Introduction

Being the subject of an Honor Code Investigation can be an intimidating experience. BYU’s Honor Code Office has the power to discontinue your enrollment, prevent your ability to register for classes, block you from graduating, and deny the posting of your degree even after you graduate. In addition, they can get you fired from your on-campus job and trigger eviction from your on-campus or BYU-contracted housing.

Project ATHCOE (Accountability and Transparency in Honor Code Office Enforcement) is committed to increasing transparency into, and accountability of, Honor Code Office (HCO) enforcement. This includes shedding light on how and why the HCO opens files on students, what punishments they impose, and how to assert your rights when you are targeted. Project ATHCOE applies to students at all CES institutions of higher learning, including BYU, BYU-I, BYU-H, and LDS Business College.

Below you will find five sections:

  1. Why the HCO opens files on students. The events that trigger the HCO to open a file on you.  
  2. Your rights. An explanation of your rights when you’re the subject of an HCO investigation, or become the victim of HCO enforcement (e.g. eviction, termination, probation, suspension, and expulsion).
  3. How to access your Honor Code File. A step-by-step guide on how to access your HCO file.  
  4. Log of actual experiences. A collection of actual HCO stories experienced by BYU students.
  5. Additional resources. How to defend against a religious eviction, who to contact for advice, and more.

Why the HCO opens files on students

At BYU, the HCO falls underneath the Dean of Students Office, and is led by one of the associate deans (Casey Peterson, as of May 2016). Its investigation procedures are governed by the Investigation and Administrative Review Process.

In practice, the HCO opens a file on a student primarily as the result of a report that someone makes- typically, someone that knows the student such as a Bishop, sibling, or member of the student’s ward. For instance, your Bishop can remove your ecclesiastical endorsement with a single phone call to the HCO, which triggers the opening of a file and may result in HCO discipline (such as probation or expulsion). Other examples from actual experiences include:

  1. Someone you’re having an argument with sends in a screen clipping of something you wrote on Facebook or in a blog
  2. A sibling turns you in for disbelieving Mormonism, or for what they consider to be misconduct
  3. You write or do something controversial, such as speak publicly in favor of gay rights
  4. The Title IX office informs the HCO that you reported a rape and provides details
  5. You report a rape to the police, and a police officer sends your rape report to the HCO

You may not be aware that the HCO has opened a file on you. I requested my HCO file (details below), for example, and only learned then that I had one: I never had direct interactions with the HCO, and was never told that a file was opened on me. You can determine whether you have an HCO file by following the steps in the “How to access your Honor Code file” section below.

In other cases, the HCO will tell you they received information about a possible honor code violation. Usually, they will block you from registering for the next semester’s classes unless you meet with them in person.

Bishops’ discretion

It’s important to understand that ecclesiastical leaders have no guide available to them that specifies when and whether to withdraw (or refuse to renew) your ecclesiastical endorsement. They are also not accountable for their withdrawals: the HCO simply executes after the Bishop calls in to pull your endorsement (meaning the HCO processes your suspension, termination, and triggers your eviction without asking for the underlying reason why). Your Bishop can suspend you for any reason, whether or not related to an honor code violation.

When acting independent of the Bishop, the HCO is more likely to require an honor code violation (though their interpretation can be pretty loose- e.g. being at a party where alcohol is served, even if you don’t drink[1]). As with Bishops, the HCO has broad discretion and almost nothing in the way of checks on its power.

Your rights

Unfortunately, the power of the HCO is largely unlimited, and their actions are private and generally protected against disclosure. I am unaware of an HCO punishment (such as probation or expulsion) ever being overturned, for instance by legal action or appeal to accreditation authorities. That being said, you do have some rights:

  1. The right to stay in your housing. If you live in BYU-contracted housing, the Fair Housing Act prohibits your landlord from evicting you on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, and other protected classes. If you converted away from Mormonism or received a notice to vacate because you’re LGBT, follow this guide to assert your housing rights.
  2. The right to access your Honor Code file. FERPA obligates BYU to provide you with access to your own education records, including those kept by the HCO. See the “How to access your Honor Code File” section below for details.
  3. The right to file a complaint if BYU doesn’t give you access to your honor code file. You can file a FERPA complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) if BYU doesn’t honor your request to access your file. You can also call the FPCO at 1-800-872-5327, 3, request transfer to fpco, press 2.
  4. The right to request corrections to your Honor Code file. BYU has an Access to Student Records Policy you can apply, and the FERPA FAQ also details your rights in this regard. I requested a correction to my file, and at first the HCO resisted, then I insisted, then they relented with “We will place your suggested correction in the file.”
  5. The right to an administrative review. Though I am unaware of any instance of a successful challenge via administrative review, you can apply for one when you’re put on probation, suspended, or dismissed.
  6. The right to appeal your suspension. We are aware of one instance where an HCO decision to suspend a student was downgraded to probation. The student appealed the initial suspension decision to the Assistant Dean of Students, who upheld the suspension. The student then appealed to the Dean of Students, with letters of support from the student’s bishop and BYU Counseling Center counselor, resulting in a downgrade of the action from suspension to probation. (We also know of one instance where an expulsion was downgraded to suspension on appeal).  
  7. The right to advocate for reform. This course of action risks HCO action if you’re still attending, but many students who feel victimized by HCO enforcement have found meaning advocating for HCO enforcement reform. Examples include rape survivors and FreeBYU activists.
  8. The right to seek an attorney. Many students are not aware of low-cost legal options. One example is legal insurance- many providers (e.g. LegalShield) have plans less than $20/month, and allow you to get an answer to any legal question as part of your plan, and to cancel at any time. Knowing your legal alternatives is worth paying for, and can help you decide how to act. Seek pro bono services, or find financial support from someone in your network, if you can’t afford representation yourself.

How to access your Honor Code File

You can access your file whether you’re a current student or an alum (up to seven years after graduation). In this section, I’ll outline the FERPA rules and the steps to take.

FERPA rules

The HCO’s policy is to only let you look at your file in person inside the HCO, and they will try to prevent you from making or receiving copies. FERPA doesn’t give them this much power, though: they must provide you with copies if you are outside of commuting distance[2] (probably any distance over an hour from campus). If you want copies, a sure way to get them is to request them as soon as you’re out of state for two or more months (e.g. you’re away from campus for the summer). I recommend making the request the first day you leave Provo (or BYU-H, -I, etc.), since they have 45 days to assemble and send you your file (otherwise they might delay processing until you’re back in town and insist you come into the office).

File_000.png

Linda Rowley

They will charge you a per page fee for making and sending a copy of your file[3]. Per my discussion with the Family Policy Compliance folks, the charge has to be “reasonable” (i.e. close to what the local Kinkos or FedEx would charge for copies). Mine was 11 pages, so they charged me fifty cents a page for a total of $5.50. They wouldn’t accept credit card or PayPal: I had to send a check addressed to Brigham Young University, and they waited until they got the check to send me the copy of my file. They don’t charge you extra for shipping.

They will probably mention that they make redactions- this means they’re removing the names of other students that appear in your file, since they have to protect the other students’ privacy.

If you view your file in person, they’ll require you to sign a Sign In/Sign Out sheet to “read/review a redacted Honor Code Office File:”

The “Guidelines” read:

One person who viewed in person said: “they did not allow pictures. They were upfront about that at the beginning and informed me I would not be able to take pictures or obtain copies. My file was in front of me as they were laying out the rules...I was in a separate room with doors open.”

Linda Rowley will most likely be the person who responds to you. She’s been polite to me, but that may be because our only communication has been via email (which is more compelling than a hearsay allegation when turned over to the FERPA enforcement folks). I’ve heard from others that in person and over the phone she’s judgy, bureaucratic, and nasty- so consider communicating via email only if feasible, and anticipate being treated poorly.

If you decide to take the “view in person in the HCO office” route, they still have 45 days to give you access, so start the process early. In my case, I had a small file and they didn’t delay much, but you can’t count on them acting any faster than the 45 days.

A few FAQs:

Steps

I went through the process personally, and here’s how it works:

Step

Details

Considerations

Complete the Request Form (also in PDF)

It asks for your student ID, address, and birthday.

-I answered “All of the below, all records maintained by the HCO, and any record related to investigation or discipline” to the “specific records” question to make the broadest possible request.

-If you've changed your name, make sure to use the name that will be in their records

Submit the form

Email the completed form to hco@byu.edu, and CC the associate dean in charge of the honor code

Not at BYU? See this footnote.[4]

- As of May 2016, CC dean casey_peterson@byu.edu. For me, linda_rowley@byu.edu processed my request: so if you’re reading this in 2016, CC her as well.

- The reason for CCing the dean is so you have a named official in case you need to file a complaint if the HCO doesn’t give you access.

- I recommend you submit the form as a PDF (rather than Word) to avoid exposing metadata.

Sample submission text: “Hi,

I request a copy of my honor code file, including all records maintained by the Honor Code Office, and any records related to investigation or discipline. You’ll find my completed request form attached.

As I am not living near Provo and am thus unable to come to the HCO in person, please mail the copy to ___________.

Thanks and let me know your questions, _______”

If you don’t have an HCO file

They’ll get back to you about two days after you submit.

Example: “After searching the files in the HCO, there are no records with your name and Student ID number.”

Follow-up

Ask for the number of pages and confirm how much $ to send

Specify the non-Utah County (preferably non-Utah) address you want your file sent to.

Pay for the copies

Send a check made out to BYU

Mail to Honor Code Office, 4450 WSC, Provo, UT 84602. (I added “c/o Linda Rowley” on mine)

Consider sharing with ATHCOE

Fill out the HCO Experience form 

We can keep your experience anonymous if you wish. Every experience shared helps make HCO enforcement more transparent!

In my case, from end-to-end (from submitting the request to receiving the copies), this process took three weeks. I received my ten-page file, the first page of which looks like this:

Log of actual experiences

This log is a collection of actual HCO stories experienced by BYU students. If you’d like to add your experience to this log, please complete the HCO Experience Form (and email me if you have any issues). Descriptions are limited to high-level summaries of 200 words or less, but you’re welcome to include a link to the full story if you’ve published it elsewhere (you can also submit the full story to freebyu.org/profiles if you wish).  

Date(s)

HCO Action

Description (summary of 200 words or less - submit a freebyu.org/profiles to provide more detail)

June-Aug 2015

Probation

I criticized the BYU spokesperson on Facebook. A former friend who I had a dispute with sent a screenshot to the HCO. They said I couldn’t graduate unless I met with them. I had to meet with Casey Peterson four times, and even after graduating and moving out of Utah, I had to submit time-stamped photos showing I was clean-shaven for two months after graduation, read scriptures, write in my journal, and submit an essay about the importance of respect.

Casey Peterson, Dean over the HCO

2015

Investigation

I reported being raped to the Title IX office. I subsequently saw my file in the HCO office (I was not allowed to make copies or take photos of the documents).

I saw that they opened my HCO file on the same day as my rape report. Every single word I'd said to anyone in the university was cataloged. Even conversations I had with secretaries, and cracked stupid jokes — those stupid jokes were in the file. I found records of a phone call from my father to Title IX coordinator Sarah Westerberg, complaining that I shouldn't be investigated for wrongdoing after reporting a crime.

I saw images of text messages sent by a student government representative I met with (I was trying to get people to realize what was happening, to realize that these cases going to the Honor Code Office was a big deal). The student representative apparently sent a text message to someone, noting that I was frustrated with how my assault report was handled, speculating that I was "very likely" to turn to the news media or local government officials, and asking how he should handle my complaints. I couldn’t tell whom the student sent the messages to, whether the Honor Code Office received them secondhand or how they pertain to the investigation into whether I was sexually assaulted.

2016

Suspension

Madi Barney reported her rape to the police. One of the officers leaked her rape report to the HCO, who opened an investigation on Madi. They put a freeze on Madi’s registration pending her cooperation with the HCO. Per her attorney’s advice, Madi did not cooperate and is unable to continue taking classes at BYU.

Feb- Apr 2011

Investigation

I published a book about homosexuality in January 2011. In May 2016 I requested and received my honor code file. Notably:
-They redacted the names of my accusers

-They concluded that much of my book "contradicts teachings from the First Presidency"

-The dean of students and VP of student life made the decision to take no action (though I heard from another source that the President, Cecil Samuelson, passed that decision down)

-They analyzed my YouTube videos and the QSaltLake article on my book, in addition to a chapter-by-chapter review of my book.

-I found this quote significant. "He states that he is an active, believing LDS member who believes in the first vision, the restoration of the gospel, and the truths in the Book of Mormon (Notice he did not say he believed in latter day prophets)"

HCO Counselor: Blair Reynolds

HCO Researcher: Kristine (Kris) Long

HCO Director: Steve Baker

HCO Email Respondent: Linda Rowley 

Jun-Dec 2011

Suspension, then Probation

My sibling reported to the honor code that I had sex with my boyfriend and also claimed I was proselytizing against the church. The HCO contacted me and asked that I come in and meet with them. By this point, I had fully completed the repentance process with my bishop (who elected not to report to the HCO and renewed my endorsement), and had married my boyfriend.
When I came in, they questioned me about whether I believed in Joseph Smith and asked details about my relationship with my boyfriend prior to marriage. I was surprised and asked the HCO what their source was but they wouldn’t tell me. They later informed me that I was being put on suspension from the University and could appeal the decision to the Assistant Dean of Students. I met with the Assistant Dean of Students and he too elected for suspension. I appealed his decision to the Dean of Students and had letters and support from my Bishop and my on-campus personal counselor.
I was ultimately put on probation and had to meet with my HCO counselor, read talks and submit written summaries, meet with my bishop and receive a letter from him, and verify through a letter from a professional counselor approved by the Honor Code Office that I had satisfactorily participated in an ongoing counseling program and had made progress in resolving personal issues.
HCO counselor: Kristine Long

Assistant Dean: John Kau

Dean of Students: Vernon Heperi

Unknown

Expulsion

I was raped and pregnancy resulted. My bishop didn’t believe me, and as a result I was expelled.

Around 2004

Probation

I viewed pornography and reported that fact to the HCO. The HCO threatened me that if I didn't sign a waiver of my priest/penitent legal privilege, they would suspend me from the school. In other words, I had to totally waive my legal privacy rights to enjoy confidential discussions with my bishop. Those discussions were no longer privileged.

They also gave me a letter, that I had to sign, explaining that I was "a danger to myself and others."

I had to disclose this probation on grad school applications and a professional licensing application years later.

 

When I was getting investigated by the HCO, I literally couldn't sleep. I was extremely stressed out because I thought I was going to get kicked out. I worked really hard in school. I graduated with a 3.90 GPA. One night I sobbed because I thought that I was going to get expelled. I don't think that my academic career should be thrown out the window just because of some simple mistake I made that has nothing to do with my academic career.

2014-2015

Probation

I confessed a sin to the bishop, who told me I’d have to the tell the HCO, which I did. They told me I couldn’t finish my degree as a consequence, and my mom kicked me out of the house.

I wrote a letter to the HCO pleading my case, and they said I could stay but would only get my degree 8 months after graduating. I had to:

-write in my journal every day (which I had to allow them to read) -take notes on EVERY byu devotional from July 2014 - July 2015 (this by far took the longest!)

-complete an assignment where I find scriptures on a dozen different topics (chastity, modesty, charity) and relate them back to my life

-I could walk in graduation but they wouldn't put my name in the program

-meeting with an honor code counselor monthly and discussing different talks

-attending therapy every week

- Complete 50 hours of volunteer work

- Attend church and pay tithing (they checked with my bishop every month to make sure)

- Write a 6 page paper on the whole experience

2008

Expulsion

Chad Hardy was excommunicated due to a calendar he published, then graduated from BYU, but BYU refused to post his degree. The press covered the event: Google it for deets.

Chad’s interviews with Dean of Students Vernon Heperi are available here, and his unsuccessful complaint to BYU’s accreditor, the NWCCU, is here (denial here).

Unknown

Investigation

Someone reported me for having a skirt that was too short. The HCO deemed the skirt long enough but still told me not to wear it again and informed me that my false accuser would have no repercussions for the impacts I had from the accusation.

2013

Suspension

While at BYU-I, I drank coffee to counter the effects of my anti-depressant meds.  My neighbor reported me to the Bishop, who withdrew my ecclesiastical endorsement- resulting in my suspension.

Unknown

Investigation

When I was a BYU student, I had a complaint made about me to the Honor Code office. The complaint was filed by another student who was fighting his own Honor Code investigation. He had been accused of viewing pornography on BYU machines connected to the internet (because he tripped the anti-porn filters). He had, in fact, been downloading mp3 files from various websites, some of which tripped BYU filters.

The student who filed the complaint against me had done so to throw me under the bus, hoping it would cause him to beat the charges against himself. And – like him – I had also been downloading mp3 files. Unlike him, I came clean and described what we were doing. I beat the rap, but he was thrown out.

Still – I was considered guilty until I was able to prove myself innocent. He was considered guilty even after I gave a reasonable explanation for why he tripped porn filters, most likely because he also tried to throw me under the bus.

2005

Expulsion

I stopped attending church,and was consequently expelled.

Unknown

Probation

The HCO's made me feel like shit (at first) and took the word of a single individual over all my protestations and the actual facts (of which they refused to believe anything that I said, the facts had to come from third-parties).

I very quickly learned not to volunteer anything other than what I said at my initial interview. Their punishments and requirements were harsh beyond belief to me for my minor offense (taking milk crates from a 7-11 to use as bookcases).


I had to confirm church attendance, write a paper, confirm daily prayer and scripture reading by signing off that I had done it, and even when I wasn't convicted, I could tell they were extremely reluctant and disappointed to release my HC hold. In fact, it took them 3 weeks after I was not convicted until they finally agreed to release the hold.

Unknown

Suspension

My senior year I lost my faith and refused to lie to get my ecclesiastical endorsement. I had to leave a semester early without graduating. Luckily I had a job lined up that wasn't contingent on having a degree.

BYU keeps sending me "Finish your Degree" mail. I've called to inquire if i can finish, but they say I have to have an ecclesiastical endorsement, which i refuse to lie and get.

Unknown

Probation

A student was married and was off for the summer on an internship away from his spouse. He struck up a friendship with a girl he met on his internship and ended up making out with her. He later confessed to his wife who was distraught over his infidelity and told her family about it. Her brother decided to make the girl's husband pay by turning him over to the honor code office.

The honor code office employees definitely reveled at the opportunity to punish the kid who was weeks away from walking with his diploma. After hearing his "case" my wife tried to argue that the office shouldn't be involved as the only two people who should be involved in any disagreement were the man's wife and himself. It was not something in which BYU should be involved. Obviously, they completely ignored her argument and withheld the student's diploma.

Unknown

Suspension

I got the distinct sense that the person handling my case was delighted to take me down a peg. I had no idea that anyone could be so perverse as to get enjoyment from my extreme suffering.

Unknown

Investigation

The father of a victim’s ex-boyfriend falsely reported premarital sex. The HCO used the fact that the victim was raped several years before as evidence of a sexual past, and threatened to immediately expel the student if the student recorded a conversation or involved an attorney.

HCO Counselor: Mayla Slack

2015-2016

Probation

I was on HCO probation for a year.  My HCO counselor told me that students have committed suicide in the past because of disciplinary action he has taken against them, and he still seems to think that what he does for his job is correct.

Unknown

Investigation

I was turned in because I was late to do a BYU news broadcast and parked in a non-student space. When I paid the ticket, I wrote “bulls**t ticket” in the memo line. I had to pay the fine and personally apologize to the clerk who processes fines for exposing her to profanity.

Submitted Experience

“No file” response

As a gay BYU student, I was worried after reading the Salt Lake Tribune's April 22nd story about Madeline's review of her Honor Code Office record, which apparently included pictures of other people's phones and notes on conversations she had with various university officials, even ones that she thought were of no consequence.

Although my sexual orientation is not well known, there are a handful of people on BYU campus who are familiar with my situation. I've always lived the law of chastity and never violated the Honor Code, but this story nonetheless made me wonder if the Honor Code Office had a "do whatever it takes to catch them" mentality that would cause me to be targeted because of my sexual orientation, even though I haven't violated any rules.

I've begun submitting a FERPA request on the same date every other month. I always send a copy of the same physical letter: which basically just says that I'm evoking FERPA, that I'm a current BYU student, and supplying my student ID number. I always send the letter notarized and return receipt requested. In the letter, I tell the HCO that a reply by email would be sufficient. I've always gotten an email response the same day BYU receives the letter, and to date they've always told me I didn't have an Honor Code File. Linda Rowley has always been the one to respond to me, and she's always been very polite. I will continue to send a letter every sixty-ish days, and if anything new happens, I will submit another experience form.

2015-present

Expulsion appealed to suspension

Brad Apr 2017: I’ll wait to include the details until the student is no longer exposed to HCO action.

2016

Unresponsive to  Application for Exception

A convert to the LDS Church attended BYU shortly after converting, and did not complete his degree. A few years later, he left the church. Years later, in 2016, he submitted an application for exception to the ecclesiastical endorsement process, per the noted “Application for Exception” clause for applicants.

Despite several live conversations with the dean of students office, the dean of students office did not deliver a decision to the former convert. Six weeks have passed and counting.

2016

Advised that exceptions are rarely if ever granted

"Two weeks ago I went into my bishop and told him I wanted details about the new ecclesiastical exemption policy. He told me to come back today, after he had been trained on it. I went in today, with a lot of hopes riding on this exemption. I am the poster child for people who would benefit from this policy and I thought it was created for students in my exact situation. My bishop told me today in the meeting that when the bishops were trained on this, they were told that students can apply for an exemption but they are "rarely if ever" granted."

2017

Refusal to grant endorsement

BYU-I student completed the requirements for an Associate’s degree. BYU-I refused to grant her degree, since she subsequently left the LDS church and was consequently unable to obtain an endorsement from an LDS bishop.

Experiences are based on victims’ reports, and in some cases have been summarized.

Additional resources

It’s important to acknowledge and prepare for the emotional toll HCO enforcement can have on you. Madi Barney, a BYU student who reported being raped and was consequently investigated by the HCO, said “The way that BYU has treated me has been so callous that it’s been almost as bad as the rape itself.”[5]

Certain actions, notably suspension, can also be very traumatic. So many things are happening to you at once: losing your job, getting evicted, being kicked out of school, and dealing with the reactions of Mormon family members can all occur in a very short time frame. Victims of suspension report emotional difficulties even years afterward, including common trauma victim symptoms such as crying, anger, depression, and anxiety. One victim was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety as a consequence of HCO enforcement. Another said “my experiences with the honor office there was absolutely one of the most horrible in my life.”

Conclusion

Knowing your rights can take some of the fear out of being on the receiving end of HCO action, knowing the process and likely outcomes can reduce uncertainty, and seeing your honor code file can be empowering.

To those of you who have been victimized by HCO enforcement, please know there are people out there like myself and those in FreeBYU who care about you. Hang in there, reach out, keep trying, and know you have allies that have been through similar experiences. We may not be able to do a ton, but we will try our hardest to help you move your life and education forward in a positive and productive way.

-Brad Levin

Attorney and FreeBYU Director


[1] Undisclosed Honor Code Rules, Concealed in Secret Binder, Are Applied Against BYU Student

[2] “A school is required to provide an eligible student with copies of education records, or make other arrangements, if a failure to do so would effectively prevent the student from obtaining access to the records. A case in point would be a situation in which the student does not live within commuting distance of the school.” http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/students.html

[3] “Schools are not required to provide copies of records unless, for reasons such as great distance, it is impossible for parents or eligible students to review the records. Schools may charge a fee for copies.” http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html

[4] BYU-I is  sho@byui.edu; BYUH is compliance@byuh.edu (CC dana.templeman@byuh.edu based on her listed role - unfortunately, a blend of both Title IX and the honor code); LDS business college is dbrooksby@ldsbc.edu, or whoever is listed here under honor code (or call 801-524-8157)

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/30/mormon-rape-victims-shame-brigham-young-university

[6] https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/4ontsc/what_should_i_do_studying_at_byu_without_faith/