The Lord’s University
by Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel
On Culture Wars, Crossroads, and Charted Courses
[p.415]As some of his readers saw it, Michael Morris simply could not hold back any longer. The career move from a local Utah Valley tabloid, Utah County Journal, to the LDS church’s official Ensign magazine in Salt Lake City would have been a move up in both pay and prestige. But the homespun Journal had given him something the straight-laced Ensign could not: a public forum for castigating BYU liberals. When the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released its report in September 1997 criticizing BYU’s administration for providing a “distressingly poor” climate for academic freedom, Morris journeyed south to find a Utah County audience willing to listen while he said his piece.
The AAUP report, Morris wrote in a lengthy opinion essay in the Provo Daily Herald—a more respectable paper than the Journal, Morris’s previous employer—was “meaningless,” and should be ignored by the BYU community, or, better yet, worn as a “badge of honor.” While the photograph of Morris that accompanied his article may have portrayed a neater writer than the one formerly displayed in the Journal—hair and beard closely trimmed, shirt crisp and white-his traditional tone was back as he lashed out at the “20-member [local] AAUP,” which had “raised a stink over the firing of English professor Gail Houston, who couldn’t keep her visions of a heavenly mother to herself.” So the AAUP—“[i]n keeping with its history of hostility toward religious schools”—had found bad things to say after “claiming to have heard complaints from anonymous individuals.” So what? As Morris boasted that one BYU professor had told him, “All that means is that we’ve got 100 people here who, like Gail Houston, don’t understand or accept the mission of the Church or of BYU.”
But Morris did not stop there. He leveled the bulk of his assault at the national AAUP itself. In contrast to what he called the organization’s “politically correct antics” (Morris incorrectly claimed that the AAUP had cen-[p.416]sured the University of California system for dismantling its affirmative action policies), he held up another academic organization—the National Association of Scholars—as “an academic organization that doesn’t define academic freedom according to a political agenda.” Morris cited NAS leaders who dismissed the AAUP as “tepid, inconsistent, and uneven at best, and sometimes wholly improper.” And, as if labeling the organization as pro” group preference” were not damaging enough, he drew a damning analogy to the president of the United States as well: “[T]he AAUP has about as much credibility calling for academic freedom,” Morris complained, “as the [Bill] Clinton administration has calling for campaign finance reform.”1
Morris’s attack on the AAUP differed from most others that flooded the editorial pages of Utah newspapers at the end September 1997. Rather than simply asserting BYU’s right as a private university to do as it pleased, Morris introduced the vocabulary and partial cast of characters of the larger American “culture wars.” Another letter, one printed in the Deseret News the same day, took a similar tack. “Where were you,” the Orem letter-writer asked the AAUP, “when the radical feminists, multiculturalists, Marxists, homosexual activists, environmental extremists and other such were stifling all dissenting views and turning most of our distinguished universities, with the cooperation of faculty and administrators, into intellectual backwaters? … when ‘student protesters’ and Marxism professors were forcing a stifling ‘PC’ (politically correct) orthodoxy on campuses allover America?” If the AAUP really cared about academic freedom, this citizen argued, then “most of our prestigious universities would have been censured by your organization long before now.”2
Morris and his fellow critic pointed to one context in which the academic freedom controversies at BYU could be read—as local skirmishes in a much larger ideological battle waged in American culture generally, but with particular fierceness in universities. As one Daily Universe opinion writer picked up the theme, BYU was simply refusing to “conform” to the kinds of campus politics prevalent elsewhere: “In 1993 UCLA caved in to a hunger strike by students and built a certain ethnic group their own center,” he wrote. “Freshman [sic] at Harvard are invited to say they are homosexual, wether [sic] they are or not, during orientation.”3 In this narrative, Morris had long interpreted people like Gail Turley Houston (and Cecilia Konchar Farr before her) not only as threats to the church, but to the moral foundations of America and of Western civilization itself.
In response to Morris’s volley, Scott Abbott, co-founder of BYU’s AAUP chapter, could not restrain himself either. “If I had known, as Mr. Morris does,” he returned in an opinion essay of his own, “that the AAUP has a ‘history of hostility toward religious schools,’ I would never have read a series of articles,” in the AAUP’s journal, about opening universities to religiously engaged scholarship. Nor would he have “accepted an invitation to speak at [the upcoming] AAUP-sponsored conference on Academic Free-[p.417]dom at Religiously Affiliated Institutions.” Abbott continued sarcastically that he must have “naively assumed that because the [AAUP] conference listed” prominent scholars of religion—many of whom were openly religious—hailing from schools like “Southern Methodist University, Calvin College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary … and Notre Dame, that it was a fair minded attempt to discuss the subject. Silly me.”
Abbott addressed in particular Morris’s apparent assumption that “[a]nyone who argues against [his] position has a political agenda.” Regarding Morris’s non-political heroes at the NAS, Abbott thanked Morris for liberating him from the “misconception [that] the National Association of Scholars, whose … advisory board … [are] part of a neo-conservative group who helped shape the thinking that brought Newt Gingrich and friends to prominence,” somehow had no “political agenda.” It is fortunate, Abbott remarked, that “Mr. Morris has better information.”4
Morris was probably not surprised that Abbott would challenge his take on the AAUP report. But he might have been surprised to learn that Abbott, later that month, would agree with him that the BYU controversies should be viewed against the backdrop of the culture wars, though with a different interpretive spin. To understand these arguments and how they help make sense of BYU in the 1990s, a brief overview of the national controversy is instructive.
Creating America’s Culture Wars
The term “culture wars” gained momentum in the popular American vocabulary during the 1992 U.S. presidential election season, when rightwing Republican hopeful Pat Buchanan thundered to his party’s convention in Houston, Texas, that “[t]here is a religious war going on in this country,” and that to win it, “Americans” would have to “take back our cities and take back our culture, and take back our country.”5 Following up in a syndicated editorial a month later, Buchanan declared that the battle was a “cultural war for the soul of our country,” and raised the specters of gay rights activists, the mobs of the Los Angeles riots, and National Endowment for the Arts-funded artists who “desecrat[ed] .. , Christian images” as those on the enemy side. “The cultural war is already raging in our public schools,” he said, warning against multicultural curricular reforms that broadened the scope of what counted as “history.” “If a country forgets where it came from,” he railed, “how will its people know who they are?”6
Buchanan’s pronouncements merely broadened the usage, though, of a term that was already gaining currency. Educators Ira Shor and Paolo Freire, in 1986, had published Culture Wars: School and Society in the Conservative Restoration, 1969-1984. Their book was reprinted in 1992 by the University of Chicago Press. The title of a popular book also published in 1992, James D. Hunter’s Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, indicates a conversation well in progress. Over the next few years the militaristic rheto-[p.418]ric only intensified. Hunter’s next book, for example, published in 1994, was apocalyptically titled Before the Shooting Begins.7
The term “culture wars” became widely used almost simultaneously with the popularization of another term—“political correctness,” or “PC” for short. According to one researcher, the frequency with which the latter term was used in the popular media increased from 65 instances in 1990 to 1,570 in 1991, and for the next several years the usage nearly doubled annually.8 While some left-leaning academics initially used the term “PC” with approval, antagonists used it to label what they claimed was a movement of primarily academic radicals—feminists, Marxists, gay rights activists, and postmodernists—to stifle traditionalist dissenters on campus who opposed their hostile takeover. While the term was purportedly used to silence anyone who was not “politically correct,” by some accounts it quickly became a way to derail academic discussions about race, class, or gender as conservatives on and off campus tagged any such conversation as “PC” and, therefore, as unfit for legitimate academic discussion. To use a local example, when the BYU English department moved in 1991 to change the name of one required course from “Freshman English” (the word “freshman,” to some, was considered sexist) to “College Reading and Writing,” one student—Jimmy Gulbrandsen, whose family would subsequently call for a crackdown on English department liberals and feminists (see chap. 8)—accused the department chair, “Brother [Neal] Lambert,” of caving in to pressure from “secular feminists.” The course should really be renamed, Gulbrandsen argued, “English/Sociology 115: A Secular Study of Feminism, Socialism and Political Correctness,.”9 The terms “PC” and “culture wars” soon went hand-in-hand in Provo as well as nationally as the divisions Buchanan described were frequently made synonymous with the division between “politically correct” and “politically incorrect,” the latter a phrase assumed defiantly by cultural conservatives.
The media sensation surrounding PC also became inextricably entwined with the season’s presidential politics. In a 1990 column, conservative critic George Will charged that “campuses have become refuges for radicals” and that “political indoctrination [is] supplanting education.”10 By the end of the year Newsweek had featured a cover story on the PC “THOUGHT POLICE.” Regarding the story by Jerry Adler, which discussed “politically correct excess” in campus debates over language, cultural sensitivity, and discrimination, the magazine Mother Jones retorted that “angry—even silly—arguing is guaranteed by the First Amendment, right?” and asked Adler: “Thought Police? McCarthyites? Where [are] the state-sponsored tribunals, the torpedoed careers, the physical strong-arming that such language implies?”11
Whether or not such attacks on political correctness were hyperbolic, many Americans-including old-guard academic liberals-found themselves up in arms against what they feared as potential restrictions on free speech. [p.419]The controversy escalated early the next year when Dinesh D’Souza, a former Ronald Reagan staff member, published a preview of his attack on PC infiltrated universities, Illiberal Education, in the respectable Atlantic Monthly. Then, a month later, an incident at the State University of New York at Binghamton fed the frenzy and captured national attention. “Return of the Storm Troopers,” warned the headline to a Wall Street Journal editorial on 10 April. According to the editorial, a group of unruly minority students at Binghamton, led by a Marxist activist professor, had stormed a lecture hosted by the campus’s newly formed chapter of the National Association of Scholars—“an organization leading the struggle to preserve academic freedom, currently under siege in our universities.” (Utahn Michael Morris would use similar language for the NAS when he presented them as an “objective” antidote to the more “political” AAUP.) Wielding sticks and clubs, the protesters allegedly had threatened the speaker and audience, and an “elderly, distinguished professor … barely escape[d] a beating at the hands of one of this mob.” The Journal’s editorial caused, as would be expected, wide-spread outrage, fueling the attack on PC in the popular media. By the end of that semester, U.S. president George Bush, up for reelection, had tapped into the furor, using a commencement address at the University of Michigan as an opportunity to sound out against the “outrageous” “bullying” associated with “Orwellian” “political correctness.”12
Closer investigations, which received much less publicity, showed that the Binghamton incident, which had taken place almost a full month before the Journal wrote its editorial, had been more low key than reports suggested. Rumors (false, it turned out) that the conservative NAS speakers would attract a rally of supportive Ku Klux Klan members drew the student protesters, only one of whom acted irresponsibly during the presentation and was restrained and censured by his fellow students. Immediately following the event, one of the speakers reported that “other than the one person who misbehaved, the meeting had gone well.”13 A conservative columnist for the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, though, who had not attended the lecture, reported the event two weeks later as a mob incident to rival “the Nazis’ heyday,” and the media landslide picked up speed from there. The Sun-Bulletin columnist had, importantly, not interviewed students, but had received his information from an NAS media blitz.14
The incident demonstrates how readily anecdotal conflicts over PC were absorbed and extended by mainstream Americans to reinforce a popular sense that a cultural war was underway. But especially significant is the fact that the “event” was framed after the fact by the “non-political” NAS in an apparent attempt to provoke a conservative backlash against colleagues whose politics differed from their own. This division among academics was not, like the term “PC,” a new thing; it can be traced at least into the early 1980s and was attached to larger political movements both inside and outside the academy.
[p.420]The major academic precursor to the culture wars was the 1987 publication of University of Chicago professor Allan Bloom’s fusillade, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of To day’s Students. In it Bloom argued that 1960s radicals—feminists, black power activists, and Marxists in particular—had by the 1980s taken control of the American educational system, and that their cultural relativism (the idea that all cultures are equally “good” and hence worthy of study) had dismantled the core literary and political canon of the Western tradition. The worst sin for Bloom, perhaps, was that the loss of a hierarchy of cultural value had made knowledge too easy. Nostalgic for a time when the passion for learning was almost erotic in intensity, Bloom lamented the loss of the professor’s roles as both “[p]imp and midwife.”
While Bloom’s deployment of sexual images might have left some conservatives cold, other academics—including old-guard liberals who fretted over the loss of a core canon of superior culture—joined in his charge on feminism, multiculturalism, and the study of popular culture. Historian Gertrude Himmeifarb, for example, complained that “Superman [has become] as worthy of study as Shakespeare.” Members of her own profession, she also claimed, had used Marxist methodologies to privilege the history of everyday men and women—the “anonymous masses”—at the expense of the “kings, presidents, politicians, leaders, [and] political theorists” she felt formed the real subject of history.15
But the roots of the culture wars went even deeper than Bloom, and were attached most closely to the rise, especially during the Reagan years, of a class of “neoconservative” intellectuals and political organizers and their sympathizers—Himmelfarb and her husband, Irving Kristol, chief among them—many of whom were not part of the university community. Many of the “neocons” were former Democrats, disgruntled by anti-war activism in the 1960s and the McGovern wing of their party in the 1970s, who “were presented with more gainful opportunities,” one analyst of the movement writes, when Ronald Reagan became U.S. president in 1980. Changing parties, they came to inhabit, by the beginning of Reagan’s second term, several influential government posts, especially in areas such as foreign policy, defense, and education. Appealing to the business interests that provided financial backing for their new party, neocons—to the dismay of the older, more populist “paleoconservatives”—quickly established a well-funded intellectual and political machine.16 Although the end of the Cold War threatened to fracture neconservatism and the American right in general, neocons eventually replaced their hatred for communism with an escalation of their traditional disdain for affirmative action, multiculturalism, “and other adversary culture assaults on traditional Western values”—feminism in particular. In the early 1990s, leading neocons such as Michael Novak joined in the attack on the perceived politically correct excess on American campuses.17
The neocons were joined in this emphasis on culture by other, more [p.421]traditional, conservatives. Paul Weyrich, for example, who had helped found the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell and others in the late 1970s, during the mid-1980s helped persuade fellow conservatives to shift their energy away from economic reform toward a broader focus on conservative cultural values. Much of his language—blaming new social enemies such as yuppies, 1960s radicals, and welfare recipients for the decline of traditional values—would become mainstream in the conservatism of the early 1990s, culminating in the Republican sweep of the 1994 congressional elections. In a publication called Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New Agenda, published by Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation in 1987, he predicted (accurately, it turned out) that “the politics that carry us into the twenty-first century will be based not on economics, but on culture.”18 Similarly, a leading conservative think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, which had provided the blueprint for much of Ronald Reagan’s public policy, aimed in the late 1980s to “bring cultural issues into the mainstream of political debate, and to articulate the traditional values that should more fully influence American culture.” This program included the contribution of funds, staff, or resource material to U.S. vice president Dan Quayle’s attack on television’s Murphy Brown and to the confirmation of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.19
Weyrich’s strategy was to launch conservative reforms of “mediating structures,” a term he borrowed from influential neocons—Peter Berger and the evangelical Lutheran pastor Richard John Neuhaus—meaning the social institutions that stand between “the private life of the individual and the large institutions of public life” including the political state.20 The most important of these mediating structures, for Weyrich, included families, churches, neighborhoods, the media, and educational institutions. As the movement for cultural conservatism gained momentum, especially among other neacons, the focus on reforming higher education became increasingly central to this revolution. Speaking to the Heritage Foundation in 1989, T. Kenneth Crib, head of the right-wing Intercollegiate Studies Institute, declared that “the conservative movement is now mature enough to sustain a counteroffensive on that Leftist redoubt, the college campus.”21
As a key strategy toward reforming universities, neoconservatives influenced the 1980s appointments of William Bennett to head the National Endowment for the Humanities (and later to head the Department of Education), and of Lynne Cheney to the same position. Bennett used his position, in the 1984 report To Reclaim a Legacy, to criticize the growing tendency in English and humanities departments to emphasize the diversity of cultures at the expense of the dominant Western canon. Cheney was even more critical of multiculturalism and women’s studies, and had the easily deployable vocabulary of political correctness at her disposal. (Conservatives praised her, for example, for leading the battle against “‘political correctness’ and unabashed socialist propaganda.”22) Anything Cheney did not find appropriately “traditional,” she explained on more than one occasion, [p.422]she refused to fund. Distressed at the number of proposals she received that she considered radical, Cheney funded a program to train high school teachers to teach “traditional works of philosophy, literature, and history.”23 She also helped fill the NEH advisory board with neoconservative stalwarts such as Gertrude Himmelfarb.24 Significantly, half the nominees to Cheney’s NEH Advisory Council under George Bush were members of the conservative National Association of Scholars.25
In a study of how the conservative attack on higher education was funded, Ellen Messer-Davidow has traced grants received by groups such as the NAS from neoconservative-controlled foundations and corporations. Indeed, she shows, funding patterns among conservative foundations support the argument that in the mid-1980s neocons took the lead among other conservatives by shifting their attention toward a coming cultural war. The strategy taken by cultural conservatives was to promote their agenda through “think-tanks, training programs, foundations, grassroots organizations, and legal centers” that could defend alleged “victims” of the PC movement. In 1989 alone, for example, the NAS—which was associated in an earlier incarnation during the early 1980s with such neocon leaders as Irving Kristol and Midge Dector—received over $600,000 from prominent conservative foundations and corporations. In fact, some old-guard conservatives were annoyed with the upstarts’ brazen successes. Another group, the Madison Center for Educational Affairs, founded by William Bennett, and with ties to the NAS and the Heritage Foundation, launched a program to fund “politically incorrect” student newspapers on college campuses. (The group had funded Dinesh D’Souza’s infamous Dartmouth Review, which he founded as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. Under D’Souza the Review repeatedly spawned campus controversies through such stunts as stealing and publishing the correspondence of gay students, or by writing phony articles quoting black students who had come to Dartmouth on affirmative action programs: “Now we be comin’ to Dartmut and be up over our ‘fros in studies, but we still be not graduatin’ Phi Beta Kappa.”) Bennett’s Madison Center also funded more concentrated attacks on liberalized higher education, such as D’Souza’s book Illiberal Education, in which he bemoaned the racial strife on college campuses (which he had, of course, contributed to during the previous decade). The neocon-controlled Olin foundation alone provided Allan Bloom with $300,000 while he wrote and promoted Closing with money from other such foundations, Bloom’s grants for the period totaled over $1 million.26
One of the most successful strategies employed by neocons and other cultural conservatives in the late 1980s and early 1990s in their attack on higher education was the use of public relations outlets. The Heritage Foundation’s massive public relations apparatus typically floods research to target audiences based on market research strategies. Similarly, the NAS supports a research center that “assembles the stories of alleged conserva-[p.423]tive victims of left-academic abuses,” then provides legal funding to take such cases to court. The publicity surrounding these cases has been instrumental in creating the image of universities as controlled by “tenured radicals” whose sole aim is to subvert traditional Western values.27
The debates over the alleged “politicization” of the academy, rooted in and funded by conservative strategists in the 1980s, came to fruition in the early 1990s during the hey-day of the assault on “PC.” Bloom’s Closing and D’Souza’s Illiberal Education were joined by a spate of other bestsellers, mostly by non-academics, such as Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (1990), Charles Sykes’s Profscam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education (1988) and The Hollow Men: Politics and Corruption in Higher Education (1990),William Bennett’s The De-Valuing of America: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children (1992), and Martin Anderson’s Impostors in the Temple: American Intellectuals Are Destroying Our Universities and Cheating Our Students of Their Futures (1992). The culture wars had created an industry for the literature of educational despair.
The setting was perfect in the early 1990s for conservative religious educators and academics to point out that the deeper problem with academics in addition to a supposed departure from the Western canon—was that universities had sealed such a fate when they severed ties with their religious roots.28 Influential neoconservative Richard John Neuhaus, who had converted from evangelical Lutheranism to conservative Catholicism at the end of the 1980s, broke with the old-guard conservative Rockford Institute, which had funded Neuhaus’s Center for Religion and Society for much of the decade, over what Neuhaus saw as emerging anti-Semitism and nativism at the end of the Cold War.29 Neuhaus launched a new project, the Institute for Religion in Public Life (RPL), whose montbly publication First Things provided an outlet for religious neocons (sometimes called “theocons”) and other moral traditionalists. The journal’s focus, Neuhaus announced in its inaugural issue in March 1990, was “biblical religion,” and he saw the organization as a place for Jewish and Christian thinkers to come together on ways to bring religion into what he called the “public square.”30
Neuhaus, via his now-defunct Center for Religion and Society, had been instrumental in the 1980s in assembling a number of encounters among religious thinkers and scholars to discuss religion and public life. He hoped to stage similar events in the 1990s with his RPL and First Things. One of the first such conferences was a 1990 meeting on “Religion and the Open University,” during which participants discussed their commonly held belief that the contemporary academy, though it professed both to believe in academic freedom and to value diversity, was not friendly to religiously engaged scholarship. The conference provided First Things with a series of issues the next spring on the subject, to cite the editorial headline of one such issue, of “The Death of Religious Higher Education.” These articles included evangelical historian George Marsden’s “The Soul of the University” [p.424](he would later publish a book of the same title) and James Burtchaell’s two part essay, “The Decline and Fall of the Christian College.”
The connections in First Things to the culture wars on university Campuses were more than implicit. Neuhaus’s new journal, readers soon learned, would also help pursue the broader neocon agenda. One month after the conclusion of Burtchaell’s series, the journal editorialized on “The University in Moral Shambles,” attacking PC radicals and praising the NAS and such neocon crusaders as Roger Kimball (Tenured Radicals) and Dinesh D’Souza (Illiberal Education). In order to protect American universities secular or church-sponsored—conservatives would have to wage war, Neuhaus believed, against academic “fads” such as “multiculturalism” and “Afrocentrism.”31 While the agendas of cultural conservatives and religious scholars like Marsden, who lamented what they perceived as hostility toward religion on many campuses, were not always the same, First Things became a place where the crusade for public religion and against academic evils such as feminism, Marxism, and postmodernism could exist side by side and, on several occasions, cross paths. Both crusades were fueled in part by the rhetoric of cultural decline, the loss of tradition and traditional values.
The AAUP Conference on Academic Freedom at Religiously Affiliated Institutions
The history of the culture wars provided BYU German professor Scott Abbott with a framework to explain BYU’s recent history to an audience at the AAUP’s conference on Academic Freedom at Religiously” Affiliated Institutions in Chicago at the end of October 1997. While participants came from over sixty institutions nationwide, and while session topics ranged from “Content-Based Restrictions on Teaching” to “Junior Faculty, Loyalties, and Generational Issues,” several of the conversations over the three-day conference revolved around the recent AAUP report on BYU, copies of which were provided in participants’ registration materials. BYU seemed to be the only institution represented for which the conference was a media event: three different Utah-based publications had reporters present. Despite the BYU administration’s fear that such a setting would be hostile to religious individuals and institutions, “that didn’t seem to be the case,” reported the Deseret News. “Although the weekend’s debates were lively, most participants were respectful and considerate.”32
The conference was “tweedy,” noted Cecilia Konchar Farr, who attended as a representative from the College of St. Catherine in Minnesota, where she had taken a job following her departure from BYU, and where she now administrated the school’s core curriculum. That most heads were grey was true; the rooms were packed with older male professors, nearly all white, nearly all appearing on the surface to be the quintessential old-guard academic liberal. In some sessions the divisions between AAUP staff members and religious education advocates were painfully clear, as participants [p.425]and audience members periodically rolled their eyes at one another and shook their heads in disbelief. But at other times the divisions were not so apparent, as when a representative of the AAUP chapter at Calvin College defended her school’s right to demand a confession of faith and religious conversion of its faculty members; as long as the school told her up front what its limitations were, she said, she was satisfied that it was operating within the bounds of the AAUP’s 1940 Statement. She did add, though, that she would not have considered teaching at Calvin before its sponsoring denomination decided to accommodate the ordination of women. Accordingly, she said, if she were Gail Turley Houston—a faithful Mormon who apparently differed with the church over gender issues—she would have chosen to teach somewhere other than BYU, if the school had informed her at the time of hiring that her specific disagreements over gender roles violated its limitations clause.33
When Scott Abbott met up, early in the conference, with Cecilia Konchar Farr and others of the informal Mormon delegation, including Elbert Peck and Bryan Waterman from Sunstone magazine, they all noted that the list of attendees included another name from BYU: Keith J. Wilson. No one knew which department he represented, or if he had been sent by BYU administrators to observe the proceedings (he was not an AAUP member, Abbott knew for sure). A reporter from one of Salt Lake City’s newspapers informed them shortly that he was a religion professor, attending out of an academic interest in the issue of secularization. Although Wilson seemed to acknowledge the presence of the other Mormons, he made no attempt to join them. Before long, during follow-up conversations after sessions, members of the Mormon group found themselves engaging in strained conversations with him; it was clear that he and they saw things differently as far as academic freedom issues went at BYU.
By the time Abbott’s presentation came around late Saturday afternoon, several conference participants expected a showdown. Abbott’s talk followed two from veterans of smaller religious colleges. Richard Hester described the takeover of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary which, despite protests from an active AAUP chapter, had been lassoed by a fundamentalist board of trustees which promptly fired the active proponents of academic freedom. In contrast to Hester, Richard Stichier from Alvernia College described his chapter’s experience under a repressive administration; the local AAUP called for an investigation by the national organization, the school was subsequently censured, and the board of trustees reacted by firing the president and replacing her with an administrator more friendly to the idea of academic freedom.
Abbott’s case, said moderator Jordan Kurland, the AAUP’s associate general secretary, was different from either of these. BYU was a “giant” among private religious colleges; the community of religious academic institutions would certainly be monitoring the outcome of its case. Its board was [p.426]composed of the church’s highest leaders, and so an unexpected shift of power such as Southeastern Baptist’s was not likely. Neither was BYU likely to fire its new president—who, like the board, was a lifetime member of the church’s general authorities.
Abbott’s talk, “Sinister Virtue: The Effects of Cultural Despair on Academic Freedom at a Private Religious University,” placed events at BYU in the context of the larger American culture wars. BYU’s Academic Freedom Statement, Abbott said, claimed that “[f]reedom of thought, belief, inquiry, and expression are crucial no less to the sacred than to the secular quest for truth … [p]erhaps no condition is as important to creating a university as is the freedom of the individual faculty member.” But, he argued, somewhere between the statement’s crafting and the present moment, the balance had tipped away from the individual toward the protection of narrowly defined “institutional freedom.” Academic freedom, treated by the school’s Academic Freedom Statement as a virtue, had somehow become sinister in the eyes of administrators. Abbott’s explanation for how this happened was that “successive BYU administrations have chosen to severely limit academic freedom … because of their wholesale acceptance of a rhetoric of ‘cultural despair’ aimed originally at mainstream secular U.S. public and private universities. Whatever its justification and effect on those institutions,” Abbott suggested, “its effect on BYU has been to unsettle a precarious balance.”
Abbott argued that since the Academic Freedom Statement’s adoption in 1993, the administration had failed to live up to its protection of individual freedom, with institutional privilege invoked according to “idiosyncratic interpretations” about what constituted harm to the university or church. “To justify the proliferating limits on academic freedom that have drawn AAUP attention,” Abbott continued, “the BYU administration has drawn repeatedly, if not exclusively, on the arguments and rhetoric of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, on the 1990-1992 series of articles in First Things about the secularization of American universities, and most recently on a speech”—also published in First Things—“by [neoconservative author] Gertrude Himmelfarb.” Bloom, Abbott explained, had been warmly received by BYU following publication of his book, which was named the school’s book-of-the-month and made available to the campus community in large quantities at discount prices. The First Things essays formed the basis not only for the Academic Freedom Statement’s sense of what it means to be a religious university, but also for “every discussion of academic freedom since.” Rather than convincing BYU that its situation was different from other religious schools—its board, funding, and hiring policies are all much more stable and connected more closely to the sponsoring church than was true of other religious universities—First Things had convinced administrators that “only extreme measures will keep us from secularization.” Himmelfarb, he added, had provided BYU president Merrill Bateman with the vocabulary of the cul-[p.427]ture wars, offering him terms like “moral nihilism” and “moral relativism” to describe the state of the contemporary academy.
Drawing on critic Edward Said’s comments on Arab universities, Abbott argued that the idea of a Mormon university, in which the commitment to Mormonism is analogous, in a sense, to a sort of nationalism, is a natural first step in preserving a unique and authentic identity. But, as Said writes of Arab universities, “A single overmastering identity at the core of the academic enterprise … is a confinement, a deprivation”; when “political conformity rather than intellectual excellence [is] made to serve as a criterion for promotion and appointment … timidity, a studious lack of imagination, and a careful conservatism [come] to rule intellectual practice.” Abbott concluded: “When fear of secularization dominates all thinking, when identity thinking rules all decisions, academic freedom becomes a sinister virtue.”34
Following Abbott’s steady, soft-spoken presentation, BYU’s Professor Wilson, equally soft-spoken, stood to make what the Deseret News would call “an awkward but determined effort to counter” Abbott’s points. Refusing to look directly at Abbott, Wilson talked about the “great deal of ache” Abbott’s characterization of BYU had made him feel. “Scott represents a very small minority of the 1,200 to 1,400 faculty at BYU,” he said, adding that his extreme satisfaction with BYU’s policies and his conviction that Houston’s firing was fair and necessary reflected the general sentiment among his colleagues. Jordan Kurland countered that what matters to the AAUP is not if the majority is satisfied, but if even one faculty member feels her rights to academic freedom have been unduly violated. Unwilling to argue, Wilson dropped the conversation, apparently content to have demonstrated that Abbott’s views were not held by all his colleagues.35 In news reports of the encounter, Wilson elaborated on his position. What BYU was witnessing in recent years, he said, was a “course correction” as “some of the faculty members who came [to BYU] in the late ’80s” did not “have a strong commitment to BYU’s mission.”36 The following morning at the conference’s closing session, Wilson nodded vigorously as plenary speaker George Marsden, a leader among critics of “secularization,” described the limitations placed by political correctness on other campuses, and argued for discussions of “academic fairness” that welcomed religious views into mainstream academic discourse, rather than “academic freedom,” which, he said, had historically meant freedom from religious authority. Marsden argued as well, in terms now familiar to debates at BYU and elsewhere, that postmodernism led to moral relativism, but that postmodernists were unwilling to grant any legitimacy to religious positions.37
From the perspective of BYU’s AAUP members, Wilson’s characterization of them as members of a certain generation inadequately committed to BYU’s mission was unsettling. For one thing, their members ranged from those just hired to those preparing for retirement at the end of long and distinguished careers at the school. But he also operated on a presump-[p.427]tion that BYU’s mission was easily defined and universally understood, and that a person either accepted it or did not. His model offered no room for discussion. “Wilson would probably describe it differently,” Abbott admitted in his report to the BYU chapter the following week. “But repeatedly, probably 100 times,” he told them, “people who had read the AAUP report spoke to me and expressed their admiration for all of you who have worked for the betterment of BYU.”38
The following spring Abbott’s presentation would form a portion of the administration’s case against promoting him to full professor (five years after he was denied the advancement by the same faculty council that fired Farr and Knowlton). The letter informing him of the decision was signed by Jim Gordon and the new College of Humanities dean, Van Gessel. (Abbott’s department chair, Alan Keele, refused to sign the letter.) While the rank and status committee acknowledged Abbott’s solid record in teaching and scholarship, and while they noted that his colleagues felt he had contributed to the academic environment in his department, they argued that he had violated his obligations as a university citizen through his efforts to protect academic freedom for faculty members: “With respect to citizenship,” the council’s summary of his case stated, “we believe that your zeal to change policy at BYU has driven you to actions and statements that have taken you beyond the bounds of propriety for a citizen of this University.”39
In his own comments on the case, Gordon cited a section of the University Policy on Faculty Rank and Status that says: “Brigham Young University expects all of its personnel to adhere to the highest principles of personal behavior. … They should not denigrate fellow faculty members. At the very least, faculty members’ relations with colleagues must be professional, avoiding disruption, manipulation, and contention.” Abbott’s activities, Gordon claimed (though he never mentioned the AAUP by name) were “inconsistent with the citizenship expectations set forth in University policy.” In language that echoed his criticism of Gail Turley Houston, Gordon continued:
You have engaged in a pattern of contentious criticism of the University, Church leaders, faculty colleagues in another college in the University, and others that falls below the standards of civility for a BYU faculty member. Although you apologized for publicly criticizing Church leaders, your general pattern of behavior has continued. The emphasis of these activities has been to pressure the University to change policies of the Board of Trustees. Your behavior does not meet the standards of citizenship expected of a full professor at the University.40
Specifically, Gordon faulted Abbott for information he included in his Sunstone account of Steven Epperson’s case and in his Chicago speech, “Sinister Virtue.” In Chicago Abbott had claimed that “several dozen members of the faculty have been forced to leave or have left on their own” since the [p.429]Academic Freedom Statement was adopted. In Abbott’s review of the Epperson case, Gordon asserted, “[y]ou have also stated that faculty members’ positions depend on ‘their bishops’ personal interpretations of the standard of temple worthiness, no matter how idiosyncratic.’“ Gordon called such statements “factually incorrect.” (Gordon did not mention a more personal dispute over an unflattering quote Abbott had attributed to Gordon in the Epperson piece, which he later modified in a partial retraction.)
In press coverage of the promotion denial, Gordon adopted the stance that administrators had taken in every controversial situation following its less-than-persuasive defense of the Farr and Knowlton firings: “Most people in higher education understand that we are a religious university,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune, “and we have standards that relate to our mission. The decision shows that the process has integrity. Faculty members and administrators made a professional evaluation that was not affected by politics or public relations.”Academic Freedom Statement was adopted. In Abbott’s review of the Epperson case, Gordon asserted, “[y]ou have also stated that faculty members’ positions depend on ‘their bishops’ personal interpretations of the standard of temple worthiness, no matter how idiosyncratic.’“ Gordon called such statements “factually incorrect.” (Gordon did not mention a more personal dispute over an unflattering quote Abbott had attributed to Gordon in the Epperson piece, which he later modified in a partial retraction.)
In press coverage of the promotion denial, Gordon adopted the stance that administrators had taken in every controversial situation following its less-than-persuasive defense of the Farr and Knowlton firings: “Most people in higher education understand that we are a religious university,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune, “and we have standards that relate to our mission. The decision shows that the process has integrity. Faculty members and administrators made a professional evaluation that was not affected by politics or public relations.”41
The Mormon-Neoconservative Connection
Keith Wilson’s argument that the majority of his colleagues would agree with his views of BYU’s situation may have been true. And Wilson—who subscribes, he said at the conference, to “secularization theory,” by which he presumably implies an agreement with Marsden’s history of religious decline in American culture-turns one’s attention to Abbott’s question about why a university with Mormons comprising 95 percent of its faculty and with rigorous hiring and retention policies based on religious behavior and belief would view itself as under immediate threat of secularization.
The answer may lie in the general persuasiveness of the rhetoric of the culture wars, as demonstrated in the widespread acceptance among conservatives of all stripes and many liberals as well that the core traditions of the university are indeed, as the world approaches the turn of the millennium, under threat from multiculturalists, feminists, and other cultural “radicals.” But more specific connections exist as well in this peculiarly Mormon context. The rhetoric of cultural decline and secularization has been propounded for several years by church and university leaders. Mormons traditionally see themselves as opposing “the world”: in the nineteenth century “the world” drove them from the United States to the Rocky Mountains. In the twentieth century “the world” threatened Mormon security by making inroads into the church’s cultural enclaves: a constant encounter with a liberalizing culture convinced many Mormons, and many middleclass Americans as well, that the world was generally an evil place. When cultural conservatives gained momentum in the larger culture in the 1980s, they merely provided many Mormons with new terms to describe the positions they had already taken for several decades, and tensions among church leaders and to some extent among the general membership resolved, in large part, in favor of religious and social conservatism.42
[p.430]In the 1970s and 1980s, however, a new class of intellectuals emerged and was incorporated into church leadership, to some degree paralleling the trajectory of neoconservatives in the broader American culture. The cultural conservatism of Dallin Oaks, for example, is a far cry from the Cold War-inspired conspiracy theories of Ernest Wilkinson or Ezra Taft Benson. The more specific connection between BYU and neoconservatives, though, lies in longtime BYU administrator Bruce Hafen’s career as a legal scholar. Since the mid-1980s Hafen has been loosely associated with Richard John Neuhaus’s cultural projects, as a participant in his conferences on religion and American culture in 198743 and later, from its founding, as a member of the editorial advisory board of First Things. Hafen’s writings on American legal and family culture reveal the demonstrable influence of thinkers such as Neuhaus and Peter Berger in particular. Hafen published two prominent First Things articles in the 1990s, both co-authored with his son Jonathan, also an attorney.44 He also, as provost, held up the journal to faculty members as an example of the faith-based scholarship to which he thought BYU professors should aspire, even though the journal is not an academic forum.45 Several BYU conservatives have published in First Things on topics ranging from abortion to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which had the strong endorsement of Mormon leaders), and BYU legal scholars have received Neuhaus’s praise for their contributions to anti-gay and antiabortion movements.46
Neuhaus’s neoconservative influence has been felt even more broadly at BYU as First Things has provided the intellectual foundations for church and university leaders’ dramatic actions taken to prevent the “secularization” of the university. Church leaders have drawn on Neuhaus and other First Things authors in speeches delivered at BYU on the subject. (The church also featured Neuhaus on a Mormon-produced cassette tape in 1992 promoting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.47) In the same 1991 devotional in which university trustee Boyd K. Packer hinted that church leaders were debating BYU’s future, he quoted entire paragraphs from a First Things editorial on “The Death of Religious Higher Education” and warned his audience: “Now listen carefully! It is crucial that you understand what I tell you now. There is danger! Church-sponsored universities are an endangered species—nearly extinct now.”48
The language of environmental protection surfaced in the school’s academic freedom statement the following year (as detailed in chap. 5). The statement cited, in support of the claim that the “religious university constitutes an endangered species in today’s academic ecosystem,” a number of First Things articles from the journal’s first two volumes: James Nuechterlein’s editorial, “The Death of Religious Higher Education” (cited by Packer); George Marsden’s “The Soul of the American University”; Jim Burtchaell’s two-part “The Decline of the Christian College”; and David Lutz’s “Can Notre Dame Be Saved.”49 In a 1996 university conference ad-[p.431]dress, Apostle M. Russell Ballard based the majority of his talk on two neocon sources: William J. Bennett’s The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, a book that purports to chart America’s moral decline, and the Lutz essay from First Things on Notre Dame.50 Perhaps the most notable BYU borrowing from First Things, though, was President Merrill Bateman’s dependence in his inaugural speech on Gertrude Himmelfarb’s 1996 essay, “The Christian University: A Call to Counterrevolution,” which led, as detailed in the previous chapter, to plagiarism charges against him.51 Himmelfarb’s speech had been delivered at the installment of a new president at Baylor University. The ceremony’s other guest speaker was Father Neuhaus.
Hafen stepped down from First Things’s editorial board in the spring of 1996 when he became an LDS general authority. That fall, on the heels of Bill Clinton’s re-election to the American presidency, Father Neuhaus set off a major controversy among neoconservatives when his journal published a symposium, “The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics,” featuring Robert Bork, Charles Colson, and others. The editors’ introduction charged that the country was witnessing “the displacement of a constitutional order by a regime that does not have, will not obtain, and cannot command the consent of the people.” Citing the Declaration of Independence, the editors implied that the “absolute despotism” of the judiciary might warrant, as the Declaration sanctioned, “throw[ing] off such Government and … provid[ing] new Guards for their future security.”52 The implicit call for a second American revolution—which Neuhaus later denied was the meaning of the editorial—caused a rift in the journal’s editorial board. Such leading neocons as Peter Berger and Gertrude Himmelfarb quit their posts in protest. “If one decides that the system has become illegitimate,” Berger asked, “where does one go from there? Does one hole up with guns in the foothills of the Rockies?”53 It is difficult to know how Hafen would have responded to the controversy, or if First Things—after what the dean of neocons, Norman Podhoretz, labeled the “anti-Americanism of [its] symposium”54—will continue to provide BYU with blueprints for its assertion of a unique religious identity. What seems clearer is that, where observers once argued (based largely on the church’s anti-ERA campaign) for an alliance between Mormons and the “New Christian Right,”55 the stronger source of influence—at BYU, at least—can be traced in recent years to the neoconservative movement in academics, politics, and cultural criticism.
A Convergence of Conservatisms at BYU: Three Case Studies from the Late 1990s
As at most American universities, the culture wars at BYU have been waged not only by administrators but within departments, as faculty at odds over issues such as feminism, multiculturalism, and postmodernism stage political battles to legitimate their respective academic approaches. As seen in the English department controversies in particular, these wars at BYU fre-[p.432]quently take on a religious dimension as well, as some faculty lobby administrators and church leaders that academic perspectives they oppose somehow threaten students’ faith. These strategies have often been successful with neocon-influenced administrators and trustees. But if neoconservative approaches to cultural issues and to the nature of religious schools in particular have informed the way church and university leaders have tackled questions about BYU’s mission, other conservative forces have also converged in recent years to help push the university on its current course. These forces may be summarized by examining three recent events at the school: the administration’s censorship of a campus exhibit containing the work of French sculptor Auguste Rodin; the formation of a non-governmental organization devoted to promoting the church’s 1995 statement The Family: A Proclamation to the World; and the Bateman administration’s claim of exemption from federal anti-discrimination statutes in order to ask questions in hiring interviews that are otherwise illegal. Each of these cases represents varying sets of motives that have helped to push the university in what some faculty members see as a narrowly defined direction.
The Rodin Exhibit
Censorship on BYU’s campus is not new: teachers are sometimes wanted not to teach certain authors or to use certain approaches; student and faculty writers, visual artists, and dramatists are occasionally censored;56 the student newspaper is monitored carefully as described in chapter 3; and the independent Student Review, never permitted to distribute on campus, has been pushed further and further from maintaining a campus presence.57 As recently as 1995 the school weathered censorship controversies for refusing to show Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning Holocaust drama, Schindler’s List, in the campus theater after the director refused to allow the school to remove scenes it considered inappropriate.58 (“Good for BYU,” declared Father Neuhaus, in First Things, as he reported the explanation provided by “our friend Bruce Hafen, Provost of BYU”: “forced to make an embarrassingly public choice between an institutional standard … and a significant film,” Hafen said, the school chose to stick by its standards.59) But none of these had the impact on the campus caused by the decision in the fall of 1997 to remove a handful of pieces from a traveling Rodin exhibition scheduled to open at the school’s four-year-old, multi-million-dollar Museum of Art, the largest art museum between Denver and the west coast.
The announcement came on 27 October, the day Scott Abbott returned to campus from the AAUP conference in Chicago. An Associated Press story reported that university and museum administrators, after two months of discussion, had decided to pull four works from the exhibit, The Hands of Rodin, A Tribute to [the collector] B. Gerald Cantor.60 As an explanation for the decision, museum director Campbell Gray initially said that ad-[p.432]ministrators had determined that the censored works detracted from the focus of the exhibit, which was the sculptor’s portrayal of human hands, “Sure, it could reflect negatively on the museum,” Gray told one local reporter, “but the integrity of the exhibit is so much more important,” But Gray also confessed that part of the school’s motivation was that the works violated the standards of the university’s surrounding community, including the church. The Kiss, one of Rodin’s most famous pieces, was dropped because it displayed a nude man and woman kissing—something the administration believed should not be publicly exhibited. Saint John the Baptist Preaching was removed because it portrayed the prophet only as a mortal. It’s not that the Baptist was portrayed nude, Gray said, but that it “doesn’t show the prophet side of the man at all.”61 Gray later told the Daily Universe that nudity was the issue for this particular piece, as well. In a follow-up article on the Universe’s News Net (its internet edition), Lee Bartlett, the university’s assistant vice president for public communications, explained the reasons behind censoring the other two pieces. Monument to Balzac, he said, portrayed a “very muscular and strong figure” with “his arms and hands in front of his torso [and] no exposure of the genital area,” suggesting that “he is engaged in an act [i.e., masturbation] that we would not want to discuss or to present to our family.” The fourth piece, The Prodigal Son, Bartlett explained, had a “genital area that is unusually prominent.”62
The university’s decision made national news, and received notice even in the London Times.63 Reactions to the censorship decision were mixed. Outrage rumbled among a portion of students and professors, pushing some to begin planning protests, though they were told that their request for a permit to protest would take nearly a week to process and that any unapproved protests would be shut down and organizers disciplined. Others jumped to defend the administration. One BYU employee wrote that “such ‘art’ [has] no place in a fine university such as BYU,” and quoted several paragraphs on “modesty” from late church president Ezra Taft Benson, including the statement that it is not “a denial of liberty to ban the distribution of filthy, obscene, character-destroying materials.” The same writer expressed outrage that “Humanities and Art professors require students to view, [sic] paintings, slides, sculptures, movies, etc. that depict nudity. They are in effect, [sic] forcing their standards of ‘art’ upon the students by requiring them to know them for tests.”64 The writer must have been disappointed to find the administration taking the position, as the controversy dragged on, that the school was drawing a line between its public spaces, such as the museum, which hosts nearly 60,000 elementary school students each year, and private classroom space, where teachers are encouraged to expose their students to great works of art, including the censored Rodin pieces.65
Disregarding the school’s refusal to issue a timely permit to protest, over 200 students gathered on the administration building’s steps three days after the decision was announced to express their disapproval of the [p.434]exhibit’s censorship. They circled a statue of Brigham Young waving placards and chanting, “Don’t Ban Rodin!” The signs included one with a picture of Michelangelo’s David wearing knee-length shorts, another that read, “Let John Preach,” and one that said, “Don’t Define My Culture.” The protest was organized by a married couple, Megan and Justin Jones, seniors in American studies and political science. “What we are trying to do,” Megan Jones told reporters, “is let people know that there is a voice for students at BYU who want to see this exhibit.” She added that “BYU has received national press, bad press, embarrassing press, and I have to go look for a job in two months, and this is going to affect people’s opinions about BYU. I want people to know that we put up a fight.”66 A few counter protesters circulated, one yelling into a megaphone slogans such as “If you want to see nudity—get married!” and “Wake up and smell the hot chocolate. You go to a private school!” University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins passed through the crowd distributing 200 copies of a memo from the administration to the disgruntled students. “In an environment of mutual respect and dialogue,” the memo stated, “we welcome further comment from students and faculty on this issue. Letters received by The Daily Universe, the Museum of Art, and by e-mail will be read and considered by members of the administration.” BYU vice president Alan Wilkins told one reporter, however, that the protest itself was unapproved and would not be recognized by the administration.67 The protest broke up after an hour when one distraught student stood on a bench, yelled several expletives, and announced he was going to expose himself in protest of the censorship. Several other students covered him from view with their placards.68
Letters supporting or denouncing the decision continued to pour into the local press for several weeks. (At least two letters satirically begged BYU administrators not to show Rodin’s most famous piece, The Thinker. “Not only is he nude,” wrote one person, “he’s thinking!”69) The Salt Lake Tribune editorialized that “BYU and its museum should be praised for bringing the Rodin exhibition to Utah,” though its editors found it “a pity … that Utahns won’t see the whole show.”70 BYU English professor Eugene England wrote that “BYU officials, bowing to the lowest common denominator of ‘community standards,’ rather than trying to inform and raise those standards, have undermined the patient, loving work of hundreds of their faculty by directly contradicting what they have taught students”—the difference between pornography and true art.71 Protesters received a serious blow the next week when President Gordon B. Hinckley chastised them at a university devotional. Hinckley contrasted the “clean, well·groomed, eager and attentive” students at Utah State University in Logan, where he had recently spoken, to the BYU protesters. “They were much better behaved than some of you I saw on the television the other night.” The church president also told the 20,000 students assembled that he sometimes wished “we could support a dozen institutions such as [BYU], then I pick up the paper and I’m glad we’re not.”72
[p.435]Despite Hinckley’s comments and pro-censorship letters from some students (including one from a male student thanking the administration for removing all the “homo-erotic” male nudes but leaving in several female nudes73), a number of students and faculty continued to press the administration for answers about the decision. Meetings were held first with administrators and students and faculty from the fine arts and communications departments and later with the College of Humanities. At the latter meeting humanities professor Norma Davis and German professor Tom Plummer questioned Alan Wilkins, Campbell Gray, and fine arts dean Bruce L. Christensen for answers about who made the decision. Christensen explained that late in the planning stages for the exhibit, Gray had sent pictures of the pieces to President Bateman, asking him to give special consideration to three of the four pieces that were eventually banned. From there, Christensen said, the decision to pull three pieces was made based on “the president’s discomfort” with them. Gray had chosen to remove the fourth piece, the portrayal of Balzac, after he noticed that publicity brochures for the exhibit (which BYU declined to use) contained a caption for the piece in which the French writer was described as “grasping his erect phallus.” Wilkins maintained that decisions such as this were always open to discussion, but faculty members protested during and after the meeting that by “open discussion” administrators seemed to mean that once administrators had made a decision, people could respond, but that discussions with faculty never seemed to happen before such decisions were made. Several other faculty members asked additional questions, including one from Alan Keele, chair of the German department, who wanted assurance from the administration that the Eagle Forum, the BYU student group the Conservative DittoHeads, or the conservative wife of Provo City’s mayor were not, in fact, behind the decision. Such rumors had circulated widely and would, later that week, be reported in a Salt Lake Tribune gossip column. Administrators denied the rumor, and the Tribune eventually printed a retraction. (The retraction did note, however, that the mayor’s wife had complained about the art department and BYU galleries in the past, which she confirmed.74)
On 13 November the final meeting between students and administrators was held, at which President Bateman assumed all responsibility for the decision. He also said that the university had made a mistake by not issuing a formal press release explaining the decision and that, perhaps, the decision to host the exhibit was made without “adequate screening.” He maintained the explanation that Gray and various administrators had offered that the museum had “multiple audiences” and that, while it would be appropriate to view slides or photographs of these works in classrooms, they were not appropriate for the larger community. Reporters and other witnesses described Bateman as curt and often dismissive of students’ arguments. “Excuse me,” the Deseret News reported him silencing one long-winded student. “Are you giving a speech or asking a question?” David [p.437]Barber, Student Review’s religion editor, asked how the administration could claim to be protecting the community’s values without asking for input from the community, but Bateman responded that he did not need to ask what the community values were, because they were general LDS values, the same as his. Bateman also followed up on President Hinckley’s recent complaint about the protest, which he said “is not a good way of conducting civil discourse on any campus, whether it’s BYU or Berkeley or MIT.” Proposals were in progress, he said, for a system to allow students to file complaints with the university via e-mail.75
The administration’s handling of the Rodin controversy serves to illustrate the conservative forces shaping BYU’s direction at the turn of the century. The event was just one in a series of situations in which the administration limited expression or educational opportunity on campus under a perceived pressure to keep one of its potential “audiences” (to use their term)—in this case tithe-paying members of the local community—from being offended. While BYU has always paid close attention to the sensitivities of church members, in recent years the notion of placating this “audience” has become a regular explanation for controversial decisions, an administrative shift some observers feel has been exploited by conservative pressure groups such as the Eagle Forum and the DittoHeads. The existence of the school’s enrollment cap has provided additional leverage to such groups, who argue that students and faculty dissatisfied with the status quo should go elsewhere. The administration’s response to media attention, expressed in the comments from Lee Bartlett in particular, indicates as well an eagerness to demonstrate points at which BYU diverges from the mainstream, as a way of signaling a unique set of differences that helps administrators and church leaders justify the school’s existence. “I think [people are] going to get the right idea about BYU,” Bartlett said early in the affair, “and that is, we have certain standards that would cause others to regard us as peculiar or different or simply not following the mores of the world at large-and yes we admit to that and make no apology for it.”76 Bartlett made similar comments in private correspondence with students. “Please know that nobody who participated in this decision considers it a mistake,” he wrote to Jonathan Hart, opinion editor for Student Review, after the publicity had started to subside. “If confronted with the same situation again in the light of what we have experienced during the past two weeks, the decision would be the same …. I am more convinced than ever that the decision to omit the four sculptures was correct.”77
Non-Governmental Organization Family Voice
Another set of conservative forces can be seen at play in the 1996 formation of a “Family Strategy Committee” with the mandate, as Alan Wilkins explained in a memo to faculty members, “to examine what implications the First Presidency’s ‘Proclamation on the Family’ has for our scholarship, cur-[p.437]riculum, and policies.”78 This move signals an increased willingness on the church’s part to use BYU to further a conservative social campaign, an ironic example of the “politicization” for which feminists have been so roundly criticized at the school. Proposed measures, as of February 1997, included curricular reform that would make at least one marriage, family, or parenting course a requirement for graduation; a revamped and higher profile family sciences minor with an emphasis on “applied daily living in families”; influence in the “public square” by establishing a “Proclamation Resource and Database” system to serve as a clearinghouse for “scholarly studies relevant to the issues in the ‘Proclamation’”; and a higher profile for BYU’s Center for Studies of the Family, including an outreach program to involve more faculty members in interdisciplinary discussions. The committee also suggested organizational restructuring to promote interdisciplinary family work with practical applications for church members and the general public. The restructuring would also include revisions to rank-and-advancement procedures to allow faculty who spend time on “scholarship targeted to the lay public” to receive credit toward continuing status and advancement, and the recommendation that an administrator at the associate academic vice president’s level be responsible for overseeing “family” scholarship.79
Coinciding with this renewed focus on family scholarship, with a particular interest in advocating the church’s proclamation on the family, a leading “pro-family” activist on campus formed “Non-Governmental Organization Family Voice,” which became a joint venture of the university’s J. Reuben Clark Law School and the Kennedy Center for International Relations. NGO Family Voice quickly took on some of the tasks proposed by the Family Strategy Committee. Law professor Richard Wilkins, who had been encouraged by a “pro-family” lobbying group, United Families International, to attend the United Nations “Habitat II” conference in Istanbul, Turkey, in June 1996, was the primary force behind the new NGO. Wilkins had locked horns at the conference with former U.S. congresswoman Bella Abzug over proposals Wilkins considered antagonistic to traditional family values, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. (Also at the conference a fourteen-member Mormon family, invited by UFI as well, performed Mormon “pro-family” pop songs on the floor of the general assembly. The mother of the clan later said she believed their music softened the hearts of delegates, opened them to consider “pro-family” positions, and helped undermine “feminists [who] were trying to eliminate the word family from the whole [Habitat II] document.”80). After he returned from the conference, Wilkins’s desire to break through the agenda of the feminist/gay rights “supercaucus” led to the idea of maintaining a database to promote family values literature, and to inform other conservative lobbyists about ways to influence international policy.81
When NGO Family Voice was formally organized, Wilkins told the [p.438]Deseret News that a large part of its activity would be to monitor United Nations documents for any language that could be considered “anti-family” from a traditionalist perspective, and then work to replace such language with “profamily” positions. BYU sent a Family Voice delegation to a spring 1997 conference in Nairobi, held to discuss implementation of the Habitat II resolutions. Wilkins reported back to the Daily Universe that the conference had allowed U.S. president Bill Clinton “to invoke family values at home” by supporting the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, “while championing a radical, anything-but-traditional social agenda on the international front.” Wilkins said his team had been largely responsible for removing any language from the proposal that suggested governments’ roles to “assume the cultural, moral and academic education of children,” which he felt rightly belonged to parents. He also said Family Voice successfully lobbied to remove protection for same-sex marriages from the document and to insert a definition of marriage as existing between “husband and wife.” “We were the only NGO group at the conference who was lobbying and interested in traditional family values,” said Wilkins’s co-director, Cory Leonard of the Kennedy Center.82
The administrative priority given projects designed to promote a traditionalist family agenda both in Mormonism and the larger sphere of public policy formation suggests that such a cultural conservative program will increasingly become identified with BYU’s sense of mission, its unique presence among the “diversity of universities.” For Mormons who are uncomfortable with such a social agenda, the possibilities of staging campus debates on these issues seems slim. Indeed, the frequency with which the proclamation has been invoked in academic settings since its appearance in 1995 makes some observers fear that any scholarly or personal divergence from fundamentalist perspectives on sex and gender roles could result in academic or religious sanctions.
Proclamation-based Hiring Exemptions
The idea that the BYU administration sees “proclamation-based” academic projects as central to the school’s unique sense of mission is bolstered when one considers the relationship, established in 1997, between the proclamation on the family and BYU’s hiring process—a process leaders have reminded the university community repeatedly that will find replacements for 40 percent of its faculty between the years 1995 and 2000. This aspect of the proclamation’s influence on BYU policy, however, was not as widely publicized by the administration as was NGO Family Voice and the Family Strategy Committee.
In the spring of 1998, investigative reporters David Barber and Mara Ashby at the independent Student Review decided to pursue stories surrounding the BYU AAUP’s claim that feminist candidates—particularly in the English department—had been consistently rejected by the administration, often [p.439]with no formal explanation and despite the fact that they had been recommended by their local church leaders as required by the hiring process. Anecdotal evidence suggested that candidates had been asked questions that were potentially illegal under federal anti-discrimination statutes, questions that were probably not asked of male candidates. These included: “What is your position on the women’s movement? Do you believe in feminist theology? How does feminism interfere with Church doctrine? What is your stance on abortion, on lesbians, on the feminist movement? If a student approached you privately and asked about Mother in Heaven, how would you respond? Do you pray to Mother in Heaven?”83
Viewed against statistics indicating that BYU’s percentage of full-time women faculty was roughly half the national average—“In fact,” the authors noted, “the percentages at BYU in 1998 resemble national statistics from 1970, before anti-discrimination legislation (Title IX) was enacted”—the allegedly higher standards set for female hires seemed to prevent the university from making much progress toward gender balance. The implication of illegal and potentially discriminatory hiring practices increased after the reporters obtained copies of BYU’s hiring handbook and relevant forms. While the handbook instructed interviewers that “questions pertaining to marital status (e.g., whether the candidate is single, married, divorced) pregnancy, plans for a family” were illegal, a January 1994 administrative memo indicated that “preliminary clearance [for candidates] will require information about age [and] marital status.” The reporters interviewed several recent female candidates who said they had been asked about marital status and if they had children. (When one candidate said she had no children, the interviewer asked, “Why not?”) The reporters received few answers from the administration. Academic Vice President Alan Wilkins and Associate Academic Vice President Jim Gordon canceled interviews and directed the reporters to the school’s director of media relations, Carri Jenkins. (According to some sources, Gordon also instructed at least some department chairs not to cooperate with the Review’s investigation.)
Jenkins responded to questions about potential illegalities in the school’s hiring process by reveallng that BYU had obtained an exemption from the federal legislation that allowed the school to inquire about “religious faithfulness, marriage, and family responsibilities.” When the reporters asked her what doctrinal basis the exemption was granted on, she replied, “What they’re looking at is the attitude about family, and feelings toward the doctrine of the Church, what our church leaders are telling us,” though she would not give more specific explanations about how church doctrine on families might affect male or female job candidates. The reporters did gain slightly more specific information from Blair Condie, the school’s managing director of benefits and employee relations, who explained that the exemption had more to do with men than women. BYU officials “don’t care about a female being married. But they do care about a male,” Condie said, [p.440]adding that they see marriage as a primarily male responsibility: “Males have control over [whether or not they are married, but] females don’t.”84
News that BYU had obtained exemptions from federal law surprised many people the Review reporters spoke with. When they pressed Jenkins for more information, she read a brief statement to them: “There are a number of religious exemptions that BYU is entitled to. Some of these have specific, written exemptions from federal agencies and some are written right into the law. These are very complex ones which legal counsel reviews very carefully. For this reason, it is impossible to hand out one single law BYU falls under. As for written exemptions, BYU has not chosen to share these. They pertain to legal matters internal to the university.” Jenkins did hint that the exemption was based on tlle church’s 1995 proclamation on the family: “The Proclamation on the Family is very important to our church and the whole issue of families is very important to the doctrine of the Church. I would only assume that it was in that context that that question was asked and that’s where federal law does allow that question.” The university’s general counsel, though, informed the reporters that the exemption had been granted the previous year by the Department of Education, so the reporters filed a request with the regional office of the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the relevant documents. Their initial investigation was published before the requested documents had arrived.85
In explaining BYU’s policies to the Review reporters, Jenkins said that the school needed both to determine candidates’ “attitudes towards families and whether they have issues or concerns with … the Church’s position on family and on marriage,” and also to inform candidates of “what BYU is about before they get here.” The reporters, though, learned that many faculty members—even those on hiring committees—were unaware of the school’s exemptions or that the university had a hiring handbook, even though Jenkins claimed the administration had recently conducted workshops to familiarize department chairs with federal regulations and BYU policies.86 As this book went to press, Review reporters were preparing a follow-up article based on documents received from the regional Freedom of Information Act Office. These included a 25 August 1997 letter from President Merrill Bateman to the Department of Education requesting religious exemptions to federal legislation as well as the department’s response.87 Bateman’s exemption letter may have been prompted by a footnote in the AAUP’s report on BYU, a draft of which the administration had seen and responded to the previous spring: “Brigham Young University appears to have a contradictory practice with respect to affirmative action,” the footnote explained.
It distributes to departments a list of “permissible inquiries” and “inquiries that must be avoided” as part of the effort to comply with legal requirements in hiring [that] … forbid inquiries about age, race, sex, or marital status unless necessary requirements for the job to be performed. Another [p.441]document, however, to be filed by department chairs with the dean, requires information about age, sex, and marital status. A January 10, 1994, memorandum entitled “Name Clearance” explains that information on the form is necessary “to receive preliminary clearance by the Board of Trustees” before authorizing hiring visits. The memorandum further says that “The. office of the Associate Academic Vice President-Faculty will also obtain an assessment by the person’s church leaders of their worthiness for temple privileges.” During its campus visit, the investigating committee asked several chairs about this form. Some denied its existence, and others confirmed that they had to fill it out. Later, one of the chairs provided the committee with copies of the form and the explanatory memorandum.88
Bateman’s letter to the Department of Education sought to legalize what had potentially been illegal hiring procedures. Based on the church’s proclamation on the family, as Jenkins had intimated to the Review, Bateman explained to federal education officials that “the Church teaches that the family unit is of basic theological significance and that the often independent roles of husbands and wives are fundamental elements of Church doctrine. Thus, the Church teaches that certain distinctions based on gender, particularly as they relate to matters of family life, are both natural and religiously significant.” Although he never explained what such distinctions were or how they would relate to employment at BYU for men or women, he did call the department’s attention to the proclamation’s focus on “differing roles of men and women.” Bateman emphasized that “answers to questions about family are not, by themselves, dispositive in the employment decision. Rather, they are considered, together with the answers to other religiously oriented questions, in measuring the religious strength and commitment of the applicant to Church doctrine and practice.” Specifically, he hoped to use the claim of “fundamental … Church doctrine” to gain an exemption from section 106.60 of the Title IX regulations, which deals with “pre-employment inquiries.”89
In response to Bateman’s letter, Norma Cantu, the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights, granted an exemption by letter of 14 October 1997 only to section 106.60(a), which regards inquiries of marital status, “to the extent that Sec. 106.60(a) conflicts with the religious tenets followed by the University.”90 (The section reads: “A recipient [of federal funds] shall not make pre-employment inquiry as to the marital status of an applicant for employment, including whether such applicant is Miss or Mrs.”‘) The letter did not grant exemption from 106.60(b), regarding inquiries about an applicant’s sex. It also did not grant-nor did BYU seek-an exemption from section 106.57, which means that the university still could not “apply any policy or take any employment action: (1) Concerning the potential marital, parental, or family status of an employee or applicant for employment which treats persons differently on the basis of sex; or (2) Which is based upon whether an employee or applicant for employment is [p.442]the head of household or principal wage earner in such employee’s or applicant’s family unit.” Several people interviewed by Student Review’s reporters indicated that they knew of jobs denied on such grounds or that they felt they had been asked questions that would not have. been asked of candidates of the opposite sex, which could leave BYU vulnerable to charges of discrimination on the basis of sex.
What remains unclear regarding the exemptions sought by the university is how they—or the proclamation on the family—relate to employment at BYU. The school maintains that it has no policy against hiring single men or against hiring women with children. Female candidates who report having been approved for a position by departments and even by general authorities, only to be rejected by the administration, say they feel such decisions were based on issues of feminism, not on their sex per se (although if the administration asks questions regarding feminism—or any other topic—of women but not of men, they may be engaging in discriminatory hiring policies). What the correspondence between Bateman and the Department of Education does establish, however, is that the administration considers as fundamental church doctrine the idea, as expressed in the proclamation on the family, that “fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families” and that “[m]others are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” By designating such as “fundamental church doctrine,” they place it outside the parameters of academic discussion, leaving faculty members who critique such an idea open to charges that they have violated the academic freedom policy and may be subject to dismissal.
This may lead to conflicts between faculty and administration. Many faculty members, presumably, entertain more liberal notions of gender equality than those outlined in the proclamation on the family. Even former BYU president Rex Lee, in a book titled What Do Mormons Believe?, wrote that “[w]hile we believe that children benefit from one of the parents being home when they are, that does not necessarily have to be the mother. It can be the father, or the two can work out their schedules so that the responsibilities are shared.”91 And during an April 1998 meeting of the university’s Faculty Advisory Council (FAC), that group passed recommendations to move BYU toward “gender equity” based in part on its interpretation of the proclamation on the family, which suggested to them that since “gender differences are essential … everyone in the BYU community [should] be especially sensitive to gender inequities and dedicated to creating gender equity,” in order to create a balanced gender perspective at all levels in the school’s faculty and administration. At the same FAC meeting, however, the group reviewed statistics showing that no women sat on the president’s council (this had been true for at least a decade despite the fact that Dallin Oaks had specifically addressed the issue over twenty years earlier) and that the percentage of new faculty hires who were women had actually declined [p.443]over the preceding ten years.92 The conflicted situation surrounding hiring, retention, and gender suggests its own convergence of conservative perspectives—the church’s increasingly fundamentalist focus on essential gender roles, coupled with a neoconservative academic ideology that is suspicious of feminism, and a culturally conservative constituency that does not approve of BYU hiring women who church leaders have suggested should be at home. This convergence will likely cause gender issues to continue to be a sore spot on campus for several years. (It may also affect Mormon practice beyond BYU as leaders, operating out of political considerations for the school, further cement Mormon gender ideals.) It is possible that administrators did not publicize the school’s exemption request because faculty members committed to gender equity might interpret such a request as a sign that the school was less committed to equal opportunity and gender balance than faculty members themselves are.
From Crossroads to Charted Course
The consistency and c1earmindedness with which the administration seems to pursue a set agenda for the university suggests that BYU’s course is firmly set. The indication given by Apostle Boyd K. Packer in 1991 that BYU was at a crossroads, its board of trustees facing decisions about the university’s future, seems to have given way to a greater certainty of direction and purpose. Before he retired, in several interviews with various faculty members, former provost Bruce Hafen affirmed that the board had set a clear direction and the school was following it, as evident in faculty hirings. In his address to the university’s fall 1994 annual conference, he told faculty that administrators were formulating a revised mission statement to reflect a more defined sense of direction. “By the turn of the century,” Hafen said, “BYU must be the Church’s newly reborn child of promise.”93
Perhaps the clearest statement of this direction came in fall 1996, when, after its ten-year self-study and reaccreditation, administrators and board members chose to theme their comments as “Diversity among Universities and BYU’s Unique Role.” (See chap. 9 for a full treatment of this conference.) President Bateman, fresh from the fire of having dismissed Gail Turley Houston and then, two months later, having been accused of plagiarism by an anonymous member of his own faculty, said the latter event left him feeling that the “divine mission of BYU is always at risk.” He cited First Presidency member James E. Faust on the “continuing experiment” of BYU, to see “whether a university whose board of trustees comprises prophets, seers, and revelators can remain a first-class university and not become secularized.” Commissioner of Church Education Henry B. Eyring titled his address “A Charted Course,” echoing the title of one of the university’s newly selected Foundation Documents: the 1938 address by First presidency member J. Reuben Clark, Jr., entitled “The Charted Course of the Church in Education.” In his talk Apostle Eyring no fewer than three [p.444]times emphasized that the board had “a deep understanding of universities as they have been and of this one as it is,” again suggesting the influence of the neoconservative First Things world view. It is this sense of the history of American universities—this one way of telling and reading the story—that, more than any thing else, has helped determine BYU’s current course.
The allusion to Clark’s influential talk-and its selection as a Foundation Document for the university—begs the question of the 1930s context in which Clark announced his charted course. When he delivered his speech to employees of the Church Education System at an annual summer retreat, Clark felt an urgency to “get back to the place of starting,” after some church teachers, in his opinion, had “wandered on the high seas or in the wilderness” of secular academic training for too long. He was particularly disturbed by those who viewed their religion through academic lenses, applying higher criticism to scriptural texts, or who taught Christianity as an ethical system rather than a set of eternal truths upon which hung the fates of students’ salvation. “[W]e have passed the place where we may wisely talk in ambiguous words and veiled phrases,” Clark told church teachers. “We must say plainly what we mean, because the future of our youth, both here on earth and in the hereafter, and also the welfare of the whole Church, are at stake.” In the most controversial portion of his speech, Clark proposed to separate the sheep from the goats. Regarding what he saw as “fundamental church doctrine” belief in Jesus’ atonement and in Joseph Smith’s first vision of the Father and the Son and restoration of the church—Clark proposed that
[n]o amount of dreaming, no amount of study, and no number of scholastic degrees, can take the place of this testimony, which is the sin[e] qua non of the teacher in our Church school system. No teacher who does not have a testimony of the truth of the Gospel as revealed to and believed by the Latter-day Saints … has any place in the Church school system. If there be any such, and I hope and pray there are none, he should at once resign; if the Commissioner [of Church Education] knows of any such and he does not resign, the Commissioner should request his resignation. The first Presidency expect this pruning to be made.94
Clark’s talk had proven useful over the years to church leaders set on similar course corrections. In 1990, as the university was struggling again to define its direction, Boyd K. Packer, a Clark protégé, “commend[ed Clark’s talk] to every student and every teacher,” and warned that a “drift” such as the one that had occurred in the 1930s could return to campus again. “Two things are symbolic of such a drift,” Packer told an eighteen-stake fireside audience at BYU:
One of them is apparent when the teachers of other disciplines look upon the teaching of religion as having less stature than they accord themselves. The other is when teachers or administrators develop agendas of their own and adjust the course from the compass bearing which bas been set by the [p.445]trustees, to a course which is a degree or two worldward. This is usually in order to gain, if they can, more approval of the world. Such things do not go unnoticed by those whose compass is sensitive to eternal things.95
Given that Apostle Eyring chose to title his 1996 speech after Clark’s landmark call for “pruning,” and that he delivered it only a few months after Gail Turley Houston was fired, it seems likely that Eyring and other officials viewed her dismissal—and those firings and departures that preceded it—as part of another pruning, another effort to protect the uniqueness of Mormon identity as they understand it and to enforce the traditional morality they believe a Mormon world view prescribes. In this effort, the “fundamentals” that must be believed and protected are, in some ways, less defined than those Clark outlined half a century earlier. Current trustees and administrators are not asking specifically for faith in Christian and Mormon truth claims; they are demanding a willingness to embrace a sometimes vaguely defined vision; to submit to the authority of the board in defining and of the administration in implementing sometimes public, sometimes confidential policies that, they maintain, will bring the school a truer sense of freedom. While Clark would likely approve of BYU’s current course, it is worth noting that his definition of “fundamentals” was more clearly stated than the current prohibition against criticizing or embarrassing the church, its leaders (which includes BYU’s trustees), or church doctrines.
AAUP Censure, Summer 1998
As campus-watchers awaited the June 1998 decision from the AAUP regarding the possible censure of BYU’s administration, word came from the Faculty Advisory Council—the school’s “official channel” for faculty-administration dialogue—that a FAC—sponsored investigation of academic freedom had concluded that complaints lodged against the university by the local and national AAUP were valid. After looking into thirty of the most egregious violations on record, the FAC report explained, the group had determined that a “chilling climate of self-restraint” was serving “the interest of administrative convenience rather than that of truth-seeking and integrity of inquiry” on campus. In these cases, the report said, “incidental errors of discretion have been treated as serious or stubborn ones; respectful disagreement has been treated as deliberate attack; cases of a single offended student have been treated as behaviors adversely affecting the entire university or church.” The group resolved to recommend that students be informed of university grievance policies in orientation, to prevent complaints being sent to general authorities, and that “rigorous adherence” be maintained to a policy of returning such complaints “regardless of the source of the complaint.” Faculty members would be informed of such situations and “[t]he case would be considered closed if no contact with the faculty member ensued.” The FAC also recommended that all anonymous complaints [p.446]be discarded. Finally, the group tabled a recommendation that “the administration actively promote at all administrative levels a recognition of the responsibility to protect and insulate the faculty from … complaints by the broader university constituency ‘“ [and] seek to alter the perception that their primary responsibility in regards to academic freedom is to protect the image of the University by vigorously monitoring faculty expression.”96
When the FAC report was publicized in the Salt Lake Tribune, James Gordon said administrators would consider the recommendations. “They wanted to make a few suggestions and they’re thoughtful and positive,” he said. But when talk turned to the upcoming AAUP decision, Gordon continued to affirm, despite the FAC’s insistence that the faculty involved were “faithful” and “value[ d] the overall university environment,” that pressure to protect academic freedom somehow threatened BYU’s unique religious identity. “Our mission is to provide an excellent university education consistent with the ideals and principles of the church,” he said, without explaining how such ideals would be violated by affirming principles of academic freedom. “That mission won’t be affected by what AAUP does.”97 Alan Wilkins made similar assertions in a memo to faculty members in anticipation of AAUP censure. “Apparently the only way to avoid censure by the AAUP would be to abolish the few limitations we have,” he said, disregarding the AAUP’s claim that it asked BYU to clarify rather than to eliminate its limitations clause. BYU’s restrictions on academic freedom, Wilkins added, “preserve our connection to principal sources of truth: fundamental doctrine and prophets.”98
On 13 June 1998 at the AAUP’s national convention, delegates voted, as expected, to censure BYU, placing the school on a list of fifty-four other schools that had violated ideals of academic freedom or tenure. “This is what we expected,” Gordon told reporters, adding that “BYU will maintain true to its intellectual and spiritual mission. If we abandoned that mission there would be no reason for us to exist.”99 To the campus newspaper he was more forceful. “Even though the AAUP purports to permit religious limitations on academic freedom,” he told a Universe reporter, “in practice it seeks to undermine any university that tries to apply those limitations.”100 That line of defense did not sit well with local AAUP officials. In making the issue a matter of the AAUP versus BYU’s unique mission, Scott Abbott said, the administration had “simply attacked the messenger.” Open discussion of academic freedom issues, he added, would “be helpful to the university. I don’t think it’s helpful at all to ignore [the AAUP action], which is what they’re trying to do.”101 He told the Universe: “There was never any discussion that went on on campus” following the AAUP report. “We didn’t do the kind of work that would have put us in a position not to be censured.”102
The BYU administration may be right that the censure will not affect the university’s accreditation. But AAUP censure is recognized by most academic and professional organizations—groups whose publications and job [p.447]lists often note a censured university’s status. The professional black-eye, however, may be less significant than campus morale, as the debates over academic freedom and religious authority throughout the 1990s have threatened to fracture the university community. The standoff regarding the AAUP’s report and censure painfully illustrates the tension remaining between freedom and authority at BYU. The difficulties that arise as faithful men and women on all sides struggle to be true to their own conceptions of what it means to make and maintain a Mormon university will either produce creative energy as parties labor together or tip the balance as one dynamic outweighs the other. In the meantime, for the growing church and BYU communities seeking to define and defend BYU’s mission, real lives hang in the balance.
5. Quoted in John K. Wilson, The Myth of Political Correctness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), 78; see also Lawrence Levine, The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 12, 5.
7. James Davidson Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991); Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America’s Culture War (New York: Free Press, 1994).
8. Wilson, The Myth of Political Correctness, 8. See also, for example, Lili Wright, “Political Correctness: New Labels for the ’90s,” Salt Lake Tribune, 10 Nov. 1991, which quotes “crusaders” such as BYU English professor Phil Snyder and psychology professor Tomi-Ann Roberts, as well as BYU’s most vocal anti-PC student activist of the early 1990s, Jimmy Gulbrandsen. For earlier debates over “PC” issues at BYU, see, for example, David Jensen, “The Intolerance of Political Correctness,” and Mike Austin, “Political Correctness and the Evolution of Language,” both in Student Review, 6 Mar. 1991. See also Eric Eliason, “Who’s Afraid of the P.C. Language Movement,” with a response by Mike Austin, Insight [BYU Honors Program], Fall 1991, 5, 11; Mike Austin, “The Annals of History: Political Correctness and the Evolution of the American University,” Student Review, 25 Sept. 1991. For helpful collections of essays on this issue, see Christopher Newfield and Ronald Strickland, eds., After Political Correctness; The Humanities and Society in the 1990s (Boulder, CO; Westview Press, 1995); and Paul Berman, ed., Debating P.C.: The Controversy over Political Correctness on College Campuses (New York: Laurel, 1992).
16. Gary Dorrien, The Neoconservative Mind: Politics, Culture, and the War of Ideology (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), 8-13. For a “paleocon” response to neo-conservatism, see Paul Gottfried and Thomas Fleming. The Conservative Movement (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988), chap. 4.
18. Quoted in Ellen Messer-Davidow, “Manufacturing the Attack on Liberalized Higher Education,” Social Text 36 (Fall 1993): 45. For more on Weyrich and the Free Congress Foundation, see Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (New York: The Guilford Press, 1995). 232-33. Thanks to Mark Hulsether for directing us to these and other citations in this section.
24. Quoted in ibid., 58. When liberals were able to prevent the appointment of an anti-feminist scholar whose “main claim to fame,” wrote one observer, was a non academic “article [suggesting] that Alice Walker received the National Book Award for The Color Purple only because of her race and gender,” Cheney (and the main-stream press) chalked their defeat up to politically correct “liberal McCarthyism.”
28. Some observers have rightly pointed to the ways in which defenses of the Western canon such as Bloom’s are, at heart, religious. The “secularized faith in western truth-statements,” for neocons, is much like the authority of the Bible to fundamentalist Christians. See Richard Wightman Fox, “Experience and Explanation in Twentieth-Century American Religious History,” New Directions in American Religious History in Harry S. Stout and D. G. Hart, eds., (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997),394-413, esp. 404.
32. Edward L. Carter, “Professor defends BYU at academic freedom meet,” Deseret News, 27 Oct. 1997. Either to discourage faculty members from attending or to punish BYU AAUP members, BYU administrators informed deans and department chairs in the College of Humanities that the university would not provide travel funds to the Chicago conference.
33. Helen Stark, “Content Based Restrictions on Teaching” (panel title), AAUP Conference on Academic Freedom and Religiously affiliated Institutions, Chicago, 25 Oct. 1997; also Bryan Waterman’s notes on the conference.
34. Scott Abbott, “Sinister Virtue: The Effects of Cultural Despair on Academic Freedom at a Private Religious University,” AAUP Conference on Academic Free-[p.449]dom at Religiously Affiliated Institutions, Chicago, 25 Oct. 1997. For contemporary responses to Bloom’s BYU visit, see Russell Fox, “The Closing of the Intellectual Mind,” and Spencer Bolles, “SR Interviews Allan Bloom,” both in Student Review, June 1991. Bolles notes in the interview that some English department faculty members had discussed boycotting Bloom’s visit.
35. Wilson also told the audience that a survey would soon be taken at BYU to establish exactly how faculty felt about religion and academic freedom. The following spring faculty members would receive from Wilson forms for a survey conducted by himself and two Baylor university professors. The Lily Foundation’s funded study had been previously conducted at Notre Dame, Boston College, and Baylor, although some changes had been made “in order to align some of the questions more closely with an LDS context.” The form sent to BYU faculty was titled “Spirituality & Education: A Survey of Brigham Young University Faculty.” The six-page, sixty-two-question survey begins by asking faculty members if they endorse BYU’s mission statement and ends with three questions that presume an opposition between academic freedom and a religious institutional identity: “The current approach to academic freedom and religious devotion (institutional values) at BYU is: about right; leans too much in favor of academic freedom; leans too much in favor of religious devotion”; “During the last decade has the emphasis shifted concerning the concepts of academic freedom and commitment to faith?”; and “Do you have more freedom at BYU to teach your subject matter in the way you feel appropriate than you would at other universities, or do you have less freedom here than you would have elsewhere?” See Keith Wilson, Michael Beaty, and Larry Lyon to “Dear BYU Faculty Member” (form letter), 17 Mar. 1998, and attached survey, copies in our possession. In news reports Abbott protested the survey’s assumption that academic freedom and religious identity were at odds. See Edward L. Carter, “Survey Asks Y. Faculty about Education, Faith,” Deseret News, 19 Mar. 1998.
37. See Dan Egan, “Debate Centers on Freedom in Academia,” Salt Lake Tribune, 27 Oct. 1997; Bryan Waterman’s notes on the conference. Marsden’s characterization of postmodernism was challenged by audience members.
39. James Gordon to Scott Abbott, 7 May 1998. The council relied on the same argument administrators had used in several of the academic freedom cases, that Abbott had not made an adequate affirmative contribution: “Section 3.1.10 of the University Policy on Faculty Rank and Status states, ‘A Faculty Rank and Status review … focuses not merely on the presence or absence of harm, but on the ‘quality of the faculty member’s overall affirmative contribution to the University.’ We believe that the evidence argues that more affirmative contributions could have been made.” Abbott responded briefly to the press that he was disappointed that attempts to protect academic freedom were not considered affirmative contributions to a university. See Mike Carter (A.P.), “Y. Professor Denied Promotion, Administration Said Criticism Puts Loyalty in Question,” Deseret News, 17 May 1998.
41. Dan Egan and Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Criticizing Church, University Costs BYU Professor Promotion,” Salt Lake Tribune, 16 May 1998. The Tribune noted that Gordon’s response was similar to the administration’s defense of the Rodin censorship.
42. See Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), esp. chap. 10, “Mormon Fundamentalism: The Institutional Matrix.” The “church vs. world” strain of Mormon history exists somewhat in tension with the traditional Mormon aversion to a [p.450]sacred/secular dichotomy. On this aspect of Mormon thought, see O. Kendall White, Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy: A Crisis Theology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987).
43. See Hafen’s “Law, Custom, and Mediating Structures: The Family as a Community of Memory,” in Richard John Neuhaus, ed., Law and the Ordering of Our Life Together (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989).
44. See Bruce C. Hafen and Jonathan O. Hafen, “Abandoning Children to Their Rights,” First Things, Aug./Sept. 1995, 18-24, and “The Courts: Order in the Classroom,” First Things, Aug./Sept. 1996, 17-19.
46. See articles by Camille S. Williams (self-described in various BYU settings as both “anti-feminist” and “pro-life feminist”), “Abortion and the Actualized Self,” First Things, Nov. 1991, 27-32, and “Sparrows and Lilies,” First Things, Aug./Sept. 1993,12-16. Neither of Williams’s articles mentions BYU or her Mormonism. See also BYU law professor W. Cole Durham’s joint-authorship with Edward McGlynn Gaffrey, Douglas Laycock, and Michael W. McConnell, “A Declaration: For The Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” First Things, Mar. 1992,42-44. Laycock has been a vocal defender of BYU’s academic freedom statement, and McConnell wrote legal articles on which the statement drew heavily. The declaration begins: “For those who are committed to protecting the unborn and preserving our traditional moral heritage, it is a mistake to oppose the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” See debate regarding the declaration and the proposed act in the journal’s next issue: Apr. 1992, 37-51.
47. Religious Freedom; Religious Tolerance, sound recording (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1992). On the same topic, see Neuhaus, “Religious Liberty,” Vital Speeches of the Day, 15 July 1986, 507-508.
51. See Himmelfarb, “The Christian University: A Call to Counter-revolution,” First Things, Jan. 1996, 16-19, and Anonymous, “‘Clipped and Controlled’: A Contemporary Look at BYU,” Sunstone, Sept. 1996, 61-72, esp. 69-71.
52. The entire First Things symposium and most of the major responses to it are reprinted in Mitchell S. Muncy, ed. The End of Democracy? The Celebrated First Things Debate with Arguments Pro and Con and “The Anatomy of a Controversy” by Richard John Neuhaus (Dallas: Spence Publishing Co., 1997). The quotes from the original editors’ introduction are on 8-9 and 5.
55. O. Kendall White Jr., “A Review and Commentary on the Prospects of a Mormon New Christian Right Coalition,” Review of Religious Research 28 (Dec. 1986): 180-88. White concludes that the only obstacle to such a coalition is theological, as many conservative Protestants do not consider Mormons Christian. Though White’s article argues for a Mormon-New Christian Right connection based on cooperation between Mormons and the Moral Majority in the campaign to defeat the ERA, it also seeks to identify conditions under which such a coalition might be more enduring. The material discussed here suggests that these conditions might include [p.451]conservative battles against gay rights and defenses of religious limitations on academic freedom. The most enduring Mormon-New Christian Right coalition may be, in the long run, the shared drive of Mormons and neocon intellectuals to legitimate a resurgence of religion in the public square. Thanks to Ken White for discussions on this point.
58. See Mike Carter (A.P.), “BYU Will Not Show ‘Schindler’s List’ after Producers Say ‘No’ to Editing,” Salt Lake Tribune, 29 Sept. 1994; Raymond Robinson ‘“Schindler’s List’ pulled from Varsity Theater schedule, editing difficulties blamed,” Daily Universe, 28 Sept. 1994. News coverage noted that one of the film’s producers, Gerald Molen, was LDS and had visited the campus previously to discuss making the film.
61. Ryan Van Benthuysen, “BYU chooses to pull Rodin exhibit pieces,” Daily Herald, 27 Oct. 1997; see also Thomas Wanat, “Brigham Young U. Refuses to Display 4 Sculptures in Rodin Exhibition,” Chronicle of Higher Education (electronic Daily News edition), 27 Oct. 1997.
69. Lynda Roberts to the editor, Salt Lake Tribune, 4 Nov. 1997; Elizabeth Visick to the editor, Salt Lake Tribune, 4 Nov. 1997, wrote, “I am sure that widespread thinking (especially in the nude) anywhere near its campus would lead to its destruction.”
73. Jared Trent to the editor, Daily Universe, 4 Nov. 1997. For other contributions to the discussion, see the opinion piece by Deseret News staff writer Marilyn Karras, “Blushing BYU Should Show the Complete Rodin Exhibit,” Deseret News, 30 Oct. 1997, and BYU professor Eugene England’s expression of gratitude for the column in a letter to the editor (cited above); and Ann Cannon, “‘Nude’ and ‘Naked’: The difference is more,” Deseret News, 2 Nov. 1997. Also “BYU Bans Rodin Nudes,” Sunstone, Nov. 1997, 76-77.
74. Thanks to David Barber for his notes on the College of Humanities meeting held on 4 November 1997. For the Eagle Forum rumor, see Paul Rolly and JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells, “Rolly and Wells: The Rest of the Story,” Salt Lake Tribune, 7 Nov. 1997. For the retraction, see Rolly and Jacobsen-Wells, “Rolly and Wells: Art vs. Art,” Salt Lake Tribune, 12 Nov. 1997, which also claimed that since Bateman took over the school, four people connected to BYU arts facilities had been fired or [p.452]resigned under pressure, and that a complaint had been filed with BYU’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity charging the museum with maintaining a hostile work environment.
75. Carter, “Bateman Responds.” Thanks also to Jon Hart for his notes on the question-and-answer session. For a time administrators carried on e-mail correspondence to help resolve concerns, but most ended in unresolved disagreement. Lee Bartlett in particular ended discussions by circulating an essay, “Taboo or Totalitarianism?: A Defense of Sensitivity,” written by controversial BYU faculty member Cynthia Hallen, who had been moved from the English department to the more conservative linguistics department after English faculty had voted against her third-year review. Hallen argued that “[ w]e all practice censorship,” citing the tendency at universities to prohibit sexist language and hate-speech, for example, but to “overlook the negative effects of profanity, obscenity, nudity, racial slurs, graphic sex scenes, and explicit violence in the materials they require or encourage students to read or view.” She called on BYU faculty to be alert to potentially offensive material in their classes, to provide alternative assignments, to respect the role taboo plays in upholding community standards, and to require the study of works that “demonstrate that the real world can be a world of life and love, modesty, and decency.” Cynthia L. Hallen, “Taboo or Totalitarianism?: A Defense of Sensitivity,” privately circulated, copy in our possession.
82. Carrie Williams, “BYU represents the family at Nairobi conference,” Daily Universe, 17 June 1997. Earlier in the year, in March, former BYU provost Bruce Hafen, now a member of the church’s Quorum of Seventy, spoke at the World Congress of Families in Prague, where he helped distribute the church’s proclamation on the family in fifteen different languages. See Bruce C. Hafen, “Bridle Your Passions: How Modern Law Can Protect the Family,” Vital Speeches of the Day, 1 Aug. 1997, 533-36.
87. For a preliminary summary of these documents, see Mara Ashby, “Women on Faculty at BYU: Why No Growth?” unpublished paper, 13 Apr. 1998. Copies of this paper and of the documents that Ashby and Barber received from the Freedom of Information Act Office are in our possession.
94. J. Reuben Clark, “The Charted Course of the Church in Education,” 8 Aug. 1938. On the context for the speech, see Gary James Bergera and Ronald Priddis, Brigham Young University: A House of Faith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 60-62. Armand Mauss identifies this speech as the beginning of what he sees as a movement toward “retrenchment” among church leaders. See Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive, 96.
96. “Recommendations from the FAC Subcommittee on Academic Environment,” 9 Apr. 1998. The committee was chaired by Neil Rasband and included Howard Bahr, Janice Clemmer, Richard Duerden, Alan Parrish, and Alf Pratte.
102. Cox, “AAUP censures BYU” For the report on the AAUP vote, see “Report: Eighty-fourth Annual Meeting,” Academe: Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors. Sept.-Oct. 1998. 68-79. The report notes the association’s conclusion that” at Brigham Young University infringements on academic freedom are distressingly common, and the climate for academic freedom is distressingly poor (72).