PROVO — The future of BYU’s on-campus hosting of two ROTC programs remains uncertain as negotiations — in part dealing with the private university’s Honor Code — continue between the U.S. Department of Defense, the university and Utah’s congressional delegations.
BYU's two Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs — the Air Force Detachment 855 and the Army Service First Battalion — are based as part of its Marriott School of business and management. Orem’s Utah Valley University is labeled a “cross-town university” paired with the two ROTC programs as UVU students are able to participate in the BYU-hosted classes, trainings and activities.
But as early as this fall, one or both ROTC programs could end up switching from BYU — sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — to the Orem campus of the publicly funded UVU.
At issue is BYU’s honor code — for students, faculty and administrators — regarding honesty, morality, integrity, dress and grooming standards, health code (abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea) and sexual relations outside of marriage.
Several social-media sites over the past week have been abuzz with talk of BYU’s Air Force ROTC relocating to UVU and the BYU Army ROTC program likely staying put at BYU. Many have pointed to the apparent conflict of BYU’s required honor code —some tenets tied specifically to LDS beliefs and practices — and the government-paid officers managing the ROTC programs.
On one side, some see it the matter as religious intolerance for the Department of Defense to not try and find ROTC officers who are willing to agree to and abide by BYU’s Honor Code, as has been done in past decades. Meanwhile, others see the Honor Code requirement as a discriminatory practice contrary to federal hiring regulations afforded government employees.
Those involved have tried to temper a conflict and downplay the Air Force program's anticipated departure and the Army program's intentions of staying, suggesting negotiations were ongoing. And given that both are funded out of the same federal pocket, a decision regarding one military branch would likely apply to the other as well.
Said one U.S. official aware of the talks and who spoke anonymously on the issue: “Pentagon officials are consulting with leadership from BYU, UVU and elected officials on this matter. No decisions are made.”
Conn Carroll, spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the senator’s office is in constant contact with the Department of Defense on the ROTC campus detachments, as it does with most military matters pertinent to Utah.
“We have been briefed on ongoing discussions about the program at BYU and it is our understanding that everyone is working toward a solution to maintain this relationship, which has been a national security asset for many decades.”
BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins acknowledged BYU’s hosting of the two ROTC chapters on campus, but referred requests for comment to the Department of Defense, which authorizes the training detachments on university campuses.
She added: “There is an expectation that all students, staff and faculty abide by the Honor Code.”
A Department of Defense spokesman acknowledged the BYU-ROTC relationship as well as the continuing talks.
“The Department of Defense values its relationship with BYU, which has a long history of producing outstanding officers in the armed forces,” said spokesman Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III.
“The department is developing plans for continued delivery of ROTC programs for students at BYU and across the Provo area. We will continue to involve the leadership of the local universities as these plans are more fully developed. We appreciate the leadership of BYU in advancing and protecting the interests of both the university and the department and look forward to continuing our relationship in the future.”
A similar issue in ROTC officials managing a university detachment happened in 2014, when a military watchdog group called attention to Wheaton College, a private religious institution in Illinois. The listing of an ROTC position at the suburban Chicago school — noting that the candidate “must be of Christian faith" — prompted the Army to conduct a national review of policies at the 275 schools hosting ROTC progams.
BYU’s ROTC involvement dates back more than six decades, as faculty early in the administration of former BYU president Ernest L. Wilkinson encouraged the university to pursue reserve officer units for the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy. Historically, BYU had hosted a Student Army Training Corp unit during the First World War.
With Board of Trustee approval, BYU first applied to the Air Force — that unit was established in 1951, with more than 1,100 students registering for the program in its first offering in the fall of that year.
BYU’s Army ROTC began in 1968, the same year that the Daniel H. Wells ROTC Building on the east side of campus was completed and dedicated for use by the two officer-training programs. Up until 2013, the BYU ROTC group was called "Cougar Battalion."
The reserve-officer training is open to all students and requires no initial military commitment. However, partial and full scholarships are available for those interesting in pursuing a military career.