BYU-Idaho College Democrats-in-Exile

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.

8 Replies to “BYU-Idaho College Democrats-in-Exile”

  1. Reminds me of BYU banning rock dancing back in the 60s. It also reminds me why I don’t send any money to church schools.

  2. Jay,

    The College Republicans collected letters and statements from former College Republicans. Many threatened that they would never give to the school as a result of this action. I do not think it was a great tactic (came across very angry). However, it did not really matter. The administration has been cultivated relationships with big donors lately and the threats of former students under 30 carried little punch.

    I wouldn’t give up on church schools, but we should be keeping a close eye.

  3. Interestingly enough, at BYU Provo,The College Democrats are bigger than the Republicans.

    Me? I’m a Liberaltarian.

  4. TrevorM,

    There was actually a push to start a conservative free-market club. Not sure if it would have been considered libertarian or not (I tend to view Ron Paul as reactionary rather than libertarian). This club made the administration nervous. “If we allow the Democrats and the Republicans, we will have to allow the Greens, the Communists, and the Nazis.” This comment made me laugh at the time (still does), but it showed a general lack of knowledge about political parties (amongst other things). Of course, this is a place that says you cannot allow capris, because if you do then you have to allow all shorts.

  5. With great fondness, respect, love, and devotion to BYU-I, it seemed like political clubs on campus more aligned with the First Presidency’s affirmative and ardent exhortation that we get involved politically and strive to make a difference, and were less associated with any possible violations of the neutral stance of the Church towards political parties. That said, all institutions evolve and especially a church school will tend to evolve in positive directions. In my view, a positive direction would be to allow these kinds of clubs and groups to flourish within gospel parameters.

  6. I am a pro-gay, progressive tax loving, Rammell mocking liberal who is currently attending BYU-Idaho. I began my attendance at BYU-I in the summer of ’08 and remember the scary girl scout on the bake sale flyer. I would like to thank you, personally, for posting your knowledge about this anti-politics policy on the public record.

    You might be sad to hear this, but your accusations about BYU-Idaho have come true. I took part in the Jefferson Public Policy Society for a short time and found it to be a joke. Although the leaders had good intentions, it is ludicrous to think that a dominately right wing population at BYU-I would give equal time to left wing thought within a single organization — it took only three days for my pro-gay marriage stance to prompt a discussion on my spiritual adherence. If the school really wanted “neutrality” they would step back to allow any and all groups to sign up for representation.

    Something that caught my eye, was how you stated the “administration” didn’t want you to be there before the Rex Rammell ordeal. Are you referring to just the college democrats or all political organizations? After reviewing the documents on the honor code here, it’s pretty obvious to me that there are safeguards in place to prevent any outward political activity (i.e. protests and demonstrations).

    As someone who has followed Rex Rammell on my blog, I’ve always heard rumors that he was the cause of the removal of the group. It’s nice to have such information come from a first-hand source.

    Sorry for this beast of a comment, I was just super excited to see this post. I feel this is a blog I will need to add to my blogroll.

  7. Bro. H.,

    I’m not sure you remember me but I did have you for a class or two while you were still up here at BYU-Idaho. Although we greatly disagreed on several political issues, I feel that you hit the nail on the head with this one. I feel that I am a prisoner of an Administration that feels that it always knows best. Unfortunately the Administration relies too much on its “revelatory” skills instead of its common sense. I am sure that had this issue come up at Harvard, a certain administrator would feel a little bit different about the issue.

    Unbeknown to me that the club had been broken up while I was on a mission, I spoke up about this issue during a debate for the SRC President which is no more than a bullet point on a resume. After the debate I asked an administrator if they really considered the long term impact that this would have on the career of students in the political arena. I was told that they were testing it out to see if it really did have an impact or if their was another way we could make contacts.

    What gets me about this whole “Rethinking Education” model is that we are the Guinea Pigs for the experiment of those who have already had successful careers and are trying to make a name for themselves. On that note, thank you for writing about this. I really appreciated it.

  8. Will,

    I very much remember you. I had you in my 110 class and we chatted a number of times in the hallway. I feel your pain and also your perspective on the experiments up there. I have landed a job elsewhere for next year. While it was once my dream to come back and teach there on a permanent basis, I just cannot sustain the educational direction of the institution.

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