Letter to Merrill Bateman, 13 March 1997
13 March 1997
Dear President Bateman:
In response to our letter of February 27 outlining concerns about requirements made of the five English-Department candidates for third-year review, Jim Gordon (5 March) stated that in his opinion the University was legally justified in its actions. He ignored everything we argued about the effects of this new policy on the academic life and morale of the university. In what follows, we will comment on Jim’s points and then reiterate what we believe to be compelling reasons for reconsidering a policy that will, in our opinion, not be in the best interest of this university.
Jim wrote that “because the English Department and College of Humanities review committees have asked to see any documents that the University Faculty Council will use as it considers the files, the candidates have been requested to include the documents in their files so that they can be reviewed by the committees at all levels.”
When Tom Plummer (chair of the College of Humanities advancement committee) and Doug Thayer (chair of the advancement committee of the English Department) met last year with the administration, they did not ask that candidates be required to include any and all documents relating to Mormonism, all theses directed, all student comments on evaluations. Does Jim’s reply mean that the University has always collected all that information and has routinely used it for rank and status decisions, without the knowledge of the candidates or department or college committees?
“The practice of review committees to request additional information when they have questions is well established,” Jim wrote. What are the questions here? Does the University council have the same questions for all five of these candidates and do the questions require the same documents? Are these five candidates, and none of the other candidates for advancement across the university, under suspicion?
Jim wrote that “the Faculty Council . . . is entitled to review the entire body of a candidate’s work if it chooses to do so.” How does the administration define “work”? If the faculty member is a physicist and gives a speech denouncing nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site, would you consider that “work”? If a faculty member in Engineering gave a talk in a sacrament meeting about Jesus and the Pharisees, would you consider that “work”? If a faculty member in Music read a paper at the Sunstone symposium on the science fiction of Orson Scott Card, would you consider that “work”?. There must be distinctions made between the work BYU faculty members do professionally and what they do in their private lives.
For a fuller argument of Jim’s point that “the rank and status policy does not require the Faculty Council to provide the candidates with a list of concerns,” see Fred Gedicks letter of 8 April 1996 in support of Gail Houston (copy included).
But finally, although these details are interesting and important, our concerns about the effects of this policy on the academic climate at BYU lie at the heart of our protest. We repeat:
The new policy has several serious drawbacks beyond its departure from established procedures:
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.
It provides the administration the opportunity to construct oversimplified sketches in place of the more informed and accurate portraits that members of a department construct through summary of their personal experience with the candidate.
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.
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 is rather an effort to control the academic pursuits of faculty and to punish.
This action will have an inhibiting effect on research on and discussion of Mormon topics.
We assume that you and the members of your administration are interested in these issues. But your short response providing “information” belies that assumption.
We remain committed to our belief that BYU will be a more vital and productive university if decisions are made in the context of vigorous debate and open processes.
Members of the BYU Chapter of the AAUP
cc AVP Alan Wilkins, AAVP Jim Gordon
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