27 March 2006

If You Can't Beat 'em (or shut them up)

Last week we read with dismay about the termination of BYU Student Leadership Coordinator, Todd Hendricks. His firing resulted from a letter he wrote regarding the recent BYUSA elections. His letter ran in the 10 March 2006 edition and described the convoluted system used to monitor student elections.
As a coordinator with student leadership and adviser with BYUSA, I share my concerns about the BYUSA student body elections and the recent disqualification of candidates. Each year, a full-time employee takes a turn rewriting election regulations, then appoints a student to chair the elections committee that will ensure candidates' compliance.

Conflict of interest and anonymity can hamper the committee. The committee comprises 10 students who are anonymous to the student body but, through associations in BYUSA, generally have strong ties to one or more of the candidates or to a full-time employee. The committee meets every evening prior to and during elections to discuss reports of "infractions" - complaints filed by candidates against one another, often anonymously, in hopes of securing penalties for the opposing team.

It is a system that rewards collusion and exaggeration. In addressing alleged infractions, the committee's anonymous identities and confidential proceedings sometimes cloud judgment. Special interest, rather than actual student votes, may thus determine the BYUSA presidency.

It is important to scrutinize candidates during election week, but it is also important to scrutinize the methodologies of the election's sponsors. I encourage the campus community to work with next year's BYUSA president and Student Advisory Council to establish clear election criteria and procedures. The elections committee must be housed outside BYUSA so the election outcome will not be decided by student leadership, full-time staff and volunteers with special interests. Proceedings of the committee must be fully transparent and, with few exceptions, disclosed to the press. Decision makers must be held accountable before the student body, whose election this is.

Todd J. Hendricks
Coordinator, BYU Student Leadership
Published reports in Provo's Daily Herald and subsequently in BYU's student newspaper, the Daily Universe, report that Hendricks was fired because his letter was "very disloyal and not helpful." In other words, 'we don't like constructive criticism.' Compared to most whistleblowers, Hendrick's letter is tame.

For the uninitiated, a summary. BYUSA's most recent presidential elections marked the third election in as many years that an election committee decided the outcome rather than students. This time, the front-runners--Linford and Romney--were disqualified for exceeding limits on spending. According to the Daily Universe, the student campaign cheated by finding a cheap printing company which allowed them to print more handbills and fliers than their competitors. The reward for their cost conscious compulsions was elimination from the contest.

Each team is given $500 to pay for campaign-related costs. We will ignore for the moment the obvious free speech issues associated with caps on campaign spending. In ruling against the cost-conscious team, the "clandestine" campaign committee ruled that Kinko's costs should be applied to their printing. This ex post facto accounting put them over the $500 limit. Yeah, that makes sense. Punish the candidates for smartly seeking cheaper alternatives.

We should disclose that we personally know the chair of this moronic committee, Greg Moody. Moody was the Vice President half of a team that started the "win by default" trend three years ago.

According to unofficial reports (unofficial because the results were never released), Jason Smith and J. Griggs received some 80% of the popular vote in the final runoff of last year's election (Full disclosure: Jason Smith is an erstwhile colleague). A landslide if we ever saw one. On the eve of their win, an anonymous accuser reported that Griggs had violated curfew and thus, the Honor Code. We endorse the Honor Code, however, its application in this instance was excessive. Griggs was waiting for a ride home and reportedly stayed some 15 minutes past the deadline. Though all campaign infraction and Honor Code accuser's identities remain confidential, indications are that this person was a friend of last year's winners by default--Adam and Chrissie (we don't remember their last names). BYUSA rules dictate that competitors monitor each other's campaigns. This has been taken to its Puritan Salem Witch trial extreme as we personally know of instances where friends of candidates have followed their opponents, hoping to detect an Honor Code violation or some other campaign infraction.

Back to the matter at hand. By all accounts, the fired BYUSA official, Todd Hendricks, was a model employee. University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins claims that the letter "was only part of the reason Hendricks was terminated." In the Daily Herald report, Jenkins is quoted as saying that "there were certainly other issues involved" while the Daily Universe iteration reports the Hendricks was told the other reasons were that he "wasn’t happy at [his] job," whatever that means.

Hendricks rebuttal is easy and makes BYUSA look foolish. His most recent performance review, undertaken in January, reported that he was "meeting or exceeding expectations for performance." Additionally, BYU did not follow the normal termination procedure which requires a verbal and written warning. Apparently his tempered critique of BYUSA elections warranted fast-track termination.

Hendricks and his wife felt strongly enough about the stand they are taking that they declined BYU's settlement offer. The offer included a month's pay and insurance through the delivery of their baby in June. In exchange, the deal required that Hendricks discuss this matter only with close family, write a retraction letter, and list the names of those with whom he discussed the letter previous to the agreement.

That he would turn down the security promised his family and expectant wife is a strong argument in Hendricks favor. In other words, if he weren't sure his termination came as response to his letter, he wouldn't take this principled stand mere months before the birth of his child.

Jenkins' assertion that "there were certainly other issues involved" smacks of a smear campaign after the fact. Realizing how foolish the story would play in the press, she claimed there were other reasons justifying his termination. We wonder if this was Jenkins' spin or the creation of BYUSA officials.

This affair is just another example of inept, criticism-averse culture that exists over at BYUSA. According to both articles, Hendricks tried to engage in a dialogue meant to reform the election process, but was met with the pat, bureaucratic response that, "well, there's only so much we can do." "Everything [they] could do" has resulted in winners by default in the last three elections.

The candidates for these elections are not parolees just let out from the state penitentiary, these are BYU's best and brightest. They are smart, hard working, service minded overachievers who for some strange reason want to kill themselves serving long hours. This do-gooder zeal is then run through the ringer that is the BYUSA election process and results in disqualification and Honor Code violation. Those who, like Hendricks, Griggs, and Smith, critique the system hoping to improve or reform it, are met only with obloquy.

If nothing else, BYU administration should wonder at an organization that divides its best overachievers into two camps: sycophants and cynics.


Raisin, Back from Hell said...

Careful Jake, I wouldn't draw any attention to your blog if I were you. There be eyes and ears out there, not the least of which belong to God who is ready to report any suspicious behavior.

Pete Maughan said...

Hey Jake, wow. Thanks for opening my eyes to this. Ihaven't had time to follow local news lately, but your blog is always interesting. Also, I hope that vipbloggers is working out for you...

So who could I call and chew out for this recent episode? Is there someone who I can tell how mad I am about this?

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Once again the dark side of BYU rears its ugly head.

dJake said...

I can't say that I'm suprised at this... BYU is the worst example of how modern day "fundamentalists" make sure things keep going the way they want them to. What else should we expect from a school who arrests legitimate reporters?

Leesee & Amanda said...

Seriously, winning by default is not winning. It's a coniving approach to obtain a position. This just proves that BYU is not the perfect bubble that many believe it to be.

Anonymous said...

Jake, you started a rebellion! You should send out thousands of identical masks of your face to the enraged proletariat. They would rise up against the evil fascist regime known as BYU and beat down the barricades of the campus police, only to watch as your martyred body, packed with explosives, is detonated under Lavell Edwards stadium. I've been watching too many lame Wachhowski bro. movies.

Former Raving Scottish Madman said...

One point overlooked by this is that there are no open elections or true student government at BYU. The "win by default" issue is merely a symptom of a small group eating their own so to speak. Since only BYUSA officials can run in BYUSA elections why make it analogous to a student government at all? A functional system of student government to affect real change derives from open elections where any candidate regardless of club affiliation can run.

This is simply another extension of BYU's long standing means of containment and control over students. Allowing prescreened, preapproved dissent from prescreened preapproved candidates is a way of allowing students to believe they have a voice while the administration controls what is said.

Raisin said...

Well said former raving scottish madman. Just out of curiosity, which part are you referring to when you say "former"... the raving, Scottish, or madman part? And what was the turning point?

Anonymous said...

All you have to do is dig back about 10 years and you'll notice a trail of BYUSA employees who have lost their jobs for the same reasons. The severance pay kept some quiet.. but the "silence" has been going on for years...

Anonymous said...

The only problem I see with your assertions is the inherent implication that BYUSA somehow, you know, *matters*. And anyway, democracy has no place at BYU.