January 29, 1997
At the request of BYU's chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a panel of investigators appointed by the national AAUP came to the BYU campus this past week to examine issues of academic freedom at BYU. The panel spent Thursday January 23 through Saturday January 25 in Provo.
Long-time AAUP members and officers, Linda Pratt, Chair of the English Department at the University of Nebraska and Bill Heywood, Emeritus Professor of History at Cornell College met with more than 120 people while on campus.
The investigative committee heard from a wide range of BYU staff including administrators President Merrill Bateman, Alan Wilkins, Jim Gordon, and John Tanner; Professor Gail Houston; the authors of BYU's Statement on Academic Freedom; the present and past chairs of the Faculty Women's Association; approximately thirty-five faculty members and students who responded to the invitation for public discussion; Professor Houston's appeal panel; the 1995-1996 University Faculty Council on Rank and Status; administrators from the College of Humanities; and panels organized by the BYU AAUP Chapter working with the BYU administration dealing with Women and Academic Freedom, Hiring, Retention, Advancement, and Censorship.
The BYU AAUP chapter attempted to ensure that the national committee heard from all sides of the academic freedom issue at BYU. We scheduled every faculty and staff person and student who voiced interest by Wednesday afternoon for discussion with the committee. Beyond that, several late-comers were able to speak as well.
Representatives of our chapter also invited the BYU administration to provide us with a list of persons they wanted to talk with the committee. To the best of our knowledge, the investigative committee heard from every person on the administration's list. The meetings were professional and cordial as the committee gathered pertinent information.
Many who testified felt they were doing so at some risk to themselves, but felt it was important they be heard. A wide variety of opinion was expressed, and many individual stories were told. If any members of the BYU community have continuing interest in the process, they are invited to submit written comments to the AAUP investigative committee.
We have been asked repeatedly about what happens next. The national committee, which listened to involved parties and collected written documents, will now prepare a report on academic freedom at BYU. This report will be submitted to BYU officials for comment.
If the report suggests problems with academic freedom issues at BYU, we envision several possible outcomes. For example, the BYU administration and faculty could further refine the academic freedom document; instigate a program to clarify and make adjustments to the grievance process; further refine policies and procedures; etc.
In the event serious problems with academic freedom are found and our administration is unable to work out such problems with the AAUP, the possibility exists of a formal censure. We sincerely hope that this does not happen, for it would put us in the company of such academically peripheral institutions as Southwestern Adventist College (Texas), Southern Nazarene University (Oklahoma), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (North Carolina), University of Bridgeport, Stevens Institute of Technology (New Jersey), and Garland County Community College (Arkansas).
Good institutions are censured by the AAUP from time to time for single incidents (USC and NYU are currently on the list). Historically such universities work quickly and intensely to have the censure lifted, for the academic reputation and prestige of a college or university is at stake.
BYU is a fine university that over the years has developed a reputation for academic excellence in the context of religious faith. Members of our local AAUP chapter have been proud to make contributions to that reputation. We believe that our actions at this time continue to serve students and faculty at BYU, as well as the Church at large. Our opposition to current academic freedom policies, in short, is a loyal opposition. We will be a better university if we operate within a context of respect for and trust of multiple points of view.
Our BYU chapter has no disagreement with the proposition that a religious university should have the opportunity to suggest certain limitations to academic freedom. Our belief, however, is that such limitations must be narrow, well defined and clearly communicated. Furthermore, the limitations must be understood from the outset of employment. We do not feel these conditions have been met recently at BYU.
Finally, our local chapter wants to thank the BYU administration and individual professors and students who made the recent visit of the national AAUP investigative committee successful.
Contact persons (Members of the Board of Directors of the BYU Chapter of the AAUP):
Scott Abbott; 378-3207
Bill Evenson; 378-6078
Susan Howe 378-2363
Duane Jeffery 378-2155
Sam Rushforth; 378-2438
Brandie Siegfried 378- 8106