Dick Cheney

PROVO — The White House called Brigham Young University in January and offered to have Vice President Dick Cheney speak at BYU's April Commencement exercises.

The Board of Trustees clearly was delighted to land a sitting vice president a year after President Bush was unable to accept their invitation to speak in April 2006, and the three-man First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, acting in their roles as chairman and vice chairmen of the board, invited Cheney.

"We are honored to have the vice president speak," BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said.

Not everyone on campus agrees.

"There is controversy, and it's good," said Ted Lyon, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese. "BYU has been known as a hotbed of political rest. I hope we have a little unrest, too."

Political science professor Darren Hawkins said it's possible the visit of an unpopular vice president in the midst of the Iraq war and in the wake of the Scooter Libby trial might even spark a protest by BYU students, a rarity on the conservative campus.

"He may be the most unpopular vice president in history and he may be the most unpopular person in America right now, so, yes, where else could he go?" Hawkins said. "It doesn't surprise me the White House called back and wondered if BYU would take him. I seriously doubt he'd be welcome at a lot of other universities."

Cheney's job approval ratings ranged from 28 percent to 36 percent in national polls done in the past two weeks by Gallup and Time.

The president of the BYU College Democrats said club members expressed a number of concerns about Cheney's visit.

"I have heard students say they are concerned that commencement speakers in the past were LDS religious figures," Diane Bailey said. "This would be a break from that tradition. They also are concerned about political neutrality. Club members have said they would hope BYU would invite a Democrat of similar caliber and celebrity status in the future as a balance to someone as conservative as Vice President Dick Cheney."

Lyon said the invitation "raised a big stink" among students who don't think Cheney should have been invited, and he expects student protests. He won't join them.

"I'm glad he's coming," Lyon said. "The idea is to let him come and speak. I'm going to honor the office."

But Lyon also said BYU should consider balancing the appearance the way Utah Valley State College invited conservative talk show host Sean Hannity to speak when controversy erupted over the planned appearance of liberal filmmaker Michael Moore.

"I don't think we are a fair campus," Lyon said. "I'll say that and I don't mind saying that. Do you think we would invite Bill Clinton? No, I don't think we would. We're the campus that projects closeness to Republicans, and so we only invite Republicans.

"We have had Sean Hannity speak on campus, at the football stadium. Could we let Michael Moore speak on campus? No, we wouldn't.

"We're definitely a one-party campus."

Hawkins believes Cheney has changed in the past four years from a moderate pragmatist to an extremist driven by the Iraq war and has appeared willing to do anything to create his version of a secure country.

Instead, "I think he has done more to undermine U.S. security than any other individual in the past four years," Hawkins said.

The president of the BYU College Republicans, David Lassen, said he hopes the visit generates discussion among students.

"One of our main purposes is to get students involved in any political activity at all," he said. "This will stir up some conversation and some controversy, but probably less than other places."

Lassen said Republican students are excited about the visit.

"I think both President Bush and Dick Cheney have stepped away from some conservative ideology I agree with, but on the whole I still support them in a lot of ways and definitely prefer them to some Democratic alterna- tives we've been presented."

White House spokeswoman Megan McGinn said Cheney spoke last year at graduation exercises for Louisiana State University, the Naval Academy and his high school alma mater, Natrona High in Casper, Wyo.

Cheney is scheduled to appear at another graduation this spring, but the White House did not release the school's name.

"The vice president is looking forward to attending BYU's commencement ceremony," McGinn said.

BYU policy limits political protests on campus. If a large anti-war protest develops, it likely would be off campus.

Provo supported BYU Police Thursday when the Soulforce Equality Riders, a 25-member gay activist group, protested on the edge of campus.

"I don't think we've considered the logistics of a very large protest," said Wayne Parker, Provo's chief administrative officer."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com