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The following document was prepared by a committee of the BYU Chapter
of the AAUP during the winter of 1996. This document poses some of the
problems with academic freedom for women at BYU.
Limitations on the Academic Freedom of Women
at Brigham Young University
Because Brigham Young University isowned and operated by the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church's leaders have largely determined
the attitudes and practices of the university. Those leaders, as well as the
university's administration, are all empowered men in the Mormon culture who
defines right and good by male standards. The experience of women often calls
those male-centered standards into question as incomplete or otherwise
As a result, Brigham Young University has a history of suppressing
scholarship and artistic expressions representing the experience of women. The
following list provides examples of some of the ways in which university
officials have acted over the past several years to silence women faculty and
staff and suppress their scholarship. University officials imply that their
actions with regard to women are taken to ensure that the university uphold the
doctrines and standards of the LDS Church. But the women they have silenced or
punished are also committed, faithful members of that Church (though the
leaders seem to see these women as less important than themselves).
comes down to a question of the right of representation: do Mormon women
scholars have the right to represent their own experience in their own voice,
or must representations of women and women's experience conform to a
male-formulated construct of that experience? This would seem to be an issue
of academic freedom that the Accreditation Committee might consider significant
in its evaluation of Brigham Young University.
**In 1992 the administration refused to hire candidate Barbara Bishop for a
faculty appointment in the English Department, although she was the choice of
the section, chair, and college dean for the position and had the full support
of her local ecclesiastical leaders. At the time she even headed the Primary
(the children's organization of the LDS Church) in her ward (congregation).
The reason the administration gave for not approving her hire was that 17
faculty members in the English Department (of a faculty of 75) did not vote in
favor of hiring her. Bishop's scholarship dealt with the works of African
American writer Zora Neal Hurston and other American women writers.
**In 1992, the LDS Church celebrated the sesquicentennial of the Relief
Society, the Church's organization for adult women. In conjunction with that
celebration, Professor Marie Cornwall, then the head of the BYU Women's
Research Institute, organized a scholarly conference on the Relief Society.
Because speakers at that conference criticized as well as praised the Relief
Society, Professor Cornwall was called in and censured by University Provost
Bruce Hafen for planning this conference and carrying it out.
**In 1992, the organizing committee of the BYU Women's Conference chose as the
keynote speaker for the 1993 conference Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, faithful Mormon
woman, recent Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Midwife's Tale: The Life of
Martha Ballard, and winner of a MacArthur Grant. Ulrich's book has been so
significant because she uses the twenty-year diary of Martha Ballard to
reconstruct late 18th-century New England history to include the experiences of
women. This study has made scholars of political, economic, social, and
medical history of the period revise their conclusions and include women's
contributions in their historical research. Brigham Young University's board
of trustees did not approve Ulrich to be a speaker for the women's conference.
Although both she and her ecclesiastical leaders tried to find out why she was
not approved, she was never given a reason.
**In 1993, the board of trustees fired the chair of the BYU women's conference,
Carol Lee Hawkins, from her position, even though during the six years she
directed the conference, attendance almost doubled and the conference received
an approval rating from participants who completed the exit questionnaire of
over 90 percent. To explain the firing, the Board suggested only that a change
of assignment was a good thing from time to time, as if this position were a
Church assignment rather than a paid university administrative position and
Hawkins's employment. Just after Carol Lee Hawkins was fired, a group of
women's studies faculty from across the university met with University Provost
Bruce Hafen and asked him about that action. He answered that Hawkins had not
been fired, that she had indicated that she wanted a change in assignment, and
that she was just moving to another position in the university. Hafen did
nothing to help Hawkins secure another position.
**In the summer of 1993 Provost Bruce Hafen tried to keep faithful Mormon woman
and historian Claudia Bushman from speaking in a week-long faculty seminar
sponsored by the Dean of Honors and General Education, although her husband
Professor Richard Bushman was approved to speak. When Hafen learned that the
Bushmans had both already been invited to participate, he required that Honors
Dean Harold Miller only advertise Richard Bushman.
**In 1993 the university terminated Professor Cecilia Konchar Farr after her
third-year review. Konchar Farr is a feminist activist who worked to educate
people about violence against women, who helped establish the feminist activist
student club Voice on campus, and who took a public pro-Choice position,
although she also said in her speech that she did not favor abortion and fully
supported the LDS First Presidency's position on abortion. She also had the
full support of her local ecclesiastical leaders as a faithful Mormon, worthy
to participate in all Church ordinances. At first the university tried to
represent Konchar Farr as an inadequate scholar and teacher, but after the
appeal hearing, an agreement was reached by which both sides were to say only
that there were "irreconcilable differences" between the administration and
Konchar Farr. Again, a woman professor's career was damaged, and the
university gave no satisfactory reason for that action. (The accreditation
committee might benefit from examining some of the files from the appeal of
that decision; these files are in the possession of Professor William A.
Wilson, Konchar Farr's advocate in the review proceedings and the chair of the
English Department when she was hired.)
**In 1994 candidate Marian Bishop Mumford was selected by the English
Department, with the full approval of the department chair and the dean of the
College of Humanities, for hire to the faculty of the BYU English Department.
Her Ph.D. dissertation was an examination of women's journals, including the
journal of Anne Frank, to demonstrate that women construct themselves most
authentically in their journals, because they consider themselves to be the
sole audience. A part of that study was to examine the ways in which Anne
Frank wrote about her body as a way to give herself identity at least in
language, in a culture that literally erased her from existence. Acting under
the instructions of Provost Bruce Hafen, Chair Neal Lambert told Bishop Mumford
that she would be hired only if she agreed to discontinue her current
scholarship. The candidate declined to come to Brigham Young University under
**In 1994 and 1995 Joni Clarke was selected from a large pool of applicants as
one of the two best candidates for an American literature faculty position in
the English Department. She had the full support of her local ecclesiastical
leaders and also university academic vice president Alan Wilkins, who called
her and interviewed her for over an hour to determine her worthiness to teach
at BYU. Her research deals with Native American texts, particularly those by
women. Provost Bruce Hafen did not approve her to be considered for hire.
**In 1995 Dorice Elliot was also selected from a large pool of applicants as
one of the two best candidates for a British literature faculty position in the
English Department. Her research deals with 19th century British literature by
women. She is greatly admired by her ecclesiastical leaders because of her
work as the Relief Society president in her congregation. Provost Bruce Hafen
did not approve her to be considered for hire. In both of the above-mentioned
cases, the faithfulness of these women to the Mormon Church was not in
question. Why, then, were they excluded from candidacy for hire at Brigham
Young University? The administration does not give reasons for its actions,
but we may perhaps look at this as part of the pattern of exclusion or
silencing of those who want to study women's experience from women's
**In 1995 Professors Karen E. Gerdes and Martha N. Beck were forbidden from
publishing the results of their study of the experiences of Mormon women
survivors of childhood sexual abuse who asked for help from their Mormon
ecclesiastical leaders. In the majority of cases, the advice these victims
received was damaging rather than helpful. Both professors have since left the
university; the study appeared in the Spring 1996 issue of Affilia, Journal of
Women and Social Work (Vol. 11, No. 1).
**In April 1996 Katherine Kennedy was chosen for an English Department faculty
appointment in Romanticism, the unanimous choice of the later British
literature section and with almost unanimous support from the department.
Kennedy was supported for hire by the dean and even the general authority who
interviewed her, as well as by her local ecclesiastical leaders. But the
administration rejected her. Kennedy's research examines images of motherhood,
including breastfeeding, in British Romantic poetry by women. Regarding the
decision not to hire Kennedy, University Academic Vice President Alan Wilkins
explained to the Department Advisory Council that the English Department could
assume there was something about Kennedy's feminism that the administration did
not approve of.
**There is only one university lecture named after a woman, the Alice Louise
Reynolds lecture. Money was raised to endow this lecture by Helen Stark, a
strong feminist and well-known member of the Mormon community. She herself
contributed approximately $15,000 to the endowment fund. Stark died two years
ago at the age of 89. In 1995 the committee selected Elouise Bell, a prominent
woman full professor to deliver that lecture. The administration not only
rejected the woman as the speaker; it informed the committee that Roger R.
Keller, a male associate professor from the Department of Religion, would be
the speaker. In 1996 the Alice Louise Reynolds lecture was not held.
**For several years women candidates for faculty employment at Brigham Young
University have been asked this question by the academic vice president: "If a
general authority [general leader of the Mormon Church] asked you not to
publish your research, what would you do?" It has been suggested to the
candidates that they must agree not to publish in such a case. This condition
of employment undermines the position of new women faculty members at Brigham
Young University. To be hired, they apparently must agree to let male
ecclesiastical leaders who are not trained in their disciplines have final
authority over the publication of their scholarship. They are offered no
review process to determine the fairness or accuracy of the authority's
request. Again, women are instructed that they must suppress their own
perspectives on their own experience or research if a male authority so directs
**In its entire seventy-five year history, a woman faculty member has never
been chosen to present BYU's distinguished faculty lecture.
The BYU AAUP Chapter will provide documentation of all of the above claims upon
request. We will obtain statements from or provide the Accreditation Committee
with the addresses and telephone numbers of the individuals named in this
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