Letter from National AAUP to President Bateman, October 1, 1996
October 1, 1996
Dr. Merrill J. Bateman
Brigham Young University
P.O. Box 21346
Provo, Utah 84602-1346
Dear President Bateman:
Dr. Gail Turley Houston, who has served as Assistant Professor of English at Brigham Young University, has sought the advice and assistance of the American Association of University Professors as a result of the letter of June 5, 1996, signed by the Associate Academic Vice President, the Dean of her College, and the Chair of her Department, informing her that the President and provost had decided against granting her continuing faculty status. We understand that Professor Houston appealed the decision to an appointed panel and that by letter of September 11 you informed her that you had accepted the panel’s recommendation that the decision be sustained.
The interest of this Association in Professor Houston’s case — requested also by the Brigham Young AAUP chapter officers as indicated in their letter to you of September 24 — stems from our longstanding commitment to academic freedom and tenure. The basic tenets are enunciated in the enclosed State of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, coauthored by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities and endorsed by over 150 professional organizations and learned societies. Derivative standards applicable to probationary faculty members are set forth in AAUP’s enclosed Statement on Procedural Standards in the Renewal or Nonrenewal of Faculty Appointments. Also relevant are Regulation 9 (“Academic Freedom and Protection against Discrimination”) and Regulation 10 (“Complaints of Violation of Academic Freedom or of Discrimination in Nonreappointment”) in our enclosed Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and tenure. We are familiar with Brigham Young University’s University Policy on Faculty Rank and Status: Professorial.
We wish, first to address a key concern with respect to procedure. As you know, Professor Houston was recommended for continuing status (or indefinite tenure) by the English Department, by its Chair, by the College Committee on Rank and Status, and by the Dean of the College. The University Council on Rank and Status, however, recommended against continuing status for Professor Houston, essentially on the grounds of “citizenship”; the Academic Vice President concurred, and you and the provost acted in accordance with the negative recommendation.
In moving to contest the decision, Professor Houston alleged that it resulted from considerations violative of her academic freedom and that it constituted discrimination against her on the basis of sex. Under the enclosed AAUP-supported standards, she should have been afforded opportunity to have these allegations heard by an elected faculty body and potentially in an adjudicative hearing of record. By contrast, Professor Houston’s appeal was directed to an administration-appointed panel of five persons, three of them administrators including the panel’s chair. In his pre-hearing response to Professor Houston’s appeal, the administration’s representative did not squarely address her complaints regarding academic freedom and discrimination, asserting that “the only issue before this panel is the reasonableness of the President’s decision.” In its recommendation that the decision be upheld, the panel, except for stating that its considerations included “more general concerns about the environment for women faculty on campus,” also did not address the issues of academic freedom and discrimination. Professor Houston’s allegations thus seem to have gone unrebutted and untested at the university.
With respect to discrimination issues, we understand that on September 23 Professor Houston filed a complaint with the Utah Industrial Commission’s Anti-Discrimination Division. Several additional complaints involving women at BYU have been brought to our attention over the last year or two. Suffice it for now for us to remark that we wonder whether the result for Professor Houston, were she not a woman, would have been the same.
With respect to academic freedom issues, the AAUP chapter’s September 24 letter to you includes the preliminary assessment that I sent to the chapter and to Professor Houston on August 15. A copy of the August 15 letter is enclosed for your convenience. We subsequently examined voluminous documentation that went into the record of Professor Houston’s appeal, and nothing that we have read leads us to modify our comments on the four areas of concern that we addressed. We would very much welcome having the university administration’s response to these concerns, and any other information you can provide that would add to our understanding of the decision to deny Professor Houston continuing faculty status, as we proceed to determine our further responsibilties in the matter.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Jordan E. Kurland
Associate General Secretary, AAUP
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