The (In)Consistencies of Church Employment

In 2012 a BYU religion professor named Randy Bott created a firestorm when he made fairly racist comments justifying the priesthood ban to blacks in an interview with the Washington Post. Many called for Bott’s firing. Shortly thereafter Bott took retirement from BYU. Sadly the comments weren’t that surprising and most of us have known people with similar views.

Fast forward to this week. Ruthie Robertson, an adjunct professor at BYU Idaho is told that she won’t be retained after the summer semester. (She had been contracted through fall) This is after putting a fairly controversial post on Facebook saying that,

“Most Christian faiths label homosexuality as a sin based on archaic writings. A few hateful verses in the Old Testament have led to hundreds of years of prejudice, hatred, violence, and pain” “This is my official announcement and declaration that I believe heterosexuality and homosexuality are both natural and neither is sinful. I will never support the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” because that “sin” is part of who that person is.”

Again most us know people with exactly the same beliefs. But what is the difference between the cases? In both situations employees of the Church were expressing strong doctrinal views that the Church rejects.

To my eyes this is largely orthogonal to LGBT issues in the Church, although I can completely understand why people will make that the prime issue.[1] I also don’t think it is an issue of religious freedom since in this case we’re talking about employees of the Church at a Church school promoting doctrinal views in opposition to official Church teaching. This isn’t a Jew at a secular job being told not to wear a kippah. Rather this is someone functioning as a religious employee not fulfilling their job.[2]

We want to have religious pluralism, yet the issue of Church employees in some sense reflecting and representing the Church matters a great deal as well. Many parents, whether you agree with them or not, send their children to BYU thinking it’ll be intellectually “safe.” I disagree with that view for a variety of reasons, but they put a ton of pressure on people associated with BYU. Yet this has the unfortunate effect of BYU professors fearing to say anything at all. I can think of excellent professors I had who were very careful not to say anything remotely controversial. Yet, on the other hand, I remember the infamous “English Department Wars” when I was at BYU over certain social and political issues and what got taught in the classroom. Conservatives, with some justification, are concerned over a mono-culture at most secular universities with a de facto political and social dogma. Yet in a real sense BYU is offering the same thing. The usual justification is that by providing a place like BYU you are creating the diversity the academy is missing.

All that is true, yet I keep turning back to the fundamental issue of hypocrisy. Many of the people up in arms about Robertson’s firing were glad Bott left BYU. I suspect many of those who had called for Bott’s firing are more conflicted with Robertson. Yet Robertson’s position at BYU-I was already tentative. (She was just a temporary adjunct professor rather than a long term full professor with quasi-tenure) Also Robertson was condemning recent comments and actions of Apostles whereas Bott was unfortunately propagating teachings that had been repudiated decades earlier. The responses were different as well. It appears Bott followed what University authorities asked of him. The same opportunity was given to Robertson but she refused.

For pluralism to be pluralism it has to be an agreed upon set of practices and rules that don’t depend upon the beliefs in question. If you want people like Robertson to be able to teach at BYU don’t you also have to want people like Bott to be able to teach and hold their own beliefs?


1. This post really isn’t about LGBT issues but how we view representatives of the Church. We’ve discussed LGBT issues here in the past. It’s a much more complicated issue than I think people on both sides of the matter tend to want to admit. I think in particular I think people downplay too much the reasons for the Church’s position. That is caught up with the very ideas of pre-mortal life and post-mortal exaltation which are tied up with an idea of eternal gender. That is Mormons have a fairly different basis for engagement with LGBT issues than most Jews or Christians do.

2. We can of course debate whether non-religion teachers at BYU should be seen as religious teachers. As a practical matter though BYU seems to see all professors as mentors and thus their religious views mattering a great deal. Thinking back to my own BYU experience most of the mentors I had were not in religion departments yet I learned a tremendous amount from them that shaped my religious convictions and perspectives. Having first gone to school at a non-Mormon university the biggest strength of BYU from my eyes was just how approachable all the professors were. They really were teachers in the full sense of the word rather than mere lecturers.

60 comments for “The (In)Consistencies of Church Employment

  1. “fairly racist comments”?

    No need for the qualifier.

    Off to read the rest of your post…

  2. One important part of this story is about why someone is teaching college with a bachelor’s degree. The answer is no mystery: it’s one of the ways to control costs in the amazing and radical Pathways program, but it’s of interest in considering how the church selects and pays and monitors teachers within the church education system.

  3. I think the problem of adjunct professors is a huge one. It’s a cost saving means that typically results in academics getting paid very little. I’m not sure the shift is a wise one – especially as non-teaching costs get out of hand. I do think it important for people to realize though that adjuncts are basically part time on demand teachers. The very nature of the position means that they aren’t really fully employed in the way people typically think professors are. It works simply because there’s a dramatic oversupply of academics who want to teach. And that in turn is largely due to misrepresentation largely engendered by universities themselves.

    Things are changing. Less useful majors in the humanities are dropping significantly in terms of students. Not to disparage English, which does teach a lot of useful things about writing, but I think there’s a big difference between the typical student in the 40’s or 50’s and today. The problem is that the self-conception of the university was largely developed in the 19th century when it was reasonably well off elites dominating education. We now have most people going to college yet the underlying model has remained the same. Yet change has long caused panic in humanity departments for somewhat understandable reasons. I suspect that’s partially why you’ve seen this shift to cross-disciplinary fields that are heavily politicized. It’s an attempt to maintain relevance.

  4. Randy Bott made his comments to a Washington Post reporter — they were public, while Ruthie Robertson made her comments in a closed Facebook group — they were private. Robertson’s private comments were passed on to BYU-I by someone in the group. Robertson was punished for private belief, while Botts maybe was forced to retire for a really really really public quasi-official statement. These seem like vastly different situations.

  5. I agree with everything you’ve written. I wonder though if the commonality between the two situations is that both caused a certain amount of embarrassment/controversy to the church. And that the employees were let go more for causing embarrassment/controversy rather than because of the specifics of what was embarrassing/controversial.

  6. Gentle Reader, saying something posted to Facebook isn’t public is an odd sense of public. There’s really no sense in which Facebook is ever private. Something that many people getting jobs are constantly surprised by. Facebook has tools to limit what people easily see, but they tend to change settings unexpectedly and should never be trusted on the point. She was offered the chance to take down the post. Had she done so she’d have been fine. She refused. It seems that refusal is the main issue. My sense is that the Church largely doesn’t care what you believe so long as you don’t publicize it.

    ReTx, I do think the Church worries a bit much over embarrassment. But to be fair once you hit major newspapers I think it’s fair to say they have to do something.

    My own view is that I wish BYU, particularly BYU-I, would ease up a bit on these matters. I think they should emphasize that not everything a professor thinks represents the Church. If you communicate that point enough then I think the problem largely goes away. However even then there likely are limits. To my eyes the real issue is what we mean by pluralism especially in University environments. I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy to go around on that issue.

  7. And yet Elder Christofferson has stated that LDS members are free to express their support for gay marriage in social media without fear of disciplinary action: His comments appear extremely relevant to this situation, and it appears that BYU-I has forgotten this.

    That Robertson’s position was tentative is irrelevant. A firing is a firing.

    “Rather this is someone functioning as a religious employee not fulfilling their job.”

    How was she not fulfilling her job? She was assigned to teach some English classes, which she was doing. Her comments on Facebook were made a private group of friends and were not intended for students or as a statement for the BYU-I administration to read.

  8. Lastly, you’re calling hypocrisy on people who supported Bott’s firing but are against Robertson’s firing. Nonsense. These people, myself included, are consistent in their demands to reduce racism AND homophobia. It seems perfectly consistent to call out a university system for not firing someone for racist comments and then firing someone for not being homophobic.

  9. Steve S, don’t you see a difference between a lay member and a Church employee? You’re argument is basically that professors only job is to teach a class. However I don’t think BYU sees that has their only job. Rather they are seen as mentors who are supposed to do much more than teach classes. And overall I think that a good thing.

    To the hypocrisy point, it relates to pluralism. If you simply reject pluralism and think all that matters is the issue with no consistency behind the issue then of course you’re correct. All that matters is whether someone agrees with your particular dogma, whatever that might be. It’s quite possible the administrator at BYU-I completely agrees with you on that point and just disagrees over what the correct dogma is.

    Now I happen to think a growing number of people agree with you. The value of pluralism seems to be dropping among many in our culture – particularly in Universities. While there really aren’t any legal impacts for BYU doing this, socially people will start putting more and more pressure on the Church if they don’t embrace what have swiftly become mainstream views of LGBT.

  10. “For now, she is working as a bartender to pay the bills while looking for a new job.” That’s an unusual job for a recent BYU-I instructor, but at least the bar owner doesn’t hold her Mormon beliefs against her.

  11. I’m consistently amazed by the amount of stories I keep hearing regarding the BYU-I community’s reliance on informants to discipline people. The amount of first-hand accounts I’ve heard of students and community members informing on their peers to BYU-I administration gives me the impression that Rexberg is particularly full of people willing to throw any roommate or professor to the wolves. Such an institutionalized eagerness to punish that I’ve yet to encounter anywhere else.

  12. “. . . nor tolerate those who do” is a standard phrase in honor codes around the country.

  13. MH, aren’t most violations of code of conducts related by people aware of what happened? It seems to be just as true at secular colleges with only the particular code of conduct differing. So for instance if a professor at Yale was sleeping with one of their students, would it be inappropriate for a roommate to tell the college?

    I can see people disagreeing with particular codes of conduct. Certainly I can point to many secular universities with codes I disagree with. Evergreen College has been in the news a great deal the past few months on those issues for instance. However your disagreement doesn’t appear to be with the code but with “informants.” Which just strikes me as odd.

    Now I do have disagreements with BYU-I’s codes of conduct. At a minimum I think they should make them the same as BYU’s. Some of the rules I’ve heard about strike me as vastly overly paternalistic. Yet honestly someone coming out against the Brethren at a Church school seems pretty straightforward.

    John, becoming a bartender does strike me as more than a little odd. Although I did have one of my best companions on my mission pay for his mission by bartending while remaining an active Mormon. So I don’t think we should leap to conclusions. However in the WaPo story she also said she was considering leaving the Church. While Idaho’s license to be a bartender is pretty benign compared to most states, most bars want a bit more knowledge and experience in mixing drinks.

  14. There are numerous problems worthy of discussion in the situations you pick out. For this post you are calling out hypocrisy. I have little doubt that it happens, but not in my little corner of the world. I heard differences of opinion about what was said (pretty consistently anti-Bott and pro-Robertson, which defines my little corner) but not inconsistent or hypocritical comments about job security and hiring and firing practices.

    I believe the Church schools have done themselves and their students a disservice by treating the faculty and allowing the faculty to be viewed as representatives of the Church. It’s a hard problem, however, especially if the rumors I hear are true, suggesting that parents of students at the several Church schools are first in line to enforce the “representative” view.

    I haven’t looked back at the Randy Bott situation to tease out whether there is a real difference, but it does seem to me that one can reasonably distinguish between a religion professor making assertions about what the Church teaches, and a faculty member in any other area expressing her personal beliefs. I’m not sure where I would come out, if I were a decision maker–there’s a whole lot of ‘you had to be there’ about it–but I would see a difference worthy of consideration.

  15. N.W. and Clark, you’re both right, but I don’t think the disparity between a professor sleeping with a student, to use Clark’s example, and Ms. Robertson’s case can be overemphasized.

  16. And Clark, I guess the perceived oddity of my comment re informants stems from my belief that the honor code is in many cases arbitrary (sandal ban, no facial hair, no having girls in your living room past some evening hour, no posting certain opinions on social media).

    But, you remind me that one shouldn’t agree to the code if he/she doesn’t plan on abiding by its precepts. I suppose prosepctive students and staff should really ask themselves if attending or working at a church school is really a fit for them before doing it. Many don’t, and it can create a lot of hearache.

  17. My BYU experience is old and perhaps no longer relevant, but we had at least one non-member professor who was not looked at as a mentor in any way beyond his field of expertise, though the one I’m thinking of could have been appropriately viewed that way. We also did not look to any non-religion professors as religious mentors because of their professor status, but only because of their ecclesiastical status, if any, or because of personal relationship. (Some of us also learned quickly not to look to any religion professors as religious mentors.) Where did this BYU-professors-are-religious-mentors notion come from?

  18. MH, but then really all you’re saying is that you disagree with the honor code for professors at BYU. Which is fine, but gets at the fundamental issue and disagreement.

    Christian, I agree that making professors representatives becomes problematic. However I think even easing up on that point there would be pretty clear lines which Robertson crossed. Further, as I noted, the whole mentoring angle just can’t be neglected. Especially because that’s one of BYU’s greatest strengths. (I can’t speak to BYU-I having never been there — from all I’ve heard it doesn’t sound like a place I’d have personally enjoyed) Effectively for better or worse, all BYU professors are religion instructors in one sense or an other. When I was at BYU they in fact frequently taught religion classes. Indeed the only religion classes I ever had bad experiences with were the two I took taught by people in the religion department. I had a rather negative view of the religion department who at that time in the 90’s seemed little more than High School Seminary teachers. I’ve heard it’s improved dramatically since then though.

    JR I wouldn’t say religious mentors but more broad mentors which could have a religious component. I’m not sure when you were there but it was significant when I was there in the early 90’s. Again I’m of the opinion that’s a strength not a weakness. Professors at many and perhaps most large colleges are very disconnected from students. At least for undergraduates. That’s different at smaller liberal arts schools of course – but my impression was that was part of the climate BYU was always aiming for. (Outside of a few significant graduate programs like accounting, MBA, etc.)

    I’d certainly agree that a wise person is careful who they pick for that though. I can think of a few friends who asked professors for advice when struggling with testimony only to find out the professor had a borderline testimony themselves. In several cases this led to my friends leaving the church for a while although they all eventually came back. So I can completely understand wanting faithful people with strong testimonies to be professors. However the reality is that’s not always doable. Further people change and have their own personal crises. It’s unfair to expect professors to always be the equivalent of a great Bishop. Heck, it’s not even fair to always expect that of Bishops.

  19. Steve S. I think you’re mis-interpreting Elder Christofferson’s words. He said [of those publicly supporting the LGTB movement] that no action would be taken against their membership. He did NOT say that they would remain members in good standing, or that they could continue to hold a temple recommend.

    My interpretation is that the Church considers public advocacy for SSM and publicly criticizing the Church’s policies as candidates for disfellowshipment. And if you’re a mormon BYU-I employee, the loss of a temple recommend means the loss of a job.

  20. From Miss Robertson’s revised Facebook post, via SL Trib: “I’d like to preface this by saying that, as an employee of BYUI, my views do not reflect the school or LDS Church. These are my personal beliefs, and they have no place in my classroom nor will they ever. Students often approach me and ask my opinion on certain matters of the Church, and I always diplomatically discourage the discussion and tell them to seek their own truths rather than a professors.”

  21. Other Clark, I’m pretty skeptical that’s the case. I’ve never heard of someone even remotely being considered not being a member in goodstanding for support of of SSM at a state level. Here I think we have to distinguish between public policy for ones local government and support for Church recognition of SSM to avoid law of chastity issues. But even those who support Church SSM can probably do so in a way different from how Sis. Robertson did so to avoid any Church issues. Again, I’ve never heard of anyone suffering Church discipline in any form for this in terms of say even a temple recommend.

    That’s all separate of the doctrinal issue mind you.

  22. Here at BYU, we can only hire full-time visitors for up to two years, and they must have a PhD in hand. Current doctoral students can visit and teach for a summer or so, but that’s it. So what’s up with BYU-I hiring a 2016 BA to teach? It amazes me how many LDS think BYU-I offers the same educational experience as BYU, and this just provides further evidence of the differences.

  23. I had at least two professors at BYU who weren’t LDS. I believe both are still teaching there. Do they face the same kind of restrictions? If one of them made the same comment, outside the classroom, as Robertson did, would they also be fired?

    My biggest concern is for the instructors. Given that BYU-I is willing to fire a non-religion teacher for disagreeing with a point of church doctrine (policy?) entirely outside her work environment, what else will they fire instructors for, both inside and outside the classroom?
    What if a non-LDS professor criticizes BYU’s rules on non-LDS professors not being able to drink coffee at home? Grounds for termination? Does it matter whether it was in a classroom setting or not? What about a professor who tells the class there will be a sub the next week because the professor is attending the wedding of her nephew and his soon-to-be husband on the other side of the country? Grounds for termination?

    It seems to me that there aren’t exactly clear guidelines on what can be said and what can’t. That’s problematic.

    I do think professors at BYU may face a little more leeway than professors at BYU-I.

  24. Tim, my understanding is that non-Mormons have to follow the law of chastity and elements of the word of wisdom (although I’m not clear on the details) but obviously don’t have to agree with Mormon doctrine.

    Relative to Robertson it’s worth noting that on Reddit she’s more or less that confessed that the public face she’s put forward is disingenuous. She is “exmofeministq” and says she’s being interviewed on Mormon Stories tomorrow. In case they get deleted here are a few of her more choice statements:

    “When presenting these issues, in order for members to accept change, you have to be soft. You have to make them see you as one of them. Exmormons aren’t as effective at making changes in the church and that’s why I phrased things the way I did in interviews.”

    “Admin. Department head and college dean both wanted me to stay.”

    “I wish I could find a way to move. I’m broke as f***, working as a bartender because I got fired from my teaching job with CES.”

    “I think the mistake exmormons make is that they’re looking for something new to hold onto. They’ve lost the community and organization of the Church, and find a new one that’s really no better. All organized religion is corrupt. It’s fine to still believe in God after leaving, and it’s even fine to still read scripture.. it’s stupid to get yourself involved in another abusive organization that harms society in the name of their god.”

    “Nope, I work for CES and the only thing they do is a yearly temple recommend check. They email your bishop and ask if you’re worthy to have a recommend… which leads to a tracking of your tithing donations.”

    “First of all, I think that you’re here and trying to understand your students that aren’t interested in being at church is fantastic. I wish my leaders and teachers had been that way. The commenter above made a great point about telling stories and making things personal.. the biggest thing for me was not feeling like I was having the Church shoved down my throat. Keep things broader, relate to their experiences as teenagers, when they have issues or questions, don’t shove some typical church answers down their throats.. try to actually help them or answer their questions. Also, this one is pretty basic and easy.. but I had a SS teacher that always brought us snacks, even on fast Sunday. She got in a lot of trouble when they found out about her bringing stuff on fast Sunday, but it gave me a lot of respect for her for some reason. You’re on the right track just by seeking answers from those in your kids position, or those that have been there.”

    “To those saying to sue, I would love to but I work for CES so technically they can fire me for that… even though I never spoke about it in my classes.”

    “I don’t think anything in the Church or Gospel was literal to me… I found symbolism in all of it. It’s why I stayed for so long, not taking things literally comforted me in the things I saw as wrong in the church. I realized after going to the temple a second time after being endowed, I wasn’t having any spiritual experience by taking it literally. I focused on the Atonement and Christ, and found His in parts of the ceremony.. but also felt His lack of presence in a lot of things.”

    “Polygamy. It’s bothered me since I was a kid, and people were always giving me half-assed excuses or explanations for it. Then I started making excuses, it was necessary for the restoration, agency of man allowed JS to go against what God wanted just like BY did, JS was a fallen prophet but the church is still true, and now finally… JS was a perv and full of s***, and he just made up s*** to get with a bunch of women. I tried for so long to make it work, but that one issue took up my entire shelf for most of my life and finally broke it.”

    I’ll let you all decide if you think that makes a good CES teacher.

  25. 1. This is the thing that causes several BYU faculty and staff that I know to quit social media and avoid any sort of public or private opinion. One BYU faculty member I know has (so far, successfully) tried every strategem to avoid teaching a religion classes. Some of these people live in constant fear of saying something candid.

    2. The Church loses out on a lot of professional candidates because people aren’t about to uproot families and relocate to SLC for a job they can lose because a bishop decides to pull a temple recommend over an opinion.

  26. Finding out that Robertson would be doing an interview with John Dehlin was my first clue that perhaps her firing had other causes other than just the Facebook post. Even if it didn’t, the interview and some of her other statements are problematic.

    That being said, I share queno’s concerns. If I criticize MoTab for debasing itself by singing at Trump’s inauguration, or criticize the new Handbook rules on certain children not being eligible for baptism, and I’m an instructor at BYU-I, do I need to worry about keeping my job? If I want to start a job there, should I even bother shaving my beard and attending an interview?

  27. BYU-I has no (or at least very little) interest in pluralism, and I don’t expect them to either. They do have an interest in Doing The Right Thing, and we should all expect that from them.

    Now they could have fired Robertson for any number of reasons, or no reason at all. But they asked her to remove a pro-LGBT post and then fired her when she declined. I personally think that was a mistake. It was their right to do it, but I think it was morally wrong. I think it was wrong not because of a support for pluralism or academic freedom, but because firing her for this reason is a symbolic move that hurts a lot of real people: primarily those for whom she expressed support in her post.

    And I don’t think it is hypocritical to simultaneously support Bott’s firing, because keeping him employed also gave credibility and support to the things which he said, which also hurt real people. Even a tenured professor can, and sometimes should, be fired.

    So while I think BYU-I could be justified in firing an individual who doesn’t support the leaders of the church, it would behoove them (and you and me and everyone) to think about those people who may have been hurt to see how the church reacts when someone expresses love and support for them. We have no interest in being known as the Church of Anti-Gay Saints.

  28. Rockwell, I don’t think the issue was just that it was pro-LGBT but that it was highly critical of church positions. When I heard the initial reports that it was simply pro-LGBT statements I thought as you did. As I started finding out what she’d actually written my views changed quite a bit. Note that we only had her word that was why she was let go. Given what we’re now finding out I’m not sure I give her the benefit of doubt anymore. It seems pretty clear she’s been reasonably dishonest in how she’s talked about things with the press. It’s now coming out from her students that she wasn’t exactly shy about talking about these things in her class either. One of her students has said on Facebook that she said that “she believes our church is sexist and misogynistic” and one day spent 20 minutes lecturing the class on homosexuality.

    Tim, while I think that an exaggerated worry I can completely understand those who might have strong disagreements on some matters with the church not feeling comfortable teaching at BYU. Likewise BYU is not for everyone. Even people who agree with the church on most things might find it a bit stifling.

    queuno, while I’m sure that happens, the reality is that for academics there are few jobs and lots of people candidates who want jobs. BYU might not be able to always get the top tier people they want, but typically there are enough academically oriented Mormons who would love a professorship at BYU that I don’t think they have a shortage of candidate in most fields. The supply vs. demand curve with the oversupply of degrees makes BYU’s life a little easier than it might otherwise be.

  29. Clark, thought provoking post as always.

    Perhaps I’m jaded but I’ll offer this perspective.

    1 – Randy Bott was pushed out because he was an embarrassment to an institution that continues to be obsessed with building a national reputation as an outstanding university (not unlike other institutions). His expressed views reflected that not all racial prejudice has been expunged from the church. What made it sting all the more was his being a professor of religion. With its storied past on race, like polygamy, the church wants to leave its history in the rearview mirror and wish it would fall out of the public’s collective memory for good. Bott reintroduced the painful past. Like the LDS church, BYU is obsessed with its public perception and brand. And like the BYU football team, it desperately wants to have its cake and eat it too: The university wants to be known as a rigorous institution of higher learning BUT also wants to keep open debate over the church’s most controversial issues controlled–and it’s bad for the LDS Foundation’s work procuring donations from high dollar donors when controversies dominate campus talk or headlines. Despite this desire, the university proves it can be so far behind the curve…Title IX / honor code issues serve as the most recent ‘Exhibit A’ example. The Title IX disaster, which betrayed a sacred trust to protect victims and tarnished the institution’s reputation, may be a good example of the unintended consequence of not affording professors and students more leeway when expressing open criticism on a range of topics. Perhaps the university, and Bott, would have been better off letting other professors openly challenge what Bott said. Let the socratic method work. But fear seems to rule church actions more times that not, and fast control seems to be the favored remedy rather than letting open debate play out on controversial issues of sensitivity to the church.

    2 – Robertson was fired because she represented a threat to the homogeneity of thought that is a hallmark of BYU-I. More specifically, the driving reason her contract will not be renewed, I would argue…research shows disagreement with the church’s LGBT policies are a leading reason young members choose to leave the church. There is no more of a sensitive and closely watched topic than this at church schools. I’ll also put out there that BYU-I is far from BYU regarding its academic rigor and so there will be less patience with these kinds of expressed views from faculty regardless of the forum in which they are expressed. Parents send their children to BYU-I because it represents a parochial school in their minds. BYU-I is not about academic rigor. It’s about affording church members an education in an environment that will, ultimately, produce faithful, tithe paying members. It’s unfortunate Robertson’s contract was terminated, but I am not surprised. I think as long as people understand BYU-I is a church school and not like other universities, even BYU Provo, it will be well understood it is not the place to go to be exposed to a breadth of ideas. It is a place to go and have a four year EFY experience, and pick up a secondary teaching degree along the way. I understand there is a role for this in the church, and BYU-I is serving that role well. I’m not trashing on BYU-I, but calling it as I see its mission being.

    3 – Since I’m largely expressing my own biases and understand I’m not putting forth necessarily good arguments even, I’ll continue. I was at BYU when Stephen E Robinson and Eugene England often battled it out in the op-ed page of The Daily Universe. I enjoyed their debates and think I was made better for it. Robinson held the view that professors were paid by the members’ tithes and therefore held an obligation to support the church’s positions, and I think we all know England argued for the virtues of academic freedom. (I had both, and loved each for different reasons.) But that was also a time when the president (Rex E. Lee) wasn’t a general authority. There actually was a Provost (Bruce Hafen). Professors didn’t necessarily have to hold a temple recommend (at least it wasn’t a condition of their continuing status). My thesis advisor, a Catholic and non-Mormon, was asked to uphold the standards only when acting in an official, BYU capacity. He had his coffee every morning before leaving the house, and drank a good amount of wine on holidays. Good, Mormon professors openly challenge my assumptions when it came to the subject matter and my faith. I was made better for it. There wasn’t even a church attendance requirement for students! Then came the era of general authorities as presidents, temple recommend requirements, and I’ll add the exit of Brian Evenson. If I recall the details correctly, he was one of the most critically acclaimed authors to grace the English department. A young flower of a student read his work, Altman’s Tongue, and shocked by the violence his short stories portrayed, went on a letter writing campaign that caught the attention of Salt Lake. A month or so later, Evenson resigned under pressure. For me at least as I ended my program, there seemed to be a shift and it felt like the start of President Bateman’s tenure as president and Evenson’s departure were watershed moments. Most of my free thinking professors moved on to other, top universities in California, Texas and the South East in the years to follow. And it seemed to me BYU lost some of that rigor that had so wonderfully influenced my thinking, and strengthened my faith. And that’s the irony. I wish Robertson would not have been fired. But then again, I thought it was absurd The Daily Universe was barred from writing about homosexuality when I was a student at BYU. Again, there is this fear, even at the BYU university level, to allow open conversation about the topics that most trouble and threaten the church. I think we are made stronger for encouraging discussion on those topics rather than hushing them. I know today I would probably not be a good fit to teach at BYU. I feel sad when I think of that idea because I don’t think that would have been the case had I been a teacher there in the late 80’s. Perhaps I am romanticizing the past.

  30. Being a professor is about intellectual rigor and rational methodology about the facts and theories of a subject. Being a mentor is about teaching cultural values. The problem is that many people misinterpret their cultural values as the only facts. Professors are not immune to this dynamic either. In any case, when you ask a professor to be a mentor you are asking that person to tackle a stewardship that has very arbitrary boundaries that can be contradictory; it’s like asking a professor to teach my kid only what I want them to believe. A professor who is committed to the marketplace of ideas should be free to test facts and belief. One can do this and still be deferential to a student’s belief.

    On many campuses, however, professors seek to teach anti-cultural values. We definitely need an open marketplace of ideas on what cultural values should be taught, and there are professors who shut that marketplace of ideas down. These are the professors who should be fired. Sadly, there are many.

    Having said that, I honestly cannot figure this story out. If Ms. Robertson was fired only over her private Facebook post (which isn’t so private) then I cannot rationalize the behavior of BYU-I. Further, there is something deeply disturbing about being “informed on” and “turned in” by others outside of the class. It smacks of a kind of cultural fascism that is deeply creepy.

    Still, when I read this story my first thought was, there has to be more to it; something else is stoking the embers of this fire. My sense was that this teacher’s broader “mentorship” had many issues that were probably creating many critics. I do not know if those issues justified the critics, but Clark’s list of quotes certainly do not fall in Robertson’s favor. There seems to be many issues afoot. I just hope that a person would not be fired over that particular FB post especially as it was stated as purely private opinion and not shared to those on campus or in class. If that FB post was the only cause of her firing, then we need this discussion. At least, BYU-I should just come out and say anyone who supports these specific LGBT issues (listed out) will be fired. Let’s see how that fares.

    Institutions are very often not good at managing morality. Paradoxically, churches aren’t good at it either, especially when moral and political/economic values conflict (MTC controversy anyone?). I think Isaiah and Jeremiah had something to say about that. It wasn’t that long ago when I witnessed the HC Office at BYU discipline an alleged rape victim for HC violations. As I watched that story unfold I saw just how SICK our culture can be, and in particular our institutional culture. The behavior of the BYU HCO was inexcusable, offensive, morally repugnant, and if people in that office were not fired, and people like this OP discusses are, then our morality can be both arbitrary and violent.

    Oh yes, differences can be pointed out. Sure. That is the nature of moral causes—differences. And so the wheel turns.

  31. Hold on, she only has bachelor degree? How can she be an adjunct professor with a bachelor degree? How many classes at BYUI are being taught by people with only bachelor degrees? I thought you had to at least have a masters or be a graduate student to teach a college level course?

  32. And I apologize that this is off topic, but it concerns me because I’m trying to decide whether pathways is a program I should seriously look into. Back to OP, there seems to be a lot me to this story than meets and not much of it makes sense as details trickle out. I do think it’s problematic that our culture is so homogeneous and that our universities exhibit that culture as well. It’s one of the concerns I’ve had in committing to pathways to finish my degree.

  33. Here is a take from Dan Peterson.

    One commenter had the following to say:

    If you go check out her comments on reddit (under the username “exmofeministq”, you spelled it wrong Dr. Peterson, that’s a “q” on the end, not an “a”) you get a picture of someone who has left the church long ago. She should not have been permitted to teach because of her base, crude, and objectionable language alone, let alone her utter contempt for the church and its teachings. Some gems from her reddit posts:

    “JS [Joseph Smith] was a perv and full of [expletive], and he just made up [expletive] to get with a bunch of women.”

    “I’ve been thinking back to things in the Church that I’ve experienced and realized how [strong expletive] up the church culture is. A lot of my realizations deal with the sexist [expletive] that women in the church put up with constantly, and don’t even second guess it…. Like.. what the actual [strong expletive]?!”

    “Currently an exmo living in that area [Rexburg, Idaho]… and it’s rough at my age (23). Everyone close to my age is likely to be a BYUI student. Luckily I went to school here and so I’ve got one or two friends that still talk to me after leaving the church.”

  34. On the less interesting side topic, at BYU(-Provo) you do *not* have to have a graduate degree or be a graduate student to teach a college course. Lots of evening classes and independent study classes have been taught by those with just bachelors degrees. And in the recent past, high school math teachers (without graduate degrees) were brought in as full-time visiting faculty on a regular rotation. Terminal degrees are required for new CFS-track hires (with rare exceptions for ABDs).

  35. Now that the information behind the scenes is coming out I am really feeling quite bad for this girl. She’s clearly struggling with a lot of emotional and mental issues including at least one suicide attempt. She’s probably struggling with so much and lashing out at all the organizations around her as if they are the cause of these problems. I hope those around her can hold their own understandable feelings of betrayal and hurt to realize this young woman needs a lot of love and support. Even if she never comes back to the Church she’s clearly facing deep struggles and is falling down into some self-destructive patterns. She really needs love right now.

    CMO, I don’t know much about Pathways although it has been praised by many groups. However as others have noted BYU-I is simply a very different institution from BYU. It’s unfortunate they changed the name if they weren’t going to change the nature of Ricks from a very Junior College oriented form.

    John, I do agree a bit more openness and less worry about PR would help BYU a lot. I’m not sure that means professors should be quite as varied. Again I remember the English Department wars of the early 90’s but I think it was more complicated than you suggest. I think we only need to look at the end point at most other universities to see what those drives resulted in. So personally I opposed the over-politicization of those departments that was going on everywhere in the 80’s and 90’s. I think that in academics in general we lost something with those changes. I’m not saying the backlash at BYU was necessarily good though. That said I’m not sure having much of the humanities at BYU with the same dogma as most colleges have would be good either. I hate to say it, and I know many will disagree with me, but the humanities in general is struggling with it’s purpose across the board. Unsurprisingly people majoring in the humanities is way down. That ultimately seems a bit orthogonal to this question though. But I think it’s hard to separate out those tensions in academia in general from the excellent questions you raise.

    BigSky, I’d note we only have Robertson’s account of why she was fired. Given the big variance of what’s she’s said to the media versus what she’s said elsewhere I’m not sure we should trust her account. Further, if you have a pretty bad professor (as she appears to be) exactly why shouldn’t students complain?

  36. I’m reminded of when John Dehlin was approaching excommunication and decided to style himself as an advocate for women and homosexuals, a hook which Kate Kelly showed him is of much, much more interest to national media than intramural spats over history, belief, and ecclesiastical authority.

  37. @Clark, you may have been thinking of another post when you referenced me and asked why shouldn’t students complain if they have a bad professor? I don’t think I shared ideas on that regarding Robertson. I did point out that Brian Evenson left because of a student’s letter writing campaign, but her complaints weren’t about bad teaching. The student complained because a book he wrote upset her. And I’ll add she clearly didn’t understand what she was reading. That entire affair and the way it played out I found to be deeply concerning.

  38. Teacher evaluations at BYU-P, regardless of department, include items such as “Testimony Strengthened (Course),” “Integrates Gospel into Subject (Instructor),” “Spiritually Inspiring (Instructor)”, “Contributed to BYU Aims”.

    I assume similar items are measured at BYU-I.

    BYU professors are expected to be examples of gospel living and to teach the gospel actively no matter what the subject of the course, and everyone involved knows or should know this from the get-go. Instructors who fail to find some way to do this are failing at a significant part of their job, a part of their job that contributes to their employer’s competitive advantage. Many do this very effectively in the most unlikely of courses–the basic idea isn’t “civil engineering teaches us X about the Atonement,” (although maybe…) it’s “All learning is spiritual and the Holy Ghost can help you learn anything, and all truth you learn will support all other truth you learn.”

    I have little sympathy for someone who posts their “official” objection to what their employer teaches. I highly doubt that an outspoken drill-baby-drill coal roller would last long working for the Sierra Club. And no, Facebook posts are not private. A private message is private, which is why it’s called a private message.

  39. So the bottom line is that we are discussing a person who barely possesses an undergraduate experience, was hired as a temp (remember that “adjunct” means “unessential”) and who is obviously a young woman struggling with a variety of issues. She was told her Facebook post (her “official announcement and declaration”) crossed the line for continuing employment with a church-funded school. But was she fired? Nope. She could just remove the post and moderate her more public comments and all would be well. Ms. Robertson stood fast to her problematic belief that all professionals get to say anything they want to and refused to comply with the request, which of course got her fired in a field where jobs are very, very scarce. She now gets to be interviewed by a bottom-feeder like John Dehlin and appears to be on track to excommunication or the resignation of her membership and an income derived from tending bar, which likely has a healthier career potential than work in the humanities. IF she learns not to talk smack about the boss!

  40. BigSky, I was responding to this line: “Robertson was fired because she represented a threat to the homogeneity of thought that is a hallmark of BYU-I” combined with the various statements by her students that have come out the past few days. I don’t think it’s clear why she was fired. I’m sympathetic to many criticisms of BYU-I, I just don’t think in this case it’s likely the issue of homogeneity.

  41. As an aside I have a gentle suggestion for any admins monitoring this discussion: the blog theme of this comment site needs to have the comments numbered, and any post over two paragraphs hides the “Post Comment” button. You may consider changing themes. Not critical though.

  42. Clark, I not only agree with your assessment of the Humanities, but I might be far more critical than you. The Humanities on many campuses across this country has become a wasteland of intelligence pressed underneath a giant pinhead of politicized intellectualism. It hurts me greatly, being that I was an English Lit major for my undergrad, and a comparative religions person in my graduate work.

    Indeed, the Humanities was the course work that taught cultural values. The introduction of multiculturalism irradiated traditional Western values and replaced it with tribal cultural values. The Humanities as a result has become a bricabrac mosaic of anti-traditional values propped up by most often a very secularized leftism. The U of Pennsylvania took down a portrait of Shakespeare because he was a known white colonialist! “Shakespeare just got deported” was the tweet. U of Penn is still teaching Shakespeare, but it is commonplace to subjugate the “Western Canon” into a ridiculed relativism and even nothingness these days.

    Anyway, back to the OP. The Church has a different problem, and that is the institutionalization of traditional Mormon values into middle management. This is always a mixed bag, and I do not hold the Church guiltless for the sometimes bizarre things that come out of it. The HCO fiasco in my previous point is case in point. Everyone is trying to do good, but goodness without wisdom or charity is no goodness at all.

    In any case, I think you are right. The more details that come out, the more I feel this woman needs love, support, and help. Your take is on point. I hope she has access to loving and supportive people who are also active Church members.

  43. John, we had comment numbers added for a while. They got turned off a few months back. I’m not sure why. I’ll ask the backlist about that and that bug where the comment post button disappears with long posts. Edit: I tried to add the standard commenting plugin but it doesn’t work with out theme

    The honor code office has long been horrible. I honestly don’t understand why it’s been left in its state for so long. It’s been in dire need of reform for as long as I can recall. I’ve reported people who needed things done including a peeping tom with a long arrest record who was working at the MTC with nothing done. And I know of people who have reported people falsely for acts of vengeance or the like where lives have been ruined. While I think the issue of rape and Title IX is a bit more complicated than some portray it, I also would never trust the honor code office to be involved in investigation. Honestly colleges shouldn’t be involved in criminal investigations in any way shape or form IMO. They just aren’t qualified in the least for it. Part of the problem is that often the most egregious actors are either sociopaths or borderline sociopaths. Often they have extremely good skills at both deception but to act in the ways people expect (contrite, “full of remorse,” etc.). It’s sad, but they can often pull the wool over people’s eyes.

    I think part of the problem is the church is still coming out of a certain type of “appropriate behavior.” These appropriate behaviors, including dress, grooming and speech is seen as appropriateness often not really tied to gospel principles. That’s kind of beset aspects of what you call “middle management.” It’s really hard to break corporate cycles in that sense. (Any corporate culture not just ours)

    Many people unfortunately use some of those signs as indicators of other aspects of a person’s behavior. That first off leads to easy pickings for people with more predatory designs. (Fraud, hidden sexual lasciviousness, on up to assault) But it also leads to unwise judgments as to who actually is behaving appropriately. I think many of these trappings have slowly been disappearing over the decades I’ve lived in Utah, but there still is a bit too much nostalgia for a kind of romanticized view of the 50’s and early 60’s I think. On the other hand I think people who don’t fit into those superficial behaviors often end up reacting to it in a way that maintains exactly the same structures. i.e. judging people who might superficially fit such criteria as pharisaical or somehow not tied to heart of the gospel. While honestly I think we’re doing better than we have, it’s unfortunate this battle of superficiality between sides persists.

  44. “a wasteland of intelligence pressed underneath a giant pinhead of politicized intellectualism.”

    Clark, you need to start awarding a comment of the day award on your posts. I nominate John.

  45. Old Man. Thanks. I gave myself a sticker, so I’m good.

    Clark. You wrote: “Part of the problem is that often the most egregious actors are either sociopaths or borderline sociopaths. Often they have extremely good skills at both deception but to act in the ways people expect (contrite, “full of remorse,” etc.). It’s sad, but they can often pull the wool over people’s eyes.”

    This is spot on exact. It is not just the HCO, but many bishops and stake presidents attempting to negotiate through sociopathic evil have also caused much harm. Mormon culture, like other cultures, does not do evil well, or sociopathic behavior well. Middle managing through this kind of behavior, using Mormon tropes, has many problems and can be ruinous to people’s lives.

    You also wrote: “I think part of the problem is the church is still coming out of a certain type of “appropriate behavior.” These appropriate behaviors, including dress, grooming and speech is seen as appropriateness often not really tied to gospel principles. That’s kind of beset aspects of what you call “middle management.” It’s really hard to break corporate cycles in that sense. (Any corporate culture not just ours).”

    Yep. What did Chesterton say, “If you do not live the big laws, you do not get freedom, and you do not even get anarchy, you get the small laws.”

    It appears you’ve been around the block once or twice.

  46. At the risk of threadjack (or maybe fodder for another post) I would welcome a discussion of the societal forces that drive Mormon middle management to select leaders based on “appropriate behavior” rather than spirituality. This is the type of behavior that leads a stake president in Mapleton to call a child molester as bishop.

    Why can’t we go back to the scriptural injunction to “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” ?

  47. Other Clark, I’m loath to point to how and why leaders are appointed who do evil things. After all Christ appointed Judas and Joseph appointed Bennett. I think we’re fallible beings and I’m skeptical all these cases are due to a systematic problem so much as missing a prompting. If there is a systematic problem I’m all for fixing it. But I doubt there is one. Rather I just think listening to the spirit can be hard and it’s easy to go with our gut rather than the spirit. I think we have to think through how to mitigate the effects of the few wolves that come in sheep’s clothing. My guess is that there are fewer now than in the past but that today such wolves are far more likely to be caught.

  48. Yeah. You must have read that right as I first commented. I thought I changed it from Jesus to Judas quick enough. LOL.

  49. She started off fairly neutral. Using the phrase ‘official announcement and disputing that the natural man can’t be sinful probably put it over the top.

  50. BTW – are you the Cam Nielsen who teaches priesthood in my ward? Just curious — Thanks for contributing, Slightly intimidating people from my ward are reading. (grin)

  51. I teach at a Catholic university. The expectations of faculty are fairly liberal. They don’t care who you sleep with as long as it’s consensual and not a student. The university does have the right to terminate tenured faculty with cause, for certain serious offenses, such as a crime involving moral turpitude. Faculty have the explicit right to agree or disagree with the principles and morality of the Catholic faith as long as they are treated with “proper respect and dignity.” (Also, nuns and priests on the faculty are required to maintain their vows.)

    The contracts of non-tenured (but tenure-track) faculty run year-to-year and may be renewed only by agreement of both parties. For non-tenured faculty, the university is not obligated to state a reason why a contract is not renewed. I recently finished a term as department chair. Faculty whose contracts are not renewed always want to know the reason. For obvious reasons, the university did not want me to ever state a reason. The institution simply exercised its contractual prerogative to not renew. If we give a reason, that just gives the person a reason to try to challenge.

    For adjunct faculty, the situation is different. Adjuncts are hired for a single semester. The contract automatically terminates at the end of the semester. Both parties can agree to another contract for a later semester, but there is no provision for continuing or renewing the original contract. There is no such thing as “firing” an adjunct, unless it happens in the middle of the semester during the contract period.

    Robertson was not fired. She was allowed to finish the academic term, and both parties fulfilled the contract. BYUI simply chose not to make use of her services for the coming semester. The university should not have had to state any reason for this, and I suspect that they did not give any formal reason. The story that she was “fired” because of her Facebook post or because of her views of homosexuality, comes from Robertson, and the story does not comport with her status as an adjunct.

    As a faculty member at a Catholic institution, I am free to eat meat on Good Friday, use or promote birth control, publicly disagree with the Pope, or profess any range of belief or non-belief in God. But the university does have the reasonable expectation that I give Catholic faith and practice the appropriate respect and dignity. A number of my colleagues are quite atheistic and secular. But they have no difficulty meeting the respect and dignity standard.

    Aside from Robertson’s Facebook post, the salty comments attributed to her certainly cross to the wrong side of the respect and dignity line. If she were at my university making corresponding comments about Catholicism, she would be subject to dismissal, even if she had tenure. And we’re really laid back when it comes to the religious beliefs and practices of faculty.

    I would not argue that BYUI handled this well. BYU in general has a history of ironically making bad publicity for itself in the process of “maintaining its image.” But I blame most of the brouhaha on Robertson. Robertson and BYUI were not a good fit to begin with. Contrary to her claims, she was not fired. No matter how competent and well-behaved, adjuncts have no expectation of continuing employment. The facebook post and views on homosexuality likely had little or nothing to do with her current unemployment, and she attacked the sponsoring institution in ways that would not be tolerated at other private universities.

  52. I agree with Steve S and Rockwell. Took the words I couldn’t articulate right out of my keyboard.

  53. @Clark, I actually do teach Elder’s Quorum in my ward in NE Orem, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised to know there are a few other people with my name in Utah Valley. I’d probably love to be in your ward. Anyone selling their house? Just moved back from San Diego and I can’t bring myself to live in Salt Lake Valley where I work, mostly due to air quality. ;)

  54. LOL. Small world then. Lots of houses in my neighborhood for sale. South east Provo is even a worse commute to SLC though.

  55. I spent 5 years at BYU in the early to mid-60s, got two psychology degrees [couldn’t find a husband during the first, but after the second my parents said GET A JOB]. I must have missed most of what was going on! I did manage to run acoss a community of gay guys on campus at the time, hence no husband in the first degree, so I thank the gay community for the master’s. It never crossed my mind that I was consorting with deviltry, and a friend at the time said I should write a book called “Grim Fairy Tales and Bed Time Stories; Memories of a Gay Marriage Counselor”. All I saw was genuinely nice but occasionally troubled people who needed someone to talk to sometimes and I could listen without condemnation. Sometimes talk wasn’t necessary, just friendship without buts. Probably just as well I didn’t go to any of my professors for counsel then. 6 grown kids and a belated British PhD later, I was just thinking about seeing if there might be room for me to contribute to the Pathway program. You’ve just talked me out of it.

  56. Really? Well, might be doable, haha. I only commute 3 days a week. Not that I would tattle on you BYU-I style, your content here is excellent, even if I marvel at the patience and interest you have in philosophy for someone who is an entrepreneur.

    Like many other pioneers, the Nielsens have had many generations to spread across the whole state. Happy Pioneer Day!

  57. BevP I’m sensing a bit of a non-sequitor. Who said speaking with gays was “consorting with deviltry” here? I suspect most writing here on both sides are deeply sympathetic to people here, but recognize the difficulty of reconciling Mormon doctrine. Again we’d discussed that here before. There are no easy solutions and I’m certainly glad I’m not in charge of things. But I think everyone agrees people need to always be engaged with using love. Often listening without condemnation even when you disagree is the only way to bring people to Christ. Ultimately whatever happens is up to God and I’m more than willing to follow whatever he wants.

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