Brigham Young University Leader Stresses Role of Faith
Tuesday, August 26, 1997
BYU Leader Stresses Role of Faith
BY PEGGY FLETCHER STACK
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Brigham Young University President Merrill Bateman, quoting from Mormon scripture and prophets, on Monday emphasized once again the school’s unique religious mission.
Speaking at the annual University Conference for administrators and faculty, Bateman said “all truth is spiritual . . . the search for sacred and secular truth is enhanced by a spiritual environment.”
He excoriated those who “are opposed to BYU’s mission and have an agenda to undermine it.”
Last spring an investigating committee from the American Association of University Professors spent time on the BYU campus interviewing faculty and administrators to determine if principles of academic freedom had been violated by the 1996 firing of English Professor Gail Houston for, among other things, her feminist views and statements about praying to a Mother in Heaven.
The AAUP’s report, with an accompanying BYU response, is due out in the September/October issue of Academe, AAUP’s bulletin.
In his speech, Bateman said that all universities seek to discover truth, organize those discoveries, store knowledge for current and future generations and teach truth to students. To those four goals, BYU adds a fifth: “Students are taught how to live for the eternities.”
The school “would be handicapped in the search for truth if the condition of faithfulness was eliminated,” Bateman said, referring to the fact that all BYU faculty, staff and students must meet standards of behavior and belief required to enter Mormon temples. The great majority of professors and students at the LDS Church-owned school are members of The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints.
Misunderstandings about the school and its purposes abound in the nation, Bateman said.
In particular, he cited an Associated Press report of a speech on academic freedom at BYU that was published in many newspapers, including the Ogden Standard-Examiner and LDS Church-owned Deseret News, on Aug. 10. The Salt Lake Tribune had its own story on the speech.
In the AP story, writer Vern Anderson described the school’s attempt to recruit David Babbel, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Anderson wrote that, despite being an LDS bishop, Babbel declined BYU employment because of the school’s temple-eligibility requirement and “troubling record on issues of academic freedom.”
Bateman said shortly after the story appeared he received a letter from Babbel, saying Anderson’s article had numerous errors in it. The letter, as quoted by Bateman, also said Anderson had never contacted him.
Anderson told The Tribune Monday that he attempted to reach both Bateman and Babbel at the time he wrote the story, but both were on vacation.
He also said that his account of BYU’s recruitment of Babbel was based on two independent sources.
“If it proves after talking to Professor Babbel to have been an error, I will file a corrective,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s story is “typical of other press articles dealing with BYU personnel issues which have appeared in recent years,” Bateman said in his speech. “The stories are generally embellished well beyond the facts and are used to distort university policies and actions.”
Despite outside pressure, however, BYU will not abandon its religious emphasis.
“The mission of the university was defined 120 years ago by a prophet of God,” Bateman said. “There has been no deviation since nor will there be.”