BYU and the Sixties

BYU NewsNet has a look back at BYU in the sixties, entitled BYU Calm Amid Turbulent Times. The article relates the experience of a BYU prof who, during that era, came to the campus (as a student) from New York, noting that this was “a time when most college campuses had protests, riots and violence. While many New York students marched along the streets protesting, most BYU students remained calm during this storm of unrest.” BYU, the best of all possible campuses!

There were, however, sporadic protests against BYU and its policies (perceived as discriminatory because of an absence of African-American students) by students from other campuses, principally at away games for the athletic teams. Quoting the article: “The controversy climaxed when then-Stanford University President Kenneth Spitzer suspended relations with BYU either athletic or non-athletic because there were no blacks on any athletic teams.” Yet President Wilkinson, BYU’s president at this time, is quoted as saying that “the only problem on BYU campus during the Civil Rights Era was ensuring the guidelines of the dress, grooming and dance standards were followed.” That either means civil rights aren’t really that important or that dress and grooming standards are really, really important.

I’m reminded of a quote from a documentary about the movie Apollo 13 from one of the actual engineers of the time, who emerged from one of the mission control buildings after a long shift to observe student protestors outside the facility (protesting spending federal dollars on NASA rather than social programs). The engineer was utterly baffled by what was going on — he was so busy and focused that he simply missed the sixties. I think BYU kind of missed the sixties too. Was that a good thing or a bad thing?

Comments

  1. David King Landrith says:

    Years ago I saw an Oxford style debate that included William F. Buckley. Resolved was something like this, “The World would be a better place if the sixties had never happened.” Buckley was on the pro side. I am temperamentally sympathetic with much of what he said, and the debate was fun, but Buckley’s was not really a serious position.

    Nobody can deny that a lot of good things came out of the sixties (civil rights, man landing on the moon, the founding of Dialogue), and there’s something of a bizarre “Back to the Future” aspect to positing the present absent some discrete period in the past.

    That said, from what I understand the portion of the 60s that BYU missed was mostly the bad part. The student agitators were a bunch of losers who accomplished nothing and remain protected by history because of their false pretense to originality and innovation.

  2. Pres. Wilkinson ruled BYU with an iron fist. There were no sixties at BYU, and the entire hippie movement was looked on with disdain and suspicion. To this day cultural relics remain to keep BYU free of the “drug culture” (i.e., Beard Cards). It’s unfortunate, in my view, that we missed the 60s, especially experiencing them could have taught us a lot about how to deal effectively with dissent and disagreement. Issues of academic freedom and faculty arguments, which still pose problems at BYU, could have been resolved forty years ago.

  3. It is sad that the Church (and BYU) seemed to have dragged its feet on the civil rights issue. It would be wonderful if BYU would have been a voice for change during that time. “The World Is Our Campus.” Right.

  4. David King Landrith says:

    Are you trying to imply that the hippies tolerated dissent? I beg to differ. And I don’t think that the sixties taught anybody anything about how to tolerate dissent.

    Mostly, it taught dissenters to go after and exploit leaders with no backbone, because they were easier to intimidate. But dissenters who didn’t already know that weren’t very bright in any case.

  5. the whole civil rights thing still bothers me. why was byu and the church in general so far behind the times? aren’t we led by prophets, who are supposed to be visionary, and not reactionary? i really don’t know how to defend this point when others bring it up.

    and yes, i think the whole hair length and facial hair thing needs to go. college is the time when you’re supposed to do these things, since you sure won’t have the chance once you enter the corporate world.

  6. Did the commie scare at BYU happen during the 50s or the 60s? Favorite target (of some here) Lou Midgley and others were accused of being communists by Wilkinson, and the administration was spying on professors.

  7. Ah, the good old Commie scare!

    I think that most of the country, including BYU, believed the domino theory explanation for our involvement in Vietnam. That belief may have persisted there longer than it did elsewhere, but BYU was no means the only place that it happened. (Try Congress during the escalation in 1964 and later.)

    Sometime in the early 60′s, in an on-campus debate between Richard Poll (?) and Chauncey Riddle, Prof. Riddle scored some points with “And don’t you forget what they did to our Senator McCarthy!” Ugh!

    Otherwise, people just went to school, plodded through to get their degrees and get married, and paid little attention to the turmoil going on elsewhere.

    I remember one of my young men leaders bringing a movie (back in those pre-VCR days) from his work–he was in the fund-raising office at BYU. It was entitled “No Flag Burns Here” and was intended to show what a great patriotic well-groomed bunch of students went to BYU.

  8. David King Landrith says:

    What? Lou Midgley isn’t a communist?

  9. Speaking of Bill Buckley, the sixties should be praised for, if nothing else, ushering us into a world where even the National Review would not think of printing something like their 1957 editorial entitled “Why the South Must Prevail.” The editors (presumably Buckley) concluded with this gem: “The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”

  10. Quote 1: It’s unfortunate, in my view, that we missed the 60s, especially experiencing them could have taught us a lot about how to deal effectively with dissent and disagreement.

    Quote 2: Are you trying to imply that the hippies tolerated dissent? I beg to differ. And I don’t think that the sixties taught anybody anything about how to tolerate dissent. Mostly, it taught dissenters to go after and exploit leaders with no backbone, because they were easier to intimidate. But dissenters who didn’t already know that weren’t very bright in any case.

    Couldn’t it have been possible for the leaders to grow backbones while still learning lessons about tolerating dissent? Perhaps that’s not what happened in most places during the sixties, but colleges like BYU could have lead the way in discussing the ideas of the sixties without compromising on doctrines or principles.

    Such an example, from BYU, could have changed the course of American history by testing and promoting methods of allowing dissent while supporting orthodoxy. It would have been a valuable cultural contribution, and one that might have prevented some of the fractiousness we see now in American politics.

    ‘Missing the sixties’ wasn’t limited to BYU- my alma mater, Houghton College, was one of many relatively conservative Protestant colleges to completely miss the sixties as well. Ignoring dissent is just easier than teaching orthodoxy, although the consequences are pretty sour.

  11. As usual, people are failing to understand the true purposes of the BYU Honor Code, although the fact that Steve Evans and others continue to obssess about it illustrates the nearly diabolical cleverness of its authors…

  12. Yes, because T&S needs the publicity.

  13. Nate, I found this comment from your earlier T&S post quite relevant. The commentor (who was a student at BYU in the sixties) noted: “Whether or not the purpose of the Dress Code is to give students something to rebel against, it works that way and it works well.”

    It might work that way now and it might even have worked that way when first implemented in the sixties, but I don’t think it was consciously designed as a lightning rod for rebellious BYU students (a sub-group that seems to be overrepresented in the B’nacle, I might add). IMHO, BYU officials just wanted a campus full of modestly attired, well-groomed students. Over time, once the policy is in place, a variety of supporting reasons develop to justify it.

  14. David King Landrith says:

    I must admit that I’m at a loss to understand why tolerating dissent has anything to do with the 60s. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with civil rights, since it’s false to say that we learned to tolerate dissenting blacks who claimed entitlement to equal treatment (using the editorial we, of course). The civil right struggle was the process of embracing and adopting this belief as the correct one, and this occurred quite apart from the 60s.

    There’s always been dissent. Indeed, it takes events like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 to bring about real and widespread consensus (if then). Moreover, much of the Bill of Rights is devoted to guaranteeing the possibility of dissent and therefore guaranteeing that there would be no consensus (e.g., the ban on established religion).

    At any rate, I submit that there wasn’t any more dissent in the 60s. There were just more college kids in the 60s than any previous time, fewer resources prepared to handle them, and thus more kids behaved badly.

  15. I don’t think that the Dress/Grooming Standards can be solely attibuted to the desire for modest, well-groomed students.

    Beards and long hair on men made a bit of a spash in the ’50′s with the Beats, but the Beatles and the Free Speech guys at Berkeley (although, IIRC, Mario Savio was short haired and clean shaven), and then the hippies and all that, created in many minds a correspondence between long hair and beards, on the one hand, and rebellion, protest, drug use, unlimited sex, more drugs, VW buses, acid, wild rock music, Haight-Ashbury, anti-war demonstrations, more sex, general debauchery, General Westmoreland (oops, not him), and on and on, on the other hand.

    Now, whether the thought was that BYU students wouldn’t take that broad road to destruction if they kept their hair short and their chins shaven, or if the desire was simply to keep BYU students from looking like their dissolute brethren and sisters at the U and other schools, I haven’t a clue. But it was more than good grooming that led to the rule.

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