New BYU policy undermines trust
By William E. Evenson
I believe the recent decision to send an annual list of BYU employees to their stake presidents and bishops in order to verify their current eligibility for a temple recommend is a most ill-advised policy.
I do agree that it is important that BYU employees be faithful, committed members of the LDS church or supportive persons of other faiths, yet I am still troubled and offended by this latest policy.
For me, the most troublesome aspect of this approach to maintaining a faithful faculty and staff at BYU is the extent to which it intrudes into one's personal religious life. My faith is personal and largely private. I share it with my family and with church leaders and occasionally with very close friends. I share it as I choose and as I feel moved to do.
Something essential is taken away from this personal faith when my relationship with my religious leaders becomes a matter of maintaining my employment. This intrusion of employment concerns into that relationship seems controlling and inappropriate. As such, it is manipulative, counter-productive, and outside the Gospel. Driving persons to outward obedience severely compromises the development of genuine inner spirituality.
Second, a regular and formal request made to ecclesiastical leaders, through ecclesiastical channels, to review the conduct of all BYU employees is threatening and conveys a serious lack of trust, no matter what verbal assurances are given.
And what is gained in exchange for the lost trust? Nothing. Local Church leaders have already been asked to alert BYU officials, through proper channels, if serious problems exist. Why, then, impose a new procedure that destroys the sense of trust LDS church leaders and BYU officials should convey to the thousands of faithful BYU employees -- a procedure justified on an unproven premise that a tiny fraction may not be faithful?
Nearly all of our LDS BYU employees are faithful and loyal, and those who are not LDS are almost uniformly willing to live according to LDS Church principles. Policies should be constructed to provide encouragement and opportunity, not to put all the faithful employees through a sieve designed only for an uncommitted few. Henry Stimson said, "The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him." There are better ways than this policy to solve any problem that may exist.
I believe it is wrong to set up a system of monitoring. Many crucial expectations are not monitored, with no serious harm to the university or the church. For example, who is sent a list of employees in order to certify avoidance of sexual harassment or gross abuse of trust in a faculty-student relationship, both of which are grounds for dismissal? Whenever problems in these or numerous other areas come to the attention of university officials, they are dealt with; everyone expects that. But monitoring undermines trust, encourages dishonesty and finally doesn't make anything better anyway. People resent such policies and resist them and subvert them.
I am convinced that most bishops and stake presidents are and will be supportive and even protective of their members who are BYU employees. Nonetheless, when the university effectively puts employment decisions in the hands of these church leaders via the determination of "eligibility" for a temple recommend, university employees are ultimately subject to a very wide range of judgments about attitudes and personal views. And consistency in these judgments will be unattainable.
"Eligibility" for a temple recommend goes well beyond what has actually been a condition of employment at BYU previously: "Conduct" consistent with temple privileges. It is appropriate to hold employees accountable for their conduct, but their private views are much more personal and less relevant for university employment, while being much more subject to arbitrary judgment and interpretation that can vary from one LDS leader to another.
This move from "conduct" to "eligibility" is significant to many of us, and we are offended that it was undertaken without discussion in the campus community. And even if one were to grant, which I do not, that the change in policy is small, that would not make the policy right.
When the academic freedom policy was discussed at BYU prior to its adoption in 1993, university administrators were explicitly asked whether stake presidents would be given a list of BYU employees in their stakes in order to monitor their behavior.
Assurances were repeatedly given, some of them to me personally and one in a public meeting in the de Jong Concert Hall, that university officials would never ask ecclesiastical leaders to report on their ward and stake members (although LDS leaders were free to initiate such contact when they deemed it necessary) and that strict boundaries would be upheld between spiritual matters and university business. Unfortunately, the present policy goes against those promises.
Finally, I must address a question I have been asked as I have spoken out against this policy: Why don't those who are unhappy with the policy simply leave BYU? This would diminish BYU immeasurably.
I and many of my colleagues who are disturbed by this policy have given many years of our careers to help BYU become a first- class university of faith, something very difficult to accomplish but surely worth aspiring to.
We have too much invested to simply want to turn our backs on BYU because university officials have not seen clearly the futility and impropriety of what is, no doubt, a well-intentioned policy.
I hope we can join together to make a better policy and a better university.
(William E. Evenson is a professor of physics at Brigham Young University. He is a former associate academic vice president, former Dean of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and former Dean of General Education.)
Thank you for inviting me to your office on Tuesday to discuss the concerns I have expressed about the policy of having an annual check-off of temple-worthy conduct for BYU employees. I appreciated the discussion, especially your candor and openness. I also appreciated your affirmation of the legitimacy of my public expressions of concern about a public policy of the University.
Because I feel strongly about the issues we discussed, I made fairly detailed notes of our discussion for my own reference shortly after our meeting. I enclose a copy of those notes for your information. I do not intend to make them available to others beyond family and one or two close confidants. If you see anything in these notes of our meeting that you think does not faithfully reflect our exchange or even the intent of something one or the other of us may have said, I would be grateful for a clarification.
There are three large related issues that I would like to explore further in separate memos to you and your colleagues in the university administration, if that would not be imposing too much. These issues are
Thank you again for meeting with me and for your commitment to lift the University.
Present: President Bateman and William E. Evenson This meeting was held at the invitation of President Bateman in response to my public comments about the policy to have local Church leaders report annually on BYU employees' adherence to LDS standards.
President Bateman was very cordial and congenial throughout the meeting. At the outset of the meeting, he took time to get acquainted, asking me about my background and experience at BYU. He said that he had been reading about me quite a lot and felt it would be useful to get acquainted face to face.
President Bateman made clear that his purpose in the meeting was to reassure me that the policy will be implemented fairly and cautiously. He said that Jim Gordon, Associate Academic Vice President - Faculty Personnel, will be the University's represen tative in these matters and deal directly with BYU faculty who are not listed as worthy by their bishops. [Who handles non- faculty employees? Are there two contact points at the Univer sity?]
President Bateman also tried to assure me that he understands my concerns but is convinced that the abuses I fear will not be realized because of the care they are taking in implementation. He assured me that the standard remains a conduct standard, not a belief standard, and that he understands the difficulties that would be associated with judging shades of belief. I thanked him for the clarification that appeared in the Y News.
I asked why he thinks they need to do this at all, i.e. what problem do they think they are solving with this procedure. He responded that the previous policy, whereby Church leaders were asked to take the initiative to alert the University when they were aware of a problem, was implemented unevenly and hence unfairly. The present approach is more likely to treat everyone the same.
I noted that I am not in favor of any policy that has bishops or stake presidents report on their members' eligibility for employ ment. I pointed out that before such a policy was in existence I participated as a university administrator in resolving problems with faculty members who were not living in accordance with Church standards. We were made aware of several cases, and we worked with them directly. Such cases are difficult and time- consuming and demand a great deal of energy to handle correctly. They must each be handled in a way that protects both the faculty member and the University. I offered the opinion that such cases were handled more effectively during the Holland administration without a monitoring policy than during the most recent univer sity administration, where I have sensed that they hoped the problems would be solved by rules rather than by dealing directly with them.
I said that I find it hard to imagine that University leaders would remain unaware for long of faculty members who are actively undermining faith. So why make a rule that imposes on all employees in order to solve a very few real problems? This creates a feeling of lack of trust as well as interfering with the private relationships between employees and their Church leaders.
President Bateman acknowledged that we had handled some difficult problems during the Holland administration without the current policy, and perhaps more effectively than the current policy would allow. However, he pointed out that there are some cases that have persisted. He agreed that university administrators do become aware of problems, but this policy gives them a better tool to handle the problems. I agreed that we were not able to handle all the problems effectively that came up during the Holland administration, but that is always true: these problems are difficult and time-consuming; one has no choice but to prioritize and work on the most serious ones. President Bateman agreed with that and said, "We will have to do that, too."
I pointed out that these problems will always be with us. People come to the University idealistic and committed, but some will change their views over the years. Others create problems in their lives that make it no longer appropriate for them to stay here. So care in hiring alone will never prevent personnel problems related to these conduct standards. But the rules will not uncover or resolve such problems by themselves. University administrators will always have to work through long and diffi cult personnel issues. President Bateman agreed that we will always have problems of this type to work through; the policy will not make them go away, but he hopes the policy will help University administrators identify and deal with the problems.
President Bateman also agreed that there is a problem at the University with trust: employees do not feel trusted. He said he intends to work on establishing a level of trust, acknowledg ing that it will take a long time to develop the level of trust that should be here.
As I outlined my experience with personnel problems at the University and the more open approach that experience has led me to favor, I noted that I had made many of the points of my newspaper piece privately to University administrators three years ago, when I was dean of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. I received only an acknowledgement and thanks for those comments at that time, never a substantive reply. Now the issue has become a public one, with the promulgation of the recent policy. President Bateman immediately said that he had no problem with my expressing my concerns publicly; I have every right to say what I think about a public policy of the University.
President Bateman also said that yesterday in Deans' Council a couple of the deans reported that they had already been visited by employees who are not in compliance with the expectation of worthy conduct. These employees came to say that they were not in compliance, they had not been in compliance for years, they would not be in compliance, and what was the University going to do about it? President Bateman offered this as evidence that the new policy is already working, bringing people with problems out into the open. I pointed out that the University has always been able to deal with open defiance of the standards. [And what is the likelihood that these cases were previously unknown to the deans?]
I argued that, while it is appropriate to expect employees to be faithful, this policy of looking over everyone's shoulder biases people toward safe work, even in cases where the work does not have direct or obvious religious implications. Any path-breaking work leads people to see the world anew. This is threatening in itself to many people. A bias toward safe work necessarily interferes with our progress as a university, limiting our ability to challenge students to their fullest potential and to stimulate their greatest intellectual development, as well as restricting our contributions to the expansion of knowledge.
President Bateman did not agree that the policy could have a negative effect on the work of faculty members where that work is clearly separate from Church issues. He shares my assessment of the importance of pioneering work at BYU and of the necessity for reaching beyond "safe" work in the disciplines. He is confident that we will be able to do such work here. He expressed grati tude for the opportunity he has had to study at a university where the faculty were intellectually alive and to see a profes sor have insights in the classroom that changed the course they were teaching and led to important contributions in the disci pline. He expressed confidence that we can provide those experi ences for our students at BYU.
I then suggested that the University must always be supportive of the Church, but it must also be separate from the Church. There are many things that must take place in the classrooms, lecture halls, and theaters of the University for the benefit of the students' intellectual development that would not be appropriate in a Church setting. Yet some of these activities now stimulate complaints from the surrounding Church community because they do not understand these differences. I believe the line between University and Church has blurred too much and that this blurring now interferes with carrying out the mission of the University. I agree that the Church needs to define and defend its central doctrines, and the University needs to respect and assist that support of doctrine. But those central doctrines should consti tute a restricted set of issues, and it should be clearer than it is now that beyond those limits great freedom of thought and expression are appropriate.
President Bateman reaffirmed that BYU should be viewed as an arm of the Church. He does not share my view of the importance of maintaining a distinction between these institutions, even though he agrees that their missions differ. Rather, he thinks it is more important to emphasize their relatedness, even at the risk of blurring the distinctions, than to dwell on the separate mission of the University.
The meeting ended on just as cordial a note as it began.
[Brigham Young University President's letterhead]
I appreciated the opportunity of meeting with you a short time ago and read with interest the letter you sent to me after ward. There is one statement in your letter which is not accu rate. You thanked me for approving your statements to the press regarding the temple eligibility policy. If I remember cor rectly, my statement was that "you did not offend me personally by writing to the press."
You should understand, however, that your actions are not consistent with the spirit of this university. In that regard, the first point to be made is that the policy you are criticizing is not a policy initiated by the University but one initiated by the Board of Trustees for the entire Church Educational System. Since the Board of Trustees consists of the First Presidency and other general authorities, the temple eligibility policy and the review procedures have come from them.
For your benefit, I am enclosing an excerpt from a statement made by President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency on this matter. I think you will find it of great interest. I hope you understand that although your actions did not offend me personally, they were not actions of which I approve.
Again, I hope that you will understand my sincere desire to help you and that all of our desires are to make BYU a better university.
Merrill J. Bateman
Photocopies of title page and pages 276-7 and 272-3 from Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, First Counselor to Presidents John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow, Volume 2, 1974. (Selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist, published by Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah)
The three photocopied pages included in the top margin facsimile traces from "LDS HISTORICAL DEPT." on Friday, March 29, 1996, 11:34 am and from "CHURCH ADMIN BLDG 3RD FL" on Friday, March 29, 1996, 12:09 pm.
Highlighted in yellow along the left margin was the following paragraph from pp. 276-7 (ellipses in original):
OPPOSITION TO AUTHORITIES CAUSES APOSTASY. A friend . . . wished to know whether we . . . considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities of the Church was apostasy. . . . We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities constituted apostasy, for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apos tate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing these differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term.
We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the Authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adver sary would take advantage of him, and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church. (DEN, November 3, 1869)
Pp. 272-3 contained the following marked passage (ellipses in original):
A SYMPTOM OF APOSTASY. It is not for everyone to judge and condemn God's servants. It is against such a feeling that the warning is given, "Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm." [1 Chronicles 16:22.]
We have been taught from the beginning that one of the most dangerous symptoms of apostasy from the Church is speaking evil of the Lord's servants; whenever a spirit of this kind takes possession of one who is called a Latter-day Saint, it is sure to grieve the Spirit of God; it invites darkness to enter the mind, and, unless it is sincerely repented of, it causes apostasy to follow. For this reason, if for no other, our children should be taught from the time they are old enough to comprehend that they are treading upon slippery ground whenever they venture to criticise, censure or condemn those whom the Lord has chosen to be His servants.
Many think it is part of their privilege in the exercise of free speech to do this and this it is a sign of independence. But there is none of the true liberty of free speech in it; it becomes license and is offensive to the Lord. . . . Respect for authority should be constantly taught. . . . The Saints honor God; they honor the authority which He bestows; and in honoring that authority they honor those who bear it. This is the spirit of true independence, and it does not take away the least particle from the true dignity of manhood and womanhood. The Lord says: ". . . them that honour me I will honour, and they hat despise me shall be lightly esteemed." [1 Samuel 2:30.] (November 1, 1894, JI 29:668)
I have pondered long over your letter of earlier this month which included statements from President George Q. Cannon.
I have no desire to be out of harmony with the Church. Indeed, I have tried to comport myself both privately and in public accord ing to the principles of the gospel, including the following counsel which the First Presidency gave in an official message to the Church in 1910:
Free will, free thought, free speech, free action to the line of the liberty of others form an essential part of our faith and practise.
It is hard for me to understand that actions which I believe to be in harmony with this instruction from the First Presidency could be "not consistent with the spirit of this university."
I hope there is a fundamental misunderstanding at the basis of your letter to me. The excerpts from President George Q. Cannon on pp. 272-3, given while he was in the First Presidency, refer to judging or condemning "God's servants." I have expressed strong disagreement with a university policy, but I have not intended to show, nor do I believe I have shown, disrespect or judgment or condemnation of the General Authorities who guide this university. I have tried to be very careful to keep the discussion on the level of policy. I understand from the First Presidency statement quoted above that this level of discussion is not only to be permitted, but is "an essential part of our faith and practise."
The other excerpt from President Cannon, on pp. 276-7, that was highlighted in the copy you sent me, is much more clearly rele vant to my recent actions. Unfortunately, it is difficult to see how this statement, given while Elder Cannon was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, squares with the First Presidency instruc tion quoted above. And it is also difficult for me to see how this statement can be reconciled with the following, later statement by President Cannon when he was first counselor in the First Presidency:
There must be the greatest possible liberty of thought, of expression and of action in our midst -- that is the greatest possible consistent with good order, and the preservation of the rights of others. Liberty cannot be permitted to degenerate into license, but the utmost liberty can be enjoyed so long as it does not overstep that boundary. It becomes, therefore, a natural duty devolving upon us, with our views concerning these eternal principles that have come down from God, that were taught by God in the early ages unto man, that have been re-enforced from time to time by Him through the silent, unseen agency of His power in various ages -- I say it becomes our natural duty to see that these principles are carried out and maintained in the earth. We become their natural champions. Besides advocating and maintaining them, it becomes our province to strug gle for their supremacy. (JD 24:58-9, March 18, 1883)
In my study of Church teachings regarding the propriety of free expression about matters of policy, I find many additional statements endorsing free expression, like those quoted above. For example, President Joseph F. Smith as President of the Church, testifying under oath to the U. S. Senate in 1904:
The members of the Mormon Church are among the freest and most independent people of all the Christian denom inations. They are not all united on every principle. Every man is entitled to his own opinion and his own views and his own conceptions of right and wrong so long as they do not come in conflict with the standard principles of the church. (Smoot hearings, p. 98)
President Hugh B. Brown as first counselor in the First Presi dency made another such statement at BYU in 1969:
Preserve, then, the freedom of your mind in education and in religion, and be unafraid to express your thoughts and to insist upon your right to examine every proposition. We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts.
I repeat that I do not desire to be out of harmony with the Church. I have labored under the conviction that my actions have been in the spirit of the teachings of the First Presidency, as reflected in the sampling given above. Thank you for your clarification of our conversation. I see BYU as an institution that is necessarily separate from and fully supportive of the Church. I will continue to try to help Brigham Young University become the best it can be.