As Dr. Warner Woodworth, a professor, I’m collaborating with college students for a policy change at my university. Students and I have launched a new petition on change.org. #BringBackTheBeard at Brigham Young University, a Latter-day Saint church-owned institution, one of the largest private schools in the world. Will you join the cause? As a long time professor of management at the Marriott School of Business, BYU, MBA students and others have had to deal with an archaic policy that bans MBAs and thousands of others from having facial hair while on campus. It’s a silly rule that a Right-Wing university president, Ernest Wilkinson, slipped into the school’s honor code in the 1960s. While many students, including me back then, were against the disastrous Vietnam War, he mistakenly believed the war was the correct thing for America to do, confident it would lead to a quick victory. As we marched at BYU in Provo, protesting that immoral U.S. intervention, he expounded on the apparent beauty and righteousness of the devastating Asian conflict. To hold us down, he created his new anti-beard policy so we wouldn’t look like the “radicals” who were obviously all communists with their beards and other signs of degeneracy across America and the world.
Unfortunately, ever since then, we’ve struggled under the oppressive control mechanism for decades, while the United States lost the war, conservatives suffered many failures, and BYU students continued being troubled by an archaic code of personal appearance. While serving as a full professor throughout 40 years, I’ve heard many students express resentment. I know quite a few brilliant kids who chose not to apply to BYU because of such histrionics. The same is true of lots of athletes that we sure could have used to achieve football prowess:) Others tried the BYU culture, but soon escaped for other institutions like Harvard, Yale Berkeley, and USC.
Admittedly, BYU is quite unique with respect its Honor Code rules, including requiring honesty in one’s studies and behavior; living the Latter-day Saint “Word of Wisdom” (no alcohol, coffee tobacco or illicit drugs); not using profanity; personal chastity and the rejection of premarital sexual relations; being active in Sunday church services; adhering to official city and state laws; and more. However, one of the mandates with respect to appearance, is men not being allowed to have beards. This policy needs to change.
Through the years, an occasional group of students would tell me they’d formed a campus Beard Club, an unofficial, non-student government association of friends, to try and make beards legitimate. I always agreed to be supportive. Sometimes as their advisor. Unfortunately, no victories were forthcoming.
Recently, during the 2020 year of COVID-19, what I refer to as the “Trump Virus” because of his lies and denials, many BYU students, as well as some male faculty grew great-looking, comfortable beards. I gradually noticed the proliferation of hundreds of new beards by BYU male students, as well as a number of professors, over the last 16 months of the pandemic. They were protected from the bureaucracy because of Zoom or other online classes. Now as we begin to socialize again, one can observe a plethora of facial hair on campus and in every Latter-day Saint (Mormon) congregation, including some church leaders of congregations. However, Fall Semester begins in Provo on August 30 and those with beards are facing growing concerns.
Of course, during the last decades, we’ve all observed many more beards in Congress, on TV, with business executives, local school teachers, entrepreneurs and more. Think of the founders of Apple, Twitter, Oracle, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Federal Mogul, and other billionaires from Hollywood, the music industry, the NFL, NBA and MLB, to name a few. So with growing cultural changes, some students and community people are now hoping we can again try and remedy the BYU campus situation. The query: Isn’t it time to finally lay to rest the school’s obsolete beard rule?
Thus, we have this new Change.org petition to rectify the old policy by some who falsely thought a beard was anathema to LDS religious practices. You know, folks who never read the scriptures of ancient, bearded prophets. Nor the naïve church members who don't know any of Brigham Young's quotes about beards. Nor can they grasp the facts of bearded LDS leaders' teachings through church history since the 1830s.
The pandemic has again clarified the irrelevance of certain "rules" imposed by biased campus officials. As a BYU colleague told me, changing BYU's beard rules is a natural follow-up to the campus rule against having Coca-Cola on campus. After 40 years, the recently retiring BYU food services bureaucrat admitted the Coke policy was merely because he didn't like its taste. The logic was as dumb as BYU's anti-beard rule. It's past time to correct such crazy beliefs.
Now the beard policy isn’t the most important thing today. In my own humble life, I labor fulltime without compensation as a radical, but voluntary, champion of social change to combat poverty, fight racism and other injustices, seek to strengthen civil society, around the globe. Friends and I have NGOs in 62 countries currently. That’s what my family life is focused on, but we believe it’s time for change at BYU, as well.
Throughout last year's pandemic, many BYU males grew good-looking beards to please spouses, friends, and others. While the campus was largely shut down, some faculty colleagues, as well as men and women students, alumni, neighbors, and others asked me to mobilize folks in another attempt to change a long-term, misguided policy. I finally agreed to do so once again.
So please go to www.change.org and sign if you agree that this last vestige of the 1960s should finally be swept away by the light of a new and better college campus. It doesn’t matter if you are LDS, Christian, a BYU community person, a Utahn, or whatever. The petition is for all who value personal choice, especially regarding something that has no ethical component. In 2020, BYU males grew good-looking beards to please spouses, friends, themselves, and others. By the way, I’m amazed by the number of women spouses of male BYU professors and students who have expressed their preference for men with a beard.
A few associates have suggested petitions are futile and never successful. To some Daily Kos readers, as well as friends and family members, perhaps I need to explain why and how petitions for changing an organization or culture can lead to positive results. Signatures through petitions cause lots of changes, despite executives who try to deny reality. It’s always been the case. Not that leaders sometimes reverse their own rules or policies. But most of them are extremely resistant to new ideas or better practices. Why? Because traditional things become the norm. That is why such people rise up the chain of command as “leaders,” because they are conformists who toe the company line. Brigham Young University administrators are typical.
Therefore, at BYU, no leader since the 1960s has apparently considered reversing the no-beard rule, just like rules become and remain rules all the time. They have long-term staying power because of tradition. In my MBA courses, I used to give my Marriott School students an annual lecture about organizational practices. It was titled: “We’ve always done it this way.” In it I encouraged students to question things and not quietly conform. Why? Because not looking to improve things crushes innovation. Real leaders challenge the status quo. Think of Jesus, Gandhi, MLK, Jr., Mother Teresa, and many more. To quietly “go along to get along” is corrosive. Such a mindset stifles new ideas and risk-taking. Whether talking of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, Copernicus, or Steve Jobs. Using passive words of resistance like “That will never work” have prevented society from real growth and creating more humane cultures throughout history.
With respect to having a beard, BYU is desperate to recruit more extremely bright students. It's lost many because of outdated policies and cultural biases. There have been dozens of cases of BYU administrators caving to pressure about other practices in the past. Here are just a well-documented few:
I remember back when women were not allowed to study or teach at BYU, when playing football was banned as a campus sport, when student religious congregations were rejected at BYU before being accepted decades later, when women demanded to wear pants, when black athletes were first recruited amidst racist opposition, when rock music was banned from all campus events, when the LGBTQ club was finally allowed after 22 years of requests, when Critical Race Theory (CRT) was first taught in campus courses, when LDS members from Latin America were eventually allowed to enroll as BYU students, when alternative commencements occurred to protest right wing speakers and corrupt business officials like Dick Cheney, when the idea of having international development and dozens of other majors was approved, when student government was not acceptable at BYU, but later was and finally women students were "allowed" to run and occupy student government offices, when Black students were finally welcomed to attend BYU and later when a Black Student Alumni Association was recently OK'd, when men were encouraged to have beards (and later when not until today), when scientific evolution was banned and later restored as a major theory in BYU science classes, when women were not allowed to work in custodial and grounds crew jobs before they became the majority, when BYU students protested U.S. wars and foreign policies and were, at first, denied permission to hold rallies before being allowed, and hundreds more policy changes. In spite of naïve assumptions that policies come from top down, the reverse is usually the case at BYU and other schools. In fact, this is how real change comes in most organizations, most of the time, whether political, religious, business, education, and/or social groups. In fact, bottom-up change is the norm, as the thousands of my students who took my courses on organizational behavior, leadership, social change or other classes learned in our studies and research.
So to Daily Kos friends, please join the cause. Also, recruit your families, your work associates, your neighbors and beyond. The time is now! Or better said, the time has been right for this change since 1964 on the BYU campus. Yes, big institutions are slow to make good decisions. They're even worse when it comes to correcting a wrong. But these are the days to improve our lives, in matters small and large.
We must always push back against crazy rhetoric and/or policies among us. In Utah, the BYU beard policy is the next bad cultural artifact needing removal from campus. Go to www.change.org. #BringBackTheBeard