In Defense of Boundary Maintenance at BYU

BYU’s recent policy changes that appear to be geared towards reinforcing the institution’s Latter-day Saint character are causing consternation in some circles, so I thought now would be a good time to be the bad guy and make a case for why proactive faculty boundary maintenance is needed for an institution like BYU to fulfill its mission. Like a lot of other people, I get the sense that recent changes are bellwethers for future shifts to come, so this will probably be a relevant topic for the next little while.

First, a common response is that a religiously sponsored institution can positively reinforce its religious mission while still allowing faculty to challenge the teachings of the sponsoring institution. However, the whole idea of a religious institution of higher education is the belief that a synthesis of the faith’s framework and the traditional academic venture is synergistic in some way. Challenging the faith’s framework itself doesn’t fit into that; using that framework as a lens through which to view academic learning does. 

If you don’t hold to the premise that religious institutions are right to perform any boundary maintenance, if you’re okay with an anti-Mormon teaching a religion class as long as they have an MDiv, then this is the part in a “choose your own adventure” book where it tells you to skip to the end, but as a parting note I would just add that there’s plenty of ideological boundary maintenance in secular universities as well. 

Next, if we can assume that some boundary maintenance is warranted, it raises the question about which boundaries to maintain. Many of the same people who bemoan the boundary maintenance of BYU today are themselves the beneficiaries of the wars fought at BYU in the 20th century over issues like Book of Mormon historicity. People can take it for granted that they can send their children to BYU today and assume that an authority figure in the classroom won’t subtly imply that Joseph Smith made it all up because of battles over this issue that were fought and won decades ago. 

I believe we’re going through another wave of boundary maintenance now. While Book of Mormon historicity is now more or less settled as an issue at the BYUs, the same is not true in the case of, for example, the Church’s theological position on human sexuality. Anybody who has spent time immersed in the sectors of BYU which are at least adjacent to these issues is aware of the fact that a not-insignificant contingent of BYU faculty fundamentally disagree with the Church on the theology (and yes I’m talking about theology, not politics, for which there is a much wider berth understandably).

(As a side note and to pre-empt a common criticism, you can disagree with the salience of Proclamation on the Family issues for the Church leadership, but it’s clear that human sexuality is the hot issue of the day, and that it is just as germane for the left as the right right now, so it’s disingenuous to attack Church leadership as being obsessed with these issues.) 

Consequently, if we assume that 1) religious universities have the moral as well as legal right to perform active boundary maintenance on their faculty, 2) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now emphasizing Proclamation on the Family principles because of their contemporary salience (among other things), and 3) there are in fact a not-insignificant number of faculty who have doctrinal disagreements with the brethren on sexuality issues (and, more importantly, students can sense said discordance), then it logically follows that the new initiatives, which I along with many on the left assume are geared towards these issues, make sense. Of course, I’m sure most on the other side would dispute the Church’s position for # 2, but if you fundamentally disagree with the Church on this issue theologically maybe that’s where the discussion should go instead of pretending that we’re acting from the same first principles. 

As a closing note, it is clear that boundary maintenance is an inexact process administratively, and there are false positives as well as false negatives. I won’t name names, but I know absolutely orthodox faculty candidates who had problems with the General Authority interview, and I’ve known closet non-believing, wannabe Martin Luthers of Morminism who passed every litmus test. 

However, some of the the inexactness is a natural consequence of the fact that when the lines are precisely delineated those who are trying to “reform” the Church know how to dance around and actively try to circumvent them, so I’m okay with a little bit of subjectivity when it comes to gatekeeping. There will be false positives and false negatives, but the administrative solutions are sometimes necessary when relying on one-off gatekeeping isn’t enough for keeping BYU on the same wavelength as the brethren. 

46 comments for “In Defense of Boundary Maintenance at BYU

  1. Stephen, How do you respond to the following: The question isn’t BYU maintaining its own boundaries. The problem is that the Board of Education has introduced a new boundary enforcement mechanism by circumventing faculty and administrative oversight and maintenance in giving non-BYU administrators (bishops, stake presidents, etc.) the discretionary power to determine who can teach and how “problems” are resolved? Thanks.

  2. Stephen,

    You’re argument is on shaky ground when you assert that there is some synthesis that occurs when professors toe the party line. I use as my evidence the liberality with which esteemed Catholic institutions for generations now, have not only tolerated, but encouraged diverse thought and teachings, even those which challenge the sponsoring institutions doctrines. (Sam Brunson please chime in).

    It then collapses under the weight of the straw man, when you play the anti-Mormon card.

  3. More than once (the first time I remember hearing it was in 1993) the Brethren in Conference have said there is no room for a “loyal opposition” in the Church. Some may see that as intolerance. I see it as sanity.

  4. @ Gary Bergera: If there are going to be religious boundaries maintained, I guess I don’t see why local religion-appointed leadership is fundamentally any different than university religion-appointed leadership. There is a “one size fits all,” versus “leadership roulette” tradeoff that I’ve discussed earlier, and that’s a genuinely tricky situation for which there isn’t a great solution.

    @ Sean: Esteemed for who though? There can be fine Catholic institutions of higher learning who meet all the criteria one would have for a secular university, but then it raises the question of why have the Catholic affiliation at all if its goals exactly mirror that of a secular university.

    Catholic institutions of higher learning are diverse and exist on a continuum; for example, I teach a class at Catholic U, which is a rough analog to BYU, and for which there is boundary maintenance, while other institutions are Catholic in the same way that Duke is Methodist.

    I used the extreme anti-Mormon case to basically make the point that most people would agree that some boundary maintenance is warranted for religious schools, it isn’t a freedom-or-repression dichotomy. Once we agree that some is okay it becomes a matter of discussing what point on the continuum is optimal.

  5. Interesting thoughts, Stephen. For future reference, though, the proclamation is usually referred to as the “Proclamation on the Family,” not “to the Family.” Its official title is “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

  6. Stephen, there is a good chance you wouldn’t be hireable at BYU. Offensive statement, right? But it’s true. It has nothing to do your academic credentials. But pretty good chances you wouldn’t make it through the battery of interviews and vetting. How do I know this? I have seen straight up boy scoutiest boy scouts and the molliest of Mormons nixed by the vetting process, even when they pass their department and college interviews and candidacy activities with flying colors. By numbers alone, I can say that your chances at somehow making it through are so-so, without knowing a single thing about you. This is the reality of BYU’s boundary maintenance. The fact that you publicly blog at all is pretty much a non-starter, if you were ever to apply. Heck, we have seen church employees and colleagues at other BYUs nixed for reasons that were never revealed (and nothing to do with their academic chops). So again, the boundaries you praise are the same ones that would make you a shaky candidate, whatever your qualifications, devotion to the church, personal morality, etc.

  7. Also, per the article today in the Salt Lake Tribune, new ecclesiastical endorsement questions for faculty include one about using pornography in the past few years. What exactly is pornography, what is using, how many years are few, and what is the aim of this question? If some current faculty member or job candidate reveals to their bishop that they “used” pornography in the last, say, five years, suddenly their career is in jeopardy? This is lunacy.

  8. Nobody (well, nobody serious) suggests that BYU does not have the right to set its own hiring standards based on its status as a private, religious university.

    But there is a difference between “boundary maintenance” and putting hedges around the law. Even before this policy change, the bar to attend/teach at/work at BYU was higher than the standard to go to the temple–which in LDS theology and practice is the holiest place on earth. Now, that bar is even higher, as many of the questions asked of new hires (and current faculty who have not opted-in to the new standard) go well beyond the temple recommend questions. Moreover, on the opt-in form, there is a clause that notes that the TR questions/standards are subject to change (and, therefore, interpretation by local leaders) at any time.

    Let’s be clear: one person’s apostasy is another person’s difference of interpretation. John A. Widtsoe’s perspective on the Word of Wisdom, for example, was very different from that of David O. McKay…but Widtsoe’s model had an influence on the way some local leaders interpreted that question in interviews. Elder Christofferson said that people could disagree with the Church’s position on same-sex marriage…but a conservative bishop might not have gotten that memo, could deny a faculty member a recommend, and then s/he would lose their job.

    And not to be repetitive, but the problem is not a question of having a temple recommend. The problem is what that implies for the lack of pastoral care, the uncertainty of employment based on the whims of a local leader, and the chilling of academic freedom–already suspect at BYU for many fields–for the faculty.

    BYU is not a seminary or a madrassa; it is a university. The number of faculty who hold fundamentally antithetical views to Church doctrine is miniscule. This policy will cost BYU good faculty who are faithful and believing members of the Church.

  9. First, a common response is that a religiously sponsored institution can positively reinforce its religious mission while still allowing faculty to challenge the teachings of the sponsoring institution. However, the whole idea of a religious institution of higher education is the belief that a synthesis of the faith’s framework and the traditional academic venture is synergistic in some way. Challenging the faith’s framework itself doesn’t fit into that; using that framework as a lens through which to view academic learning does.

    How would a janitor who disagrees with certain statements in the Family Proclamation be a threat to the institution’s religious mission?

    If you don’t hold to the premise that religious institutions are right to perform any boundary maintenance, if you’re okay with an anti-Mormon teaching a religion class as long as they have an MDiv, then this is the part in a “choose your own adventure” book where it tells you to skip to the end, but as a parting note I would just add that there’s plenty of ideological boundary maintenance in secular universities as well.

    I haven’t seen anyone advocate for this. I haven’t heard anyone categorically condemn boundary maintenance. Who are you arguing with on this point? As a parting note I would just add that recent posts at BCC aren’t against boundary maintenance, they’re about where boundaries are drawn and how they are policed.

    I believe we’re going through another wave of boundary maintenance now. While Book of Mormon historicity is now more or less settled as an issue at the BYUs, the same is not true in the case of, for example, the Church’s theological position on human sexuality.

    This isn’t a “for example”; it’s the central example and the main point of all of this. It’s weird that we have to be coy about that fact.

    Anybody who has spent time immersed in the sectors of BYU which are at least adjacent to these issues is aware of the fact that a not-insignificant contingent of BYU faculty fundamentally disagree with the Church on the theology (and yes I’m talking about theology, not politics, for which there is a much wider berth understandably).

    I think you draw an arbitrary line between theology and politics that doesn’t hold up. But also remember we’re not just talking about faculty, we’re talking about janitors, office assistants, etc. What is a “not-insignificant” number percentage-wise? What if a professor in the math department supports gay marriage but doesn’t advocate for that or publicly discuss it? That professor will now be disqualified due to matters of personal conscience, even when keeping those matters entirely personal. How is that an acceptable outcome to you? Notice what isn’t being attended to: political extremism, racism, misogyny, etc. The new guidelines set up hierarchies of greater and lesser wrongdoing and they underscore how many things are still apparently acceptable among faculty.

    However, some of the the inexactness is a natural consequence of the fact that when the lines are precisely delineated those who are trying to “reform” the Church know how to dance around and actively try to circumvent them, so I’m okay with a little bit of subjectivity when it comes to gatekeeping. There will be false positives and false negatives, but the administrative solutions are sometimes necessary when relying on one-off gatekeeping isn’t enough for keeping BYU on the same wavelength as the brethren.

    One of the church’s greatest weaknesses is its refusal to allow for and model differences of perspective among the membership. These new enhancements double down on that dynamic.

  10. About this from the OP …

    If you don’t hold to the premise that religious institutions are right to perform any boundary maintenance, if you’re okay with an anti-Mormon teaching a religion class as long as they have an MDiv, then this is the part in a “choose your own adventure” book where it tells you to skip to the end, but as a parting note I would just add that there’s plenty of ideological boundary maintenance in secular universities as well.

    ~

    The reference to an ‘anti-Mormon’ teaching a religion course is revealing.

    In the religious studies academy, folks cannot be divided so simply into the faithful and the anti, whether we’re talking about Mormonism or any other religion.

    Not only have I never met or heard of an ‘anti-Mormon’ teaching a university course about/covering Mormonism — if it happens it’s very rare.

    But in my experience, non-LDS scholars who study Mormonism as outsiders are too lenient in general and too willing to suspend critical standards for the sake of ecumenism or what have you.

    A fundamental tenet of the academic study of religion is that it is not beholden to any faith tradition. That doesn’t make it anti. That makes it critical and somewhere on the debatable scale of objectivity.

    If a religiously affiliated university does not allow for the academic study and critique of its own religious tradition along with everyone and everything, per the standard ‘rules of the game’ in each discipline, then it’s not an academic institution; it’s a religious one, masquerading as a university.

  11. The institution that manages the tithe and administers the Lord’s ordinances behaves like an insecure, unsure, faithless regime; the so-called Honor Code amounts to a passive-aggressive monitoring of speech and thought control.

    The idea of a “boundary maintenence” requires somebody to determine a boundary, mark a border, and enforce the boundary at the border. The first boundary the LDS Establishment needs to identify is a boundary for idiocy: the most dangerous impostors hide in the offices and corridors of LDS corporate bureaucracy and pose as gatekeepers. They are loyal to the institution even if they have no faith in the Restored Church. They will pass a temple recommend interview because to them, truth is a subscription to belief systems, and not the content of beliefs. They emphasize tone over truth. They can be identified by their loyalty to the institution and their neglect of the congregation.

    This kind of stuff leads me to believe LDS leadership is a bit lost, confused, uninspired. Lord help us.

    If I’m a farmer, and Utah is a field, I can recognize that the field is unfruitful, the flock is scattered, wolves mingle with sheep, the soil is contaminated, the water source is polluted–in other words, those whom we hold responsible for preparing Zion are incompetent stewards (speaking of LDS bureaucracy and middle-managers who consult the Brethren like sorcerers).

  12. Bert: Great catch on the mixed up prepositions (Sometimes I’ve caught myself saying “The World: A Proclamation to the Family”).

    Anon: Oh, I very much agree there are hedges that are quite silly. I have a friend who had a come-into-my-office interview with an admin at a Church-sponsored school because of his very pro-Church online activities, simply because they were independent online activities (in which he didn’t use his affiliation) that might have gotten attention. But that doesn’t mean the idea of hedges in principle doesn’t have some merit here.

    Doc: I agree that it’s a fuzzy line where differences of opinion become fundamental discordance with the Church, the fact that you say that “the number of faculty who hold fundamentally antithetical views to Church doctrine is miniscule” makes me think we disagree on where that line is. FWIW, I think the higher your position and authority and influence, the stricter the orthodoxy standards should be, because the more potential damage heterodoxy can cause, so yes, I think certain positions should require more than a temple recommend threshold.

    BHodges: You’re right, my thoughts here are more geared towards public-facing, admin, or teaching positions. I guess I see the janitor or contractor building a new seminary building as in a different category.

    Maybe I’m misreading, but the idea of “administration should be hands off while faculty can pretty much say what they want at a religious school as long as it fits the standards expected in a secular school because academic freedom,” while maybe not a majority view, is not marginal either, it’s certainly heavily implied in the discourse on the subject.

    I think the political and theological are quite divisible on this issue, it’s the difference between being for civil gay marriage and implying that the Church will solemnize same-sex sealings in the future, and it’s old-man prejudice that prevents them from doing so now. One is political, one is clearly theological. I suspect it’s a bit of a strawman that simply being against gay marriage would cost you a job; maybe if you’re chaining yourself to a temple or something in protest…

    G.wesley: Again, I’m fine with Catholic U spending the time they could spend going all Jesus Seminar on fundamental Catholic beliefs, and instead spending that time on what Aquinas means for their life today. If you want to critique the framework, go to a secular university, if you want to use the framework as a lens, go to a religious one, as long as it’s transparent about what it is.

  13. Catholic universities, and the BYUs: Apples and oranges:

    There is quite a lot more latitude in Catholic tradition, with different ways to be a Catholic academic in religious studies or whatever field.

    At the BYUs, it’s not so much the framework of Mormonism that we’re talking about as it is the current, reigning interpretations of a handful of powerful men, who are accountable to no one, and who have co-opted local leaders to do their dirty work.

    Could you imagine having the pope and some cardinals on the board of trustees, micromanaging the university admin? And enlisting local parishes to rat out and disqualify the faculty on some ecclesiastical grounds?

    Even that would not be as bad as what’s happening at the BYUs, since Catholic parish priests have actual training and are less hostile to the academic study of religion than your typical LDS bishop or branch president.

  14. Stephen, therein lies the problem. The “line” is completely ambiguous, changing and open to interpretation. One local leader may grant a faculty member (or member of the grounds staff or administrative assistant) a recommend if they support civil same-sex marriage; another may not. Or a bishop may not feel a faculty member is worthy if s/he pays tithing on the net rather than the gross income they make (yes, I know of instances where that has occurred). Or a bishop may have a stricter interpretation of the Word of Wisdom than is standard, making the faculty member ineligible for a recommend (again, this has happened…to me). Or a stake president who adheres so closely to the Family Proclamation that he does not think a female faculty member should be working outside of the home (yes, I have colleagues who have experienced that). Or any of scores of other examples.

    Moreover, a higher standard of public orthodoxy guarantees nothing…except that people fearing for their jobs (and the support of their families) will be incentivized to give the “correct” answers to local leaders regardless of their true beliefs or pastoral needs. How does that help anyone, including students? How does that create loyalty and trust on either side? How does that even recognize the reality of the Atonement?

    Finally, if there were, in fact, a major (or even a minor) problem at BYU with apostate faculty, one would expect to see firings that would be extremely well-publicized. To my knowledge, this almost never happens with CFS-track faculty (at least in my two decades at BYU; the September Six situation in 1992 predates my tenure in Provo) and only rarely even with adjunct faculty. This is a solution in search of a problem, one that only exacerbates the serious problem of faculty morale on campus and causes unnecessary stress, anxiety, and spiritual damage.

  15. What exactly is the purpose of all this extra work to vet the faculty?

    My hunch is that the church is unhappy with the rising level of disaffection occurring among it’s college-aged population.

    Assuming my hunch is correct (though perhaps it’s not), then this entire new process seems misguided. To wit, I know more people that are distancing themselves from the institution because of Elder Holland’s speech to BYU faculty last August, and Brad Wilcox’s recent devotional, than people are disaffected because of something some BYU professor said.

    The OP’s use of “anti-Mormon” is very telling. Firstly, it’s othering which is really uncharitable. Secondly, it’s a victory for Satan.

  16. “it’s othering which is really uncharitable. Secondly, it’s a victory for Satan.”

    Wouldn’t identifying the OP with Satan’s workers qualify as “othering”?

  17. BHodges: You’re right, my thoughts here are more geared towards public-facing, admin, or teaching positions. I guess I see the janitor or contractor building a new seminary building as in a different category.

    The rule makers don’t see them in a different category with regard to the new boundary maintenance policies.

    Maybe I’m misreading, but the idea of “administration should be hands off while faculty can pretty much say what they want at a religious school as long as it fits the standards expected in a secular school because academic freedom,” while maybe not a majority view, is not marginal either, it’s certainly heavily implied in the discourse on the subject.

    That’s not an idea I advanced, so I’m not sure who you’re responding to there.

    I think the political and theological are quite divisible on this issue, it’s the difference between being for civil gay marriage and implying that the Church will solemnize same-sex sealings in the future, and it’s old-man prejudice that prevents them from doing so now. One is political, one is clearly theological. I suspect it’s a bit of a strawman that simply being against gay marriage would cost you a job; maybe if you’re chaining yourself to a temple or something in protest…

    People’s religious and political views work in tandem with their underlying morals and values. I think the boundary between the political and religious is more artificial than actual. And one can be in favor of civil marriage for religious reasons. And being against gay marriage isn’t the problem, being in favor of it is (maybe you mis-typed?). And according to BYU’s new standards, bishops are to report on whether any employee disagrees with the church on gender and sexuality matters. You don’t think they’re asking that just because they’re curious.

  18. Sorry, messed up my tags. This sentence should not be italicized above: “That’s not an idea I advanced, so I’m not sure who you’re responding to there.”

  19. @ Doc:

    I suspect those kinds of abuses happen less than you’re implying, but sure, I would be comfortable having a “safety net” built in, e.g. bishops can’t revoke temple recommends for beliefs about evolution, etc.

    The higher standard the higher up you go seems reasonable to me. When a board is interviewing candidates for the presidency of an advocacy NGO, they’re going to spend more time making sure they’re on mission than they would for an entry-level comms employee. If someone wants to be dishonest during the vetting process I guess that’s on them, but every ambivalent, off-mission hire is displacing a potentially more straightforward on-mission candidate, whether we’re talking about NARAL or BYU.

    I don’t know if the lack of firing is indicative of much, other than the fact that the powers that be are generally averse to firing tenure track employees.

    @ Chadwick:

    Yes, when people leave over something concrete, it is often over something somebody on the conservative wing of the Church said, but I think the concern of the higher ups is that the seeds for becoming disaffected because of those things is being planted by the heterodox (not that some wouldn’t drift that way naturally).

    @ BHodges:

    You didn’t advance the idea, but you were saying that virtually everybody holds that religious boundary maintenance is warranted, so I was responding that that perspective is not as marginal as you were making it out to be,

    As far as your last paragraph (sorry, I can’t figure out how to italicize quotes in the comment system), I agree with most of it (and yes, I mis-typed), except I’d push back some on how seamless the political and theological are integrated. There’s wide diversity in how people personally do this, and it often belies simple narratives (e.g. “ally” or not, etc.).

    Yes, they’re reporting now more on orthodoxy on Proc issues, because, as noted in the OP, that is where the mismatch is right now more than, say, historical truth claims.

  20. Wording correction:

    saying that virtually everybody holds that religious boundary maintenance is warranted, so I was responding that that perspective is not as *universal* as you were making it out to be,

  21. Teaching positions at BYU are tantamount to callings in the eyes of the church. And as such it’s only natural that the boundaries associated with those positions would need to be protected as if they were callings. Plus it’s only natural that the more subjective aspects of qualification — that which can only come through inspiration — should have a say in the maintenance of said boundaries.

  22. One of the problems at BYU has been the shift towards an ever inclusive secular understanding of the world. More intellectuals that teach are increasingly secular minded. Everything from evolution to history, to racism, to gender identity, etc, have come into play at BYU. The problem is paramount because many future eclesiastic leaders come from the BYU upbringing and as such carry a certain secularism with them. In a church that connects mostly with right wing conservatism, BYU almost stands at the polar end touting left wing ideals. BYU needs a good cleansing in my opinion.

  23. I wouldn’t argue with the right of the university or church to perform boundary maintenance. I think it’s a bit odd to outsource the boundary maintenance to the local dentists.

    Elder Holland recently quipped that they need to be willing to give up professional associations and certifications if they must do so in order to maintain their religious standards. Seems to me like they are on that path, not solely because of this boundary maintenance but also referring to changes in the policies such as in the speech pathology department.

    I’m glad I don’t hold a degree from BYU, as it seems likely to lose value over time.

  24. “I think it’s a bit odd to outsource the boundary maintenance to the local dentists.”

    Unless, of course, the local dentist happens to be a judge in Israel.

  25. Exactly right, Jack. The actual title of the person, (bishop, doctor, judge in Israel) does not matter to me whatsoever. Although you and OP are probably comfortable with the idea of bishops having denial authority over employment for the church, I would not like it if I were an administrator in the biology department at a university and a rogue bishop/dentist/what have you, who has no background in science, research, teaching, or the university at all, could effectively fire (or deny hiring) a person for believing in the science that they are supposed to teach.

    It’s the church’s right to do it. It also changes the nature of the institution in a way that y’all seem to like, but I think it’s a bad, bad, bad idea. I think it’s bad for BYU students, bad for the church, and bad for BYU alumni.

    I don’t understand the cost benefit analysis of this policy. Without the policy, university can still hire and fire and perform boundary maintenance. With the policy, the university sources to random people the authority to fire even the best teachers and employees. I see no benefit and substantial risk to thus policy.

    But hey, What do I care? I’m not directly affected by this anyway.

  26. Rockwell, I see where you’re coming from. But we have to remember that the church isn’t a secular institution. Its religious are a guiding influence in its schools–which is what most of the students (and their parents) are counting on. And so, adding an ecclesiastical layer of boundary maintenance shouldn’t be surprising. And if BYU were to lose some of it’s credibility in the eyes of academia for so doing–then folks will have to make their own decision as to whether or not it’s worth it for them to either attend or work there.

  27. I very much appreciate the space to discuss this (and other) issues. As an alum (and a member of the church), I am affected (not as directly as faculty, I know, but still affected down the line) by this boundary maintenance and am still trying to determine how i feel about it. A few posters got to this issue, but it strikes at the heart of what BYU is currently versus what WE lay members want it to be versus what the brethren want it to be.

    I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I like being able to read and consider the different viewpoints without being yelled down by those who are convinced that everyone who disagrees with them is deznat. Unfortunately many of these intellectually-curious spaces are being replaced by echo chambers.

  28. I’m getting pretty tired of non-faculty people acting like the processes of a university can be tinkered with to achieve their desired end without fundamentally undermining what BYU has to be: a university. If it’s not a university first, it is nothing and it is worthless to everyone–the church, the students, the parents of students. We, the faculty, are what make the university a university. We spend decades of our lives gaining expertise in our fields, researching and publishing, mentoring and teaching, making sure that BYU remains accredited so that degrees carry value and so that all the federal funding keeps flowing BYU’s direction. We make the university function. We teach the classes. We win the research grants. We mentor the students. We help further their careers. We offer pastoral/parental care. Without us it is just a bunch of administrators and 30,000 young adults living in Provo. Could such a place print off certificates of achievement? Sure. But they would be worthless. You commenters, most of you anyway, have no stake in the university. You pay your tithing? So what. So do I. So do a whole lot of people. Again, you have no stake in the university. I do. My colleagues do. And you have no clue what we do on the ground. Really, you don’t. So take your complaints, your unfounded paranoia about what BYU is becoming, your ignorance about how universities function, and find another hobby horse. Go criticize the missionary department of the church for failing to keep baptisms on an upward trend. Or go and blame your local bishop for failing to increase activity rates in his ward to even the 50% mark. But that would be stupid, right? Now you are getting it. Seriously. Stop. You embarrass yourselves.

  29. Yes, they’re reporting now more on orthodoxy on Proc issues, because, as noted in the OP, that is where the mismatch is right now more than, say, historical truth claims.

    Or say, racism, or sexism, or xenophobia, or authoritarianism, or all kinds of things the present leadership don’t think are as pressing as making sure we don’t make gay/queer/trans folks feel comfortable.

    You haven’t yet responded to my point about private beliefs being grounds for termination regardless of those beliefs’ relevance to someone’s job or whether a person shares them.

  30. I am sympathetic to some of the comments here, such as Rockwell’s and anon’s most recent comments. To me, it is axiomatic that the University is not the Church and the Church is not the University — they are different — yes, the Church owns the University (and I am glad for that); and yes, faculty and staff of the University should support the Church’s mission and perspective; and yes, the University may and should do some boundary maintenance, but the University is not the Church and the Church is not the University.

    I do not know all the troubles, but I hope they can be peaceably resolved.

  31. @ Stephen C: “Yes, when people leave over something concrete, it is often over something somebody on the conservative wing of the Church said, but I think the concern of the higher ups is that the seeds for becoming disaffected because of those things is being planted by the heterodox (not that some wouldn’t drift that way naturally).” The pandemic taught me two things: that people can work from home, and that everyone in the LDS church is heterodox. After we go after the BYU faculty, and the youth continue to defect, who is next? The mission presidents? The youth sunday school teachers? The parents?

    @ Jack: “Unless, of course, the local dentist happens to be a judge in Israel.” There is only one judge bro. The rest of us just “play judge.”

    Lucky for me, my two BYU degrees are now 17 years old. No future employer cares about my alma mater any more. But as anon so eloquently pointed out, the current faculty have enough on their plate just trying to stay up in their field of choice. We really need to stay in our lane and let the professors profess. As for my kids, thankfully none of them show any desire to attend the BYUs.

  32. @BHodges: As I mentioned, I’m fine with the janitor having a different standard, it’s the teachers/admins that are the main point of all this.

  33. One of my kids was working toward getting into a very competitive graduate program at byu in a male dominated field (male dominated especially at byu). About a month ago she abruptly changed her mind. The endless bad press (BW mess) and these types of conversations scared her off. I wonder how all of this boundary maintenance impacts the school’s work to bring in more female and poc students/teachers.

  34. Anon,
    Interesting thing but, I used to be one of the original LDS bloggers years and years ago. I had several go-arounds with some BYU professors and was ended up being kicked off the LDS blogosphere because I didn’t agree with them on several topics. I saw it way back then how secularism had infiltrated the professor ranks at BYU. Usually anymore, if I get in an argument or disagreement with someone on the blogs where I can still post, it’s generally a professor at BYU or someone affiliated with them. I’m not sure what it is about the culture there but somehow there are bad apples there.

  35. Stephen, my guess is that “boundary maintenance” is the wrong way to approach this. The goal doesn’t seem to be an us vs. them sorting, but just a formalizing of what’s already a de facto standard. So I suspect this policy change will not have any dramatic effect. It might even be nothing more than part of a long-term strategy to keep BYU’s clergy exception viable.

    Anon: I’m kind of faculty. I’ve been faculty a lot of places, including at BYU-Idaho. There’s a lot of truth to what you say. But what’s always missing from these discussions is how completely normal a lot of this is. There are questionable administrative decisions, irritating policies, bad tenure denials and faculty with odd qualifications anywhere you look. I think looking at these things in terms of basic organizational dynamics can help reduce a lot of the angst. Employees who are fundamentally at odds with an organization’s stated values are going to encounter friction at some point, and that’s unavoidable no matter where you are. Re-reading your comment, I’m not sure if we agree or disagree.

  36. Jonathan,

    To be fundamentally at odds with the institution (and here I am understanding you to mean the Church) would be to embrace anti Christian sentiments. If you see the Church as fundamentally something else, well that’s another conversation. I’ve been here a decade and I haven’t met anyone fundamentally at odds with the Church, not on the left or right or however you want to nominate the spectrum. There are lots of people I disagree with and plenty of faculty and admin I steer well clear of, but I would never classify them as fundamentally at odds with the institution, not in any way that makes them fully or even largely adversarial. I hope they see me the same. I’ve certainly labored and sacrificed toward the goal of building up BYU. So have they.

    Of course other institutions have their strained dynamics. BYU has all the normal strains PLUS a slate of others, all self-imposed. I think we mostly are in agreement. But I would say the same to you as I said earlier: BYU’s constraints would mean you would not easily be hired here, even though you are more than qualified. And if hired, you are one bishop away from losing your job. A zealous set of Provo bishops could have gotten a lot of faculty fired for not wearing masks, in express rejection of the prophet’s direction. If you’re cool with that, I’m not sure how else to help you understand what is wrong with the current push for added policing faculty and new hires. Finally, I’ll repeat: why are faculty taking the blame for corrupting the youth or whatever when only a fraction of the youth go to BYU and 70-80% of young folks disaffiliate overall? And if the argument is that we get young people at their most important developmental time, why aren’t mission presidents taking any heat? They are also remunerated by the church for their labors and should have far more direct influence over their charges’ spiritual growth. An objective third party observer might reasonably point to them as the real corrupters of youth, given their abysmal success rate at keeping their sheep in the flock during and within a few years of mission service.

  37. This is a belated response to anon and a few others who are strongly critical of the Church’s efforts to maintain some sort of fidelity to Church teachings among faculty. This is a hard challenge, and I freely admit that I don’t know what the best approach to this challenge is. I don’t know whether recent or for that matter older policies are likely to be efficacious. (For that, I’m not even sure what the recent changes have been, exactly; I infer what they are mostly from posts and comments like these.) But I do think that anon and others are understating or underestimating the significance of the issue and the concern.

    So first let me say that Church members (and even people who aren’t members) have a real stake in these issues. They may attend or send their children to the BYUs. But more than that, what is often said at Catholic universities (where I have taught for many years) is largely true for the LDS Church as well: The universities are where the Church does its thinking. What goes on at BYU affects the direction and thinking of the Church. (You’d be surprised– and I sometimes laugh– at the authority for many ordinary members that attaches to “So-and-so, who teaches at BYU, says . . .”). Moreover, the world as it stands today does reflect a very real conflict between, on the one hand, views resonant with traditional Christian perspectives and, on the other hand, views shaped by perspectives that are not Christian and are often hostile to traditional Christian beliefs and values. So it just is a legitimate interest of a church to have universities composed of faculty many of most of whom are thinking about the various things they study from a faithful perspective. And who then try to impart their knowledge developed with that perspective to some of the most talented of the upcoming generation, and to the Church generally, and to the world.

    Second, to deny that there are faculty at the BYUs (and likely many of them) who are unsympathetic or hostile to some central LDS positions seems to me an exercise in denial. It’s true that I don’t teach at BYU. (In past years, I turned down opportunities to teach there more than once, in large part, rightly or wrongly, because I didn’t want to be subject to these kinds of eligibility requirement and processes.) But I know well a number of people who do teach at BYU or BYU-I, and it’s perfectly clear that some of them are completely unsympathetic to the Church’s positions on matters like sexual morality, same-sex marriage, etc. And it seems unlikely that the faculty members I know are completely unrepresentative.

    Now I expect that these people would deny that they are opposed or hostile to “the Church.” For one thing, it would be very imprudent of them to say that they are. So they would likely say that the positions they oppose aren’t really the Gospel or the Church, and that these policies will or should be changed at some point in the future, and they themselves are working to bring the Church more into line with the real Gospel. Or something of that sort. It’s not for me to say whether they are right or wrong about this; I don’t know what will happen. But from a more objective standpoint it is clear that these faculty are unsympathetic to the current positions of the Church as it is. And once again, I think the Church, along with its members and even other people who care about the philosophical and spiritual conflicts of our time, has a very legitimate interest in trying to maintain an academic institution faithful to its vision and beliefs as its leaders and many or most of its members understand those.

    Whether current policies or any other policies will achieve that goal is hard to say. But the conflicts should be debated, I think, on an accurate understanding of what the facts and concerns are.

  38. Anon: “Fundamentally at odds” wasn’t a good way to put it; sorry about that. Maybe “out of alignment on a point of high importance to the institution”? I do agree that my experience matched yours: all the faculty at BYU-Idaho I knew personally loved the church and the school, despite some frustrations with it.

    I can’t speak to Provo, but I was already hired by BYU-Idaho once, so I don’t think it’s accurate to say I wouldn’t easily be hired at a BYU campus. Or if I can’t be hired now, it has much more to do with the elimination of my field than any kind of church standard. But when I was there, I very much liked the place and the students, and I did once tell my wife: My employment here does not outweigh whatever damage I might do to the school or its students, if I were to end up in a place where that was a possibility; it would be better for me to be fired before it came to that. And there are steps that adults can take before it does come to that, but I accepted that a good and reasonable bishop might find that I was no longer able to teach at BYU-Idaho. It’s understandable that a lot of people wouldn’t want to be in that position.

    As for rogue bishops, I think that concern is vastly overblown. It seems like a second-order problem that can be addressed with reasonable adjustments. Like Doc in the comments above mentioned a problem involving the Word of Wisdom, but that’s weird, because there really aren’t a lot of gray areas there. Is insisting on one’s right to drink green tea or decaf, or whatever the issue was, really worth going to the mat for? And even Doc seems to have worked out the situation.

    You make good points about mission presidents, but one important difference between faculty and mission presidents is that the church needs mission presidents in a way that it doesn’t need faculty; the church can get by without universities but not without missionaries. BYU has to justify its value to the church in a way that missions don’t. That means even one case of a faculty member making provocative criticism of church leaders or doctrines or encouraging a student to disaffiliate is a potential calamity for the institution. Federal funding is great, but church funding is BYU’s lifeblood.

    I don’t think this is entirely different from what goes on at public colleges in states with conservative legislatures. Individual faculty certainly have much more scope to speak up about areas of political disagreement, but I’ve also seen college presidents shut down campus initiatives that were going to put the college at odds with the people who approve state funding.

  39. With regard to the Word of Wisdom issue, I was not issued a temple recommend because I admitted to drinking Dr. Pepper (not a TR threshold). The same bishop refused my mother a temple recommend because she admitted to watching R-rated movies (not a TR question or threshold). If you see the concern about local leaders as overblown, then you have had a far different experience than I have had over the past 46 years that I have been a member of the Church. I can point to at least a dozen personal experiences with local leaders that have been problematic and irregular…and not because I have advocated for anti-institutional doctrinal positions.

    I agree that the significant and increasing numbers of younger members disaffiliating is playing a role in all of this. But there are numerous reasons–detailed by Jana Reiss and others–for this attrition; faculty beliefs/actions are not the driving (or even statistically significant) factor here.

    BYU has come a long way (and not in a good way) from Hugh B. Brown’s comments in a May 1969 devotional: “Preserve, then, the freedom of your mind in education and in religion, and be unafraid to express your thoughts and to insist upon your right to examine every proposition. We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts.”

    So-called “boundary maintenance” already existed (at least since 1995 with the introduction of faculty ecclesiastical endorsements, if not before). This new standard takes things to a new level…unnecessarily.

    And with regard to the comments about “problematic” faculty, this will probably be an area on which some of us will need to agree to disagree. For some, believing in/teaching evolution would make a faculty member an apostate. For some, supporting same-sex marriage from a political perspective would do the same (despite Elder Christofferson’s statements in 2015). For some, eating chocolate would put one in violation of the Word of Wisdom (and, thereby, not eligible for a temple recommend). But as I have said before, the vast majority (99% at least) of BYU faculty in my experience–and I am in what some would consider a “liberal” department and college–support the Church and its teachings despite disagreeing on some policy issues…which should not be disqualifying.

    I will close with this instructive statement: “Unfortunately, at BYU we occasionally find a large streak of fear towards those who are different, toward those who disagree with us, fear that they will corrupt us, fear that BYU will lose its uniqueness. We fear that secular truth will destroy moral truth…Here is my personal academic creed: I will act with courage and not from fear–fear of what others may expect or think, fear of my own inadequacies. I will speak freely, openly, publicly….I will learn from those who do not agree with me. In particular, I will not impute bad motives to those who do not agree with me. I will instead examine their evidence, their arguments, and their conclusions and weigh each thoughtfully and carefully….I will not presume that because I control someone’s wages that I have bought their loyalty. I will remember that loyalty can be earned but not bought…” (J.W. Cannon, BYU professor of mathematics,1993 Distinguished Faculty Lecture)

  40. Jonathan,

    I don’t think your decision back at BYUI is entirely commendatory and I’m not sure that it is all that believable. Are you completely serious that you would have resigned a tenured (or CFS) job? You would put your spouse and children through that? You might think that honorable, but many people would see that betraying a fundamental duty to your family, especially, say, if you had a child in need of special medical care to remain healthy or alive. Also, put yourself back in time a bit, you would have asked to be fired in 1977 because you were convinced the church was wrong about priesthood and temple bans? And then you would have ruined your career only to see the church reverse course a few months later? Or put yourself now and you are convinced that D&C 132 is wrong because you or your spouse can’t stomach the idea that exaltation demands eternal plural marriage. Or you have a gay child who is getting married and you want to support them. Just like that, you resign your tenured job, your benefits, your retirement? I see no honor in that.

    Also, your lack of credence for bishops causing difficulties is, in my experience, naive-sounding. Doc mentioned their stories. Let me tell you another: tenured faculty member and spouse in adjacent department gets called into bishop’s office and bishop states that he doesn’t think they are paying enough in tithing. Threatens to withdraw endorsement unless they increase amounts going forward and backpay several months to “prove” their sincerity. Here’s another: colleague is threatened by bishop to remain silent (or else) in GD/EQ because the bishop doesn’t like the person’s habit of closely reading scripture. Here’s another: colleague has bishop who “feels very protective of BYU” (no actual connection to the university) and won’t sign off on EE unless colleague measures up to that bishop’s personal hedges. Here’s another: colleague has a neighbor with whom there have been long term disagreements over property issues; things have occasionally boiled over. Colleague’s neighbor gets called as bishop. Does colleague pursue their rightful complaint against their neighbor? These are all actual situations from my circle of colleagues within the last few years.

    And I think you are wrong about the church not needing BYU. If the church didn’t need it, it would have jettisoned BYU long ago. No. The church needs BYU way more than it needs missions. The church can’t spend or proselytize its way into producing the kind of tithe paying, calling holding, middle and upper middle and upper class nuclear families it regularly gets from BYU. Missions acculturate young missionaries more fully into the LDS life-track bring and bring in new blood (which, sadly, we all know disaffiliates in the supermajority within shorts time periods), but BYU provides the generational core of the church and its leadership. So maybe I just argued myself into you agreeing with you that BYU professors, as the church sees them, are a commodity so valuable they must be vetted and policed in the extreme. Ha! Well there you go. We agree. Or something. So let me say this in counterpoint to my counterpoint: the faculty here are amazing. And they could use way more support and good will from the members and from the church leadership than they are getting. Morale is not good around here. Posts like this don’t help.

  41. Anon, that’s a weird list of hypotheticals and it doesn’t seem like a productive exercise to go through them all. As I explained in a recent post, I’ve actually seen what it’s like to leave a faculty job at BYU-Idaho when I wanted a different outcome. It was an unhappy experience all around – but also the kind of thing that adults can anticipate and take steps to prepare for, if you see it as a possibility looming on the horizon. You apply for new jobs, or you explore new career options, and life goes on, eventually. Once you’ve been through it, it loses some of its terror. It’s unpleasant but definitely survivable.

    Would I have voluntarily left a CFS position? I wouldn’t know. I did walk away from an indefinitely renewable position at another school when I discovered it was untenable for me and my family for numerous reasons. I didn’t have another job offer in hand when I told my department I wouldn’t be returning, and in fact I’ve never held a full-time appointment since then. I regret a lot of things, but I’ve never regretted that decision at all. There are worse things than an academic career that comes to a premature close.

    This being the Internet, you’re correct to treat my self-reported experience with some skepticism. I mean, that’s how I treat yours, after all. Without exception, the bishops I’ve had have been the finest people I’ve known, and their primary concern was the welfare of my family during my years as an itinerant academic. I do have to admit that having a bad bishop would be really, really bad. At the same time, it seems like bishops have few incentives to cause professional disasters for ward members. In any case, it seems better to push back a bit rather than accept every report of ecclesiastic malfeasance at face value. (Like if my bishop wanted me to stop drinking Dr. Pepper or watching R-rated movies, maybe that’s not the issue I’d choose to loose my job over? Or if I’d had conflicts with a dozen local leaders, maybe the common factor wasn’t the bishops?)

    I don’t want to say that BYU is unimportant. I like how also-anon put it: universities are where (or at least one important place where) the church does its thinking. BYU is a crucial interface between the church and secular modernity, and the church would be much worse off without it, which makes it worth arguing over. Then again, the church has a scriptural injunction to spread the gospel, but no equivalent for founding universities, and the church did without them for the first 70 years of its existence. In any case, thanks for your perspective and for pushing back and giving me some things to think about.

  42. I think a real in depth analysis of this issue would need to involve some research into the past boundary maintenance that has been performed at BYU and in CES. I only have a surface knowledge of these, but here are a few of the items that would play a part. Mostly from memory, so this should certainly be subject to some fact checking:

    – Curriculum decisions: early to mid 20th century there were debates about whether evolution should be taught at BYU. There is some discussion of this researched by Greg Prince and discussed in his book, David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (hereafter referred to as DOMATROMM). Ultimately it was determined that BYU science classes should teach the scientifically accepted facts supporting evolution. I believe that there were some apostles that were opposed to this. We can see from some of the comments above (Rob) that some opposition to teaching evolution remains within the church. These days, I don’t think that a university can maintain any degree of standing in the scientific community if it doesn’t teach evolution.

    – Ecclesiastical Endorsement: DOMATROMM describes an era when there was a push to crackdown on professors not paying tithing. I believe this was a time when it was common for members to not maintain a current recommend, nor was a temple recommend a requirement for faculty. I don’t remember if this crackdown was successful; it seems like there was not an existing requirement to have local leaders endorse the faculty as worthy / fill the papers. We are seeing a shift now to requiring temple recommend with additional endorsement.

    – Disciplinary action: possibly in the 80s, and definitely in the 90s, high profile excommunications such as the “September six” would have signaled that faculty should be loyal to the institution of the church. I don’t remember how many of the excommunications were CES or BYU faculty, but I don’t think it matters – the signal was clear.

    Here is my take, from the perspective of a non believing member who has children that might, but probably won’t, attend BYU. If professors lose their position as a result of failure to get an endorsement, we will see that reported and discussed in blogs and social media posts, and it will look a bit bad, but it probably won’t cause a lot of publicity. It probably won’t bother believing members.

    If faculty are excommunicated it likely gain a bit of national media attention, in a mostly negative way. Again, most believing members will find out justified, but it wrong be a good look.

    In the most extreme scenario, someone will try to clean house, as Rob above suggested needs to happen. It only takes one bishop. If there is a perception that the there is interference in the curriculum regarding sexual health, psychology, counseling, evolution, or any of a number of other topics, particularly in a way that involves ethically treating people, it will likely make national news in a big way, and hurt BYU’s reputation. Rob and maybe Jack(?) seem willing, perhaps eager, for that to happen. OP seems doubtful that it will happen.

    When leadership decided to let BYU teach evolution in the first place, they were really deciding whether they wanted to try to be a serious and respected academic institution with a religious origin (in the vein of Notre Dame) or a quirky and provincial curiosity of an institution that happens to hand out degrees. They decided to be the former. The moment that a bishop attempts to decline endorse based on allegiance to the family proc, BYU admin and the higher ups in the church will necessarily be revisiting that decision, and they seem poised to take the latter position.

  43. -BYU professors of religion and our PAID CLERGY of seminary and institute teachers ought to be triple-vetted. Professors and employees outside of explicit religious responsibility ought to be given room to teach as they know best.

    -Ironically, the best LDS theological work is being accomplished outside BYU. The Interpreter Foundation was formed in part by a schism between BYU professors and administrators; it’s no secret that BYU administrators “sell out” to rich donors that seek to influence the “politics” of the church–these richfolk are the most dangerous adversaries to the Church, wolves in lambswool.

    -BYU Professors teaching secular subjects need to be able to teach about the real, secular world, uncensored. Teaching a theory is not the same as advocating a theory (although it seems there are some scrupulous folks that don’t get that). Getting rid of the BYU football program would yield greater aggregate righteousness than witch-hunting professors.

    -It is important to vet BYU employees, but the inconsistent standard makes those running the institution appear to be motivated by the wrong reasons. If LDS knew how many employees involved in the theatre of the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) were openly LGB-etc., the monied conservatives would flip out: $100 million-dollar-a-year-cash-cow for the Restored Church profits heavily on the labor of those whose views do not align with the dogmatic pledges being pressed to tithe-funded employees.

  44. It has devolved into a witch hunt. That professor has a rainbow flag in his window so he must not support church doctrine. It’s sad to see the Pharisees waving their arms and taking aim at people who aren’t as “righteous” as they are.

  45. @Mark, All this time I thought the rainbow symbolized the promised-covenant to Enoch, represented as fulfilled, by the heavenly image of an ionized field frequency of water refracted by light…

    Is it the water, the light, or the spectrum that offends those who don’t like rainbows?

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