PROVO With duct tape over their mouths and carrying large signs, students at Brigham Young University protested Friday a decision to terminate a student adviser for writing a letter to the editor that called for student-election reform at the school.
About 200 students flocked to Brigham's Square on campus to either watch or participate in the protest. The rally decried the termination of Todd Hendricks, who penned the missive that appeared March 10 in BYU's campus newspaper, the Daily Universe.
Hendricks, who was an adviser to the Brigham Young University Student Association, is appealing his termination. He says his supervisor fired him because of the letter, which called for "greater transparency" in student elections.
"They told me my act of writing the letter was very disloyal and they could never trust my judgment again and they were going to take action against me," Hendricks, a BYU graduate student, said Friday after the protest. He did not attend the rally.
Hendricks said that for the past three years popular student candidates were denied candidacy because of accusations levied by other candidates. Election bylaws are changed by BYU on a yearly basis, he said, and the committee that decides whether bylaws have been violated is made up of administrators and 10 anonymous students.
Hendricks said that he was not directly involved with student elections but feels compelled to know why students get disqualified from running for a position in a service organization.
A BYU spokesman declined to discuss Hendricks' termination, saying it was a confidential personnel issue.
"We see it's part of a larger problem at BYU," said student Ashley Sanders, one of the organizers of the protest.
Those larger problems, she said, have to do with academic freedom and transparency of administrative actions on campus.
Even the protest, she said, was initially organized without the administration's blessing because students doubted they would get permission to gather.
"When he saw that they were planning on having the gathering, we informed them of the policies so they would be able to comply with it," BYU spokesman Grant Madsen said.
Business professor Warner Woodworth was the only member of the BYU faculty to stand beside students at the protest. He said the protest a rare sight at the private school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes at a sensitive time.
BYU, which was censured in 1997 by a national professor's group for alleged academic freedom violations, is seeking reaccreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
"There are some tensions about academic freedom," he said.
Student Alan Stoffer held a sign saying, "While you are at it . . . Let that girl from 'The Real World ' back in."
Stoffer was referencing his older sister, Julie Stoffer, who was disciplined by the school for appearing on the MTV reality show "The Real World."
Stoffer was issued a one-year suspension from BYU for living with members of the opposite sex while filming the unscripted show. Although university administrators indicated she could reapply to BYU, she never returned.
She is now married and attends a community college in Oceanside, Calif., her brother said."I thought it to be funny," Alan Stoffer said about Hendricks' situation. "It's the same thing. It's still happening."