As a committed Latter-day Saint and Brigham Young University professor, I and others disagree with whatever Vice President Dick Cheney will say at this Thursday's commencement. My e-mail account has been inundated with letters from around the globe expressing dismay at Cheney being honored. There is absolutely no way he can reverse his record. For many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as students, faculty and administrators at BYU, any words from him will be disheartening.
Let me count a few ways Cheney has diminished our American ideals: using false premises for war, condoning illegal wiretaps on citizens, justifying Abu Ghraib, managing Halliburton unethically, continuing use of vulgarities, firing federal prosecutors who weren't "Bushie" enough, and on ad nauseam.
BYU students and faculty like me are not criticizing the LDS Church, its leaders or BYU administrators. They certainly have the right to invite anyone to campus who they prefer. Our criticisms are of Cheney, his values and politics, and the destructive outcomes of the current administration in Washington.
The anti-Cheney protests on campus are an important part of building civil society. As a faculty member, I have always seen my role to be that of serving my students as a mentor. Thus, I support their complaints about the vice president as well as any other healthy concerns. My courses emphasize the need for critical thinking and independent views. President Hugh B. Brown, in 1969, told BYU students and faculty, "The church is not concerned with whether the thoughts of its members are orthodox or heterodox as it is that they shall have thoughts." Thank goodness this educational philosophy pervades many parts of BYU today. The university ought to be a marketplace of ideas and facilitate the search and expression of deep thinking and questions.
BYU is not nor should it ever become an LDS seminary experience. BYU is a facility for higher learning and the receiving of a genuine liberal education. Many Mormons who are pro-Cheney would prefer that no Democrats ever be allowed to speak at BYU. They have largely had their way when one reviews the disproportionate number of conservatives who have dominated campuswide speeches over the decades.
Being biased by one dominant view is always dangerous. Early church leaders warned that the U.S. Constitution would "hang by a thread." Mormon right-wingers and their extremist friends always thought such dangers would come from Communism or its more genteel form, the Democratic Party. Now, it is quite evident that if our constitutional liberties are in danger, it is due to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Gonzales squad, which has been ruthlessly pursuing its illicit agenda for six devastating years.
Thank goodness, at BYU, there is a heavy emphasis on personal honesty and integrity. The ethical bar is high. And the vice president can't reach it.I seek the day when BYU officials embrace the idea of a more open society, a campus of exploration, where we consider all theories and seek, as Joseph Smith himself declared, "to receive truth, let it come from whence it may." In a secular vein, the words of John F. Kennedy are appropriate: "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."
Warner P. Woodworth is a professor in the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University.