Biking for Beards and BYU’s Beard Ban

September 26, 2014    By: DavidF @ 11:45 am   Category: Life

BYU is about to be the focus of a new protest.  It’s called Bike for Beards.  Students, and perhaps some alumni, will bike from Provo City Library on over to the administration building and ask to have the beard ban removed by presenting a list of printed comments from their website to the administration.  While I am not affiliated in any way with this group, I did submit my own argument for changing the policy.  Since this is an issue that virtually every BYU alumnus/alumna could have an opinion on, I’ve reproduced my submission here.  Most of what I wrote actually came from a memo I intended to send the administration while I was a student, but alas procrastination won out.


The BYU honor code standard against beards deserves critical review as it has outlasted its purpose. As a recent alumni, I am still troubled by this outmoded and unchanged policy.

As others have undoubtedly noted, wearing beards was not an honor code violation in BYU’s early history. When Elder Oaks became president of the university in 1971, he discussed the reason for the no-beard policy in his commencement address (on the topic of the honor code generally):

In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. Persons who wear beards or long hair, whether they desire it or not, may identify themselves with or emulate and honor the drug culture or the extreme practices of those who have made slovenly appearance a badge of protest and dissent.

The beard wasn’t just a beard in the 60s and 70s; it was a symbol of political and cultural dissent closely associated with the hippie culture and deteriorating social norms. In light of that culture, a beard ban made perfect sense. Elder Oaks even recognized that the ban was not meant to outlast its intended purpose:

Unlike modesty, which is an eternal value in the sense of rightness or wrongness in the eyes of God, our rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic. They are responsive to conditions and attitudes in our own society at this particular point in time. Historical precedents are worthless in this area. The rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future.

Elder Oaks explained that the ban could outlast its intended purpose, which I and many others would argue is exactly what has now happened.

The beard has lost its political symbolism. It has no lasting stigma among white-collar professionals such as doctors, lawyers, professors, and engineers. Liberals are no more likely to wear beards than are conservatives. Only in the business world are beards still stigmatized. And while that should weigh as an important consideration, one professional sector’s preferences should not dictate the dress code where other professional sectors are indifferent.

In the spirit of Elder Oaks’ remarks, tattoos, multiple piercings, and outrageous hair color should all still remain suspect violations of the honor code. These symbols remain part of America’s anti-professional counterculture. The beard has moved on.

Naturally, some beards are outrageous and certainly taboo in the professional world. Brigham Young’s beard would simply have no place among white-color professionals. The honor code should not open the door to all facial hair. Just as the honor code allows hair without permitting outrageous hairstyles, so too should it allow for beards without outrageous beard styles. A possible modification could read: “Beards should be well kempt and decorous,” with some latitude in enforcement of this standard. Such a standard would be keeping up with the times and capture the spirit of Elder Oaks’ policy reasons for the beard ban.

Finally, as a note about the need for occasional policy changes: In Elder Oaks address, he reiterated the then-current prohibition on women wearing jeans or sweatshirts as appropriate enforcements of the honor code. Those prohibitions have since been dropped. The honor code has always followed what society recognizes as reasonable dress and grooming standards. Far from prohibiting women’s sweatshirts, the campus store sells women’s sweatshirts to students! Occasional modifications to the honor code have always been appropriate. In that vein, the beard has gone from social pariah to a reasonable grooming standard among professionals. The honor code should reflect that change.



  1. As the Ordain Women episode should demonstrate, the merit of an argument is of virtually no consequence when it comes to changing a policy. What matters is who is making the argument.

    If this particular argument is made primarily by students, it will be ignored and may ultimately lead to some unnecessary expulsions. If it is made by alumni, on the other hand, it will receive some attention, particularly if paired with reduced financial contributions. So your argument carries weight for that reason alone. Unfortunately, I suspect that the vast majority of alumni support the honor code as it is, perhaps even more than they did as students. So don’t get your hopes up. But good luck anyway (says the Utah grad).

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 26, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

  2. How do you figure beards are stigmatized in the business world? You’ve seen Ben Bernanke, right?

    Comment by Owen — September 26, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

  3. Exactly! When I first read that beards are stigmatized in the business world, I was surprised. In my experience, they are stigmatized in certain fields, mostly finance and law. Both companies I have worked for since graduating from BYU have been fine with my beard, and I have seen beards in multiple departments. Many people have beards at the company for which I currently work.

    I do wish BYU would change its beard policy, but I don’t think it will, barring major donor dissatisfaction.

    My theory is that BYU is a face of Mormonism to the world. It is easy to have everyone clean-shaven. Mustaches are an artifact of the past, and most students do not grow them (although I had one). Beards are harder to control and could lead to scruffy students. I still think they should change, but I understand why they would not.

    “Beards should be well kempt and decorous.”

    I like this, but I can definitely imagine the arguments over the definitions of kempt and decorous among students. This is BYU, after all.

    Comment by Joe — September 26, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

  4. Very good letter. The inclusion of the quotes from (then) President Oaks is excellent. I think the “clean cut” appearance is something BYU will be very hesitant to give up, so it will be a hard sell. But it seems obvious that the cultural significance of a beard has moved on completely from the 60s/70s and it would be great to see this change.

    That said, the whole “Bike for Beards” approach is reminiscent of the tactics of 60s protestors, so it will get everyone back in the mindset if they weren’t there already. Not a winning tactic in my estimation.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 26, 2014 @ 4:13 pm

  5. Huh. My impression was that the business world is still leaning conservative on beards and hair(-parts). But I’m not in business, so I defer to people in that world.

    Comment by DavidF — September 26, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

  6. I am sure there are still some companies that don’t like them. But I think that is changing, largely.

    Comment by Joe — September 27, 2014 @ 7:26 am

  7. Wait, are the protesters petitioning policy change or are they simply petitioning the university to ask The Lord the question?

    Comment by Riley — September 27, 2014 @ 10:40 am

  8. The only mistake here is the gravity of discussion and media hype about something that was intended as a joke. It was staged by literally a dozen people wearing paper beards, including women who presumably have little interest in wearing a beard. As the “protesters” arrived at the administration building to file their grievances, they discovered that the doors were locked. Apparently the joke was on them.

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — September 27, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

  9. When I was at BYU, we were told that the whole idea of having an “honor code” was a student-led-initiative dating to the early 20th century. As long as BYU is going to present the honor code as the product of a democratic process, I have few qualms about students using democratic means to try to get it modified.

    That said: the “cure” of letting teenaged female desk clerks at the Testing Center determine whether a male student’s beard is sufficiently “well-groomed”, strikes me as significantly worse than the disease.

    Comment by JimD — September 27, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

  10. Seems only fair, JimD, if male desk clerks at the testing center can determine if a female student’s shorts are too short or pants/top are too tight.

    Comment by Maisy — September 28, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

  11. Point taken; but “knee-length” (like “sleeveless”) is a pretty clear standard; and I never heard of a student–male or female–being denied University services because their clothes were too form-fitting.

    I think subjective standards are a problem; especially when they’re being enforced against teenagers by other teenagers.

    Comment by JimD — September 28, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

  12. The letter above focuses too much on 1971. There’s a whole 20th Century on this issue that goes beyond hippies, and when it comes to Mormons, beards are too prone to polygamy to mind, which we don’t under any, any circumstances wish to bring to mind. Beards still don’t work well for people, such as politicians, who seek widespread public approval, and that’s one of the things that we seek after.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 29, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

  13. As a current BYU student, I personally like the no-beard policy. The truth is that 90% of college guys look terrible with scruff, and I cannot say thay those that are capable of growing full beards actually look any better with them than clean shaven. The main reason that I and most of my friends do not shave is laziness rather than fashion. I think the no beard policy sets BYU apart in a good way as a place where people look and act clean. I would personally vote to keep the standard exactly the same.

    Comment by JanPaul — September 29, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

  14. JanPaul,

    Does a beard look dirty to you?

    What about people with bad skin? Do they look dirty to you?

    Are either groups capable of acting clean?

    Do you prefer a bearded Jesus? Or clean shaven?

    Comment by Chad — September 29, 2014 @ 11:17 pm

  15. John Mansfield,

    I would venture to say that the belief that modern beards invoke memories of polygamy is at best idiosyncratic. Furthermore, if beards don’t work well for politicians, mustaches are a far graver sin. Yet beards are banned because of antiquated stereotypes, while mustaches are allowed because, frankly, they weren’t so obviously connected with hippie culture.


    True, I imagine that an allowance for beards would allow for lazy guys to grow out unflattering scruff. On the other hand, I think that BYU women would largely keep that in check (i.e. “I don’t like the way your face scratches mine when we kiss”).

    It’s worth noting on the topic of lazy appearances, although tangentially, that BYU is known as one of the worst dressed campuses in the US. BYU men in general give alarmingly little attention to their dress. I’m not sure if that goes to your point or not.

    Comment by DavidF — September 30, 2014 @ 7:15 pm

  16. A little late to this, but I have to challenge your worst dressed comment. Having spent some time at the University of Texas after graduating from BYU, I can say BYU students, men and women dressed far better than UT students. And this isn’t a modesty issue. The common outfit for classes here involves athletic shorts and t-shirts. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I saw button down shirts here, which was fairly common at BYU. Leading me to ask, what’s the source of your “worst dressed” claim?

    Comment by Stephenp — October 8, 2014 @ 7:52 am


    Comment by DavidF — October 10, 2014 @ 10:42 am

  18. I remember that article. It rated Provo that way because of what missionaries wear and how they wear it. It had nothing to do with BYU.

    Comment by Joe — October 10, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

  19. Chad,

    My perception of beards has little to do with my point. Perhaps I should explain further:

    I recall hearing a story told in Seminary of a football team taking a flight across the country for a bowl game. The players were pretty rowdy and so the next time, the coach required them to wear button-up shirts and ties on the plane and their behavior was much better.

    That is, of course, anecdotal evidence. However, doing a quick Google search for “psychology does dress affect behavior” to confirm this phenomenon, I get the following:

    “In addition to research that documents how our dress impacts self-perceptions, dress has also been shown to exert an influence on one’s own behavior. For example, a team of social psychologists Barbara Fredrickson, Tomi-Ann Roberts, Stephanie Noll, Diane Quinn, and Jean Twenge (1998) found that when women put on a swimsuit as part of a research project, they performed more poorly on a subsequent math test than other women who put on a sweater. Social psychologists Mark Frank and Thomas Gillovich (1988) found that male football players and male ice hockey players who wore black uniforms played more aggressively (as evidenced by the number of penalties awarded) than players wearing white jerseys. In a related study these researchers had participants wear either black jerseys or white ones and asked participants to indicate the type of games they wanted to play. As compared to participants wearing white jerseys, those wearing black jerseys selected more aggressive games to play. Subsequently, two social psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam Golinsky (2012) found that when clothing is worn that has symbolic meaning for the wearer, it also has behavioral consequences. Specifically, these researchers did a pretest in which they found that a laboratory coat was a cue often used to infer that an individual was attentive and careful. Consequently, they reasoned that if individuals wore lab coats they would perform better on attention-related tasks than individuals not wearing lab coats and their data supported their reasoning.”


    If something as simple as wearing a black rather than white hockey jersey tends to increase aggression, why shouldn’t wearing a beard also affect your behavior? The question is not whether wearing a beard instantly and magically makes the wearer evil, but whether having to shave TENDS to improve behavior among 30,000 college students who are in large measure away from home for the first time and trying to figure out what kind of people they are and how they’ll act.

    I’m not sure what your question about people with bad skin has to do with it. That’s clearly a different issue since they have no choice about it.

    Comment by JanPaul — October 15, 2014 @ 9:29 am