Friday, October 17, 2008

Brigham Young University Refuses To Issue Diploma To LDS Excommunicant Chad Hardy Because He Left In "Bad Standing"

The Las Vegas man behind a calendar featuring shirtless returned Mormon missionaries has had his diploma yanked by Brigham Young University, which is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Full stories published by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Provo Daily Herald (includes 10-page comment thread), and KSL Channel 5. It was also blogged by Glen Warchol on the Tribune's Crawler blog.

Although Chad Hardy, who produces the "Men On A Mission" beefcake calendars which contributed to the LDS Church's decision to excommunicate him in July 2008, has finished his last four units for graduation from BYU, and even walked the commencement exercise for graduates on August 15th, he was informed that the university was placing a hold on his diploma.

He initially heard about the decision around September 15th via a telephone call from his guidance counselor. But it was a September 30th letter from BYU Executive Director of Student Academic & Advisement Services Norman B. Finlinson that sealed the deal. The letter states that a nonacademic hold was placed on Hardy's record after the university learned of the excommunication. "If in the future you are reinstated as a member of the church in good standing, you are invited to contact my office regarding your possible eligibility for the awarding of a degree," Finlinson wrote.

As expected, Hardy will challenge the decision. Hardy also questioned BYU's timing in withholding the diploma, explaining that he hasn't been on campus since 2002 and finished up four units of religion courses through an online program in June. "I registered before all of this drama started happening and I finished (the classes) prior to getting served the letter about my church council. I was done," he said.

As described in my previous post, Hardy was excommunicated on July 13th by a church disciplinary council chaired by Hardy's stake president in the Las Vegas area. Officially, the loss of membership was for conduct unbecoming a church member, but the charges were rooted in his failure to pay tithing, a lapse in other religious obligations and his involvement with the 2008 "Men on a Mission" calendar.

While BYU wouldn't discuss Hardy's specific case for reasons of confidentiality, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins explained that all universities require students to be in good standing before a diploma is issued. At BYU, that includes abiding by an honor code that dictates student conduct and behavior standards that mirror the religious principles of the church. Jenkins stated that they make it clear that even though a student is cleared to walk at graduation, a student must still be in good standing from an academic point of view AND an honor code point of view.

Analysis: This issue has been the subject of robust dialogue in the comments section of the local media, particularly on KSL (253 comments). LDS opinion appears to be split 50-50 on the subject.

Supporters of BYU's decision point out that, as a Mormon, Chad Hardy attended the school paying the much lower Mormon tuition rate. As a result, the Church effectively subsidized his education, thus justifying the school's decision to freeze his diploma. Opponents of BYU's decision retort that Hardy was blindsided. He was allowed to participate in commencement, then suddenly, without warning, his diploma is frozen.

I tend to side with the opponents. BYU states that when Hardy becomes an LDS member in good standing again, they'll reconsider. However, the road back for Hardy, even if he was inclined to recant, is not easy. An excommunicant cannot even apply for reinstatement to the Church until after a year following his excommunication. Furthermore, why should he even be required to seek reinstatement in the Church just to get a diploma he already earned academically? Meanwhile, he will be deprived of the additional economic power conferred by the diploma.

After pondering this issue for a while, I suddenly happened upon a compromise which would permit all sides to save face and to get a slice of satisfaction. I posted the idea on the Crawler blog, and here's the applicable portion:'s a suggested solution in which everyone wins.
- First, BYU offers to transfer all of Hardy's credits to another university of his choice.
- Second, Hardy designates another university to receive the credits.
- Third, BYU transfers the credits.
- Fourth, Hardy gets his degree from the other university.

So in this scenario, Hardy could get his credits transferred to U of Utah (for example), and the U awards him the diploma.

Great idea, I thought...until I looked at the KSL comments again, and found that at least three people mentioned that in such cases, BYU doesn't merely freeze the diploma, but also freeze the transcripts (and the credits). If true, this means Chad Hardy can't even get his credits transferred to another school. And that is truly vindictive!

Publicly criticizing the General Authorities may be out of bounds, since I'd be speaking ill of the "Lord's anointed". But BYU is NOT the "Lord's anointed"; since they are NOT in my Priesthood chain of command, public criticism of them is not only permissible, but warranted in this case. They've put Chad Hardy inside a box and completely nullified his academic efforts. And this is not the first time BYU has demonstrated neo-totalitarian tendencies; their censorship of Professors Steven Jones and Jeffrey Nielsen stand as a reproach against them as well.

If BYU does not want to unfreeze his diploma, that's one thing. But BYU at least should do the right thing and unfreeze his credits, so he can transfer him to another school and get the diploma he so rightfully earned. He did the academic work - he deserves the academic credit. Would Jesus handle this the way BYU did? I'll let you, the reader, decide. Hardy's excommunication may have been just, but freezing his diploma is unjust.

And one final note. When Chad Hardy was excommunicated, he took it like a man, packed his kit and left, promising not to wage war against the Church. But now that BYU is behaving so childishly and vindictively against him, they're pissing him off. Do they really want to turn him into the next Ed Decker or James Spencer? Those two apostates have inflicted noticeable damage upon the Church as it is. We cannot afford to create any more Ed Deckers.


steel68 said...

This refusal is so weak!Add this to the Steven Jones disaster and BYU is showing their true cowardice.

Rob said...

I'm a bit torn on this one. I'm a BYU grad and I too had to come to the realization that BYU does not equal the Church. They've definitely made some poor decisions in the past.

One thing I'd like to know is how consistent BYU has been in applying this policy with others. Do they always take such a hard line approach in situations like this one or are they singling out this guy?

Also, if, as has been stated elsewhere, Chad hadn't been active in the church since 2002, how was he able to get the ecclesiastical endorsements needed to continue attending BYU?

Given this info, I'm not sure how "blindsided" Chad could have been to have been called out by the school. It seems more likely that he'd been flying under the radar for some time and expected that things would just keep on as they were until after graduation (probably not an unreasonable expectation).

As one looking at this from the outside, I think it's pretty certain that BYU had the right and ability to do what it did, but I agree that it was handled poorly by them and it looks to me that this would have been a time when a slight bending of the rules and showing a bit of mercy toward Chad would have been in order.

I agree with your assesment of Chad. From what I've read, he seems like a decent guy and the calendar falls into a funny grey area (just guys with shirts off - not great, but acceptable. Announcing that these guys were Mormon missionaries - less acceptable).

In the end, I'll defend BYU's right to do what it did, but I sure wish they wouldn't have done it (especially if the avoidance of bad PR is the goal).

Douglas Welcome said...

I think BYU fucked this one up when they failed to take the correct legal steps to deny Hardy the diploma. But The LDS Church/BYU (They essentially DO equal each other, I don't know how blind you have to be to deny that) has this tendency to jump the gun and do what they want thinking they are under no higher power. From baptizing holocaust victims to buying city streets to donating large sums of money to legal agendas, they really need to get some objective folks on board are start thinking before they act.

-Douglas Welcome

Shannon said...

Chad can't create the calendar of Mormon guys shirtless, but Mormon mothers can participate in the Mrs. Utah contest??? What am I missing here?