FreeBYU Challenges BYU’s Accreditation, Alleging Academic Freedom Restrictions

6 March 2015 — FreeBYU filed a formal complaint today with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), BYU’s accreditor, for violating five sections of the NWCCU’s accreditation standard on governance.

The NWCCU will review BYU’s compliance with the accreditation standards April 15-17th this year for its Year Seven evaluation. FreeBYU asked the NWCCU to investigate BYU’s violations and elicit a remediation plan to bring BYU into compliance. Among other obligations, governance standards 15, 19, 23, 27, & 28 require that BYU:

  • “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.”
  • “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.”

BYU’s Honor Code policy is to expel, terminate, and evict LDS students who change their faith while at BYU. The complaint, which passed review by several attorneys, documents examples of local Bishops censoring student scholarship and burdening academic freedom through the proxy of ecclesiastical endorsements. FreeBYU argues that because the Honor Code does not articulate what it takes to be eligible for an ecclesiastical endorsement, and because in practice unaccountable Bishops make this decision for a variety of inconsistent reasons, BYU students’ intellectual and academic freedom is impermissibly burdened.

Additionally, the complaint contends that the practice of expelling students for expressing a change of religious conscience is itself a violation of BYU’s obligation to ensure BYU students are free to “examine thought, reason, and perspectives of truth” and “share their reasoned conclusions with others.”

In November of 2014, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins confirmed BYU’s policy of expelling LDS students who change their faith while at BYU. In the February 2015 news conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an LDS Apostle, appealed to First Amendment religious freedom for BYU in the “matter” of accreditation.

No response has yet been received from the NWCCU or from BYU.

Caleb Chamberlain


You can read our Complaint here:

FreeBYUs NWCCU Complaint

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20 thoughts on “FreeBYU Challenges BYU’s Accreditation, Alleging Academic Freedom Restrictions

  • i fully support this challenge! BYU was not nice to my grandson when he went there. There needs to be changes!!

  • I am a current BYU student. I do understand emotional drive behind the argument, however this argument seems to be very “this is AMERICA!” freedom declaration. This is America, and we do have freedoms…namely the freedom to chose the establishment of our education. College students are adults, and are in no way being forced to go to school here. You should have religious freedom, but maybe not if you also CHOSE to go to a religious affiliated institution. Practice your rights of freedom, and transfer to a different school.

    • Thanks for your comment. To be clear, our complaint alleges that BYU violates accreditation standards. Do you disagree?

      Students do indeed have the freedom to leave if they want, just as BYU has the religious freedom to lose its accreditation by failing to comply with the rules.

      • I can understand the school’s actions here, based on what I undertand of the admissions proceedures.

        BYU accepts non-members as students, but they, like all LDS students, must have an ecclesiastical endorsement, by their pastor, priest, rabbi, whatever. LDS students get one from their bishop.

        If a student pulls their membership from the LDS church, then their bishop’s endorsement would be null and void, since it is based on the student’s membership in the LDS church. It’s not something the bishop does to retaliate or anything. It’s just like in reverse, if a BYU student is a non-member, and they join the LDS church while they are a student, they are now supposed to get an ecclesiastical endorsement from their new bishop.

        I don’t know how close I am, but I have a feeling it’s not what this article is alleging. I think that, if they are going to leave the LDS church, they should have, in hand, an endorsement from a non-LDS religious leader, when they inform the school and their bishop, that they are leaving the church. At least, that would be the fair thing to do.

        I don’t know, am I right, or way off base here?

    • In response to your comment, I would like to note two things:
      1) When I chose to go to BYU, I did not expect to eventually have a change of belief and leave the LDS Church.
      2) Transferring is not as easy for a graduate student – you have to find a program with your research focus, get into that program, and hope that they take at least a few of your transfer credits (most Universities will only accept a maximum of 6-9 transfer graduate credits). In my case, I had 24 credits from BYU and none of them transferred. This obviously caused significant losses for me in both time and money.

  • Is the complaint that BYU isn’t in compliance with the rules even when the individual didn’t actually violate the honor code? Or is the argument slightly misrepresented by stating the student chose to resign from the LDS church and therefore BYU took the following actions?

    I’m curious to know if BYU is expelling students who remove their records or are they expelling students based on their violating the honor code?

  • I am no lawyer, however, if you sign an honor code policy stating you will be expelled if you formally leave the church, then you accepted the policy and knew what was going to happen. You signed a document. A legally binding document. If you didn’t/don’t agree to the honor code policy, don’t sign it. Seems simple enough to me on all parties involved.

    • Thanks for your input. It is worth pointing out that 1) the honor code is not a legally binding contract, and 2) the NWCCU has clear guidelines about what policies are allowed and how they must be communicated to students. Our complaint discusses this in more detail if you’d like more information.

  • When you got to BYU as member in good standing, you get a substantial discount on tuition. Leaving the faith means you no longer believe in the church so you should no longer receive the benefits of belong to the church. This prevents people from attending BYU under false pretenses. There is nothing that stops you from returning to BYU as a non member, regaining your ecclesiastical endorsement and finishing while paying the higher tuition while still and biding by the honor code.

    • Hi Johnny,

      You said:

      “When you got to BYU as member in good standing, you get a substantial discount on tuition. Leaving the faith means you no longer believe in the church so you should no longer receive the benefits of belong to the church. “

      Agreed. This is why we suggest that former-LDS members be allowed to pay non-member tuition.

      There is nothing that stops you from returning to BYU as a non member

      That is untrue. The honor code explicitly states that former LDS students are not eligible to receive an endorsement from any source. We cover your arguments and others in detail on the FAQ and Overview pages. Please feel free to read them for more details about BYU’s policy and our proposed remediation.

  • These sort of rules are why I left the church in the first place, in other words how can one truly grow academically and spiritually if they cannot ask questions without being automatically demonized and systematically classified. After all Brigham Young said “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self security. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.”
    ( Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1954], 135.). Actions that symbolize punishment for changing viewpoints encourages a state of blind self security and must stop.

  • It seems like a lot of people (on both sides) are interpreting this issue (and treating it) as though it were a conflict of philosophy regarding the “truthiness” (to use a Colbertism) of the LDS Church. This is not the issue. The issue is whether or not BYU’s policies, as they stand, are consistent with the requirements of accreditation or not. This is not a religious argument. This is not a First Amendment issue. The issue essentially boils down to this:

    “Is BYU’s official practice of disciplining students who leave the LDS church consistent with the requirement (2.A.28) or do the official policies need to be modified in some way to achieve compliance?” (There are other issues cited in the complaint but I believe this is the fundamental one.)

    Answer: The code allows institutions to have religious views while simultaneously REQUIRING it to allow the same freedom to its students and faculty. BYU’s treatment of those who leave the LDS faith is an egregious violation of the accreditation code, particularly 2.A.28, and for BYU to be in compliance they must adjust their practices such that those who stop believing in the LDS church (especially if this is the product of their own academic exploration) must be allowed to remain at the school and receive no disciplinary or other negative consequences (including loss of housing, employment, etc.). They may be required to pay the higher tuition rate, that is more than fair. And they may even be required to live by the lifestyle rules of the honor code (such as abstinence from sex, alcohol, coffee, etc.) however they may not be required, through the honor code or any other means, to be the subjects of thought control. One of the primary goals of the NWCCU is to promote freedom of thought and to encourage any academic enterprise that pursues knowledge. Requiring students to believe, or pretend to believe, in a prescribed religion, even if such students believed in the religion at the time of admission–and had no expectation that their academic journey would lead them to discoveries that would overturn that belief–is a form of thought policing that is wholly, obviously, and facially in direct conflict with the requirements outlined in 2.A.28 and the mission of the NWCCU. BYU, as it currently operates, is in serious non-compliance.

  • Richard, your assertion is absolutely correct. The issue, legally is regarding acceditation compliance. I’m a born and raised Mormon who chose to leave the practice during college. The frustration for intelligent free thinking individuals being stifled by a complex and yet obtuse honor code is indelible, and designed ambiguously to be so. Byu Spokeswoman Carrie Jenkins makes the argument that the standards of the church are so straightforward that it should come as no surprise that the repercussions are without remorse. The legal consideration however, is that to be accredited, the school must appropriate an honost and fair environment of learning and “truth” seeking. It is one thing of a religious institution to demand an honor system which must be abided, it is on the other hand a first amendment violation, and also a violation of the accreditation policy, to unfairly treat students who choose their own truth, while still abiding by the schools honor code.

    Mormonism is Christianity, and the covenants the students agree to adhere to are of the same values. Since birth I was told to live in the world, but not of it. Categorically this means to expose myself to my own truth while not giving into temptation. It seems as though the University of Brigham Young has admnistrators avoiding change by being rigid, which ironically goes against their own core and principle beliefs. Acceptance without judgment, pursuit of knowledge, and the freedom to carve ones own religious and intellectual path. The rules are correct, those enforcing them are hypocrital and should practice their own teachings. You cannot force religious beliefs, you can only offer truth and hope for acceptance by volition. Anything aside is not only in opposition with their own belief, it is a violation of the first amendment of the United States.

  • The LDS church changed BYU’s policy in 1993 to punish LDS Students who change their mind on their faith. I’m an alumni who now has to answer for my alma mater’s indefensible action. For a university to do such is an embarrassment and diminishes the academic seriousness of my degree. When I enrolled and later graduated was before this change. It’s been a joke as I meet with others who understand academic freedom and university accreditation. Unlike those who came after the change, the alumni have no choices, except how to spend our money. The argument “don’t like it, go to a different school” cannot apply to alumni. BYU has been embarrassing some of us and we object. It not pleasant to have your alma mater change to become unbelievably anti-intellectual and use leverage to censor speech and research. Since we alumni must answer for these ill advised changes made in 1993, we have good reasons to make our voices of dissent loud and clear. I would that BYU behave like a real university on the matter, as it did in the past, and stop embarrassing alumni. I’m supporting the efforts of Free BYU to hold BYU accountable to the commitments it made to the NWCCU for past accreditation. Commitments that I relied upon in my choices to matriculate to become a BYU student and then graduate to become an Alumni. I am sad to see what I believe is a lack of candor and academic integrity by my alma mater. For my conviction that BYU return to its integrity as an academically free and serious university, I join with the honest and appropriate efforts of Free BYU, even so much that my best efforts assisted in drafting the complaint to the NWCCU. My plea is that BYU will voluntarily re-commit to its serious academic purpose and mission, keep its promises it made to me, other alumni, and the NWCCU.

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