Letter of Resignation from BYU; Brian Evenson


8/13/1996

Brian Evenson
Department of English, 205 Morrill
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078

Open letter addressed to Jay Fox, Chair
Department of English, 3146 JKHB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602

Dear Jay,

Though I respect many of the faculty and students at Brigham Young, I do not feel that BYU fosters the academic freedom and exploration which are necessary to a university environment. Indeed, I feel that many of BYU's administrators, as well certain members of the faculty and some of the students, are taking action and imposing restrictions which severely stifle academic freedom. BYU provides a climate in which academic inquiry is not allowed unless it is restricted within unacceptably narrow parameters. All indications suggest that these parameters will continue to narrow.

I have very specific objections to Brigham Young University's current policies. For instance:

--Though I do not object to temple worthiness, I object to the way in which temple worthiness is now being enforced. I feel the policy will lead on the one hand to hypocrisy and on the other to the lessening of the enjoyment many BYU faculty members will receive from attending the temple and from paying their tithing.

--I feel that BYU creates a hostile work environment for women: women who are scholars and women involved in cultural studies and gender studies in particular. I feel that BYU's harassment of the women's organization Voice-- as well as President Bateman's and the administration's attack of the nationwide clothesline project --show a lack of understanding of and sympathy toward abuse. I am not willing to participate, even passively, in the maintenance of such an environment.

--I feel that President Bateman's unwillingness to acknowledge the AAUP Academic Freedom Association is reflective of BYU's larger unwillingness to allow academic freedom in certain areas.

--I believe the continuing status review process as it currently stands is dishonest and manipulative. I feel this in particular in Gail Houston's case, in which documents were introduced after the departmental and college level reviews without Gail having a chance to respond to them. I feel that faulty conclusions were drawn --as far as I can tell purposefully. Data that showed Gail to be a dedicated teacher and scholar, as well as a strong spiritual support to students, was interpreted counterproductively. I feel that if I returned to Brigham Young I could not depend on a fair and honest continuing status review.

--I do not feel that I can depend upon your support as a chair. I feel that this is made clear by the way in which you handled Gail's case.

--I have been shocked at the willingness of both President Lee and President Bateman to make uninformed statements in both public and private about the inappropriate nature of my book, particularly when Lee claimed that BYU's process would leave judgement of the book to people trained in literature. Despite all claims made for a fair review process, the administration has already made up its mind. In the case of both presidents, their comments demonstrate that if they have read my book at all, they have read it in only a cursory fashion.

--I feel that Brigham Young University has been dishonest in regard to the anonymous letter that was sent to a general authority criticizing my work. First I was asked to respond to the letter and then, several months after I did so, it was claimed that the anonymous letter was of no importance. Later, BYU disingenuously gave the press the impression that they had arranged for me to meet with the anonymous student and that I even had already done so. In fact, no meeting was ever arranged or planned, despite several requests on my part.

--I am also somewhat disappointed that though the English Department has strong proof that a particular professor has written letters to the General Authorities about myself and others, and has had repeated violations of standards, nothing has been done about him. I think it a profound weakness of the department and of BYU in general that, though you scold such people and warn them, you seem unwilling to fire them. Yet you show no such compunction about releasing scholars such as Gail Houston for reasons which are flimsy and insufficiently substantiated at best.

All this is further complicated by the fact that a General Authority is now the President of the University. Many Mormons teaching at BYU believe it wrong to question the decisions of a General Authority, and many will be unwilling to tell him when he is making poor decisions. I think that in his actions and decisions Merrill Bateman has demonstrated both a willingness to further compromise academic freedom and a lack of understanding of academics and what it takes to run a university effectively. His comments and speeches have made me feel that he is either uninformed or wrongly informed on current trends in academia. I feel that under his leadership BYU can only get worse.

I would not be proud to remain at Brigham Young University. I am not proud of the negative reputation that the BYU English Department is gaining in the profession at large. I am not pleased with the way BYU treats its faculty. I feel that its current policies and attitudes do great damage not only to faculty but to students. For this reason, I am tendering my resignation as an assistant professor of Brigham Young University, effective immediately.

Sincerely,

Brian Evenson


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