BYU (Brigham Young University) and academic freedom – the aaup and BYU

BYU (Brigham Young University) and academic freedom – the aaup and BYU

In the 9/15/97 Denver Post:

(AP writer)

The climate for academic freedom at Brigham Young University is “distressingly poor” and infringements widespread, the American Association of University Professors said in a report issued today.

A 19-page report by an AAUP committee that probed the firing of a professor and academic freedom issues at the Mormon Church owned university was published in the September-October issue of the AAUP journal Academe.

The 45,000 members of AAUP, national faculty group committed to academic freedom on campuses, are to vote next June on whether to censure BYU’s administration.

Such a censure would not threaten BYU’s accreditation but would be a blow to its prestige in the academic community.

The report concluded that the large number of cases charging violations of academic freedom suggest “a widespread pattern of infringements on academic freedom in a climate of oppression and fear of reprisals.”

Administration efforts to protect orthodoxy at BYU-particularly when it comes to feminist and Mormon studies-hinder professors from staying current in their disciplines, the report said.

The university violated former English Professor Gail Turley Houston’s academic freedom when it refused to give her continuing status, BYU’s version of tenure, the AAUP said. The administration had accused Houston of attacking BYU in speeches at a nonchurch sponsered forum on Mormon studies, and in Student Review, a non-campus newspaper.

Alan Wilkins, academic vice president, wrote in a letter to faculty and staff Friday that the university did not violate Houston’s academic freedom but that she had violated the university’s policy by “publicly contradicting…church doctrine and deliberately attacking the church.”

In BYU’s response to the AAUP report, also published in Academe, the university said AAUP is not living up to its own statement that religious universities can place limitations on academic freedom to preserve their religious missions.

Wilkins said BYU rejects “AAUP’s goal to impose a secular model on religious universities.”

In their rebuttal to the 17-page AAUP report, school officials cited the following excerpt from a 1994 speech Houston made at the Sunstone Symposium, an independent annual gathering in Salt Lake City that invites analysis of the Mormon Church.

“The LDS Church seeks to silence its members who are having visions of Mother in Heaven. In effect, women are being told by their Mormon pastors to deny their own visions of God. . . . I did not know my Mother-in-Heaven until a just a few years ago — and I ask why would my church want me to forget her or deny her — I cannot and will not do that.”

BYU officials said those words leave little question Houston violated school policy.

“Professor Houston was saying that the church is wrong on the issue of praying to Heavenly Mother,” BYU officials state in their rebuttal. “To assert that this was not advocacy is simply implausible.”

The AAUP report also castigates BYU for several other cases in recent years, including the firing of Professor Steven Epperson, who fell out of favor with his bishop for failing to attend church on Sundays. Epperson said he spent that time with his family feeding homeless people in Salt Lake City.

Several other cases of academic freedom violations are mentioned in the AAUP report, though investigators said they heard so many complaints during their interviews with more than 100 individuals that not every one was outlined.

“I was surprised by the number of cases that came to our attention,” said AAUP investigator Linda Pratt, a professor at the University of Nebraska. “Usually, when AAUP comes to a campus, we know about one or possibly two very troubling cases, but with BYU, there was just a flood of them.”