BYU University Conference

BYU University Conference

For those who are interested here is my report and critique of Bateman’s (1997) speech at the opening session of BYU’s University Conference. I discuss the part dealing with the AAUP report first and in the most detail because this is the part most of you are probably interested in, but there were other parts of the speech that were equally troubling. I didn’t take notes because I knew that the speeches would be made available, so my report is based on my memory and some of the details may be wrong.

I went to Monday’s opening session of the University Conference because David was receiving an award. We were seated on the second row of the floor, so we were quite close and I watched the faces of the speakers closely as they spoke. As Bateman gave the AAUP part of his speech his tone was self-righteous, indignant, and paranoid, and his facial expressions reflected these emotions.

After briefly stating that the AAUP (American Association of University Professors–a group that defends academic freedom) had investigated BYU at the request of the local chapter in regard to the firing of Gail Houston, Bateman said that he could not address the issues of academic freedom raised by the AAUP because BYU had agreed to keep its response to the AAUP report confidential until the publication of the report and response in the Sept/Oct issue of AAUP’s journal “Academe.” Then he said that this agreement had been violated by a speech at Sunstone. I use the passive here because I’m not sure whether or not Bateman accused the Sunstone speaker of violating the agreement or if he meant that someone from the AAUP violated the agreement in giving the draft of the report to the Sunstone speaker. He wasn’t clear about this, but I was wondering how a Sunstone speaker could violate an agreement between the AAUP and BYU’s administration. Probably Bateman didn’t want to be clear about this because the implication thoughout was that the Sunstone speaker had done something bad and I’m sure this was the impression that he wanted to give. At first I thought he was referring to Gail Houston’s speech, which I had heard. I remembered that she had referred to the AAUP report which would be appearing in “Academe,” and which would censure BYU. (I don’t remember exactly what Gail said, but Vern Anderson’s article on Bryan Waterman’s speech says that the report and BYU’s response will appear in “Academe” and then the AAUP’s delegates will vote in June on whether to censure BYU. Because the report finds a “widespread pattern of infringements on academic freedom in a climate of oppression and fear of reprisals,” censure is “virtually certain” according to the AP article.)

As Bateman continued it became clear that he was referring to Bryan’s speech on BYU and the AAUP and Vern Anderson’s AP article about it. I had read the AP article but missed Bryan’s speech, so that’s probably why I didn’t think of it right away. (I ordered the tape but haven’t gotten it yet.) Bateman did mention both Bryan’s and Vern’s names later in his speech. He stressed the violation of confidentiality accusation in order to call the integrity, motives, and honesty of BYU critics into question. As I recall, Vern Anderson was also implicated in this accusation, but it was nothing but a red herring designed to distract attention from the real issue which is BYU’s infringements on academic freedom. Neither Bryan nor Vern was under any obligation to keep the contents of the draft of the report confidential. They would only be under such an obligation if they had promised to do so. Accusing church critics of violating confidentiality (while the Church remains oh so pure in this regard) is a tactic often used by church spokesmen to discredit church critics.

Bateman also severely criticized Vern Anderson’s AP article for errors and inaccuracies. The lead-in to the article was a story about David Babbel, a professor who was recruited by BYU’s business school. All of the inaccuracies Bateman pointed out were from this story. The rest of the article, which is quite long, quotes from the draft of the AAUP report, discusses Bryan’s talk, and gives quotes from Alan Wilkins, academic vice-president, and Scott Abbot, co-founder of BYU’s AAUP chapter. Bateman quoted extensively from a letter sent to him by Babbel. Babbel said that he had never been contacted by either Anderson or Waterman. (Bryan has pointed out that he didn’t discuss the Babbel case at all, but both Bateman and Babbel assumed he did. It’s hard to get all these details right.) Anderson’s article alleged that Bateman had “pulled out all the stops to reruit Babbel” and had met with him in New York to discuss BYU’s offer. Babbel said that Bateman had not been involved at all in the recruitment. I don’t remember whether it was Bateman or Babbel, but one of them admitted that they had met in NY, but the meeting was not arranged and it was not about Babbel’s being offered a position at BYU. Babbel also said that BYU did not make him a job offer, that if all the stops had been pulled out, he would have come to BYU. This letter was very political. It had a “good ol’ boy” tone and Babbel commiserated with Bateman about the woes of being a public figure and having inaccurate stories about him appearing in the press.

Bateman’s purpose in quoting this letter was obviously to cast doubts on the accuracy of the press in general and to malign Anderson in particular. I have had several interviews with Vern and I respect his honesty and integrity. He was very accurate in quoting me and he didn’t make any errors in any of the articles he wrote about me. I once gave him some information which I asked him to keep confidential and he did, although it would have made a good story. Tuesday morning’s Tribune article by Peggy Stack about Bateman’s speech quoted Anderson as saying that he tried to contact both Babbel and Bateman, but they were both on vacation. He says that he had two independent sources for the story on Babbel.

If the alleged inaccuracies of Anderson’s article are examined, they are seen to be minor, irrelevant to the purpose of telling the story, and peripheral to the main subject of the article, which is problems with academic freedom at BYU. All of the errors Bateman pointed out were from the Babbel story, and the main points of the story remain true: Babbel was recruited by BYU and he decided not to go there. If BYU did not make him a formal offer it was probably because he cut the process short before they got to that point. Babbel did not deny the reasons that Anderson gave for his turning down BYU’s overtures, so we can assume they are true. I am wondering why Babbel is worried about academic freedom at BYU. He obviously knows how to prove his loyalty.

Bateman also said some negative things about people who “go to the press.” He said they distort BYU’s policies and embellish the facts. There are people who oppose BYU’s mission and seek to undermine it, he said. He seems to be unwilling or unable to understand that there are legitimate differences in the interpretation of this mission and how to implement it. Although Bateman did not explicitly state this, he implied that the members of BYU’s AAUP are among those who oppose BYU’s mission. I regard this implication, not only as ignorant and stupid, but also as dishonest and malicious. I have read most of the communications of BYU’s AAUP with the BYU administration, and the good will of these people and their commitment both to BYU’s mission and academic freedom is unmistakeable.

Both Henry Eyring (the other speaker–his speech could be characterized by a quote from my son Nephi’s Sunstone talk. “The burden of infallibility is very great.”) and Bateman have the same interpretation of BYU’s mission and they give the same rationale for the temple worthiness requirement for faculty. They see this requirement as integral to BYU’s mission. Their rationale goes something like this: BYU’s mission is to integrate spiritual learning wth other kinds of learning. This is done by requiring that all teaching be done by the spirit. In order to have the spirit a person must live worthily by keeping the commandments, obeying and being loyal to church leaders, holding orthodox views, etc. If a person does all these things he or she will have the spirit and the spirit will aid him or her in discovering and teaching secular knowledge. This help will enable BYU faculty and students to surpass all others in discovering, teaching, and learning truth. This same rationale is taught at the MTC (you must keep the rules so that you can have the spirit) and a counselor in BYU’s Honor Code office explained these same ideas to one inquiring student about why the Honor Code is necesary.

After the speeches were over I said to David, “They’re trying to co-opt the Holy Spirit.” Their ideas are insidious, coercive, deceitful, and possibly even blasphemous. They seem to think that the spirit, that bloweth where it listeth, that is radically egalitarian, that honors the free agency of every person, will help them maintain control of the institution and regulate and control people’s thoughts and actions. If you want to see smoke coming out of my ears, just get me going on this topic. They have turned the ideal of teaching by the spirit into a justifcation of legalism. They would deserve some kind of prize for cleverness in proving the impossible if their ideas weren’t so spiritually damaging.

Bateman made a good statement about the importance of freedom of belief. Then he said that although academic freedom is important, it is necessary to put some restictions on it in order to fulfill the mission of the university. He didn’t seem to think that there needed to be any discussion about whether the restrictions took away or severely limited academic freedom or whether they were necessary to or even helpful in fulfilling the university’s mission. He seemed to believe that the only important question about the restrictions is whether they are clear and faculty can reasonably be expected to know what they are. Since this was one of the important issues raised in the AAUP investigation, I guess Bateman forgot that he had agreed not to discuss the issues. On the other hand, Alan Wilkins, as quoted in the AP article, seems to think it is important that the restrictions remain “ambiguous” in some places. For him the important issue is “trust between the university and its overwhelmingly LDS faculty.”

Bateman began his speech by talking about the value of knowledge. He expressed some good ideas, though not in any new or particularly insightful ways. He used scriptural examples of seeking knowledge to support his views. One of his examples showed an insensitivity to the plain sense of the text. He gave the example of Eve partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order to become like the gods as a positive model to show the importance of seeking knowledge. He did this without any sense of ambiguity or paradox, seemingly unaware that the text presents this as a sin, as something forbidden by God. (He also seems not to have heard that we’re no longer supposed to aspire to godhood–at least not publicly.) Maybe he was just trying to be gender-inclusive by citing a positive female role model. Or maybe the hidden message is that if strong women seek forbidden knowledge at BYU they will be cast out of the garden.

Janice Allred