On April 15th, 2015 six board members from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities met with over 100 current and former Brigham Young University students to get the most authentic feedback possible regarding religious and academic freedom at BYU — without the administration present.

The full audio recording of this meeting can be accessed below (warning: audio quality is sub-optimal).  For a recap of the meeting, check out this thread on Reddit, along with this thread.  And here is a link to the transcript of the student commentary.

At present, if an LDS BYU student loses their religious faith while at BYU, they are at risk of  being kicked out of the university, with additional risk of losing their job, their housing, and up to several years of academic credit.

As the LDS Church continues to emphasize the importance of Religious Freedom, it is worth asking whether or not the LDS Church grants religious freedom to its own students at BYU — since most students who lose their faith do not choose it.  Instead, for many, a loss of faith is often the result of sincere academic study.  It is also worth noting that one’s status at BYU is not jeopardized in any way if he/she coverts INTO the LDS Church while a BYU student….only if he/she converts away from the LDS church. To many, this feels like hypocrisy.

For more reporting on the meeting, see here.



  1. Tunflog April 16, 2015 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Interesting conversation here. I feel like these board members got a lot more than they bargained for. I believe the participants of this meeting did a great job at tying the negative aspects of BYU’s religious policies to the quality of education provided. It was especially telling when people talked about the projects they couldn’t do because of the school’s staunch belief system.

    I myself attended BYU for 5 years and know how oppressive it can be despite the great education I received. I too always felt that I had to tiptoe around the church while exploring my major as well as my social life. Keep up the good work and spread awareness!

  2. John Shaw April 16, 2015 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    I couldn’t care less if someone loses their faith while at BYU. As long as they start paying the full tuition that isn’t supplemented with tithing any longer.

    • johnny alibi April 16, 2015 at 7:45 pm - Reply

      that’s one of the things the group Free BYU is asking for: do not expel someone who converts away from mormonism, just change their tuition rate to that of a non member.

    • Steven Shepard April 16, 2015 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      They currently don’t have that option. They just get kicked out, and their transcripts are frozen. This is exactly what they are trying to get.

      • p April 18, 2015 at 2:33 pm - Reply

        How is it legal to “freeze” one’s transcript? Doesn’t BYU open itself to lawsuit?

      • p April 18, 2015 at 5:03 pm - Reply

        How can “freezing” a student’s records for change of religious affiliation be legal, not to mention moral?

    • Tori April 17, 2015 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      I think it’s safe to assume that the students have a discounted rate because their parents paid 18 years of tithing. Don’t punish the student.

      • John Shaw April 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm - Reply

        There is no ‘discounted’ rate because a parent pays for 18 years. There is a member and a not-a-member tuition rate. If they leave the faith, they should pay the not-a-member tuition rate like all other not-a-member attendees.

  3. Koa April 16, 2015 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    BYU provides a high quality learning environment with some top programs (i.e., accounting). However, if you want academic freedom, why would you even consider BYU?

    There are a lot of liberal options available throughout the country and some great alternative research intensive institutions including Utah State University and the University of Utah.

    • johnny alibi April 16, 2015 at 7:49 pm - Reply

      the issue is that a lot of the students who suffer because of this policy are students who started byu as faithful members, but sometime during they lost their faith. this is something that will continue to happen, so it’s great that there are students fighring to change it.

      • Koa April 16, 2015 at 10:07 pm - Reply

        I was addressing the issue of academic freedom.

        IMO, booting students for leaving mormonism is reasonable.

  4. MonkeyKing April 16, 2015 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Academic Freedom

    To quote Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    I am unsure what the students hoped to change by addressing the NWCCU. While I agree that BYU is repressive of many things it is not as though they do so secretly. I wish that they had better prepared by reading the NWCCU accreditation Handbook beforehand so that they could have addressed the issues that the NWCCU are concerned with. The following is a statement from their latest manual (March 2015,,%202015%20Edition.pdf ) regarding academic freedom.

    15. Academic Freedom
    The institution maintains an atmosphere in which intellectual freedom and independence exist. Faculty and students are free to examine and test all knowledge appropriate to their discipline or area of major study as judged by the academic/educational community in general.
    Most of the negative comments were about the university repressing lifestyle and behaviors outside of academics. The committee members kept trying to direct the students back to relevant areas but too many seemed to not understand the committee’s role. Some of the students seemed to understand that the school has no obligation to make you feel accepted or good and comment on how research topics within their fields were off-limit. That is exactly what the committee needs to hear. Not that the expression of your personal opinions outside of your academic field or behaviors may result in negative ways from social isolation to expulsion from the school.

    Regarding student rights the Accreditation Manual states the following:

    Policies and procedures regarding students’ rights and responsibilities—including academic honesty, appeals, grievances, and accommodations for persons with disabilities—are clearly stated, readily available, and administered in a fair and consistent manner.

    The institution adopts and adheres to admission and placement policies …. Its policy regarding continuation in and termination from its educational programs—including its appeals process and readmission policy—are clearly defined, widely published, and administered in a fair and timely manner.

    The institution maintains and publishes policies that clearly state its relationship to co-curricular activities and the roles and responsibilities of students and the institution for those activities, including student publications and other student media, if offered.

    The institution chooses its own polices and so long as they are clear and published the accreditation committee can’t use those policies to deny accreditation. That is why in many areas this meeting seemed to be a waste of time. A written collection of specific violations regarding the standards for accreditation would have been much more effective.

    For those struggling with personal conviction vs. BYU standards it is not just a losing battle, as far as the university is concerned there isn’t even a war. They have no requirement to accommodate any thought or behavior except the freedom to examine and test knowledge within the individual student or professor’s specific field of study. Why doesn’t BYU does have a theology department? Because if it did then they would have to allow those students to actually discuss religion and criticisms of Mormonism. Why do you think they shut down the philosophy department of about 20 years and there are still only a relative handful of majors in that field? (my experience was that when I changed my major from engineering to philosophy my bishop expressed great concern for the welfare of my soul and suggested I consider another area of study, I just said I was considering law school, so then it was not so bad but I never had another substantive church calling while at BYU) Compare number of full time philosophy professors at BYU vs. Harvard. BYU has about 1,500 total full time professors, 10 in philosophy department. Harvard has just over 1,600 full time professors, 25 in philosophy. I interpret this as evidence that BYU continues to quash interest in the study of philosophy.

    If you don’t like it, I would say vote with your feet, but there are too many clamoring to get into the restrictive confines of BYU to make any difference. The only way it will change is if those who believe differently: state their position clearly, respectfully and publicly but keep the letter of the “rules” and do not otherwise antagonize the system, because it will crush you without remorse or consequence. If they choose to act against you based on your stated ideas, not your actions, they become the villains because their actions appear arbitrary and capricious even to the devout. The only way to change systems like the church and BYU is from constant internal pressure from actual observable truth. Let them know who you are, what you stand for and that they have nothing to fear from you. Positive interactions with the unknown creates familiarity which destroys the ignorance where prejudice and intolerance is breed. Once ignorance has been replaced by the truth positive and productive change will happen. If you leave or become hostile they will only use that confirm their own prejudices and misguided ideas.

    • formerBYUguy April 16, 2015 at 4:43 pm - Reply


      I can see where you’re coming from, but section 2.A.28 of the manual you linked to (page 26 of the document) states,

      “Within the context of its mission, core themes, and values, the institution defines and actively promotes an environment that supports independent thought in the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. It affirms the freedom of faculty, staff, administrators, and students to share their scholarship and reasoned conclusions with others. While the
      institution and individuals within the institution may hold to a particular personal, social, or religious philosophy, its constituencies are intellectually free to examine thought, reason, and perspectives of truth. Moreover, they allow others the freedom to do the same.”

      Clearly, BYU does not “[affirm] the freedom of faculty, staff, administrators, and students to share their scholarship and reasoned conclusions with others.” How long would someone last at BYU if they confessed to their bishop that they no longer believed in the Church? Two days, in my experience, plus 72 hours to leave my apartment.

      Now, whether something will actually come of this I do not know, though I hope that the NWCCU works with BYU administration to not only ensure academic freedom in theory, but in practice.

      • MonkeyKing April 17, 2015 at 2:49 pm - Reply

        I’ll start by saying that I also would like the church and BYU would allow for the open discussion of religious disagreement. My main point was that the university is only required to have academic freedom in the subjects i.e. no theological studies=no need for theological academic freedom. Personal beliefs are not equivalent to scholarship and reasoned conclusions. If you were expelled for writing a paper as part of a class and presented your scholarship and reasoned conclusions and you were disciplined for doing so that would be restriction of academic freedom. Telling a bishop, in his role as bishop, that you no longer agreed with the church, resulting in revocation of an ecclesiastical endorsement, is not a violation of academic freedom.

        • formerBYUguy April 19, 2015 at 3:43 pm - Reply


          I hadn’t thought of that nuanced interpretation, but I believe it misses the point. Imagine the following scenario, which is all too familiar to me:

          A BYU student has a discussion with another student about, say, the historicity of Noah’s ark. The other student is troubled that someone might not believe in the Church, so they tell the bishop, who calls the first student into their office. The bishop asks the student whether they believe in the Church, and the student answers with an honest “No.” The student is suspended and told to leave their apartment within three days.

          If BYU students cannot have private discussions in which the evidence for and against a truth claim is discussed, do you think they would feel comfortable writing a paper on it? How long do you think a student could stay at BYU if they wrote a paper in their history/biology/physics class that questioned the teachings of the Church?

          Not to mention that assignments are often graded based on whether they are “grounded in gospel principles.” It’s clearly stated in the rubric, and I lost points on an assignment specifically because of it.

          • Tunflog April 20, 2015 at 8:23 am

            It’s a foggy situation at best. On one hand BYU is a private university and can, for the most part, set and enforce its own rules as they see fit. However, these rules and policies, in my opinion, do sometimes create an atmosphere that would violate NWCCU guidelines and deter academic freedom and individuality in education.

            Obviously, there’s a problem here. In order to prove that this problem exists one would have to supply clear and concrete evidence that certain styles of thinking are prohibited because of religious ideals. This would most likely be a huge burden of risk for any students involved.

            BYU needs to change their policies and increase their tolerance of religious diversity, especially among members who lose their faith during their education.

    • johnny alibi April 16, 2015 at 8:01 pm - Reply

      there were a number of students with different issues. what some of them were referring to was religious freedom and the lack of it in byu. a group called Free BYU is addressing this particular issue. they have filed a formal complaint with the accreditation board and have addressed very specific points in the accreditation requirements that BYU is failing to live up to. if you want to learn more, visit

  5. Aaron April 16, 2015 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    It’s such a shame that the students feel like there is no safe place to talk about these issues, so they have to resort to pleading for help in front of an accreditation board. Yes, it’s obviously not the correct place, but the point is they don’t have any safe places to voice their concerns.

    It will be interesting to see how long the Church insists on having it both ways: teaching the facts of evolution in class, while simultaneously holding to the ridiculous literal Adam and Eve doctrine in General Conference. Likely the brain drain will continue. The LDS church will continue losing its youngest and brightest members, and it will slide further into fundamentalism.

    • ABM April 17, 2015 at 1:23 pm - Reply

      Why and how is it “obviously not the *correct* place”? It may not be the best place. It apparently is the only (safe? available?) place. On face value it seems to be an appropriate place (on campus no less). It could turn out to have been an effective, successful place. Time will tell.

      What does correctness or incorrectness have to do with the location…I don’t get it.

      (Although I readily admit that may be because I’m an idiot who believes in both evolution and intelligent design/creation, unlike a genius like you. Don’t worry about it though; I know I don’t, I’m in plenty of good company with religious humanity who believe in ridiculous absurdities. Note: I said believe instead of know; I would hate to offend anyone’s hyper sensibilities.)

  6. Sydney P April 16, 2015 at 7:35 pm - Reply

    It will be interesting if BYU does a Rand Paul and creates its own accrediting body in the next few years.

  7. Paul M April 16, 2015 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Here is a link to the written transcript for those that don’t want to try and listen to the audio:

  8. Ryan Wimmer April 17, 2015 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    I have seen the discussion of academic freedom come up on this page. While I agree with the criticism that BYU does not grant religious freedom my experience there as a student with academic freedom was very good. I received my Masters in history there and wrote on Mormon topics, critically at times, and had no problems. In fact in my western history class the professor required us to read Will Bagley’s book “Blood of the Prophets,” which many consider an anti-Mormon book.

    • Attorney Mike April 24, 2015 at 6:53 pm - Reply

      What was the BYU History Department’s take on the following:
      (1) Mountain Meadows Massacre,
      (2) The Mormon Wars (Brigham Young ordered the buildings in SLC stuffed with straw should he decide to burn the city if the US Army advanced into SLC.
      (3) How legitimate was Utah Territorial Governor Brigham Young’s order to remove the jurisdiction the Utah state courts (then under the US President’s commissioned territorial agent for UTAH) and place all general jurisdiction in the City’s Probate Courts, controlled by Young.
      (4) did Brigham Young’s tamper with the trial of John D Lee, making certain he was a “fall guy” (as a Lee Harvey Oswald with the JFK Assassination) for the Fancher Party Murders.
      (5) The Hoffman Murders & the ability of GB Hinkley to somehow avoid being called as a witness in the trial. Regardless, how is it that GB Hinkley authenticated the “Salamander Letter” and other embarrassments.
      (6) Supposed ancient history includes an artifact skeleton identified by Joseph Smith as the Ancient Nephite Warrior Zelph.
      (7) The Kinderhook Plates.
      (8) Polygamous marriages, spirit wives, and underage child brides in the early Mormon Church.
      Q: These are just a few. Who had the academic freedom to research and publish on these issues in Utah History in the BYU History Department.
      A: nobody, because Academic Freedom does not exist in the History Department. Did you ask former BYU History Professor Michael Quinn about Academic Freedom?

  9. Diana April 18, 2015 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    More than hypocresy I think it’s just plain meanness!

  10. Diana April 18, 2015 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Or … they are too afraid, others learned the reason they are leaving the Church, therefore, the need to hid what cannot be hidden. Sooner or later people will know!

  11. Attorney Mike April 19, 2015 at 8:07 am - Reply

    Here on Mormon Stories, in November 2014, we together started the March 2015 complaint to the NWCCU to question the candor and clarity of the process that removes a Former-LDS BYU student from the University. By calculated misinformation, BYU’s Cari Jenkins has tried to push the focus away from the NWCCU requirements for accreditation, shifting the conversation to the “BYU Honor Code.” This may create sympathy among the faithful and the misinformed.
    Before 23 March 1993 Former LDS students were welcomed at BYU if the student observed the dietary requirements of the LDS church and the celibacy before marriage. There was no discussion of what Cari Jenkins claims as the focus “broken sacred promises”. The so-called “Honor Code” has nothing to do with the 1993 change to remove non-believers from BYU.
    My wish is to turn the focus back on the reasoning expressed by the LDS Church as published in the Deseret News on 23 March 1993 and Ms Jenkins misleading the press and all others oon this issue.

  12. Jay April 19, 2015 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Well, students who lose faith may be kicked out, but at least they aren’t shunned.

  13. Jonathan M April 21, 2015 at 3:28 am - Reply

    I think I’m right in saying that Sterling McMurrin (who proudly remained a member of the Church he had great affection for) once said ‘I think a Church that is into thought control really shouldn’t have a University’. He probably had a point,although I suppose some subjects ie Accounting,Languages etc. might still be justifiably taught in an LDS University setting nonetheless.

  14. Doubting Thomas April 27, 2015 at 9:04 am - Reply

    To me this issue is just one of the “gotcha” pieces of information that continue to prove to me the the men who run the Mormon church are not inspired by any God that I want to associate with in my life.

    The duplicity in the policy to expel students who leave the Mormon faith while at the same time fighting for religious freedom elsewhere should smack any TBM so hard they find themselves somewhere in last week.

    I’m grateful my children were not subjected to the stifling honor code at BYU and worse, BYUI, but more than that, I’m grateful to my Heavenly Father that they attended schools that allowed them to thing for themselves and exercise their God given right to choose for themselves… AKA AGENCY.

    I don’t want BYU to lose it’s accreditation or schools to protest competing against their athletes, but this policy should be changed immediately.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.