August 15, 1996
Professor Gail Turley Houston
105l Fir Avenue
Provo, Utah 84604
Dear Professor Houston:
We have examined the abundant written material that you and our AAUP chapter have shared with us regarding the decision not to grant you continuing faculty status at Brigham Young University. Our paramount interest in this kind of situation, as I am sure you know, relates to academic freedom, both the impact on your own academic freedom and the climate for academic freedom at the institution on whose faculty you have served. Our reading has left us with a very deep sense of concern, much of it already enunciated in the communications that the AAUP chapter submitted to President Bateman on June 27. Noting that a hearing on your appeal against the decision of the President and the Provost is still to occur but is scheduled for the immediate future, we think it appropriate to await the result of that hearing before, assuming the decision stands, conveying our concern directly to the chief administrative officers and inviting their response. Meanwhile, I want to provide you and our chapter officers with a preliminary assessment of the very troublesome issues of academic freedom that your case poses to us. I shall refer, not in any order of relative importance, to four such issues.
First, the available evidence strongly suggests that the university administration, while allowing the offering of courses dealing with feminism and postmodernism, and while engaging faculty members such as yourself who specialize in these areas, determined tnat your services should be terminated not because of any significant deficiency in your widely praised academic performance but because some few found your handling of the subject matter offensive to the teachings or traditions of the university's sponsoring church regarding the role of women in society.
Second, following positive recommendations based on your academic record on your candidacy for continuing status from your department and your college committees and administrators, the University Faculty Council on Rank and Status evidently rejected your candidacy on grounds of "citizenship," focusing on questions about your religious beliefs and orthodoxy that most would see as private and personal and simply not the business of persons charged with evaluating academic performance. This seems to us an especially troublesome concern for academic freedom in the case of someone, like yourself, who has reportedly been judged temple worthy and otherwlse in good standing by your responsible ecclesiastical superiors in your church.
Third, with respect to the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic freedom and Tenure and its premise that there can be limitations on academic freedom and tenure because of the institution's religious aims provided that the limits are set forth in writing, the authors of that document--university professors and university presidents--emphasized at the outset that any stated limitations must be narrowly crafted and precise. The limitations discussed in the Brigham Young University statement on academic freedom strike us as very far from precise, and we do not see them as notifying you adequately of parameters on your academic freedom in the areas or incidents in which shortcomings by you were subsequently alleged.
Fourth, there seem, after all, to have been a total of three incidents during your years on the faculty in which you said or did something publicly that later was cited as ground for concern about your "citizenship" in assessing your fitness for continuance on the faculty: what you wrote for Student Review. your Sunstone presentation, and the "White Roses" event (all of these dating back three or more years). Whether or not you may have crossed the line regarding the Bngham Young University expectations of adherence to academic freedom limitations in any of these incidents, if there was a transgression it seems to us to have been exceedingly slight. The finding of the University Faculty Council on Rank and Status, apparently endorsed by the administration, that these activities by you "not only have . . . failed to strengthen the moral vigor of the university, they have enervated its very fiber" tells us that the university administration's willingness and ability to stand up for academic freedom is weak indeed.
Please continue to keep us informed.
Jordan E. Kurland
cc: Professor Scott Abbott, President