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Craig Mangum and Sarah Smith stood near a Provo intersection Monday morning, greeting Brigham Young University students as they walked onto campus. Then they handed them something not seen lately at the Mormon Church-owned school an independent student-produced publication.
The pair are part of a cadre of about three dozen students who have resurrected the Student Review, a popular weekly that flourished in the 1980s and '90s. It was the largest independent publication in school history, challenging the official Daily Universe for circulation.
Mangum, a returned missionary and graphic-design major, and friends organized the volunteer editorial effort last summer after consulting with alumni who published it.
"We had heard about the Review but hadn't seen anything like it so we went to [BYU's] special collections and saw old issues. We were inspired by what they were doing, the idealism of it more than anything. We loved the fact that it was funny and could find humor with some of the unique things BYU culture has to offer," said Mangum, one of the three students who edited the first issue. The others are Tamarra Kemsley and Hunter Schwarz.
Independent publications have come and gone at BYU like prairie flowers, but the Student Review entertained readers for more than a decade. Its circulation reached 10,000 at one point, but the paper folded by 1997 as interest waned and its confrontational voice wore thin among one of the nation's most conservative student bodies.
"It is the sort of thing that the institution really needs, a voice of loyal opposition. It needs a place where students and faculty can go to give a lighthearted response to what goes on," said Bryan Waterman, now an English professor at New York University. He edited the Review in the early 1990s and sometimes clashed with administration over academic freedom issues. He later co-authored the book The Lord's University: Freedom and Authority at BYU.
"I have mixed feelings," said Waterman, who enjoyed personally delivering the Review to then-BYU President Rex Lee's office every week. "I say that because the paper gave me a half dozen friendships that exist to this day. On the one hand, it is great to belong to this group of people. But at the same time, I feel that the university took such a hard line, so I recommend people go to school somewhere else."
The Review's saviors say administrators have been helpful, and they have avoided knocking the Universe, but they point out participation in the official school paper is restricted to students in a particular journalism course and its contents are under the control of administrators and faculty.
"The unfortunate consequence of this 'lab' paper status is that the published 'voice' of our BYU campus is drastically limited," write the editors in the inaugural edition. Students must be enrolled in Comm 321 to contribute to the Universe, and many alumni of that course wanted to continue working on student media, according to Smith, one such student who now acts as the Review's publicist. This time around, the Review will not promote an agenda other than serving as an "untethered" venue of student opinion.
"At the Student Review, we believe that any student who attends Brigham Young University is qualified to write about their university experience due simply to the fact that they are BYU students," the editors wrote. "Their opinions deserve to be heard. And their viewpoints, struggles and stories contain valuable insight and information that can aid us in our journey toward becoming better-educated members of our campus community and more understanding children of God."
They envision a publication cycle with issues coming out around the 19th day of every month, and a strong Web presence (thestudentreview.org). The first issue features 24 pages and exactly one advertiser, the Muse Music Cafe. The issue was themed around undervalued clubs on campus. Smith contributed a story about Freemasonry. Other story topics include sex therapy, Asian students, the United Way and a group promoting tolerance of same-sex attraction. It did feature some hard news about a student whose bladder exploded while he waited for a parking place.
The print run was 4,000, but the students hope future editions hit 8,000. Production costs were covered mostly by donations from Student Review alumni.
Meanwhile, the Review, like any other nonsanctioned publication, cannot be distributed on campus. Only the Universe and BYU Magazine, the alumni quarterly, are allowed, according to BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins. Public spots at the University of Utah campus, by contrast, are cluttered with bins distributing a broad mix of off-campus, student and departmental publications.
"We have seen [independent] publications come and go, but the difference now is the climate is drastically different," Jenkins said. "You have a large number of students involved in some means of communication. There are so many channels for them to get their views out."
Those venues are largely online, where BYU students ply their views and organize on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Two years ago, the university unblocked YouTube from school servers and students quickly exploited the video-sharing site.
About the Student Review
Brigham Young University students published this weekly paper from 1986 to 1997 as an alternative to the private school's official campus newspaper, the Daily Universe. The Student Review became hugely popular, but reader interest waned after its content became increasingly politicized in the '90s. The Review folded in 1997, but students have resurrected it as a monthly and a website, thestudentreview.org.