BYU AAUP: Accreditation Information

BYU AAUP: Accreditation Information

The following document was prepared by members of the BYU AAUP for submission to the Northwest Accreditation Association during the spring of 1996. This document was designed to represent the point of view of the BYU AAUP regarding issues of academic freedom at BYU during the past few years. We wanted to have the accreditors hear an alternative point of view during their period of examination of BYU for reaccreditation.

5 March 1996



While the details are numerous and complicated, our argument is simple. BYU has, in recent years, not adhered to the following principles stated in the Accreditation Handbook (1994 Edition) of the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges:

1. p. 7, item 3: “An institution owned by or related to an outside agency, such as a church . . . should ensure that it maintains an atmosphere in which intellectual freedom and independence exist.”

2. p. 8, item 13 and p. 133, item 2: which require that “reasonable limitations on freedom of inquiry or expression which are dictated by institutional purpose” be “published candidly.”

3. p. 67, top: “Faculty security should also be implemented through faculty tenure provisions and safeguards for academic freedom.”

4. p. 126, Institutional Integrity: “A college or university is an institution of higher learning. Those within it have as a first concern evidence and truth rather than particular judgments of institutional benefactors, concerns of churchmen, public opinion, social pressure, or political proscription.

“Relating to this general concern corresponding to intellectual and academic freedom are correlative responsibilities. On the part of trustees and administrators there is the obligation to protect faculty and students from inappropriate pressures or destructive harassments.”

The following brief examples indicate that for approximately the last six years BYU has become increasingly less open to differences of opinion and more inclined to control faculty and student expression and behavior.

Over the course of five years these progressive changes have appeared, with no previous discussion, in faculty contracts:

— 1992 contracts, for the first time, included language to the effect that “Faculty who are members of BYU’s sponsoring Church also accept the spiritual and temporal expectations of wholehearted Church membership.”

— 1993 contracts changed this phrase to the more specific “LDS faculty also accept as a condition of employment the standards of conduct consistent with qualifying for temple privileges.”

— And in 1996 it was announced that employees’ ecclesiastical leaders would be required to report yearly on whether employees were in fact “temple worthy.”

MacArthur Fellow, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Harvard Professor of History, and Mormon Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, with no explanation and no chance for discussion, was declared unfit to give the keynote address at the 1993 BYU Women’s Conference and has not been allowed to speak on campus since. Other speakers have been similarly disqualified without comment or discussion.

Candidates for faculty positions (all of whom must be approved by the administration before being invited to campus) are routinely turned down without explanation and with no chance for departments to argue their cases. This has been especially egregious recently in the English Department.

The administration has repeatedly responded to allegations made in anonymous letters about faculty members by alerting deans and department chairs and requiring faculty to respond to the charges, although there is no chance to face the accuser and no due process. Accusations that have caused faculty trouble (from contracts not being renewed to general intimidation to time lost answering the charges) include complaints about books being used in courses, plays performed, art exhibited, references to evolution, mention of population issues, politicizing the classroom (feminism, postmodernism, and environmentalism are three of the favorites), and a range of theological issues.

We have chosen to document extensively three of the most troubling cases in which young faculty members have been forced to leave BYU, cases that received much press coverage, that evoked protests on campus, and in the aftermath of which other faculty left the university as well (most prominently Hal Miller, then Dean of Honors and General Education, Tomi-Ann Roberts, assistant professor of Psychology, William Davis, assistant professor of German, Martha Bradley, assistant professor of History, and Martha Nibley Beck, assistant professor of Sociology).

In two of the cases (David Knowlton, Cecilia Konchar-Farr) University administrators acted improperly to terminate the employment of the faculty member. Rather than forthrightly stating that BYU faculty may not take a personal pro-choice position in abortion debates (Konchar-Farr) or that discussion of the Church missionary system in the independent Mormon forum of Sunstone is unacceptable (Knowlton), the administration argued that because of inadequate scholarship the two professors should not be advanced to candidacy for tenure. The following documents, including the reports of an ad-hoc academic freedom committee, letters by department chairs and others about the review process and specific cases, and the professors’ own statements, substantiate the claim that contrary to official statements, the two professors were at least as academically productive as others who passed the same review, and that the standard third-year review process was suddenly and drastically changed for specific political ends.

The third case (Brian Evenson) did not play itself out because Evenson left the university to take another job, but it too was a case in which the administration moved to undermine a fair review process.

Although the administration worked to make it appear that standard procedures of faculty governance were followed in each case, there are indications (Rex Lee’s statements after the appeals, English-Department-Chair Jay Fox’s memo) that decisions were made at the behest of a member or members of the BYU Board of Trustees (in Evenson’s case as the result of an anonymous letter denouncing him to the Board), but in no case was the faculty member given a chance to speak with members of the Board, and there was no evidence that the administration, rather than simply carrying out orders, argued the respective faculty member’s case with the Board of Trustees or seriously took into account the points made during the appeals process. The outcomes were foregone conclusions

In saying this about members of the administration and our Board of Trustees, in presenting this documentation at all, we run the risk of being dismissed from the university (without appeal to anyone other than the prosecutors of the case — see below) on the charge that our behavior or expression seriously and adversely affects the University mission or the Church. Examples would include expression with students or in public that: 1. Contradicts or opposes, rather than analyzes or discusses, fundamental Church doctrine or policy; 2. Deliberately attacks or derides the Church or its general leaders. . . . The ultimate responsibility to determine harm to the University mission or the church, however, remains vested in the University’s governing bodies — including the University president and central administration and, finally, the board of Trustees. (Statement on Academic Freedom at Brigham Young University)

The three cases we document here are examples of actions by our administration that have contributed to a climate of distrust and fear on campus. It is virtually impossible to criticize decisions of those who run the University without being branded “advocates of the adversary” (Pres. Bateman, Daily Universe Interview) and thus being defined as those whose actions seriously and adversely affect the University’s mission.

We see our role in quite different terms, as the kind of open and productive criticism and argumentation that foster good thinking and moral decision making. We founded the BYU Chapter of the AAUP last year hoping to contribute constructively to a University to which we are devoted and to which we have given our best efforts over many years. We present the following information in that spirit.

Members of the BYU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors

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