12 Questions for Rodney Smith

July 13, 2004 | 62 comments
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Rodney Smith, the president of Southern Virginia University, has agreed to participate in our next installment of 12 Questions. Smith took over as president of SVU in June 2004, after serving at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law (University of Memphis) as the Interim Dean and Herff Chair of Excellence in Law. Among other positions, he has been a law professor and administrator at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Capital University Law and Graduate Center, and the University of Montana School of Law. He was also the City Attorney in Bishop, CA for two years. Smith received a Doctorate in Juridical Science from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a graduate of BYU’s law school.

He has published many articles, primarily in the fields of sports law (Title IX) and Church and State. Here is his article on the First Amendment and Section 134, given at the 2002 LDS Perspectives on Law conference at BYU.

For those of you that may not know, since 1996 Southern Virginia University has been an independent, private, four-year college for Mormons. They have a BYU-style honor code, and even offer $3,000 “scholarships” for returned missionaries. Their Fall 2004 enrollment is 576, and they have been growing fairly rapidly since 1996.

Please submit your questions for President Smith by July 23.

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62 Responses to 12 Questions for Rodney Smith

  1. danithew on July 13, 2004 at 8:08 pm

    “our next installment of 12 questions …”

    I obviously am a Times and Seasons newbie because this is the first time I’ve seen this sort of thing but I think it’s a great idea. I can’t wait to see what kind of questions are chosen to be answered.

  2. Kaimi on July 13, 2004 at 8:18 pm

    For the prior installments, see HERE

  3. Greg on July 13, 2004 at 8:20 pm

    To be fair, this is only our third installment. But I highly recommend checking out the others here.

  4. Jim F. on July 13, 2004 at 10:11 pm

    Or you could look here.

  5. Bob Caswell on July 13, 2004 at 10:13 pm

    This may be a simple or a complicated question. What exactly is the relationship between the Church and this university? Is it like BYU? Or different?

    I’ve only heard good things about Southern Virginia University. I hear it’s BYU without the arrogance, bureaucracy, and rule-centered mentality.

  6. Steve Evans on July 13, 2004 at 10:24 pm

    Is SVU the product of mormons who were frustrated because their kids didn’t get into BYU? To what extent does SVU aspire to go beyond a simple BYU-replacement?

    Separate question: How does SVU prioritize academic freedom vs. teachings in accordance with Church doctrine?

  7. Kristine on July 13, 2004 at 10:41 pm

    “I hear it’s BYU without the arrogance, bureaucracy, and rule-centered mentality.”

    Hmmm. My brother, who led the (surprisingly bitter) fight to keep Dr. Pepper in the vending machines at SVU, might tell you a different story :)

  8. Kaimi on July 13, 2004 at 10:56 pm

    “How does SVU prioritize academic freedom vs. teachings in accordance with Church doctrine?”

    What, you mean that they aren’t always the same?

  9. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 13, 2004 at 11:14 pm

    SVU used to be a college where you could take your horse with you when you went to school. My sixteen year old was really interested in it, a long time ago (when she was still riding).

    I’m impressed at the path that led our guest through various law school positions to SVU and am curious about how he went from graduating from BYU to teaching law.

    Too bad SVU isn’t large enough to sustain a nursing program, that seems to be where Heather (my sixteen year old) is headed now.

  10. Gordon Smith on July 14, 2004 at 12:02 am

    I would like to know how Rod can justify going to SVU when it condones graphic violence. I much prefer Criminal Intent. Vincent D’Onofrio is great in that.

  11. Kevin Barney on July 14, 2004 at 12:12 am

    My understanding is that at the time of the takeover, SVU largely had a “Great Books” curriculum, the kind of thing that was pioneered at the University of Chicago. Is that still the case? Or has the Great Books approach been phased out for a more conventional curriculum?

    How has the community reacted to the developments at SVU? Are they glad the Mormons came in and turned it around, or are they a little creeped out at the religious influence there, or maybe a bit of both?

  12. Randy on July 14, 2004 at 12:22 am

    So Kristine, don’t keep us in suspense–did your brother prevail or not? Dr. Pepper drinkers everywhere (myself included) want to know!

  13. John on July 14, 2004 at 12:36 am

    Is the BYU “Honor Code” an implementation of Satan’s Plan? Does SVU have a similar method of enforcing rules that go above and beyond the commandments?

  14. Gordon Smith on July 14, 2004 at 1:12 am

    Ok, how about a serious question?

    How does a startup university become financial secure? I am assuming that alumni support for SVU is close to non-existent. Nor does it have a state legislature or a sponsoring institution to lean on. According to the website, SVU has 576 students, and tuition is $7,320 per semester. That’s about $8.5 million per year — if none of the students has a scholarship. But the website mentions scholarships. These numbers do not add up, so I am wondering if some wealthy Mormons are supporting the effort.

  15. Bob Caswell on July 14, 2004 at 1:55 am

    Hey, I thought my question was serious… :-)

  16. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 14, 2004 at 8:26 am

    Hmm, I meant this to be a question:

    I’m impressed at the path that led our guest through various law school positions to SVU and am curious about how he went from graduating from BYU to teaching law.

    I’d like to hear how our guest went from BYU to teaching law to stepping into SVU. That seems like an interesting career path, and not a story I could easily find on the SVU website.

  17. Kaimi on July 14, 2004 at 8:36 am

    A few quick possibilities:

    -Where does he stand on the age-old question of teaching versus scholarship?

    -Is SVU going to try to attract non-Mormon faculty and students? How can that be done without compromising on values?

    -Where does he see SVU going in the next 10-years? Is it going to grow, to become bigger and serve more people, or stay small, and retain its smaller-school character?

    -Are there topics that won’t work well at an LDS school? Will they have programs on Afican-American studies, for example?

    -SVU offers incentives for returned missionaries who attend. What benefits do you see coming from this program? Is it expected to continue? Are there any potential drawbacks?

  18. Gordon Smith on July 14, 2004 at 10:55 am

    Bob, Sorry, I was referring to my first silly effort, not to anyone else.

  19. D. Fletcher on July 14, 2004 at 11:22 am

    I know some of the faculty. Jon Austin is a close friend (he sings my arrangement of “Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”) and is the Institute/Religion director down there.

    I must say, it’s beautiful country. I’ve been there, played a concert, and stayed at the Austins in Lexington.

    But the big question is, why would anyone go there, as opposed to a better school, or even BYU? Unless you own a horse…

  20. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 11:23 am

    I’m amazed no one has asked this yet. When will SVU field a football team? :)

  21. john fowles on July 14, 2004 at 11:49 am

    Kaimi,

    Are there topics that won’t work well at an LDS school? Will they have programs on Afican-American studies, for example? I am just wondering why you would suggest (through the loaded question) that African American studies wouldn’t work well at an LDS school.

    I can think of a lot of topics you could have suggested that might not work in an LDS school, but African-American studes?

  22. john fowles on July 14, 2004 at 11:49 am

    Kaimi,

    Are there topics that won’t work well at an LDS school? Will they have programs on Afican-American studies, for example? I am just wondering why you would suggest (through the loaded question) that African American studies wouldn’t work well at an LDS school.

    I can think of a lot of topics you could have suggested that might not work in an LDS school, but African-American studes?

  23. Kaimi on July 14, 2004 at 12:01 pm

    John,

    “I am just wondering why you would suggest (through the loaded question) that African American studies wouldn’t work well at an LDS school.”

    Well, since you ask, how’s this for starters:

    -There are very few Black church members;
    -There are very few, if any, Black church professors;
    -The church has a history of racism;
    -Many members consider majors like African-American Studies to be a bunch of PoMo nonsense.

    For empirical support for the idea that African-American Studies might not work at an LDS school, you could crack open the BYU course catalog, available at

    http://saas.byu.edu/catalog/current/Undercat2004.pdf

    and note that African-American Studies is not listed among the “Academic Departments, Schools, Areas, Degrees, and Courses”. From page 64, it appears that no major in African-American Studies is available at BYU. (Though one can minor in an international program of African studies).

    Is that enough support for the idea that African-American studies won’t work at an LDS school? I’m open to being convinced otherwise, if there is evidence to the contrary.

  24. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    I’m guessing the BYU Music department doesn’t have any courses about African-American music history either… what a shame. I can think of at least one excellent guest speaker they could invite …

    I was glad to hear one of the BYU choir’s sing African music or African influenced music though.

    What Kaimi wrote just makes me feel sad. We are missing out on a lot when we don’t appreciate what African-Americans have to offer us culturally and otherwise. We are missing out!

  25. Ben S. on July 14, 2004 at 1:01 pm

    Though I’d agree there are few black LDS professors, I know two off the top of my head. I currently share an office with Juan Henderson, very junior faculty in the religion dept. at BYU, and Marcus Martins is the religion dept. chair at BYU Hawaii.

  26. Frank McIntyre on July 14, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    There is a world of difference between not offering a major in a subject and not being interested in a subject. As you may have noted, BYU does not offer a major in Religion. The closest available would probably be Near Eastern Studies. This, by the way, is not because religion is not an important subject!

    Not many universities actually have what BYU has, for example, a course in Swahili and one in Afrikaans both offered regularly. I recently served on a committee designed to start a new major, and let me tell you it is a very bad idea to have a major just because the subject material is important. Oftentimes, the better course is to offer, as danithew suggests for music, courses within the relveant majors, with a minor to bring them together. BYU does a reasonable job at this, though if one’s life ambition is to be a student of African America, BYU may not be the best choice.

    But really now, how many small, rural Virginia schools are well-served with a major in African American Studies? With 550 students there are less than 150 students in each year of the major. Forget the LDS affiliation, this seems pretty small to be support small majors and classes.

    As for the music department, they have a half-dozen or more classes on Jazz, and one on World Music Traditons including Africa. It even, though this is off the subject, offers a class on Persian music, and one on the music of central Asia and Afghanistan! I have no idea how much coverage African American music gets within the survey courses. But I think it is unwise to assume the BYU music department is underinvesting in African American music.

    End of Rant

  27. Nate Oman on July 14, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    I visited SVU after taking the bar exam and talked with some of the faculty. It seemed like they were doing some interesting stuff. I have a couple of questions:

    1. I am with Gordon in wanting to know about the economics of this thing. Is there an endowment? Plans to get one? Come on Rod, this is your chance to make a fundraising pitch!

    2. How have SVU students fared after graduation. Are they successful at getting into graduate or professional programs?

    I have to agree with what D. said about the country side around Beuna Vist (where SVU is located). The southern end of the Shennendoah is gorgeous and I think that Lexington (just down the road from SVU, home of Washington & Lee) is a great little town.

  28. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 1:37 pm

    Frank, I appreciate the info about the music department. I just happen to like R&B music and that was the reason for my unreasonable and uninformed comment. I’m happy to hear about all the influences that are over there!

  29. greenfrog on July 14, 2004 at 3:16 pm

    What courses of study and degrees are needed before one can properly declare oneself a university (and then persuade accreditation organizations of the same)?

    Does religious affiliation affect this calculation?

  30. Gordon Smith on July 14, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    danithew: With regards to the football question, they already have a team. See http://www.southernvirginia.edu/athletics/index.php?sportid=1

    Rumor has it that the team was started to attract more men to the campus. Apparently, the ratio of women to men is pretty lopsided in favor of the women. Maybe we should ask Rod why? Women like horses?

  31. Kristine on July 14, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    danithew, SVU does apparently have a football team, which leads to some questions about Title IX compliance (sorry, just doin’ my job!)

    And Randy, the champions of Dr. Pepper lost the battle, though they fought valiantly against the decaffeinating forces.

    And yes, Buena Vista lives up to its name, though hearing it pronounced Buh-yuh-na (sorry–phonetic spelling of Southern is tricky) Vista is disconcerting!

  32. Gordon Smith on July 14, 2004 at 3:27 pm

    Beat you, Kristine! ;-)

    They also have lots of women’s sports, too, so they don’t seem to be in any trouble with Title IX.

  33. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    Well maybe at some point we can start a new inter-Mormon school east-west rivalry! Woo hoo! I’m kind of curious to find out what the team is called. Guess I better go look up that link …

  34. Gordon Smith on July 14, 2004 at 3:44 pm

    Take a look at the religion courses offered by SVU (http://www.southernvirginia.edu/Catalog/). They include Book of Mormon, Doctrines of the Gospel, LDS Marriage and Family, etc. Now, unless things have changed recently, I thought the Church discouraged Gospel study groups outside of “official” CES channels. Is there any precedent for what SVU is doing? I assume that many non-Church schools offer a course or two in Mormonism, but what SVU is doing seems very different. It looks like a BYU religion class, without the supervision that would accompany such a class at BYU. I would be interested to know from Rod how they intend to monitor these classes. Will the content be governed by the same restrictions that apply at BYU? Or will SVU develop some alternatives?

  35. Frank McIntyre on July 14, 2004 at 3:51 pm

    In relation to Gordon’s question, is there a local CES presence? Normally 500 active single latter-day saints at a college would carry with it a CES instructor (or two?).

  36. Frank McIntyre on July 14, 2004 at 3:55 pm

    The Religion classes at SVU appear to be out of an Institute and not for credit. So here’s the next question, how is the curriculum at SVU different from some other liberal college? Are there any religion class requirements? If not, why not?

  37. danithew on July 14, 2004 at 3:55 pm

    The religion classes look very much like the ones that were offered at BYU when I went there years ago.

    Here’s my question: How bound does SVU feel to follow the BYU pattern with religious instruction?

    It has always seemed absurd to me that at the university level we split the Book of Mormon in two for a period of two semesters (remember, a semester is not even half a year). It would make more sense (in my estimation) to split the Book of Alma in two for instruction over a period of two semesters.

    Same for the Old Testament classes I and II. Maybe it would be better to just have a class that dealt with Genesis for a semester? Why do we skip rocks over the surface of the water when we could dive in to see the fishies and coral? Arghhhhhhhhhh!

    But that’s just my pet peeve and my very odd analogy.

  38. Gordon Smith on July 14, 2004 at 4:01 pm

    Yes, Frank read the fine print. Scratch my attempt to be provocative.

  39. Randy on July 14, 2004 at 4:28 pm

    I’d be interested to hear the school’s position, if any, on affirmative action (other than the deal that gets cut for RMs). Seems to me that one of the primary challenges faced by BYU is the lack of diversity (whether it be racial, geographic, economic, etc.). It seems to me that SVU might be able to avoid or minimize some of these challenges on the front end.

  40. Kristine on July 14, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    I might be remembering this incorrectly, but I believe that when SVU opened, religion classes were not required. A couple of years later, they decided to require a certain number of religion credits for graduation. My brother ended up leaving there partly because they would not reduce the requirement for students who had begun before it was instituted. (Other reasons for his departure included the apparent likelihood that the school would fail to be accredited before he graduated and the shaky financial conditions–I think things are in much better shape now, but the first few years were pretty rocky.)

    I have a question–their website lists openings for “volunteer faculty.” What percentage of the faculty actually volunteers? Is it really wise to advertise that on the website (just looks sort of tacky and desperate to me)?

  41. Doug on July 14, 2004 at 7:48 pm

    Where do the students come from (States, transfer)?
    What percent of the students meet the admission standards as stated in the catalog?
    What percent of the student body is full-time, part-time, continuing education, home school (seems like a lot of LDS people are home schooling) receive financial aid, non LDS?
    What are the graduates of SVU doing?

  42. john fowles on July 14, 2004 at 9:45 pm

    Kaimi: it looks like Frank took care of my rebuttal for me.

    I guess I was a little surprised that you seemed to think that the Church would take a position that African-American studies wouldn’t work (or be compatible with?–I didn’t really know what you meant by saying that it “won’t work well”) at an LDS school. I wasn’t trying to provoke some kind of hyper-critical discussion, just seeking clarification about whether you were implying that the Church itself had some kind of views on African-American studies, or just that the individual members of the Church were . . . what? I don’t even know–racist? Interested in marginalizing African-Americans? Your statement could reasonably be read to say exactly this.

    Following Frank, I thought it was a stretch to say that since BYU didn’t have a major in African-American studies it meant that the Church was somehow sending a message that it either wasn’t institutionally interested in African-American Studies (or African Americans generally?) or that it thought that that topic wouldn’t work for some reason at an LDS school.

    Many members consider majors like African-American Studies to be a bunch of PoMo nonsense. I suppose this assertion comes from anecdotes that you have personally gathered since I am not aware of statistical data on this topic–sort of a general feeling you have gotten from discussions you have had or whatever. I hope you don’t seriously think that it is a stereotype that could even possibly be put on the whole Church (speaking of it as a conglomeration of individual members).

    There are very few Black church members Isn’t it a fallacy of composition to infer something like an African-American studies program won’t work at an LDS school because of this fact?

    For empirical support for the idea that African-American Studies might not work at an LDS school, you could crack open the BYU course catalog To my knowledge, BYU doesn’t have a major specifically in Anglo-American studies either (although there is a major in “American Studies,” but its requirements are so broad that you could tailor it to fit whatever your interests, including Native-American studies and African-American studies, as well as even Mormon studies and the like). I’m not sure we could take this fact as any kind of inference about the Church’s position on Anglo-Americans (i.e. Americans of British ancestry).

  43. Kaimi on July 14, 2004 at 10:02 pm

    Guys,

    1. Despite the comments and the back-and-forth, I’m still interested in getting Dean Smith’s opinion on my question, “Are there topics that won’t work well at an LDS school”?

    2. Courses on Africa don’t constitute a program on African American studies. They’ve got programs on African American studies at many other colleges and universities. In some schools, these are combined with African studies programs, which makes sense because they are related, but they are not the same. In the same vein, American studies is not the same as an English program, and Chicano studies programs aren’t the same as a Spanish curriculum. Again, the topics are related, there is some overlap, but it’s not the same. It’s a program likely to deal with Gates, Garvey, DuBois, Cornel West, and so forth.

    3. I suspect that the reasons for not having this program at BYU are many. I suspect that many Mormon kids wouldn’t consider signing up for a course like that. I don’t know if BYU could attract reputable scholars in the field. There may be administrators who think that it’s not a field worth study. And I suspect that there’s just not any impetus to do it, and inertia is the most powerful force.

  44. john fowles on July 14, 2004 at 10:21 pm

    I suspect that the reasons for not having this program at BYU are many. I suspect that many Mormon kids wouldn’t consider signing up for a course like that. I don’t know if BYU could attract reputable scholars in the field. There may be administrators who think that it’s not a field worth study. And I suspect that there’s just not any impetus to do it, and inertia is the most powerful force.

    What I was looking for was a more reasoned explanation of your judgment that this is the state of things in the Church. It seems unfair and fallacious to jump from your list of observations to this conclusion. (It actually seemed like a cheap shot at the Church, to be perfectly honest.)

  45. Kaimi on July 14, 2004 at 10:46 pm

    John,

    As I thought my comment made clear (“I suspect”), this is just my suspicion, plain and simple. It’s not a sociological dissertation; it’s a judgment I’ve made based on observation and conversation. I’ve lived in a lot of wards and haven’t seen many Black members. I’ve also known a lot of racist members. And, as pointed out, there is no African American studies program at BYU. An airtight case? Certainly not. But it’s enough to make me wonder, and so I’m asking the question.

    And that’s why I’m a little puzzled over your critique. As set out in the original comment, I’m just asking a question of the dean. I’m not really making an argument here. The argument, to the extent that it’s there, is entirely based on casual observation, and I’m well aware of that. That is why I asked the question in the first place. I am interested in knowing whether there is a more solid answer, one way or the other.

    I don’t see how any of my suspicions, or the facts on which they’re based, are unreasonable. The church’s history with Blacks suggests that it might be a problem area. Again, I’m not sure of that, but it certainly seems like a reasonable possibility.

    So I asked a question, and when asked to follow up, presented a few facts and observations that made me think the question might be relevant in the first place. But I’m not pretending to have any answers. I would be interested in an answer, whether it is that my initial suspicions were wrong, or right, or whatever. However, it seems that your response thus far has been to criticize my audacity for asking the question.

  46. john fowles on July 14, 2004 at 10:49 pm

    Kaimi: okay one possibility that, based on doctrines of the Church, might be a course of studies that wouldn’t “work well” at LDS schools is Queer Studies. From what I gathered about Queer studies programs and courses while doing my masters in European literature, it seems to me that the Church might not choose to include such a major at a Church school.

    However, that might not categorically be the case. Although the Church might have reasons not to sponsor a full major in queer studies, it might see value in offering a course in this or that major that overlaps with queer studies, particularly in the field of the humanities. In other words, I’m not willing to pass categorical judgment on the Church that it would summarily rule any such thing out automatically.

    But I would concede that it would be highly unlikely for a Church run school to favor scholars who publish frequently in the field of gay studies over those who publish in more traditional disciplines. And yet that is definitely not the trend in many of the other universities in the United States. One of the reasons that I switched to law school instead of going on to a D.Phil. at Oxford was because I was worried that my own beliefs (and lack of interest in gay studies) would jeopardize my tenure chances in a German or Comparative Literature department at a big university. Unfortunately, because of the current climate in the country, and particularly in those departments in our universities, I wasn’t confident that publishing lots in other areas would have been enough to impress other members of the faculty, who would have to vote in my favor at such junctures. My mere affiliation with the Church (which as many threads here have shown is often perceived, justifiably or not, as being intolerant of those suffering from same-sex attraction), I feared, could alone have been enough to turn one of the guaranteed few gay faculty members against my bid at advancement. My brother Jordan, who made his own decision to jump out of academia into law a couple years after I did, had shared with me the running joke in the University of Michigan German department: that you’re either Mormon or you’re gay. That alone was enough to confirm that I had followed a true instinct in choosing law instead because that line applied basically to graduate students–there weren’t actually any LDS professors in that department (that I know of), whereas there were several gay faculty members. It was just the climate that allowed those in the faculty to perceive a polarization to the extent of justifying a running joke that if you weren’t gay, then you must be Mormon.

    But queer studies could definitely be something that wouldn’t work well at LDS schools to the extent that the opposite effect might happen: scholars who are openly gay either won’t feel comfortable with life in such a faculty or the university itself will not wish to support the scholarship that such a faculty member is producing if it is perceived to be contrary to Church teachings on the practice of homosexuality. So I don’t see many scholars at Church schools publishing heavily in the area of gay studies any time in the near future.

    Perhaps Professor Smith can address how gay studies is viewed at SVU and if anyone there is currently publishing in the area, in whatever field, etc.

  47. Jim F. on July 14, 2004 at 11:03 pm

    Certainly we don’t have a Black Studies program at BYU and aren’t likely to have one in the near future, at least partly because of the relatively small but growing number of Blacks on campus. We have a Black Student Union. We teach several classes on African-American history and culture, and one can customize the American Studies major with an emphasis on African American studies. A couple of years ago, the university co-sponsored a major conference on African American literature with the U of U, and several professors at BYU focus their research on things African American.

    That is not to congratulate us on what we do. We are seriously challenged in recruiting more Black LDS students. We are making progress but we have a ways to go. But it would be a mistake to think that the faculty and administration are unaware of the problem or that they like the situation as it now stands. (We have similar problems among other groups in the Church; many are seriously under-represented, but it isn’t easy to remedy those problems–large donations from some of the older, practicing lawyers out there might help, but insufficient funding isn’t only one problem, and not the main one at that.)

    Given the size and funding of BYU, it is easier for us to deal with these problems than it is for SVU. Any problems we have are magnified many times for them.

  48. Jim F. on July 14, 2004 at 11:05 pm

    “insufficient funding IS only one problem.” I think it’s time for me to quite for the day.

  49. Jim F. on July 14, 2004 at 11:07 pm

    “QUIT for the day.” Yikes!

  50. William Morris on July 15, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    For what it’s worth:

    Many universities find it difficult to recruit Black students and don’t have the student interest [you have to have a minimum number of majors and course sizes to support a department, after all] to support Black Studies programs. And these are schools that aren’t in a geographical location that has very few Black Americans and aren’t sponsored by a Church that is seen by many as being prejudiced against Blacks.

    My question:

    “To what extent does SVU engage with (teach, encourage research in) the field of Mormon studies? More specifically — any plans to offer a Mormon literature class (like BYU does)?”

  51. Kristine on July 15, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    John, I’ve been a grad. student in German (at U. of M.), and I have to say that yours is the strangest line of reasoning for leaving a Ph.D. program I’ve ever heard. It’s true that cultural studies (including queer studies) is a hot field at the moment, but they still gotta have somebody to teach the sagas, Romantik, post-WWII lit., Holocaust studies, etc. The idea that there’s some gay cabal oppressing straight students, or that you just can’t get tenure if you don’t work in queer theory is pretty outrageous. (You can’t get tenure at all, no matter what you do, but that’s a completely different issue!)

    Also, it may be that people thought you were unsympathetic to gays not because you are Mormon, but because you describe them as “*suffering* from same-sex attraction.”

    Incidentally, I had lots of friendly conversations with U. of M. faculty members about the church. The chair of the department was actually very helpful to me in my struggle to make sense of the September 1993 excommunications of intellectuals. Several profs in that dept., though not Mormon (or likely to become such!), are deeply religious. I was there a little earlier than Jordan (we missed each other by maybe 3 years?), but I’d be amazed if things had changed so drastically in such a short time.

  52. john fowles on July 15, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    Kristine,

    I don’t describe gay people as suffering from same-sex attraction in non-LDS contexts or forums. As for switching into law school, the rise of queer studies and its implications for people not interested in publishing in it was only one reason, among a great many, for my decision. So please don’t think that I left my program for that reason alone.

    As far as Jordan is concerned, I wasn’t implying that he left his Ph.D. program for law school for the same reasons that I did. I am sure that a consideration of queer studies at universities did not factor into his decision at all. I only shared his statement about UofM to show that I took it as a little confirmation that others (not only myself) perceived this dividing line, were cognizant of its implications, and had even turned it into a joke in the dept. I also did not mean to insult anyone in the UofM German dept., whether straight or gay, or caste their thoughtfulness into doubt. I was glad to hear about the assistance that your professor gave you.

    My anxiety about the issue stemmed more from the type of experience that Axson-Flynn had at the UofU rather than the good experience that you had at UofM. The resistance that she experienced was quite egregious and arose precisely from her beliefs and her decision not to participate in the way that was expected of her. Granted, she was a student, and I was thinking in longer terms, of tenure implications. I am surprised that you find it is so absurd that I thought it was possible that when I am reviewed for tenure, if one member of the faculty is gay, knows that I have no interest in queer studies because I don’t publish any papers that incorporate it, teach any classes that touch on it, or whatever the case may be, and in addition knows that I am a member of the Church, which he/she perceives as being intolerant toward gays, then that person would withhold the vote for me on those grounds. I have heard from many professors that votes can be cast for just such subjective reasons. Maybe I am completely wrong about that, and if so then it is a good thing that this was only one minor consideration, among other more important practical concerns, of my decision. But if I failed any of my reviews or got passed for tenure for such a reason that is only tangentially related to my actual work, if at all, then that would have drastic implications for my career. So I still don’t think that my line of reasoning was all that flawed on this one point.

  53. Hellmut Lotz on July 15, 2004 at 9:26 pm

    Forget African American Studies for Mormons, BYU just closed its American Studies program.
    . . . and its international relations program
    . . . and its developmental studies program
    . . . and raided the endowment of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies.

  54. Kristine on July 15, 2004 at 11:53 pm

    Fair enough, John–the context helps. In any case, there are plenty of reasons *NOT* to get a Ph.D. in German : )

    I still think it is likely that your hypothetical gay faculty member could look past her/his personal agenda in a tenure decision, just as it’s likely that you could make a tenure decision about someone who was not interested in Mormon Studies or even was an proselytizing atheist. But, as many have pointed out, academic politics are especially vicious because the stakes are so low, and tenure decisions have been made on less reasonable grounds than those you suggest in your hypothetical.

  55. Davis Bell on July 16, 2004 at 12:01 am

    “Seems to me that one of the primary challenges faced by BYU is the lack of diversity (whether it be racial, geographic, economic, etc.).”

    I wonder how true this statement is. While there is no doubt a lack of racial diversity at BYU, I would imagine that BYU does fairly well when it comes to geographic diversity, at least regarding representation from different regions of the country, as well as from around the world. I won’t venture a guess as to how it does regarding economic diversity. Of course, it all depends on who we’re comparing BYU with. Other large private universities? Large schools in Utah?

  56. Davis Bell on July 16, 2004 at 12:17 am

    I’d be interested to hear from Mr/Dr/President Smith regarding:

    1. The purpose and intent behind creating SVU;
    2. How the Church reacted to the creation of SVU; and,
    3. If he sees SVU as a model that could be replicated in the US and abroad to give those members of the Church who aren’t in one of the BYU’s the opportunity to go to school with other members.

  57. john fowles on July 16, 2004 at 1:03 am

    Oops. Sorry about the typo regarding Smith above. That was a big one. It’s been a bad day for me for mispelling and proofreading.

  58. john fowles on July 16, 2004 at 1:07 am

    Double oops. I posted the above on the wrong thread!

  59. Dan Richards on July 16, 2004 at 1:41 am

    Question for the Dean: If the Church offered to take over SVU and turn it into BYU-Virginia, would the trustees go for it? Is this something secretly hoped for, or does the institution value its independence from the Church and wish to maintain that independence?

  60. Frank McIntyre on July 16, 2004 at 9:56 am

    Hellmut,

    “BYU just closed its American Studies program.
    . . . and its international relations program
    . . . and its developmental studies program
    . . . and raided the endowment of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies.”

    The American Studies major is still in the 2004-2005 catalog, so I’m not sure why you say that.

    The IR program was redone two years ago and is now a very strong and well-done major. I teach IR students all the time. So that program is still going strong. You may be getting bad information that when the major was redone (from the old International Studies degree) someone claimed there was no replacement. But that is demostrably false.

    The old International Studies Degree had an emphasis in Development. There was no similar emphasis in the new degree because there was active discussion of forming a seperate development major. That discussion seems to be coming to an end, but if the university decides there will be no major in development it is quite likely that the new IR degree will add a track emphasizing development.

    Lastly you say the endowment was raided. I know nothing about this first-hand, but judging from the errors in the above, I’m guessing you don’t have the whole story here either. It is quite possible that the endowment was used to fund positions in departments that would teach classes servicing Kennedy programs, such as the various Area Studies minors and the IR major. From a territorial position of a Kennedy-center lover, this might seem like a loss, but if the slots were used to fund classes teaching international study-oriented classes it is not clear that the students suffer from this in any way. They may well gain.

  61. John David Payne on July 16, 2004 at 10:09 am

    Plenty of students get told a sob story from the Kennedy Center folks about how BYU’s IR program has been disemboweled. Not true. They’re just not the center of the action anymore, which hurts their feelings. Poor babies. BYU is still a great place to study IR.

    (Disclaimer: I got my BA in international politics from BYU’s political science dept., and my MA in international and areas studies from the Kennedy Center.)

  62. Phil Linville on September 1, 2004 at 1:39 pm

    I have a son playing football for SVU, and I can’t see the games. Is there anyway they can be broadcast on the BYU channel? Im not rich and can’t fly out for every game.