BYU professor who worked in Sanpete
has been charged with sexual abuse
By Robert Stevens
A BYU professor who worked extensively with Sanpete cities to construct their general plans has been charged with sexually abusing a student.
Michael James Clay, 45, of Springville is charged in 4th District Court with two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.
Clay was the head of BYU Urban and Regional Planning in the Geography Department. According to BYU, Clay has not worked for the school since April. But when he did, he ran a program where he and his students would help rural municipalities craft a general plan.
Multiple cities in Sanpete County, including Manti and Gunnison, took part in the program. Clay and his students would visit the area, do extensive studies and research and guide the local leadership in the creation of the plans.
The charges stem from allegations made by a student, originally from another country, who, according to charging documents, told Clay she was “suffering from emotional difficulties.”
The documents allege that Clay told her he would “help her through her problems” and spent more than 20 visits alone in his office playing “meditation” music, and telling her she was in a “safe space.”
He also instructed her to delete any text messages of their correspondence, charging documents state.
The documents go on to say Clay gave her “priesthood blessings” and told her God had inspired him to make physical contact with her.
From a period between January to March, charging documents allege Clay made physical contact with her multiple times, including instructing her to sit on his lap by straddling him, despite her telling him she didn’t like it. The documents say the victim felt she had to do it, and that he would get upset if she said no.
The court documents also state that Clay told her “she needed to change her body chemistry and that she needed to practice how to be a good wife and that he could help her.”
When the victim told him she was thinking of seeing a counselor or psychologist, Clay allegedly told her not to, and that seeing him would be more effective.