Who Let Her in Here?

August 1, 2005 | 21 comments
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I am still a little unsure why Kaimi invited me to be a guest blogger here at T&S. I enjoy reading many of the posts, but I have been entirely too intimidated to comment (although my name did get included in Kaimi’s post: Mormon Makeover shows). You can’t blame me for my fear with comments like:


“One of the problems with BYU is that in the world at large certain degrees from there are seen as a joke–particularly anything in the biological sciences, but also those degrees in family science or whatever they are called”

But here I am, and my “joke” degree is all I have to give in the way of academic pedigree. At the least though, what I can offer to you during my two week stay is something a little different for everyone to read. Whether this difference comes from my choice of topics or my comparatively poor writing skills will obviously be up for debate.

I appreciate everyone’s questions in the welcome post. I have been at a slight loss trying to figure out what to write about, as I feel very much like a pioneer here with my “unique” background. I think that my posts in the coming weeks will touch on many of the subjects that have been brought up so far as well as some others. But, in the end, if my time blogging here has any ill effect on T&S’s prestigious reputation, you can all blame Kaimi.

So, back to my “joke” degree in family sciences. I obviously don’t think of it as a joke. But looking back, BYU might have. The fashion design program at BYU was part of the Clothing and Textile Department which was part of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences. I use the past tense on purpose because during my freshman year it was announced that the Clothing and Textile Department would be closing. Luckily, I was able to be part of the last graduating class. Now, the only fashion designers that might come out of BYU will be from the athletic department.

Based on the numerous comments regarding BYU’s academic value in Nate Oman’s “My School” post, many of you might think closing this department was a step in the right direction for a school that wants to go from mediocre to well-respected in the academic field. Well I am here to argue that BYU was my school too.

In the classes of the BYU Clothing and Textiles department:

1. I found creative and intellectual stimulation from students, teachers and (what I found to be the most unlikely source) the entire BYU environment.
2. I found incredible fulfillment in designing and constructing clothing (not unlike the fulfillment many of you might find in crafting a good argument or writing beautiful poetry).
3. I was able to study what can very easily turn into a “worldly” and “materialistic” subject — fashion — in a church setting.
4. I came away with a more balanced university education as opposed to the narrow one I would have received had I attended the popular fashion trade schools.
5. I became skilled in a valuable trade–one that has given me many options so that I have always been able to balance family, church and career.
6. I learned skills that have helped me to better serve in the church.

President Hinkley has made many statements about how women should get an education and not just for education’s sake. He has counseled that we need to be prepared for whatever life might bring.

“It is a time for education. The world that lies ahead of you will be fiercely competitive. Now is the time to train yourselves for possible future responsibilities.You have available to you tremendous opportunities for training your minds and your hands. You will wish for marriage and the companionship of a good husband. But none of us can foretell the future. Prepare yourselves for any eventuality.”

I feel really lucky that I was able to be educated in an area that I not only find extremely fulfilling, but practical as well. I really find it a shame that BYU could not see the Clothing and Textiles Department for the great program that it was: one that was helping women fulfill the Lord’s counsel as given through His prophet.

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21 Responses to Who Let Her in Here?

  1. JKS on August 1, 2005 at 5:02 pm

    Don’t be intimidated. You are a person, with a mind, with thoughts, opinions and experiences. What more do you need to blog or to make a comment on a blog?

  2. Clark on August 1, 2005 at 5:07 pm

    Why are degrees in the “biological sciences” not respected? I’ve know a lot of people working in various kinds of biology there who seem to get a lot of respect. My wife’s old roommate was doing her masters with the folks working on malaria which I thought was very respected. Certainly it got a lot of press in the various science journals.

  3. Frank McIntyre on August 1, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    Clark,

    The commenter took a lot of hits for that one already from people who had had good experiences in the biological sciences.

    Carrie,

    OK so count me as one willing to sacrifice Clothing and Textiles for the greater glory of the University. The fact that some outcomes were good (or even great!) doesn’t mean that the benefits merited the resources. And given the enormous bureacratic inertia against killing anything at BYU, the fact that it was killed is, to me, a pretty good signal that the program deserved its fate.

    That said, I’m glad you had a good experience there.

  4. Kaimi on August 1, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    Carrie,

    Well, that answer’s easy — we let you in. :) I think you’ll bring a great new perspective. Just take a look at the comments to the welcome post — everyone wants to know how to dress.

    As for the BYU program change, I don’t know any of the details, and perhaps there were good financial reasons (as Frank seems to suggest). Still, I’m hesitant to jump to that conclusion. My own (completely unschooled in this area) impression is that a Clothing/Textiles department doesn’t require a very big budget. I mean, it’s not like that department needs particle accelerators or big supercomputers. I wonder how much budgetary savings, if any, came out of the closing. Based on your post, I wonder if the closing was a good idea. (Aren’t Mormon women _supposed_ to learn about sewing and clothing? At least, it’s a broadly shared cultural belief that that skill is appropriate or even expected of Mormon women).

  5. Carrie Lundell on August 1, 2005 at 8:26 pm

    The only official explanation I ever heard for the decision to close the department was something like: “We want to focus more on Home Economics and minors for women.” Who know what that means, but it is laced with a tone that my feminist side finds offensive. The gossip was that the decision makers were all men who thought all we did was sit around and sew all day. Also very offensive.

    Kaimi,

    In response to your comment, one of the troubling things about the decision to close the department was that BYU held true to the cultural belief you are talking about because a large number of the lower level classes (basic sewing, patternmaking, etc) were kept and absorbed by the Home Economics Department. Which to me says “it’s okay to be a home sewer that likes clothes, but we don’t want you to become good enough at it to actually make it a career.”

    And I have never looked at my degree and thought that it makes me a better mormon woman or mother and I am definitely would never like to be classified as a “home sewer that likes clothes”.

  6. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 1, 2005 at 9:02 pm

    BYU’s Ag Sciences department was a top five program, had great teams, heavy donor involvement and a number of donor built buildings.

    BYU killed it because the new dean didn’t understand it. Now the buildings are empty, the professors are gone and BYU lost an important connection to parts of Texas and other areas that it once had.

    The shepherd is gone, the world class flock of sheep are dispersed, and all that is left is funerals to attend (attended one last year).

    So, it isn’t just textiles that gets the axe. Really too bad in many ways. If they closed all programs that didn’t have national reputations in the top five or so …. what would be left of BYU?

  7. Jim F. on August 1, 2005 at 11:08 pm

    Carrie and Frank: None of the programs you mention were “killed” simply because administrators just didn’t understand them. (Stephen, I’m more familiar with the ag program than the fashion design program–though my daughter was a fashion design major–and I can guarantee you that the new dean of Bio-Ag did understand them.) But no university can do everything. It must decide what things it does best–which isn’t the same as deciding in which things it can field a department in the discipline’s top five.

    Since no new resources are coming to BYU, the only way to improve particular programs is to take the money from existing programs. Those are the difficult parameters within which every administrator must work.

    The departments in question were closed down after very long processes, consulations, discussions, arguments, etc. in which everyone had a voice and in response to attempts to improve the university as a whole. In each case, it was a faculty decision rather than that of one or two administrators.

    As Frank said, the inertia against closing down any program is so very great that it is almost impossible for it to happen. So when it does, that it did is a fairly good sign that there was widespread agreement that was the best course for the university as a whole. That doesn’t mean that the programs in question weren’t good ones. It just means that the university decided it could spend its money more wisely in other areas. In the case of Bio-Ag, it also means that the university felt it could better prepare more students for careers by making the changes it did. There aren’t really that many LDS farmers out there any more, there are other ag schools that can do a better job both in the research and teaching that the deleted departments were doing, and there are a lot of new careers in biology and agriculture that we need to train students for.

  8. Sara R on August 2, 2005 at 12:09 am

    Since it’s becoming so difficult to find modest clothing even for young children, I would think it would be great to have more LDS (or anyone who values modesty) fashion designers out there. You’d think that would be one program that would fit with BYU’s unique mission.

    President Hinckley told the young women last March, “It may be difficult to find modest clothing, but it can be found with enough effort. I sometimes wish every girl had access to a sewing machine and training in how to use it. She could then make her own attractive clothing. I suppose this is an unrealistic wish.” It looks like I’m going to have to learn to sew a lot better just if I want to be able to cover my children’s nakedness affordably, and I’ll have to make sure my daughters learn too. I wish I would have taken a few of those sewing classes when I was a student.

    I think the world would be a better place if modest clothes were more commonly commercially available, and you’d think BYU-trained fashion designers would be one step towards that goal.

  9. obi-wan on August 2, 2005 at 12:32 am

    . . . there are other ag schools that can do a better job both in the research and teaching that the deleted departments were doing . . .

    Not a very convincing argument, I’m afraid . . . the same could be said of, well, philosophy and economics. And chemistry. And law. And music performance.

    In fact, on those criteria, BYU should probably shut down everything except ballroom dance and religion. ( And I’m not even real sure about keeping the latter.)

  10. Clark on August 2, 2005 at 2:28 am

    I tend to agree, although philosophy and economics are more tied to the traditional notion of a university. However Utah State has a great agriculture department and is in a high Mormon area. I suspect the agriculture department cost a wee bit more than the philosophy department as well.

    Which reminds me of a joke.

    A university president is deciding what departments to cut based upon costs. Someone suggests the mathematics department. The president says, “cut the mathematics department? All the resources they require are pencils and erasers.”

    “Well what about the philosophy department?”

    “What? They don’t even require the erasers!”

  11. Russell Arben Fox on August 2, 2005 at 8:00 am

    “There aren’t really that many LDS farmers out there any more”

    Sad, isn’t it?

  12. Frank McIntyre on August 2, 2005 at 8:46 am

    obi-wan,

    Nope. There are few to no places offering an unarguably better undergraduate degree in economics than BYU.

    Carrie,

    I am glad to hear that they kept the classes. Thus one can still acquire many of those skills. Part of the argument, I’m sure, goes to what exactly a University is going to require for a major and where it is going to put its resources. In other words, the question is not “Should we keep Clothing and Textiles” but rather “What program will we not have in order to keep Clothing and Textiles?”

  13. maria on August 2, 2005 at 10:25 am

    I echo Sara’s sentiments above. Finding modest, yet not heinous, clothing is nigh upon impossible these days, even in Utah. The fashion shows that the design students put on in the Wilk were so energizing–even BYU girls (or maybe *especially* BYU girls) needed that yearly reminder that you can look sexy and fashionable without baring your midriff or 3.5 feet of leg. I still remember your line, Carrie, in the ’98 show–so sassy and daring!

    Regarding the demise of the department–let’s face it, these decisions are never made completely objectively. I wondered at the time (and still wonder) how much the fact that the department was comprised of 95% women (wasn’t Dr. K the only male prof?) had to do with its closure. I’m not trying to assert that there was any sinister “Let’s screw the ladies! He he he!” type of plot, but I think that in decisions like these a major factor is who you know, and who you’re connected with. I’d imagine that very few of the administrators or profs in Clothing Textiles were well-connected to the predominantly male administrative committee that made the decision to cut the program. Nor were these women connected to other university big-wigs that could have intervened on their behalf.

    At the very least, I’m sure that this lack of connections played a role in the fact that the department was shut down SO quickly. I remember the profs saying that they heard a feasibility study was going to take place, and then WHAM! just a few weeks later the whole department was disbanded. No opportunity to appeal the decision was available, or to address any of the “effeciency” concerns that the committee aluded to. Maybe Jim F. or others can enlighten us on how it’s worked for other department closures, but I know that at least when the administration attempted to shut down the International Studies Department it was a very, very lengthy process–numerous open meetings with the student body, administration, professors, etc.

  14. obi-wan on August 2, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    Nope. There are few to no places offering an unarguably better undergraduate degree in economics than BYU.

    Hm. Could this be one of those instances when ad hominem is not a fallacy?

  15. A. Greenwood on August 2, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    ““There aren’t really that many LDS farmers out there any more”

    Sad, isn’t it?”

    Funny. This was my reaction too.

  16. Frank McIntyre on August 2, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    obi-wan,

    Go for it! :)

    But unless the Jedi council has recently started an economics undergraduate degree, I’m guessing I am more familiar with high quality economics programs than you are.

  17. Russell Arben Fox on August 2, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    “Funny. This was my reaction too.”

    As always, I think we agree on far more than might at first be apparent, Adam.

  18. Carrie Lundell on August 2, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    Frank,

    I think keeping the few sewing classes is a bit strange when one could get practically the same “super basic” knowledge from a class at the local JoAnn’s Fabric store or from a few lessons from their home sewing neighbor.

    As for President Hinckley’s quote

    “It may be difficult to find modest clothing, but it can be found with enough effort. I sometimes wish every girl had access to a sewing machine and training in how to use it. She could then make her own attractive clothing. I suppose this is an unrealistic wish.”

    I think that for a teenage girl to feel good wearing anything homesewn, it will take more than just a little training on a sewing machine. It will take real sewing skills combined with an eye for fashion. And the fact of the matter is good sewing is a dying art and mormon culture is not known for it’s fashion savy. This is why it is an unrealistic wish.

    I believe the key to President Hinkley’s remark is at the end of the first sentence – “it can be found with enough effort.” I totally believe this. I don’t share the same dismay as many apparently do when it comes to finding modest clothing. As a designer, shopping is a large part of my job and I have to say that I am really good at it. So maybe instead of teaching YW how to sew, we should focus on teaching them how to shop? My won’t the feminists love that one.

    Maybe my next career can be “Mormon Personal Shopper”.

  19. Frank McIntyre on August 2, 2005 at 1:24 pm

    Carrie, so the remaining sewing classes are pretty lame? Well then let’s can them too and outsource to Jo-Ann’s!

  20. Carrie Lundell on August 2, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    Not lame, just basic.

  21. Sara R on August 2, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    “I think that for a teenage girl to feel good wearing anything homesewn, it will take more than just a little training on a sewing machine. It will take real sewing skills combined with an eye for fashion. And the fact of the matter is good sewing is a dying art and Mormon culture is not known for its fashion savvy. This is why it is an unrealistic wish.”

    Exactly! I can do basic sewing (mostly self-taught when I was pregnant with dd), but getting something to actually look good is another matter entirely. I’ve had some success in adding skirts to some of dd’s older or too-short shirts to make cute easy-to-sew dresses, but that’s about it. I am not visually/artistically talented in general so it’s tough for me to envision things that aren’t right in front of me. But I’ll keep practicing.

    Yes, we have been able to find modest things with enough effort. Some of those options (say, Lands End) are pricey, though, and we’ve got to be pretty frugal around here. I still have some luck with second-hand stores, but eventually current fashions make it to the thrift stores and that won’t be as much of an option.

    I’d love to hear (perhaps in another post) any shopping advice you have! Especially frugal shopping advice. Specifics would be great. I know summer clearance is going on now, and 7 year old dd needs a bathing suit for next year. Usually bathing suits look pretty sorry after one season so I can’t count on finding one at yard sales. Are there any stores that have any decent ones on clearance now? If not we’ll get another one from Costco next year, if they are available. They had well-made modest suits for about $11.50. Even with them, the cute prints were only available in the two-piece.

    The problem with teaching shopping as opposed to sewing is that sewing is a skill that renders you (in theory) independent of the ready-made clothing industry, whereas with shopping you are still dependent on the whims of fashion designers and stores whose values may violently disagree with yours. (I’m starting to sound like Brigham Young advocating self-sufficiency and indepedence from the railroad.) If the stores you depend on decide to change what they offer, you can’t do much about it. But I can see how shopping could make you a better seamstress. Through shopping, even without buying anything, you can see what kinds of clothes suit your body type and what kinds of fashions can be tweaked a little to be modest, and then you can imitate those fashions in what you sew. This would especially be good for visually unimaginative people like me.

WELCOME

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