Freedom and Authroity at BYUThe Lord’s University
Freedom and Authority at BYU
by Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel

on the cover:
If church-sponsored schools exist to instill orthodoxy, then Brigham Young University gets high marks. However, in achieving this goal, BYU has increasingly limited speech, the press, the right to assemble, and due process—presumed necessities which Waterman and Kagel chart by citing vast archival documents and private interviews. From public pronouncements and intimate conversations, hearings and rallies, closed-door meetings, debates, and P.R. posturing, the authors offer an impressive chronicle of two decades (1980s-90s) of turmoil at the nation’s largest religious university.

The Lord’s University is a first-rate study of religious commitment and academic freedom. An insider’s analysis of BYU, it has the immediacy of narrative journalism and the depth of a meditation on the issue. Can religious institutions pursue their distinctive missions and yet protect the right to think and search one’s conscience? If freedom is subordinated to orthodoxy, should the resulting institution continue to call itself a university? These are questions for all who care abour religion and freedom of thought.”
—Martha Nussbaum, professor of law and ethics, University of Chicago; author, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education

“Waterman and Kagel deftly tell the story of what can happen when education falls under the domain of a religious bureaucracy. BYU was founded to insulate students from secular influences, but officials have increasingly moved to protect students from even their own Mormon teachers. Documented descriptions of recent faculty dismissals and the codification of restrictive guidelines contribute to this excellent study of the social control of institutions.
—O. Kendall White, Jr., professor of sociology, Washington and Lee University; author, Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy: A Crisis Theology

about the authors: Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel are both graduates of BYU and former editors of competing BYU publications: the off-campus Student Review (Waterman) and the on-campus Daily Universe (Kagel). Both were later editors at Sunstone magazine, and Waterman guest-edited a special student issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Now a doctoral candidate in American Studies at Boston University. Waterman and family live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kagel, a North Texas graduate student and senior analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield, lives with his family in Dallas.

title page:
The Lord’s University:
Freedom and Authority at BYU
by Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel
Signature Books
Salt Lake Citv

copyright page:
dedication: For Anna and Molly
Mitchell and Samantha
Cover design by Clarkson Creative
The Lord’s University: Freedom and Authority at BYU
was printed on acid-free paper and composed, printed
and bound in the United States.
© 1998 Smith Research Associates. All rights reserved.
Published by Signature Books in the United States of America.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of
Signature Books, Inc.
2002 2001 00 99 98 6 5 4 3 2 1

Waterman, Bryan
The Lord’s university: freedom and authority at BYU /
by Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Brigham Young University. 2. Academic freedom—Utah—Provo.
3. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Education.
4. Mormon Church—Education. I. Kagel, Brian
II. Title.
LD57l.B672W38 1998
378.792’24-dc21 98-28933
ISBN 1-56085-117-1 (pbk.)

Preface [see below]

Part One: Contexts
01 – The Uses of Mormon Education
02 – Women and Feminism at BYU
03 – A Brief History of the Universe, BYU’s Student Newspaper
04 – Making Model Students: The Transformation of the Honor Code

Part Two: Controversies
05 – A Tale of Two Statements: Academic Freedom and “Recent Symposia”
06 – Under Fire: The Farr and Knowlton Cases
07 – Trouble in the Kingdom
08 – Dirty Laundry, Dangerous Words: The Houston and Evenson Cases
09 – A Collision of Cultures: The Bateman Administration and the AAUP
10 – On Culture Wars, Crossroads, and Charted Courses


[p.vii]Five years have elapsed since Brigham Young University fired professors Cecilia Konchar Farr and David Knowlton—the event that prompted us, individually at first, to begin plotting books about academic freedom at the Mormon school. We were both close to graduation and were editors of competing student publications—Kagel of the school’s official Daily Universe, and Waterman of the independent Student Review, which is not allowed to be distributed on campus. Kagel first broke the story of the firings before other media caught wind of the event. Waterman covered the story in a Salt Lake City independent, the Private Eye Weekly, provided space for discussion in the Review, and, as a student of Farr and a friend of Knowlton, helped plan campus protests in response. We met that summer through a mutual friend, George Schoemaker, who was then teaching as an adjunct professor in BYU’s English department. George, who had been central in forming an ad hoc faculty committee on academic freedom, knew that we were both contemplating larger treatments of the issues and suggested we pool our resources. That collaboration yielded this book and a lasting friendship.

Early on we realized that our rival editorial positions provided us each with advantages the other did not have: Kagel had a good working relationship with BYU public communications officials; Waterman enjoyed the confidence of faculty members who might have been a little leery of an editor from the official Universe. Our publications’ different print schedules—daily versus weekly or monthly—encouraged collaboration even during the early aftermath of the firings: Waterman would occasionally have information to offer Kagel for immediate release; Kagel sometimes had news he was not allowed to print, which he would sometimes share with Waterman.

The result of our efforts, The Lord’s University: Freedom and Authority at BYU, takes its main title from a phrase Mormons commonly use to refer to Brigham Young University.1 Its embodiment of the tensions that surface on campus between “Lord” and “University” made it seem appropriate, though campus divisions are not quite so easily mapped. Students who use the term often do so to suggest that BYU policies are divinely inspired, because the [p.viii]School’s trustees are revered as prophets. Writing in 1995, for example, one student countered the
suggestion from other students that school policies aren’t divine: “I would definitely disagree that the administration of the University doesn’t reflect the opinions of the Lord because it does.”2 Proponents of academic freedom on campus—and perhaps even a large number of moderate faculty members and students—would probably disagree with such an assertion. To many of them, the phrase “the Lord’s University” appropriately belongs within quotation marks.

The tension between those who see church and university officials as operating under the same divine influence, and those who view the university in more traditional terms, as a place of both unique Mormon identity and unfettered intellectual inquiry, might also be summed up by our subtitle: “freedom and authority.” We borrow this dynamic from another investigation of academic freedom at a religious university: Larry Witham’s Curran vs. Catholic University: A Study of Authority and Freedom in Conflict. In 1994 we met Witham in Washington, D.C., where he discussed the Charles Curran case, in which a moral theologian at Catholic University of America came into conflict with the Vatican over his writings on sexual ethics. Curran first lost his authority to proclaim doctrine, then, years later, his teaching privileges. He sued the university in the late 1980s for breach of contract and lost; and the university was censured by the American association of University Professors in 1990. “A battle is underway for the ownership of the name Catholic,” Witham wrote. Typically the church has tried to balance authority and freedom, he explained. “Authority is necessary because the church draws its existence from a presumably unchanging divine revelation that must be preserved and protected. Freedom is necessary for the human person to respond, unfettered, to the revelation of God.”3

The dilemma resonated, we believed, with events at BYU, though with some differences. Most notably, the “Curran affair” lasted more than two decades, perhaps in part because an ocean separates Washington, D.C., and Rome. The distance between Provo (BYU’s home) and Salt Lake City (Mormon church headquarters), on the other hand, is only forty miles. Also, conflict arose initially because Curran had been granted authority to proclaim church doctrine. BYU professors have no such injunction or responsibility. Finally, the language of “freedom and authority” plays out in more complex ways at BYU. Administrators and some faculty members regularly argue that the Mormon school’s religious identity allows greater freedom, because faculty are permitted to discuss religion in ways teachers in state schools are not. Further, and perhaps paradoxically, they argue that this greater freedom is predicated on submission to BYU’s board of trustees. Not all faculty agree. For those who hold that free inquiry and Mormon identity do not have to conflict, academic freedom has been forced to yield to BYU’s freedom to fire faculty who, administrators fear, threaten students’ religious faith. From this view, submission to authority limits the academic freedom [p.ix]not only of faculty, but also of students. While we do not seek to turn “freedom and authority” into a heavy-handed interpretive framework, we feel that the phrase captures the tension present in the stories we recount.

A few words about what this book is and is not. It is not, first of all, a comprehensive history of BYU. Nor is it even intended to be a comprehensive history of academic freedom controversies at the university. Rather, it is a chronicle of such events primarily from the last ten years—from 1988 to 1998. Earlier histories of BYU—the official centennial history and Gary James Bergera and Ronald Priddis’s Brigham Young University: A House of Faith—remain indispensable to understanding BYU’s history. We have chosen three issues in particular, however, to help provide a longer chronological context for recent controversies. Chapter 2 focuses on women and feminism from the school’s founding in 1875 to 1990. The larger scope was warranted here, we believe, because previous histories have tended to neglect the topic. Chapters 3 and 4—on the student newspaper and the honor code—reflect two areas where “freedom and authority” most affect student life. These chapters also focus heavily on the role played by one university president in particular—Ernest L. Wilkinson-whose influence in these areas is still felt today.

Our conception of this book was that it would be primarily journalistic in tone, especially in its treatment of contemporary controversies. The contextual chapters measure up, we hope, to standards expected of professional historians. We have not attempted to assess claims made by individual faculty or administrators regarding the place of academic freedom at BYU, or to determine if administrators were justified in responding to certain cases as they did. Our objective was to tell the stories as the documentation suggests they happened; some degree of interpretation is inevitable, of course. But the book does not aim to engage in theoretical debates about the nature of religious higher education in Utah or elsewhere. Because so many of these cases played out in the media—with only limited communication between faculty and administrators—we tried to focus attention on the ways in which the stories unfolded to the public. In a few cases, we chose not to include information about potential controversies because they were not widely publicized; in doing so, we respected the wishes of some faculty who did not want to draw attention to themselves. Because of space constraints, we also omitted some issues that could fall under a broad discussion of “freedom and authority.” Most notable might be the continual conflicts among BYU, the federal government, non-Mormon and non-BYU college students in Provo, and the American Civil Liberties Union over issues of BYU-approved student housing.4

The fact that we had been covering and collecting information about controversies at BYU for several years led to some unusual situations that warrant noting. Occasionally we found ourselves turning up as characters in the story we were telling. In spite of this, we tried to maintain balance and [p.x]be fair to all sides. Certainly our narrative leans toward the experience of some faculty members, due to our level of personal access to them. It reflects as well the imprint of these events on our own experiences at BYU. Perhaps future historians will have access to accounts from administrators and board members—stories we were denied—that will further personalize their involvement in these events.

A note on sources: Following publication of Bergera and Priddis’s Brigham Young University: A House of Faith, pressure was brought to bear on BYU administrators and librarians to restrict access to the university’s official archives. As a result, we have had to rely on public and private documents made available to faculty members, usually as a result of continuing status (tenure) review processes. While this material, largely unpublished and unreported, offers much information on the cases we consider, it tends to obscure the roles played by trustees and administrators. Since the documents Bergera and Priddis cite reveal internal disagreement and intervention on the part of previous boards of
trustees, we assume that similar conversations have taken place in the last fifteen years. Again, perhaps future researchers will be able to access archival holdings we could not. Nevertheless, the amount of material we obtained deserves publication and supports, we believe, certain observations about BYU’s current course.

We should also provide some explanation of terms for readers not familiar with BYU or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS; Mormon). Unlike many other church-affiliated institutions of higher education, BYU’s board of trustees is composed of representatives of the church’s highest governing bodies—the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. The First Presidency consists of the church president (traditionally the senior apostle) and, typically, two counselors of his choice. These leaders and other “general authorities” are commonly referred to by the title “Elder.” However, to distinguish between the Twelve and lower-ranking officials—who would presumably carry less influence with BYU administrators and are not represented on the board of trustees—we frequently use the term “Apostle” preceding the name of a member of the Twelve. While this is not current practice among church members, we feel it lends clarity to the narrative. Local church leaders, such as “bishops” and “stake presidents,” are, unlike general authorities, unpaid officials in a lay male clergy. Thus a BYU professor from one department might serve as a local church leader to a member of another department. Mormon congregations are called “wards,” which combine to form “stakes” (roughly the equivalent of a Catholic diocese). BYU students are, in 1998, organized into over two hundred wards and nineteen stakes.

We have also chosen to avoid assigning the term “intellectual” only to liberal Mormons who may be academically at odds with church leaders or traditionalist LDS positions. While Mormons generally tend to assign the term a degree of pejorative connotation, some conservative Mormon academics have complained that by equating “intellectual” with “dissident,” the [p.xi]scholarly contributions of more traditional church members are neglected.5 Since part of the story we tell involves disputes between administrators and faculty members who share academic credentials and whose positions are academically informed and argued. We have attempted to avoid conflating the terms “liberal” and “intellectual,” and have opted instead to note “conservative intellectuals” and “liberal intellectuals” where appropriate. Such terms are still not precise, but we have found them to be the best option available. Because conservative Mormon academics have withdrawn in the last several years from participation in such unofficial LDS discussions as those sponsored by the Sunstone Foundation, we have also avoided the commonly used phrase “Mormon intellectual community” and refer instead to the “independent Mormon sector.” While the latter term runs the risk of ignoring the contributions of liberal Mormons in official church settings, we feel it best describes the forums for discussion themselves.

Over the last five years we have accumulated a wonderful list of friends, institutions, and publications who need to be thanked. Drafts of several chapters were first presented at Sunstone symposia in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Boston between 1993 and 1998. A draft of chapter one was presented to Peter Berger’s seminar on modernity at Boston University in 1995. Thanks to Maxine Hanks and Gary Bergera for formal responses on Sunstone presentations, and to audiences and seminar members in other settings for helpful comments and questions. Thanks to Omar Kader for introducing us to Larry Wither in Washington, D.C., in 1994. The following people deserve our thanks for reading and commenting on portions of the manuscript: Scott Abbott, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Amy Bentley, Peter Berger, Martha Sonntag Bradley, Mark Brewer, John Brooke, Stacy Burton, Bill Evenson, Melissa Madsen Fox, John Gholdston, Kent Harrison, Armand Mauss, Mary Stovall Richards, Paul Richards,Jana Riess, Taryn Wahlquist, and O. Kendall White. Their comments were always helpful but not always incorporated—and rarely in consensus. Thanks to D. Michael Quinn for his advice on indexing. Elbert Peck read the entire manuscript. His love and support as a boss, mentor, and friend helped us complete this project. Our years of working at Sunstone assisted us in keeping files and drafting news stories on several of the events discussed in this book. Thanks to our former co-workers on the Sunstone staff—Marti Esplin, Carol Quist, Greg Campbell, and Mark Malcolm in particular—for continually requesting updates. Various members of Mormon-related Internet discussion groups receive our gratitude for carrying on energetic discussions about BYU issues. Among the many members of these groups, Stirling Adams, John Armstrong, Michael Austin, Nancy Bentley, Joanna Brooks, and Stacy Burton stand out as people whose ideas were continually provocative and astute, and who also provided moral support at crucial junctures. These people and others, including Nancy Kader, Merle Tanner-White, Mara Ashby, and Cami Hill, helped us secure source materials unavailable where we live. Cheryl Boots offered non-Mormon eyes, [p.xii]ears, and encouragement in Boston. Julie Vandervere and Saundra Morris provided lively kitchen-table conversation over a draft of the manuscript. Thanks for housing and child care during research trips to Utab go to Jennifer H. West. Elbert Peck, Tony West, Douglas and Jill Campbell, and Richard and Jan Kagel. Our parents—the Campbells and Kagels along with Neil and Rebecca handler, Lois and Dennis Waterman, and Marlene and Jack Smith—offered various combinations of emotional and financial support, anxiety about our eternal salvation, and unconditional love. The staff at the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU, particularly in special collections and university archives, was helpful, as were employees of the Utah State Historical Society and BYU’s Women’s Research Institute.  Staff members at the Daily Universe and Student Review and members of BYU’s student feminist group VOICE helped us over several years track down sources and citations. We owe special thanks to several key players in our story—Cecilia Konchar Farr, David Knowlton, Gail Turley Houston, Brian Evenson, and Scott Abbott, in particular—for letting us subject them to rounds of interviews and inquiries regarding their cases. While we benefitted tremendously from the assistance of everyone named above (and many more we have doubtless overlooked), we alone are responsible for the final product. Our deepest appreciation, finally, goes to our families—especially to Heather Campbell Kagel and to Stephanie Smith-Waterman, without whose support the book could not have been completed—and to our children, to whom the book is dedicated.

October 1998


[p.xii]l. Mormon writer Lynn Matthews Anderson notes that the phrase is also applied to Bob Jones University by its students and officials. See Anderson, “A Look at ‘The Lord’s University,’“ Sunstone, Apr. 1995, 13-15.

2.Lee Ann Casey to the editor, Daily Universe, 12 Apr. 1995.

3. Larry Witham, Curran vs. Catholic University: A Study of Authority and Freedom in Conflict (Riverdale, MD: Edington-Rand, Inc., 1991), I.

4. BYU requires landlords to meet certain regulations-most notably regarding strict prohibitions on co-educational living arrangements-in order to receive the school’s approval, and students are required to live only in school-approved housing. This has led to situations in which non-BYU students living in BYU-approved housing, sometimes with BYU students, are forced to meet Mormon and BYU behavioral standards
in order to retain their residence. While a thirty-year history of these conflicts may warrant research and publication, we did not feel we had the resources or space to devote to the subject. For previous treatment of the issue through the early 1980s, see Bergera and Priddis, A House of Faith, 102-107. See also Linda Sillitoe, Friendly Fire: The ACLU in Utah (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), esp. 215-23; and, for more recent developments, “Court Supports Y Housing Practices,” Sunstone, Apr. 1997, 79; Jeffrey P. Haney and Edward L. Carter, “BYU tightens the rules for its approved housing,” Deseret News, 6 Jan. 1998.

5. See Ralph C. Hancock, “What Is a ‘Mormon Intellectual’?” This People, Fall 1994, 21-34. Hancock includes, among the “dissidents” he criticizes, fellow BYU professor Scott Abbott.

[p.xiii]“[It is] a very basic premise-that this is the Lord’s University.”
—PRESIDENT JEFFREY R. HOLLAND, Daily Universe, 4 Sept. 1980

“I’d call BYU ‘the Lord’s University’ just about as often as I’d call ZCMI [Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution] the Lord’s department store.”
—PRESIDENT REX E. LEE, Student Review, 16 Oct. 1991

“There is no member of the board of trustees who does not know who the trustor is who has extended to us the trust. They do not speak lightly of this being the Lord’s University.”
—Apostle and Commissioner of Church Education HENRY B. EYRING, 25 Aug. 1997, Annual University Conference

“Nowhere does Christ refer to the kingdom [of God] as a glass house, and I can’t imagine him wanting ‘The Lord’s University’ to be constituted of such flimsy stuff. In my mind, the University that you envision [when employing that] metaphor is a shallow, fearful, paltry thing.”
—PROFESSOR GAIL TURLEY HOUSTON to Academic Vice President Alan Wilkins, 10 May 1996, on her firing from BYU