PROVO Worried about angering administrators at the private school, students at Brigham Young University who were planning a demonstration this week to decry the university's decision to dissolve the bachelor's of social work program have decided to delay their planned protests.
Group leader Marc Gilchrist, 29, of Orem, a first-year student in BYU's master's of social work program, said he became concerned about going through with the protests after speaking with some professors in the College of Family Home and Social Sciences.
Gilchrist said they told him to "be careful" and that some BYU administrators had "lost patience" with him and other students.
"It made me scared," Gilchrist said. "I felt threatened. My name is on the top of the list of leading a protest."
He is now worried a demonstration could hurt BYU's social work program but also said he doesn't want to get in trouble with the university. Gilchrist said he hadn't checked with BYU administration about the rules regarding protests on campus.
Gilchrist said he and other students were planning to wear gags around campus as they walked to and from class this week. He said he didn't think it would be "a big deal."
The students were also talking about having a student stand on a square on campus for 24 hours, to be replaced by another student, as a gesture of resistance.
Protests are allowed on BYU campus, but the university has specific rules. There is a process for applying for a protest permit.
Students must go to the Student Life Office and fill out a request form, which is then sent to the dean of students. If the students are representing a club or specific group, they must have a signature from their student adviser.
The dean then reviews the application, especially the time and place of the proposed event, to ensure there are no conflicts. The group is then notified whether their request has been accepted.
BYU spokeswoman Carri P. Jenkins says BYU doesn't get many requests for protests usually about three or four each school year.
The student protesters are allowed to have signs and chant, if they are pre-approved to do so and as long as they are in compliance with the school's Honor Code. The group couldn't target a specific student or faculty member. And they couldn't make false statements, Jenkins explained.
No outside group can come on campus and protest, Jenkins added.
Regarding the group of upset social work students, Jenkins said walking around campus wearing a gag would have been considered a demonstration and university officials would prefer the students designate a specific site.
Having a student stand in place for 24 hours is a demonstration, but also university officials would be concerned for student safety and well-being, she said. Jenkins said, to her knowledge, no one so far at BYU has done such a protest. "It would need to be approved," she said.
If students protest without permission, campus officials ask the students to stop. "In the past, that has been sufficient," Jenkins said.
Gilchrist says he believes the BYU administration and professors thought the upset social work students would eventually settle down and go away. "They didn't expect us to be demanding them to be accountable and questioning their decision," he said. "There is a still a voice out there."
BYU officials announced the decision to dissolve the BSW program in October, saying eliminating the BSW program is intended to improve the master's of social work program. BYU also aims to strengthen the three graduate clinical programs in the college: psychology, marriage and family therapy and social work. Further, BYU is concerned with an insufficient number of potential social work faculty.
Upset social work students staged a 50-person off-campus protest in November. They had a press conference with agency officials speaking in December.The students also sent 134 letters and a 255-signature petition to BYU President Cecil Samuelson. The letters and petition were from students, alumni, parents and agencies.