healthy diversity, support the vice president coming.”
At one point, several pro-Cheney students decided to march with their signs to the anti-Cheney rally. They stopped and came back, though, after Lassen and others warned them that provoking a confrontation could get the pro-Cheney rally shut down.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said that, overall, the protest was handled very well. Jenkins credited student organizers for handling any problems.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.
Yes Or No? BYU Students Sound Off On Cheney Visit
By Doug Ware – KUTV.com
(KUTV) PROVO – Is it appropriate for Vice President Dick Cheney to deliver the graduation speech at BYU later this month — given his involvement in world politics and the controversial war in Iraq? Hundreds of students voiced their opinions on Wednesday, during two separate protests which were fully approved by school administrators.
Hundreds of Republican and Democratic students from on-campus clubs began dueling protests at 11:00 a.m. Those in favor of the vice president’s visit gathered at the Marigold Quad.
“We are just showing our support for BYU,” said Cali Nicoll, who supports Cheney’s visit. “We’re just really excited that Vice President Cheney is taking the time to come and speak to us at graduation.”
“Someone with that much experience… I don’t care what side of the aisle he sits on. Everyone can learn from him,” said Matt Waldrip, of the BYU College Republicans.
“I respect the institution, though I don’t respect his policies,” said Bob Rees, who says he is excited for the vice president’s appearance.
Across campus, students who oppose Cheney’s scheduled commencement speech, protested at the Joseph Smith Building Quad. Both sides were color-coded. Supporters wore blue and those opposed wore white.
Some students opposed to the visit held signs that read, “America, one nation under surveillance” and “Faithful mormons against Cheney.”
“Dick Cheney doesn’t speak for me,” said one protester. “We don’t think Dick Cheney is a very good speaker to represent the graduating class because he stands for war and lies, corruption. BYU is about truth and honor and peace.”
“We don’t support what he has done in his position,” said another demonstrator.
“[BYU has] set a precedent of inviting church leaders to speak at commencement because that’s what this university is about,” said one woman who opposes the vice president’s scheduled speech. “And I feel that having a politically-charged figure, despite his office, is inappropriate.”
Some students who oppose Cheney’s visit believe that if the university invites him to speak, it should be in the form of a discussion forum rather than a commencement speech.
Last week, BYU administrators approved students’ request to stage protests on-campus regarding the vice president’s upcoming visit. However, both sides must follow strict protesting guidelines laid out by the university.
Wednesday’s protests were peaceful and campus police were not needed to control the crowd.
Vice President Cheney is scheduled to speak at BYU’s graduation ceremony on April 26, 2007.
Slideshow: Protests at BYU
See Also: BYU gets Vice Pres. Cheney to speak at graduation
See Also: BYU says ‘OK’ to anti-Cheney protest
See Also: Some BYU students want Cheney’s speech canceled
BYU Campus Protests Dick Cheney Speech
|Last Edited: Monday, 02 Apr 2007, 3:14 PM CDT
|Created: Monday, 02 Apr 2007, 3:14 PM CDT
By DEBBIE HUMMEL
Associated Press Writer
PROVO, Utah — Some students and faculty on one of the nation’s most conservative campuses want Brigham Young University to withdraw an invitation for Vice President Dick Cheney to speak at commencement later this month.
Critics at the school question whether Cheney sets a good example for graduates, citing his promotion of faulty intelligence before the Iraq war and his role in the CIA leak scandal.
The private university, which is owned by the Mormon church, has “a heavy emphasis on personal honesty and integrity in all we do,” said Warner Woodworth, a professor at BYU’s business school.
“Cheney just doesn’t measure up,” he said.
Woodworth is helping organize an online petition asking that the school rescind its invitation to the vice president. In its first week, the petition collected more than 2,300 signatures, mostly from people describing themselves as students, alumni or members of the church.
The display of dissent is rare for a university that has been voted the nation’s most “stone-cold sober” school nine years in a row in the annual Princeton Review of party schools.
Students at BYU adhere to a strict honor code that forbids everything from drinking coffee to wearing shorts or short skirts. The school’s 30,000 students seldom even stray from campus sidewalks, leaving its lawns pristine.
“Cougars don’t cut corners,” is how one saying describes students, most of whom belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But student Diane Bailey, who is leading a protest Wednesday against Cheney’s visit, said students are not “robotic conservatives.”
Bailey and others are upset by Cheney’s role in promoting faulty intelligence that led the U.S. into the Iraq war. They also cite his proximity to the CIA leak scandal in which his chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Cheney’s BYU speech is the first of two commencement addresses he is scheduled to give this spring. The other will be May 26 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Both are institutions where Cheney could have expected to receive a warm reception, Woodworth said.
Utah has consistently supported the administration, delivering President Bush his largest margin of victory in any state in 2000 and 2004. In Utah County, home to BYU, about 85 percent of voters chose the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004.
Richard Davis, a political-science professor and adviser for the college Democrats, said the uproar over Cheney’s visit is evidence of a rift within the school and church that belies the faith’s larger claim of being politically neutral.
“He should be invited to come. He should speak. But let’s not send the signal that we’re abandoning our political neutrality,” Davis said. “There is no political gospel in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
The church has a policy of political neutrality and issues an annual statement declaring that both major political parties include ideals that Mormons could embrace.
“It’s one thing to invite some milquetoast Republican. But Dick Cheney?” Davis said. The protest reflects lack of support for Cheney, as well as “the larger issue of diversity and more liberal people within the BYU community and within the LDS church.”
Historically dissent has not been well received at the school. Last year, a BYU professor wrote a newspaper opinion piece opposing the church’s call for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. In response, the school announced it would not renew Jeffrey Nielsen’s contract.
Cheney’s office said his commencement speech would not have a political theme.
The school approved a permit for the college Democrats’ Wednesday protest and is working on finding a protest site for the day of Cheney’s speech.
“We recognize that members of our campus community are entitled to their opinions,” said university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins. “Political neutrality does not mean there cannot be any political discussion.”