BYU orders freshmen to pay $1,200 for theft

Officials punish students for taking 10,000 papers

UTAH -- The Brigham Young University honor court dispensed a $1,200 fine to two students who confessed to stealing copies of the campus student newspaper in February.

The students were identified after BYU police initiated an investigation into the Feb. 16 theft of 10,000 copies of the Daily Universe.

The two freshmen later confessed and their punishment was left in the hands of the school's honor court, which also had the option of imposing probation or suspension.

Although the honor court does not comment on individual punishments, Ellen Hernandez, office manager of BYU's NewsNet, the school's integrated news operation, said the amount of the fine was determined based on the value of the stolen papers.

"We were asked to submit what our loss in revenue, readership, etc., was for that day, and we did a fairly conservative guesstimation and submitted that figure to them," Hernandez said.

Although the students' motivation for the theft was never officially released, the theft apparently occurred after the two students, whose names were not disclosed, were unhappy with some of the Daily Universe's coverage of the upcoming student government elections.

Specifically, the two students wanted to prevent the campus community from seeing an article that raised questions about the qualifications of two SGA candidates. University officials said the students were not connected with the election.

Student editors said they were pleased with the university's reaction to an act that has often gone unpunished on other campuses.

"I was very pleased to see BYU step up and actually punish the two men with more than a slap on the wrist," said Rob Rogers, the paper's associate city editor. "I feel it's a real vote of confidence from the administration on our program."

However, Daily Universe editors said they would have liked to have seen criminal charges filed against the two students.

"The whole reason BYU had to step up was because the Provo City attorney refused to prosecute the two men on the grounds that you can't steal free newspapers from a precedent set by a vaguely similar case two years ago in Salt Lake City," Rogers said.

In that case, Salt Lake City attorney Neal Gunnarason allegedly removed copies of the Salt Lake City Weekly to protest what he felt was a negative article. The Provo City attorney was one of three local officials who decided not to file charges in that case because the newspapers were free.

"Everyone here felt vexed," Rogers said. "The case in Salt Lake City was bogus, and the attorney here showed no real zeal in pursuing the case."

Still, Hernandez said she feels that BYU, at least, took the theft seriously and supported the paper throughout the situation. "I felt like it was taken very seriously and handled in a good manner," Hernandez said. "They did what they felt was right and supported us in our claims and our accusations. They acknowledged the fact that there was a theft from us and we did lose revenue because of it."

Fall 2000, reports