Why I am biased against Mormon students[1][2]

May 11, 2007 | 96 comments
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[1] Now updated with footnotes!
[2] Wait a second…a Mormon, writing on a Mormon web site for Mormons, is saying that he’s biased against Mormons! Clearly, academics hate Mormons so much that even Mormon academics hate Mormons! Wait, that doesn’t make sense at all. There’s something else going on here. What might it be? For those without an ironic lung in their body, it’s irony. That’s where I say one thing, but mean the exact opposite. Wild! I’m not really biased against Mormons after all!

All the actual Mormons I’ve taught, at BYU and in rare cases elsewhere, have been well prepared and easy to work with. But in the abstract, the idea of having a Mormon in my class frightens me.[3]

[3] Real Mormons good. Abstract Mormons bad. Does not compute. More irony!

Take BYU, for instance. Sure, I spent four years there, and I taught a couple courses for them back in the day, but how well do I really know the place? What is my own personal experience, and the occasional glance at the alumni magazine, compared to articles in the national press?[4] It seems the only time I read about BYU is because it’s censoring some art show or blocking Youtube[5] or firing another martyr for academic freedom. Some of the academic programs I knew personally were solid, but if the rest were any good, I’m sure I’d hear more about them. But when was the last time you heard anything about, say, BYU’s accounting program?[6]

[4] News articles are more believable than personal experience? Hogwash! …or, wait a second, I know, ironic. Of course, irony is sometimes used for a purpose, and this is one of those times. Russell knew it was there all along. See, if you check the sidebar, you’ll find a link to a story about a survey of academics’ views of various groups. In a lot of cases, these are very silly surveys. If someone asks you, “What is your opinion of Bulgarian anthroposophists?” and you don’t know a single one, all you have to go on is the stereotypes about Bulgarian anthroposophists you have picked up from other people and from the media.
[5] Based on true stories! But there’s an unironic point here, too. What kind of news stories get reported about BYU? “Geography professor at distant religious university wins association prize”? Nope. That won’t sell papers in Poughkeepsie. “Cultist university oppresses freedom”? Now we’re talking! The story practically writes itself. Is blocking Youtube from the campus network worth the PR disaster that ensues from confirming prevailing stereotypes? Hmm…
[6] It’s true: BYU actually has an ultra-elite accounting program, and accountants are not bad people. When was the last time you heard anything about the program, or about any other academic program at any university? Like, never! And here I am, pretending that I don’t know how good BYU accountants are, when just the opposite is true. The funny–you might even say, ironic–thing is that’s just how the world works. If I was an accountant, I’d be totally aware of how thoroughly BYU owns the world of accounting, but otherwise it’s just a bit of random trivia at best. 99.99% of all people have no idea at all how good a program is at any given school.

Just about everyone knows that Mormons don’t smoke or drink alcohol. Wouldn’t it be a problem to have a Mormon in my class? In addition to me, I mean.[7] Not that there’s smoking or drinking in my classroom or anything like that, but the subject of beer does come up in German classes. Even though I’m the world’s worst expert on German beer,[8] someone still has to explain the ominously-named Reinheitsgebot[9]. Besides, there’s a minor but not inconsequential point of German nominal morphology that’s best illustrated by the names of beers.[10] Don’t laugh; you’d be surprised how often grammar can offend some people.[11]

[7] Heightening the irony.
[8] Ironic, but in a difference way. A Mormon who has to field questions on beer is an example of situational irony. That’s a contradiction between expectations and reality which…never mind.
[9] Literally, “purity requirement,” which just sounds wrong. This law specifies that beer can only be made from water, hops, and barley.
[10] This is also true, but odd enough to be funny. German attributive adjectives take a bewildering array of declensional endings, except for those derived from city names, which uniformly end in -er. There are lots of common foods that have such names, like Hamburger and Wiener and Limburger, but the ones students sometimes remember best are Budweiser and Pilsner.
[11] Laugh, dammit, laugh!

And Mormons are pretty strait-laced, too. Have you ever read a newspaper article about how tolerant and easy-going Mormons are?[12] I haven’t read all that many, either. I don’t care if some Mormon student chooses to live his life the way I live mine, but I can’t stand it when people tell me that I have to live just like I do.[13] Attention, Mormon students: in the “real world,” the world you are preparing to live and work in for the next several decades, not everyone thinks like you do.

[12] See, these articles hardly ever get written about anybody, no matter how tolerant they are. “Weird cult oppresses oppressed minority” will sell papers by the truckload, though. Not reinforcing this stereotype whenever possible would be a good idea.
[13] This is not a terribly subtle use of irony.

If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to avoid having to deal with the consequences of some self-righteously offended Mormon running to the department head, or the dean, or the board of trustees, or the legislature, and complaining about hurt feelings and wounded sensibilities.[14] Maybe this isn’t an issue in other fields, or for teaching other periods of cultural history, but some of the most innovative works of German literature confront the extremes of human sexuality. I often teach Hartmann von Aue’s Gregorius, for example (ca. 1200 AD)[15], where incest forms not just one but two different key plot points. Der arme Heinrich? Self-inflicted cutting and pre-teen brides. Nibelungenlied? Adultery and murder. Tristan? More adultery, this time without the negative consequences. Parzival? Sexual assault and infidelity. Minnesang?[16] Do you really have to ask about a genre of love poetry whose “love” was on its way to becoming an unmentionable vulgarity?[17]

[14] As a few people point out, this kind of thing actually happens. In the rare cases where it’s justified, a competent department head will settle things before they go to the dean. In most cases, the only result is to leave the instructor and department head and the rest of the department with a terrible impression of the student and whatever group the student might belong to. “Can you believe the nerve of those Bulgarian anthroposophists? They won’t even read Watership Down,” or whatever. If you’re going to raise a stink, please pick a battle worth fighting.
[15] Innovative…1200 A.D. Haha.
[16] This is a short list of the classics of the German Middle Ages. There aren’t really any alternatives. You’ll be disappointed if you go to the trouble of learning Middle High German and expect to find an erotic romp, though. The level of prurience is not quite as high as found in Genesis. For the most part, it’s about as naughty as the Pauline Epistles. If that’s too much for you, finish junior high and then reconsider the issue.
[17] Another true fact! Minne, the courtly love in courtly love lyrics, ended up spending almost 500 years as a nasty synonym for carnal knowledge before it was rescued by a concerned philologist. How ironic!

Clearly, when we read the Nibelungenlied and Parzival at BYU in the 90′s without anyone batting an eyelash, we were in a particular historical moment that welcomed discussion of difficult issues, a veritable Camelot of free-thinking.[18] Sadly, that moment has passed. Who knows what the place is like today, or how Mormon students would react? I don’t want to find out. The only Mormon I want in my classes is me. I’ll make an exception for the actual Mormon students I’ve known, who have generally been pretty sharp. But otherwise, no. Can you blame me?[19]

[18] One use of irony is to let the air out of self-important or overwrought statements. Most discussions of oppression at BYU, and any sentence with the word “Camelot” in it, are ripe for an ironic puncturing. In this sentence, I’m pretending to believe something that is pretty much nonsense. Students at BYU have probably been reading Parzival for something like a century without incident.
[19] Actually, “Yes, you belong in a re-education camp in Wyoming” was not the answer I was looking for. “No, your biases are totally justified by the dull shackled minds of Mormons everywhere” is not what I was hoping for, either. It’s Friday. Laugh a little. Try not to oppress people too often. Try to distinguish between helping Pharaoh and fleeing Potiphar’s wife. And there’s a pretty good recent translation of Hartmann von Aue into English, for anyone who’s interested.

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96 Responses to Why I am biased against Mormon students[1][2]

  1. Russell Arben Fox on May 11, 2007 at 8:36 am

    Jonathan, I can’t tell if this post is wholly sarcastic, or mostly sarcastic with a subtle point hidden somewhere within it. Obviously my deep reading abilities have been dulled by three days of reading papers by students who wouldn’t know a sentence fragment if they tripped over it. Help me out here.

  2. Mark B. on May 11, 2007 at 8:53 am

    Actually, as dull as accounting is, I do recall having heard something positive about BYU’s accounting program sometime in the past decade. That may, of course, say more about the dullness of BYU students than anything else. After all, not everyone can have the personality required to become an economist.

  3. endlessnegotiation on May 11, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Johnathan:

    I find it ironic that you singled out the only BYU program of any national renoun as your example of Mormon academic mediocrity. FYI, BYU’s accounting program is historically ranked in the top five in the country (last year I think Business Week ranked it #2 just behind Illinois and ahead of Northwestern). And what about the law school? In a little over a generation and half it’s gone from upstart to the top quartile of accredited schools. Give it another generation and there’s a good shot that it will crack the top 20. Such gaffes continue to solidify my opinion that college professors are so single-mindedly focussed on their own vanity that they are completely incapable of recognizing excellence anywhere beyond their own self-created universe.

    Mark B:

    Economists are not required to have a personality at all. My first instructor, a brilliant guy who earned he Ph.D. from Minnesota at the age of only 22, was little more than a pod capable of speech.

  4. Chino Blanco on May 11, 2007 at 9:23 am

    What’s your experience been with Evangelical students?

    You’ve brought to mind Annie Dillard’s “Singing with the Fundamentalists”

    Didn’t know who she was when I saw her speak at BYU. After watching her being questioned by the students about her smoking, I made a point of finding out. I feel your pain.

  5. Wacky Hermit on May 11, 2007 at 9:33 am

    Actually, most Mormons I know are “tolerant and easy-going,” or at least the ones outside of Utah are. When anyone (Mormons, Catholics, whatever) exists in a homogeneous community, there’s a natural tendency toward holier-than-thou-ness, and some fight it better than others. But outside of Utah, where Mormons are a minority and/or there’s a high percentage of converts, they tend to be a lot more tolerant of different interpretations of controversial points, like drinking Coke. After all, half the people in their ward used to be just like you up until a few years ago.

    I personally find it says a lot about you that you think YOU’RE sophisticated enough to handle incest and other sexual literary themes while being a Mormon, but the rest of us hayseed rubes out there aren’t. Are you trying to protect us, or are you just being condescending?

  6. Wacky Hermit on May 11, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Sorry, I should have said “just like their neighbors” not “just like you”. The usual excuses– kids, kids, and breakfast for kids.

  7. Chino Blanco on May 11, 2007 at 9:54 am

    In light of the response I’ve seen from “most Mormons” online to recent events (The Mormons, Dick Cheney), sorry, but you’d have to really be a hermit to suggest that your co-religionists were by and large “easy-going” …

    For the record, drinking Coke is not a “controversial” point. It’s fun to bring up here in the bloggernacle, but otherwise, you just kinda made Jonathon’s whole point with that remark.

  8. Chino Blanco on May 11, 2007 at 9:57 am

    And, sorry, should have typed “Jonathan” with an a.

    And, your wife let’s you near a computer in the morning? I’d be dead.

  9. Jonathan Green on May 11, 2007 at 10:14 am

    Endless N., gosh, how did I manage to pick BYU’s top-rated undergrad program as an example of mediocrity? Man, that’s totally ironic.

    Russell, you know that ‘sarcasm’ is a dirty word around here. Shame on you. I’ll give you a second chance, though.

  10. Ivan Wolfe on May 11, 2007 at 10:29 am

    If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to avoid having to deal with the consequences of some self-righteously offended Mormon . . .

    As opposed to say, preferring to avoid having to deal with the consequences of some self-important judgmental professor . . .

    ;-)

  11. Last Lemming on May 11, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Economists are not required to have a personality at all.

    Thank God. I’d starve. My German isn’t good enough to go the alternate route.

  12. Hayes on May 11, 2007 at 10:44 am

    I am a college prof on the East coast, and I have a handful of students who are LDS. We discuss controversial issues in class, often challenging preconceived norms. I have never felt that these LDS students were not up to the challenge. I do wonder if they have ever questioned my beliefs, or the firmness of my convictions. I mean, I do have an occasional diet pepsi (never coke) in class.

  13. Adam Greenwood on May 11, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Jonathan Green,

    I am outraged by your bigotry. Also, I’m humorless.

  14. Coffinberry on May 11, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Hey, BYU Law took a serious dive in the rankings this year (I know, because my school swapped places with it, and is tickled to death to be ranked in the 30′s at last).

  15. Ardis Parshall on May 11, 2007 at 10:54 am

    I hear you, Jonathan. The Mormons I know in person are pretty cool — I know some Mormon women (even singles) who don’t feel marginalized by the church, and I have home teachers who are genuinely concerned about my welfare. I meet Mormons in the church archives who are seriously interested in following the records where they go, whether or not they sustain Sunday School preconceptions. I know some Mormon Democrats. I know some who allow their children to play with non-member neighbors, and some who aren’t too busy with church work to take part in the community Memory Grove cleanup this weekend. I know some who don’t meddle with other Utahns’ freedoms of choice.

    But clearly I move in a rarefied stratum of Mormonism. The people I know are all exceptions. I would be as wary as you are of having to engage the REAL Mormons, the ones I read about in letters to the editor, and on blogs, and elsewhere. Clearly the Mormons I don’t know are a different breed from those I do know.

  16. Steve M on May 11, 2007 at 11:15 am

    In the Chinese literature and film classes I took at BYU, I was surprised with how open most students were to discussing works with rather mature content and which made rather ambiguous statements about morality. There were some students of the type described in this post, but for the most part, the classes had a very academic feeling and the discussions were largely untainted with narrow-mindedness or self-righteousness. There was the occasional ridiculous moment, of course (I mean, we are talking about BYU). But the openness of most of the students and faculty was both surprising and refreshing. I mean, one of the last papers I wrote had to do with Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet, an R-rated film that is arguably more sympathetic to homosexuality than Brokeback Mountain. My professor had no qualms helping me locate a copy of the DVD, and he gave me an A on the paper.

  17. Mike on May 11, 2007 at 11:24 am

    Bro. Green:

    I think you are a wimp. A pleasant and amusing one, don’t take it too hard. If you were at BYU and BKP’s grand nephew tattled to your Dept Chair, you’d have your @$$ in a sling. You could loose your job. Then your wife and children would end up on church welfare. Oh, the shame and disgrace! No one else might hire you. You might be reduced to working as bartender in some dive deep in the heart of west Texas that claims to specialize in German beers. I can see your point.

    But help me out here, you don’t teach at BYU???

    So I say teach whatever you think best without angst and let the few self-righteous types of all faiths run whereever they may. It might do them some good and give the higher-ups something to laugh at. Most probably they won’t sign up for your courses anyway; too busy getting degrees in accounting where they can make money.

    (BTW does anyone actually pay, outside of the campus environment of course where we call it education, to learn about all that old German artistic filth and sleeze? I mean, the modern version of that same sort of stuff is getting pretty cheap on satellite TV these days. But this is another issue that I am most unqualified to assess having viewed very little TV of any sort and never taken any courses in any sort of German. I did read Dr Faust in English about 30 years ago on my own just for the heck of it. This alone qualifies me to comment here).

    I will assume that the courses Prof. Green teaches are valuable and and increase the quality of the intellectual life and improve the mind and are praiseworthy and of good report and all that jazz. So wouldn’t most good Mormon students, if they can be generalized in contrast to their peers, be more attentive, polite, industrious, maybe more gullible and not as hung over or strung out? They would seem to be better students than most, I would think.

    If you think you have it rough, think of some of the difficulties of the Mormon gynecologist. Would you refuse to see Mormon patients if you found yourself in their place?

    One final question, do you have to disclose your religion these days before teaching? You could have Mormons in your class but they might not know what you do on Sunday. And if rarely one shows up from your ward, then you could deal with them one at a time based on previous personal experiences with them. Fly under the radar. Don’t they teach things like this at BYU?

    I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith. I am not perfect either and maybe not even a good example of a typical Mormon. But I think you are being too sensitive here.

  18. Steve M on May 11, 2007 at 11:38 am

    A little harsh, Mike.

  19. Secret Agent Man on May 11, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Fly under the radar?

  20. Peter LLC on May 11, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Your net is full to the point of bursting. Nice post.

  21. Sarah on May 11, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Posts like this are a good illustration of why I’m biased against Mormon bloggers — I’m sure we’re all really nice and reasonable in person, but I’m terrified of trying to figure out whether we’re being serious or sarcastic and whether I’m likely to be attacked for no apparent reason, thanks to all these posts and comments. So, I’ll hang out with the one other Mormon blogger I know in person (because Mom would yell if I stopped hanging out with my little sisters,) but I’m going to stick strictly to Catholics, Unitarian Universalists, and my fellow sci fi geeks when it comes to seeking out new friends. Isn’t my life tragic?

  22. Norbert on May 11, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Hmm. Here’s the thing:

    Yes, I have had many good experiences with LDS students (in my HS English classes). Like most students whose parents support their education, they range from insightful and driven to polite and indifferent. I have had a bishop invite me to do firesides for kids and parents about negotiating a liberal education as a Mormon, which was a good experience, generally. My own time at BYU was good, although the rantings about the scandalous content of the Intensive Writing book became something to which one smiled and nodded.

    But I have also had Mormon students do the following: refuse to read Of Mice and Men, Oedipus Rex, 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale; call an openly gay student a ‘weird f*gg*t,’ then call me an apostate when I recommended that he be suspended; denounce me as a hypocrite in testimony meeting, then organize a letter-writing campaign against me; have a seminary teacher pressure me to give a passing grade he didn’t earn, apparently so he could go on a mission. A low point was when a parent called my SP and suggested my temple recommend be revoked because I included Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War in my curriculum. Of course, I’ve had similar and worse treatment from other religious, especially evangelical Christian, students. But I wasn’t in the same bind with them.

    So I wouldn’t say I’m biased against Mormon students, but I am a little nervous when they walk through the door. And I can understand why other educators might be as well.

  23. Nate Oman on May 11, 2007 at 11:53 am

    “But I have also had Mormon students do the following: refuse to read Of Mice and Men, Oedipus Rex, 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale; call an openly gay student a ‘weird f*gg*t,’ then call me an apostate when I recommended that he be suspended; denounce me as a hypocrite in testimony meeting, then organize a letter-writing campaign against me; have a seminary teacher pressure me to give a passing grade he didn’t earn, apparently so he could go on a mission. A low point was when a parent called my SP and suggested my temple recommend be revoked because I included Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War in my curriculum. Of course, I’ve had similar and worse treatment from other religious, especially evangelical Christian, students.”

    I have to confess a certain amount of envy here. I had the same feeling of envy when I once heard Richard Dutcher tell of his experience of being jailed in Mexico as a missionary. There is some part of me that wishes I too could be persecuted in a noble cause, if only so I could prove to myself that I would stand up well in the face of persecution. Alas, I have yet to be the object of any real religious or intellectual hostility. Still, I can hope that someday my moment of drama will come and I will not be found wanting…

  24. Adam Greenwood on May 11, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    On the other hand, Norbert, a close relative of mine was ridiculed and mocked in a BYU class when this relative objected to reading some homoerotic material. In the course of a later discussion this relative mentioned that in the relative’s opinion masturbation was wrong after which the professor would single this relative out nearly every class period for abuse, sometimes pointing the relative out to other class members as an example of narrow-minded bigotry.

  25. queuno on May 11, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    I just think you’ve got a fairly uninformed view of Mormon students and BYU academic programs.

    I have a family member who was recruited by a particular law school *because* of his Public Relations degree (which is considered top-notch).

    BYU’s construction management programs are nationally ranked near the top of the food chain. Same with the engineering programs.

    The undergraduate computer science program — from an INSTRUCTIONAL perspective — replaces many of the first- and second-year graduate classes at a lot of CS graduate schools. And many graduate schools like the fact that BYU’s CS program offered an ethics program (don’t know if they still do, but they did a decade ago).

    My graduate advisor was pretty amazed at the amount of writing that engineers/science students do at BYU. By and large, Mormon graduate students in the science are able to write a publication-worthy paper right out of the gate — and that does NOT occur with graduates of other prominent universities (note – blogging has ruined my writing :) ). The advanced writing (English 3xx) classes at BYU are not done at many universities, particularly the technical writing classes.

    In one memorable upper-undergrad/grad Spanish class at BYU — we spent an entire semester on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and spent a semester arguing feminism and authority and dissent. *At BYU*. And it was out in the open (OK, in a foreign language).

    I’d be more worried about your run-of-the-mill conservative christian/evolution-denier than I would your average Mormon. Mormons are actually quite liberal and open-minded compared to the average Christianist. Now, I recognize that you are focusing on Mormon *humanities* students and a few of my examples are in the sciences, but you’ve decided to paint everyone with the same brush. (Or maybe it’s just that Mormon bloggers are predisposed to literature, law, and philosophy and not the sciences and engineering).

  26. Zach on May 11, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Prof J. Green,

    I liked your comments and agree with most. However, saying \’most Mormons\’ seems to demonize a lot of Mormondom. I think its only the Orthodox and naive Mormons who fit the part of having closed minds, a lot of which do congregate in Utah and around the BYU campuses. (however, there are a lot of liberal intellectuals to emerge from these areas) Its also true that a lot of Mormons cringe when one tries to discuss a topic about sexuality or something of an intellectual nature, that\’s also an aspect of Americanness that is playing out. However, I do agree its much easier to have an intellectual discussion with non-Mormon. I think that is the most troubling part about Mormonism. But I think that is changing. As an Eastern non-Mormon professor recently stated, Mormons are the next Jews. That was a great complement.
    Thanks, Zach

  27. Steve M on May 11, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    The BYU language programs are excellent, too.

  28. Adam Greenwood on May 11, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    “As an Eastern non-Mormon professor recently stated, Mormons are the next Jews. That was a great complement.”

    Maybe. But in this country, Jews are rapidly becoming the next Gentiles.

  29. Chris Grant on May 11, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Norbert writes: “But I have also had Mormon students do the following: refuse to read Of Mice and Men, Oedipus Rex, 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale; call an openly gay student a ‘weird f*gg*t,’ then call me an apostate when I recommended that he be suspended;

    This is an interesting juxtaposition of grievances you present. Since high school students say unkind things to each other all the time without being threatened with suspension, I’m assuming that your objection was to the student’s particular choice of words. (Your use of asterisks seems to confirm this.) Yet you seem to think there’s something wrong with Mormon students who don’t want to expose themselves to the offensive words used in, say, The Handmaid’s Tale.

  30. Norbert on May 11, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Adam:

    I don’t see that as ‘on the other hand’ at all: I know that academics can be insensitive and defensive. Neither behavior justifies the other.

  31. Hayes on May 11, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    I had some LDS students who refused to read Aristophanes’ Clouds or Lysistrata because of the objectionable content.

    I asked them if they have ever read the Old Testament…

    The joke was lost on them.

  32. Chino Blanco on May 11, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    The only Mormon I want in my classes is me.

    This sentiment seems similar to the feeling I have whenever I run into someone from back home whilst wandering in what I’d imagined to be a remote corner of the planet.

  33. Hayes on May 11, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    I meant to say, “fellow” LDS students…we were classmates at the time.

  34. Norbert on May 11, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    Chris:

    ‘Since high school students say unkind things to each other all the time without being threatened with suspension,’

    Um, not in my classroom, not during a class discussion. Call someone fatso, or trailer trash, or dumb*ss, and you’re out. I’ll give warnings for demeaning smirks. I used the asteriks because I assumed it would get blocked in the filtering if I didn’t.

    I have had many students and their parents ask intelligent questions about the language or content of a book, then make an informed decision, sometimes to take another elective course. I don’t remember the exact objection to The Handmaid’s Tale, but it wasn’t the language.

  35. queuno on May 11, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    With regard to German literature programs (or any literature program) with readings with sexual content –

    Don’t you think that closed-minded Mormons would self-select themselves out of a program like that? Could you assume that if they were predisposed against those sort of readings, you wouldn’t find them in the class to begin with?

  36. queuno on May 11, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Isn’t it ironic, though, that the type of Mormon student offended by vulgarity in literature has no qualms about vulgarity uttered by the vice president?

  37. mlu on May 11, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    My students who were raised in the Church of Critical Thinking seem especially sensitive to any deviations from their creed. They are also taught that it’s a sign of moral courage to protest any deviation from their orthodoxy. They view grievances as a mighty sacrament of empowerment, since it’s understood that authority is a manifestation of hierarchy and therefore of evil. In this enlightened state, they really aren’t bothered much by discussions of drinking and all manner of sexual perversion (in fact such talk, being transgressive, is a mode of freedom) but they are deeply offended by any suggestion that there might somewhere be a moral standard, Moral standards, after all, are the main source of intolerance, which is the real cause of all of life’s ills. They are quite certain of their own superiority to superstition, which they dismiss with contempt and do not want to discuss. They have found the truth and will be saved. They have a special contempt for Mormons.

  38. queuno on May 11, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    mlu – I find that type of student (profiled as the world-weary 19-year-old suburbanite-yet-urban-wannabe who writes for the campus editorial page) blows a gasket when you call them “closed-minded” (which they, of course, are).

  39. Chris Grant on May 11, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Norbert writes: “Um, not in my classroom, not during a class discussion.

    So your point was simply that you once had a Mormon student who said something unkind about a classmate?

    I used the asteriks because I assumed it would get blocked in the filtering if I didn’t.

    We’re being filtered? However will we learn and grow without being exposed to profanity? Mr Gorbachev, turn off this filter!

    I have had many students and their parents ask intelligent questions about the language or content of a book, then make an informed decision, sometimes to take another elective course.

    And you don’t object to this?

    I don’t remember the exact objection to The Handmaid’s Tale, but it wasn’t the language.

    Not its sexual explicitness either? Atwood’s didacticity, perhaps?

  40. Floyd the Wonderdog on May 11, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    What is really lacking is creativity. We were asked to write a term paper in High School on Ibsen’s *Ghosts*. I didn’t like much about the play and found a passive-aggressive way to express my displeasure. After all, a high school student is usually not allowed an opinion other than the teacher’s. My term paper was titled *Sexual Perversions in Ibsen’s Ghosts*. My teacher had a cow!! She explained that although the paper was very well written and insightful, It was not appropriate for a high school student. I rebutted that I was merely discussing what I had read in the play and that if my paper was inappropriate for a high school student, so was the play. If you don’t want students discussing or pondering sexual perversions, don’t require that they read about it and then write about what they read.

    I should have used that same paper at BYU. Could have caused a sudden opening in the English Department due to heart attack.

  41. Adam Greenwood on May 11, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Is Jonathon Green’s bias black or pink?

  42. MAC on May 11, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Isn’t it ironic, though, that the type of Mormon student offended by vulgarity in literature has no qualms about vulgarity uttered by the vice president?

    Well that kind of gives us a nice example of the kind of close-minded, vague bigotry that is inferred in some of the comments.

    Thanks queuno

  43. Chino Blanco on May 11, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    I enjoyed plenty of laughs at the Daily Universe’s expense, but the NYU campus paper was a joke compared to BYU’s.

  44. ronito on May 11, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    I have to agree with the whole \”the only mormon I want in my class is me.\” I know I can handle it. I remember being at BYU during the whole Rodin fiasco. I remember ranting and raving about being denied the opporutnity to make my decision for myself, and getting the reply, \”B…but they\’re naked!!\”

    I wish for as much as mormons talk of tolerance they\’d put it more into practice. I remember when I was working for GE this lady I sorta knew came into my office and started spouting off ranting about this \”Darn mormon\” co-worker who gave her a hard time about a book she was reading. For about five minutes she kept talking about how close minded and backwards mormons were. After she finally paused to catch her breath I said, \”You know I\’m a mormon right?\” she gave me a look of shock and said, \”But you\’re so cool. Are you sure? I\’ve met plenty of mormons, and none of them were cool. You must be a different kind of mormon.\”

    Sadly, I get this stuff all the time. It seems that many of our faith cannot accept that others do not have the same morals as we do. Great post by the way.

  45. Adam Greenwood on May 11, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Ronito,
    I want you to know how open-minded and tolerant and awesome it is that you were willing to let us know that you’re much cooler than your fellow Mormons.

  46. Chino Blanco on May 11, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Yeah, bigotry sucks, cut it out. No more snarky questions either.

  47. Norbert on May 11, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Chris: #39:

    I’m not really willing to get sucked into this, but I’ll answer your questions.

    1. Yes, a Mormon student said something unkind about another student, and then questioned my worthiness when I recommended he be punished for it. I didn’t care for that.

    2. You asked why I used asteriks and I explained. I have no problem with filters on comments, but I didn’t want my comment coming out an hour later. Your hyperbole is misplaced.

    3. No, I don’t.

    4. I don’t really want to debate about HT. You made reference to “the offensive words used in, say, The Handmaid’s Tale” in #29 and I wanted to clarify.

    My original point was that the Ugly Mormon student is not just an abstraction, as Jonathan seemed to imply. It happens.

  48. Chris Grant on May 11, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Norbert writes: “My original point was that the Ugly Mormon student is not just an abstraction

    But what does a Mormon student refusing to read The Handmaid’s Tale have to do with that point? What’s ugly (such an unkind word) about that refusal?

  49. Peter LLC on May 11, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    Brother Greenwood,

    Like you, I’ve also found great spiritual benefit from treating Sunday as a Sabbath, even though it has sometimes required me to appear a peculiar people to my neighbors and friends.

  50. a random John on May 11, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    I’d just like to throw out that real universities don’t even have undergraduate accounting programs.

  51. queuno on May 11, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Gee, aRJ, do you think real universities should offer computer science and statistics or should they be considered “math”?

  52. Rosalynde Welch on May 11, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Among my cohort of grad student writing instructors, Christian students were the dread bogeymen of the classroom. Nearly every discussion of pedagogy would eventually come around to “What to do if a Christian student mentions the Bible…,” and various strategies for dealing with such an alarming eventuality would be promulgated at length. Some instructors drafted detailed policies for their syllabi regulating the circumstances and rhetorical modes underwhich the Bible could be cited. I included nothing like that in my syllabi, and I would have allowed references to the Bible in classroom discussion—if it had ever come up. But no student ever mentioned the Bible, not even once. (It should be said, on the other hand, that I and my Mormon fellows never experienced any real bigotry in the department from the faculty or grad students.)

    Me, I’m biased against the darn engineering undergrads. My classes were infested with ‘em; I hated it.

  53. Pearl on May 11, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Chino (#7)
    “For the record, drinking Coke is not a ‘controversial’ point.”

    Forgive me for asking, but since I’m new to the bloggernacle, I’ve got to ask… why is Coke not controversial?

  54. ronito on May 11, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    lol Adam.

    That wasn’t the point of the story. It was the point that every mormon in her life had been uptight and close minded that she was shocked that some mormons might not be.

    I didn’t mean it to be a “IMMA AWESOME!” story.

  55. Adam Greenwood on May 11, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Peter LLC,

    I like A&W rootbeer.

  56. MAC on May 11, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    From my perspective the underlying issue isn’t the content of the course. But the added facet of “Mormoness” in ones secular life.

    I was recently in a professional situation where I was required to interact with Mormon clients and then prior to that Mormon direct reports. As much as I would like to say that I am blind to that it, it isn’t really possible.

    I went to a business lunch with a colleague (who hadn’t ever heard of Mormons) and a new client (both of us had recently transferred into a new area). About halfway through the get-to-know-you niceties of a meet-and-greet lunch I realized that the client was a member of the Church. For me the whole dynamic changed. It continues to color our professional relationship.

  57. Chris Grant on May 11, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Re #50: In the latest Public Accounting Report rankings, BYU is ranked #2 for both its undergraduate and its graduate program. Texas is #1 in both rankings. I don’t know if Berkeley is a real university, but it gets an Honorable Mention for its graduate program.

  58. a random John on May 11, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    queuno,

    CS yes, statistics no.

    Seriously though, what is the best university in the US that offers an accounting degree to undergrads? Even Cal doesn’t have one. Though Cal does offer statistics. Not surprising.

  59. a random John on May 11, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Chris,

    I’ll grant Cal status as a real university due to their lack of an undergrad accounting program and the excellence of their primary rival.

  60. Steve M on May 11, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Re: Chris (#29)

    Since high school students say unkind things to each other all the time without being threatened with suspension, I’m assuming that your objection was to the student’s particular choice of words. (Your use of asterisks seems to confirm this.) Yet you seem to think there’s something wrong with Mormon students who don’t want to expose themselves to the offensive words used in, say, The Handmaid’s Tale.

    I realize that this point was made light years ago (in blog time), but I’d like to quickly point out that a student calling someone else a derogatory name in class is not at all the same as reading expletives in a piece of literature.

  61. Dan Y. on May 11, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Mark B (#2),

    One data point: The division I work in consists of accountants, economists, and IT people. The IT people are heads and shoulders above the rest in terms of personality. God help us.

    Last Lemming (#11 and a previous thread),

    Unless I’m misreading you, it seems we share a profession and belong to the same stake. It’s a shame I couldn’t identify you. Well, maybe our dynamic personalities will conspire to put us in contact with each other.

  62. Chris Grant on May 11, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    Re #60:

    When I was in high school (over 1000 miles outside of the Mormon corridor) we’d get suspended for using the sorts of words that you can’t say on broadcast television (and that the defenders of modern literature are, for some reason, afraid to use in their full unexpurgated glory on blogs like this). This was true whether or not the word was used to insult a person present in the classroom. I think the event that FtW recounts in #40, illustrates wonderfully the dissonance that arises when schools require students to be exposed to authors whose language and themes the students are then forbidden to incorporate into their own speech.

  63. Chino Blanco on May 11, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    Pearl,

    Perhaps you could direct your question to your non-Mormon classmates, students or professors, and report back here with their opinions on the Coke controversy? I hear it looms large on campuses across the country.

    Or, the next time you feel others are unfairly labeling you “intolerant” for your refusal to read the assigned course titles, perhaps you should point out in your defense that you keep a very open mind about Coke-drinking.

  64. Ivan Wolfe on May 11, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Nearly every discussion of pedagogy would eventually come around to “What to do if a Christian student mentions the Bible…,” and various strategies for dealing with such an alarming eventuality would be promulgated at length.

    I find this funny because,

    1). This is a common duscussion in my grad program. Often, the talk revolves around not how to integrate it into the class discussion and treat it as a valid viewpoint, but instead how to shut down such obviously bigoted students.

    2). I’m the one who brings the Bible up in the classroom. I find that my students, even the diehard Christians, know next to nothing about the Bible. Yet the books we are reading (this semester, for example, we read Fahrenheit 451 and A Canticle for Leibowitz, among others) all refer to the Bible many, many times. It’s hard to appreciate what is going on in the text when Montag “becomes” the Book of Ecclesiates and “a bit of” Revelation when you have no idea what is actually in those books (same problem when the Abbot of the Monestary refers to the eternal conflict of Mary & Martha, or why “Lucifer” is the Church’s code name for the atom bomb).

    So, I often wind up lecturing about the Bible, just so my students can get those types of allusions/references. I do not proselyte, I merely describe. But I’ve had a few of the secular lefty students attack me for daring to try to get them to know anything at all about the Bible (yet when I discuss Hindu or Buddhist scriptures, they don’t mind at all).

    Actually, in those cases, the Mormon students tend to get the references well before any of the others. If nothing else, that makes me glad to have a Mormon student in my class.

  65. gst on May 11, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Mike (#17): “If you think you have it rough, think of some of the difficulties of the Mormon gynecologist. Would you refuse to see Mormon patients if you found yourself in their place?”

    Mike, I think I speak for everyone when I say, What in the living hell are you talking about??

  66. Steve M on May 11, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Re: Chris (#60),

    I think context is of the utmost importance. I personally don’t feel that profanity should be entirely eliminated from the academic environment. I don’t think that students should be disciplined purely for using profanity. But certainly students should understand the importance of maturity and respect in their dealings with one another, and therefore, when a student publicly refers to a classmate in a derogatory manner, this should be addressed by the teacher or school administrators. But adolescents and college students should be mature enough to recognize that reading the F-word in, say, The Catcher in the Rye does not make using it to demean another person any more acceptable or justifiable. Also, students and teachers should recognize that profanity, violence, sexuality, and other mature material may serve legitimate literary and artistic purposes. This is a legitimate academic topic that can be addressed without offering even tacit support for immorality, violence, or the use of profanity.

  67. Steve M on May 11, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    Sorry, I meant to respond to Chris’ comment in comment #60. My mistake.

  68. Steve M on May 11, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    62. Geez.

  69. Norbert on May 11, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Chris: Why are you encouraging me to type rude words in my computer? Are you tempting me?

    The ugly Mormon was a vague allusion to The Ugly American.

    And I’ll admit that refusing to read a controversial book doesn’t make a person bad, but it doesn’t make me kick up my heels with joy to have another thing to deal with.

  70. Adam Greenwood on May 11, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Don’t give way to that temptation, Herr Norbert. Remember, “lead us not unto Chris Grant.”

  71. Steve L on May 11, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    J. Green:

    Others have been talking here, but I’m curious what exactly your experience has been with Mormon students outside of BYU (particularly whatever instigated this post).

  72. Mark B. on May 11, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    I’m with Ivan re: the Bible illiteracy of most American students. In my class I talk about “Good Samaritan” laws, and get blank looks from students when I ask them the source of that term.

    And, I have to confess: I read The Grapes of Wrath and wrote my high school senior paper on it, at dear old Provo High School, which lurks on University Avenue in the shadow of the new temple of sweat. And Mrs. (or should I say Sister) deHart didn’t even chastise me for choosing that book, which is full of words they don’t want you to say in Sunday School.

    Of course, we all read The Good Earth too, and one student thought it was p0rn0graphic. Mrs. deHart looked concerned, and gave us the death-ray stare to stop us from saying anything unkind, which we saved until we were outside the classroom and talking behind that student’s back.

    I also have to confess that I read Anna Karenina and ended up, as Tolstoy hoped, feeling compassion for her rather than condemning her. That’s just awful, isn’t it?

  73. It's Not Me on May 11, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    I always enjoy reading posts on this website–insightful, informative and get me thinking about some things in ways I hadn’t previously. Then along comes a post like this (and some of the comments) that makes generalizations about people. Compared with much of what is posted on T&S, this seems a little lazy to me.

  74. greenfrog on May 11, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Jonathan G,

    In a substantially different context, I share both your experience with actual Mormon students, as well as your fears about abstract Mormons (which, of course, says much more about our respective fears, prejudices and projections about our own communities than it does about real live Mormons).

    (FWIW, I teach yoga — not grad school.)

  75. Frank McIntyre on May 11, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    RW: very funny.

    arJ: Please lets keep the undergraduate business program at BYU. I don’t want all those students flooding the econ department like they did at Stanford. If students who just want a job are going to wreck a degree, let them wreck one nobody cares about!

    Dan Y: Personalities are for losers.

  76. Frank McIntyre on May 11, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Oh, and in Kansas where I grew up, the teacher in my English class gave us the choice of reading the main text or an alternative one if we thought the other would be offensive.

    And no, Kansas is not overrun with Mormons, just Kansans. Bloody Kansans.

  77. Seth R. on May 11, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    If you had your druthers…

    Would you rather be harassed, interrogated and driven from a university over

    1. advocating for evolution, or

    2. suggesting that there is a correlation between race and criminal behavior?

    In its own way, Berkley and Stanford can be every bit as pompous, self-righteous, and intolerant as BYU or Bob Jones University.

  78. Jonathan Green on May 11, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Thanks for all the questions and comments, especially from the four people who figured out the text without the footnotes. Footnotes? Yes, I’ve now added them. Go back and read them, and if you still have questions, I’ll try to answer them unironically. I’m swearing off of irony for the next six months or so.

  79. Jim F. on May 11, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Interesting that this very morning I co-lead a discussion group of about ten humanities professors at BYU on something like this topic. If I recall correctly, though we all agreed that the narrow-minded Mormon student could be a genuine problem, we also agreed that they were not that common in humanities classes.

    Personally, I’ve never had in my class the kind of student you describe, but perhaps that is because I treach philosophy rather than literature. (However, in my 32 years at BYU, I have met a couple, though probably fewer than I can count on two hands.)

    In other words, I’m skeptical that this is much more than a myth shared by Mormon intellectuals.

  80. Lupita on May 11, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Jonathan, I am actually grateful to not have an iron lung. I am grateful for the blessing of modern ventilators that makes iron lungs almost a historical footnote.
    Oh wait…ironic lung…Is this located next to my humerus?

  81. Russell Arben Fox on May 11, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Sorry to have gotten things off on the wrong foot, Jonathan. But really, considering the rhetorical angle of the post, I still think “sarcasm” works better as a description than “irony.”

  82. Lupita on May 11, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    And Jim, I have never once heard you treach philosophy :) You’re an excellent teacher, though! Ah, Friday……

  83. Ivan Wolfe on May 11, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    It was funnier without the footnotes.

    You know what they say, if you have to explain the joke….

    (if you noticed my winking smiley face in post #10, I found the post rather amusing).

    I agree with RAF, though – it really comes across as sarcastic rather than just merely ironic. But it is on the fence between the two. And you know what the prophets say about fence setters……

    ;-)

  84. Ardis Parshall on May 11, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Basking in the pride of having gotten it right — and sympathizing with Jonathan because one of my own recent excursions into irony and/or sarcasm didn’t go over well …

  85. Kristine on May 11, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Jonathan–I’m offended!! My great-grandmother was a Bulgarian anthroposophist, and she was a saint! A saint, I tell you!!!

  86. manaen on May 11, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Prince Humperdink (tied to his chair): “I knew it! I knew it all the time!”

  87. Ugly Mahana on May 11, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    Norbert:

    You seem to be generalizing from one (rather horrible) experience to the whole group. What makes you think other momons would be similar to the young man with whom you locked horns?

  88. a random John on May 11, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    Since nobody is willing to answer my question, I’ll go out on a limb and say that BYU may very well be the best university in the US that offers an undergrad degree in accounting.

  89. Seth R. on May 12, 2007 at 12:27 am

    I like BYU because the tuition is cheap.

  90. Norbert on May 12, 2007 at 1:37 am

    I should leave this alone, but…

    Yes, Jonathan, I understood the point of your sarcasm. (Although I didn’t get the beer/grammar thing. That’s pretty funny.) My point was that someone actually could come to that conclusion because the type of Mormon student you are describing does exist, and they can make a Mormon educator’s life unpleasant by questioning his or her worthiness.

  91. Jonathan Green on May 12, 2007 at 4:04 am

    Norbert, your comments, earlier and now, are most welcome. I want you to know that I knew that you knew what I was up to. It’s worth pointing out, as both Jim and you have, that there really are a few Mormon students like that out there, feeding the stereotype.

    Yeah, Ivan, I liked the original version more, too, but the comments were running something like 10:1 in favor of non-ironic reading. I had to do something before I found myself the poster boy for the MHMHA (Mormon-Hating Mormon Humanities Association).

    Sorry, Seth, but your limb is about to get sawed off. According to this page from Ivan’s school, there are several schools overall ranked higher than BYU (70) with undergrad accounting programs, including U Penn* (7), Notre Dame (20), Michigan (24), Virginia (24), USC (27), Wisconsin (34), Illinois (41), Washington (42), Texas (47), Penn State (47), Ohio State (57), Miami/OH (60), Georgia (60), and Texas A&M (60). Indiana and Michigan State (70) are tied with BYU. Rankings are not exactly scientific, but it suggests that BYU’s accounting program is performing well above expectations.

    *In the list, there is an asterisk next to U Penn.

  92. Peter LLC on May 12, 2007 at 8:18 am

    “I like BYU because the tuition is cheap.”

    Heck yeah. Darn near free if you get good grades.

  93. Ana on May 12, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    This is almost impossible to read; I feel like a bumblebee on meth.

    As a university PR officer, though, I do want to make one point: It’s difficult to get any academic program anywhere in the news. Fired professors, students on shooting sprees, misspent funds, drunken fraternities are all easy. (Well, I’m sure they would be. Of course MY university doesnt’ have any of those things.) Accounting anywhere is going to be a hard sell.

  94. Adam Greenwood on May 13, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    Now with more iron.

  95. a random John on May 14, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Jonathan Green,

    What? There are schools ranked higher than BYU? The “Harvard of the West”? You’ve just damaged my testimony in ways I can’t begin to describe.

  96. a random John on May 15, 2007 at 11:45 am

    I’ve been informed by one of the permabloggers here at T&S that BYU no longer claims to be the Harvard of the West. They are now claiming the title of Berkeley of the West. The reference is near the end of the article, but the whole thing is informative, discussing the cutthroat competition for positions at the Y.

    I can’t tell if this kid in the article is serious or not. I’m also not sure which is funnier. If he is serious, that is pretty funny given not only the obvious geography error, but also the public/private, liberal/conservative and top ten/top 100 distinctions. If he was joking and just wanted to see if he could get that into the Daily Universe, well, that is pretty funny too.

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