I have a box of posters, signs, t-shirts, and other junk in my office in Provo that stands as a physical reminder of what was once the College Democrats at BYU-Idaho. I was the last faculty advisor for the club and when I moved to Provo, I could not find anyone to take them.
For the first time in four years, I am not an employee of Brigham Young University-Idaho. This post, despite being about the political clubs at BYU-Idaho, is not a political post, but instead a post about BYU-Idaho. For the first time, I feel that I can freely discuss this situation. It was discussed last year both at A Soft Answer and at Millennial Star.
The College Republicans and the College Democrats are a standard feature at most college campuses. At Ricks College and then later BYU-Idaho, the College Republicans were at time a huge and active club, while the College Democrats was a much smaller, though tight, group. I have had interaction with both. I was a College Republican at Ricks before my mission. I was an exciting time. That Fall, the Republican Gingrich revolution swept both houses of the Congress. I was elected to be one of the vice-presidents for the following year, but instead decided to go on my mission rather than return for my sophomore year. When I returned from my mission, I was again elected to a leadership post…though I would no longer be a Republican by the end of the year.
I returned to Rexburg in 2006 as a visiting member of the faculty. I attended some of the meetings of the College Democrats and gave a couple of guest lectures. When the previous advisors sent out an email in late 2008 looking for volunteers to take over the responsibility, I volunteered. I was excited, the College Dems were a thoughtful group of kids who enjoyed discussing politics and policy. I actually tried to get them to be a bit more partisan. Most of all, I tried to get them to stop apologizing for being Democrats.
In March, I got wind that the University was up to something in relation to the clubs. A meeting was scheduled with the administrator over student activities. We were informed that the President’s council had decided to abolish the club be they violated the University’s neutrality policy which pretty much banned any and all political activity on campus. The neutrality policy is more of an anti-politics policy. I understand why the University would want to be viewed as neutral. Yet, this policy sought primary to keep the stain of politics off the BYU-Idaho campus.
The problems that led to the dissolution of these clubs had little to do with the College Democrats. We were pretty passive. The College Republicans were very aggressive. They sent students all over the country for campaign excursions. Their membership approached 200 students during elections seasons. They even did very creepy things, like holding affirmative action bake sales.
The death nail came when they invited Lt. Gov. Larry Risch to speak to the club when he was running for the U.S. Senate seat he now holds. Local political extremist Rex Rammell threw a tantrum. We were all toast. The administration, which did not like our presence on campus as it was, now had the motivation it needed to expand the neutrality policy to include a ban on the political clubs.
The College Republicans now meet off campus. Most of College Dems have put their energies into other clubs, including the new non-partisan public policy society.
What drives me crazy about this change is not so much that the clubs contributed so much to the campus, but that the administration did it rather arbitrarily. They just did not like the clubs. The reason for this dislike is that they do not see how such clubs translate into jobs in the business world. It is part of an overall anti-liberal arts attitude at BYU-Idaho. This attitude causes me to worry about the education being offered at BYU-Idaho and the future of what is called the “Spirit of Ricks.” I have fond feelings towards my Ricks College experience. I loved my students, many of whom are doing great things and going to good graduate programs. Yet, this action against the political clubs is one reason that I fear that the Spirit of Ricks may be dying and the spirit of corporate America is replacing it.
I am holding on to that box of College Democrat items for a bit longer. It is a symbol of the BYU-Idaho College Democrats –in-exile.