Letter to Merrill Bateman, February 27, 1997
February 27, 1997
Dear President Bateman:
This is our first attempt to communicate with you since our meeting at the end of January at which you emphasized your “open door policy” and expressed your desire to work with us in the future.
It has come to our attention that the University Council on Rank and Status has asked that five third-year review candidates in the English Department add to their files all student evaluation summaries, all student comments, all theses worked on, texts of all speeches, panel discussions, etc., made at symposia, conferences, and forums dealing with Mormon issues, and texts of all material published on Mormon issues.
According to the policies established in the “University Policy on Faculty Rank and Status: Professorial”:
7.4 It is the candidate’s responsibility to develop a file that is professional and complete as defined in this document. [Emphasis added. There is nothing in the document or in the “Checklist for . . . Documentation” that even suggests anything like what is now being required.]
7.5 Candidates should make available in the departmental office copies of other books, peer-reviewed articles, other publications or other written materials which the faculty member has authored, edited, or otherwise contributed to . . . which are to be considered for evaluation. [Emphasis added. The document and the “Checklist” require “a list of all scholarly work (refereed journal articles and technical publications. . .),” and clearly not copies of remarks made on panels or non-scholarly writing in Mormon-related publications.]
7.6 The faculty member should provide a complete file but use discretion, because the file itself is an indication of a faculty member’s professional maturity. The faculty member is particularly encouraged to avoid the inclusion of extraneous or non-substantial evidence, and to keep the file at a minimum size consistent with a complete, relevant presentation. [Emphasis added. The newly required documents fall under “extraneous or non-substantial evidence” and are not relevant.]
7.7 The department chair should request student evaluations of faculty teaching for each course taught. . . . Care should be taken to insure that a representative sample of students is obtained. [The department chair is instructed to read these and summarize them, not to provide all of them to the university.]
The policy clearly does not require “all student evaluation summaries” or “all student comments.” There is no requirement that student theses be included in the file. And there is no mention of texts of all speeches and panel discussions made at symposia, conferences, and forums dealing with Mormon issues or texts of all material published on Mormon issues. This is an unannounced, ad hoc requirement that has not been reviewed by the university community as a whole and that goes counter to the spirit and letter of university procedures.
The new policy has several serious drawbacks. It places an unreasonable burden on the candidate to supply large amounts of material. It will come between students and their thesis advisors, inhibiting the very inquiry a thesis is meant to promote. And, as the following historical note suggests, it provides the administration the opportunity to construct oversimplified portraits in place of the more informed and accurate portraits that members of a department construct through summary of their personal experience with the candidate.
Kent Harrison, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, reports that his father, Bertrand F. Harrison, who taught botany at BYU for 45 years, headed the University Teaching Committee for several years, at President Wilkinson’s request. Student evaluations of teaching were instituted about that same time (late 1960’s). His father insisted that teaching evaluations be made available only to the faculty member him/herself and to the department chair, who had the best information about a faculty member’s individual circumstances.
More distanced readers of a few excerpted student comments, the argument went, will invariably form a false picture of a candidate (note the use that was made of such excerpts from Gail Houston’s evaluations).
Because the change is apparently aimed solely at five faculty members in the English Department, we are concerned that the university is not following its own wish to maintain balance and consistency in the rank and tenure process. We are concerned that such expansive and intrusive gathering of information will send the message that the rank and status procedure is not intended to discover the quality and breadth of the candidates’ thinking, but rather an effort to control the academic pursuits of faculty and to punish.
Does your administration understand what effect this new request will have on present and potential members of the BYU community?
What will this mean for the supposed “extra academic freedom” we enjoy here to speak and do research on Mormon issues? Will this become the one university in the country where no one will be willing to risk working on Mormon topics? In this climate, what faculty member would ever be willing to speak on any issue that might at some future time be deemed to be controversial by some future authority?
Finally, while we hold strongly to the opinion that it is a change of policy and improper to request these additional materials from the English Department candidates, in the event that such materials were to be supplied, another serious problem arises in requesting that candidates comment on the materials to help put them in context.
Since the University Council has not carefully specified the reasons for this request, the comments from the candidates will be made only on the basis of their speculations about the Council’s potential concerns. These comments could miss the mark and actually raise new questions that the Council has not contemplated, thus putting a loyal candidate, who is trying to do the right thing, in the position of inadvertently creating problems for himself or herself. This is unacceptable in any respectable system of policies and rules created for the protection of the faculty as well as the institution. Having said this, we repeat that it is not acceptable for the University Faculty Council on Rank and Status to make any request for documents outside those required by established procedures, and that such a requirement violates the candidates’ academic freedom.
We ask you to carefully consider the appropriateness of the request from the Rank and Status committee and direct them in the proper way to proceed.
Members of the BYU Chapter of the AAUP
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