In April 1966, the president of Brigham Young University gave a controversial address meant to “rock the campus from one end to the other.”[fn1] President Ernest L. Wilkinson’s goal was to provoke reactions from several suspected “liberal” BYU professors, which would then be recorded by select students. Wilkinson later used these reports to charge at least one BYU professor as “pro-communist and disloyal to BYU.”[fn2]
Ultimately, the plan backfired. Targeted professors caught wind of the spy ring and the administration attempted to cover its tracks. One student developed a conscience and confessed his actions to a local church leader. Another student eventually went to the press. The scandal culminated in Ernest L. Wilkinson admitting that he’d requested the inappropriate surveillance in a statement to the Board of Trustees.[fn3]
A couple weeks ago, two BYU students created a petition on Change.org titled “Emphasizing Christ-Centered Education at Brigham Young University.” On July 31st, one of the students, Hannah Seariac, introduced the petition by tweeting, “If we can’t have a pro life club or a Fam Proc club, clearly something’s up. Pls sign, RT, and like, thnx.”
Seariac told ABC4 News, a Salt Lake-based television station, that she attempted to start a pro-life club at BYU, but she couldn’t find a faculty member willing to sponsor it because it was “too political.”[fn4]
“That was a big wake-up call for me,” Seariac says of not being able to find support to start a pro-life club at BYU. “The church’s stand on abortion is pretty defined. It is not something I would say is debatable. I would say prophets and apostles have been quite clear that we are pro-life (except in certain circumstances such as rape or incest).”Lindsey Peterson, “BYU students start petition to bring university back to ‘Christ-centered education,’” ABC4.com
Seariac also mentioned the difficulty in creating a club oriented around the Church’s 1995 Family Proclamation. It seems likely that some students wanted to create this club in response to earlier protests regarding adjustments to the Honor Code (and their subsequent reversal) concerning LGB behavior. Hanna Seariac interviewed her co-petitioner, Tristan Mourier, on FairMormon’s FAIR Voice podcast because he countered those Honor Code protesters with a reading of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. At the time, members of the Deseret Nation (DezNat) also mobilized a Twitter #SaveBYU movement and raised money for “spreading the truth of the Family Proclamation” on BYU’s campus.
In a BYU Daily Universe news article, Seariac and Mourier explained that they’ve personally “experienced professors teaching philosophies or ideologies that oppose the Church’s doctrine.”
Mourier said he has kept a log of similar instances in which professors have taught things in class he felt were explicitly contrary to Church doctrine. He said he and Seariac have decided not to release the log or share the names of the professors they found problematic because it is not their goal to throw anyone under the bus.
“I don’t want them stoned to death in the public place. I just would rather them not be paid on tithing dollars,” he said.
Prior to the creation of the petition, someone* created a Twitter account called “Keeping Faith at BYU.” That account has since then become aligned with the creators of the petition. An Instagram page of the same name was created and advertised on that Twitter feed. On these Twitter and Instagram accounts, and at the Change.org petition, stories are being solicited from other students of how BYU has “stray[ed] from its spiritual mission.” On a petition update from August 14th, Hanna wrote, “Please send all specific stories to firstname.lastname@example.org for our Instagram page.”
*Update 8/18/20: This post previously stated that the authors of the petition created the “Keeping Faith at BYU” Twitter account. Hanna Seariac commented below, “I did not make and am not associated with the Twitter account ‘Keeping Faith at BYU’ and therefore, am not responsible for its content. I am tangentially involved with the Instagram account, but did not create that Twitter account.”
Interestingly, the request on the “Keeping Faith at BYU” Twitter account accompanies a retweet from Tristan Mourier suggesting that this effort will aid in “the exposing of Cultural Marxism infiltrating BYU.”
Which brings us to a recent Twitter thread by historian Benjamin E. Park. Park explained that two of the quotes used in the recent petition are from periods of tension in BYU’s history.
When explaining what they believe BYU should mean, they reference BYU addresses delivered in 1912 (Alfred Kelley) and 1962 (Ernest Wilkinson). Notably, those addresses came during 2 of the biggest crises at BYU during the century, & reflect the school’s evolving dyanmics [sic].Dr. Benjamin E. Park, Twitter thread
In 1911, several professors from BYU resigned after refusing to alter their teachings on the compatibility of religion and science, such as the theory of evolution. Park explained, “Kelley’s 1912 address was a conscious course correction, rejecting worldly learning.”
Decades later, many felt that BYU was again becoming too secularized. Park states, “SLC leaders finally found someone willing to be their attack dog when they hired Ernest Wilkinson as president, who was dedicated to rooting out unorthodoxy and emphasizing conformity.” As the 1966 spy scandal illustrates, Wilkinson sometimes got creative in the way he rooted out offenders.
Something that has struck me as I’ve researched Wilkinson’s efforts to root out heresy at BYU is the significant role of political views. Lou Midgley, one of the targeted professors in the 1966 scandal, explained, “Any kid might have fallen into that kind of nonsense if it appeared to them that ELW [Ernest L. Wilkinson] was behind it. And given the kind of hysteria that was then common at that time about communists lurking behind everything, it is easy to see how kids could have fallen into the spy trap.” Elder Ezra Taft Benson was perhaps the Church’s most vocal ultraconservative leader warning of communist conspiracies at the time. In the October 1967 general conference he said, “There is no doubt that the so-called civil rights movement as it exists today is used as a Communist program for revolution in America…”[fn6]
Objections to Black Lives Matter, a New Diversity Committee, and the BYU Slavery Project
It seems obvious to me that there are parallels with today’s efforts to cleanse BYU from “cultural Marxism” (per the Keeping Faith at BYU tweet) and the 1960s efforts to cleanse BYU of communism. In both cases, there are significant pressures related to civil rights, represented by today’s Black Lives Matter movement and BYU’s newly created committee to “examine race and inequality on campus.” Just as politically conservative members in the 1960s suspected communist motives behind the civil rights movement, there are members of the Church today who ascribe to the politically conservative view that the Black Lives Matter organization and wider movement care are pushing Marxist and anti-family ideals under the guise of anti-racism.
Although both Seariac and Mourier have denied their petition was related to race issues, the Keeping Faith at BYU Twitter account suggests otherwise (Update 8/18/20: Again, Hanna Seariac commented below that she was not involved in the creation of this relatively new Twitter account and is not responsible for its content. What is certain, though, is that Seariac and Mourier have allied their cause with whoever is behind the Keeping Faith at BYU Twitter account. This is shown by the Keeping Faith at BYU Instagram page and the email@example.com email address used to solicit submissions on Change.org). The Keeping Faith at BYU Twitter account has critized BYU, BYU Football, and the BYU Law School for their support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Tweets indicate that they view BLM as destructive, violent, anti-family, anti-Mormon, and allied with “Antifa terrorism.”
Keeping Faith at BYU has suggested the new committee on diversity may have Marxist underpinnings because they use the term “equity” instead of “equality.”
Keeping Faith at BYU has denounced the BYU Slavery Project, a new effort to examine historical links between slavery and the founding of BYU, as “point-scoring against our pioneer ancestors.”
The political parallels with this petition and motives of the attempted purge in the 1960s are concerning. It’s unclear if Church leaders will become convinced of a “Marxist infiltration” and begin investigating professors. It’s possible that they may instead begin to crack down on some of the more extreme political beliefs of church members. In the early 1990s, the Church disciplined members on both the left- and right-wing edges of the political spectrum. Most people are aware of the September Six, where several predominantly left-leaning scholars were disciplined in late 1993. Many, however, are not aware that the Church was also going after those on the right. A church spokesman in a November 1992 Salt Lake Tribune article confirmed that Church leaders were “increasingly… concerned about ultraconservative ‘super patriots’ and survivalists.” Lists of “troublesome ideologies” circulating among church leaders at the time included such characteristics as membership in the John Birch Society, feeling that President Benson was being “muzzled” by other church leaders, and believing the federal government was corrupt.[fn7]
A few years ago, Church leaders were condemned white supremacy and “white culture” movements. Some church members previously sympathetic with the alt-right have now become active in the new Deseret Nation (DezNat) movement. In a 2017 Buzzfeed News article, a church member who described himself as “sympatico” with the alt-right explained that “the biggest gulf between Mormonism and the alt-right was merely one of style. ‘Mormons are nice people,’ he said, ‘and the alt-right largely isn’t nice, and so it seems antithetical to Mormonism.'” As I explained last week, however, the newer DezNat movement is not known for being “nice,” and that same church member is a now a DezNat major player. Although I argued last week that DezNat is not equivalent to the alt-right, they use much of the same imagery (Pepe the frog), vocabulary, and ideas. It’s unclear, however, how closely the the petition’s creators affiliate themselves with the DezNat movement.
- Did you know about this petition? What are your thoughts on it?
- Do you think this new petition will help BYU administrators root out unfaithful or politically liberal BYU professors?
- Do you think the petition will have an effect on how professors express themselves in classes and in public?
- Do you think Church leaders or BYU administrators care about possible political elements behind these complaints?
[fn1] Jeff D. Blake, “Ernest L. Wilkinson and the 1966 BYU Spy Ring: A Response to D. Michael Quinn,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring 1995), p. 164.
[fn2] Blake, “1966 BYU Spy Ring,” 166.
[fn3] Blake, “1966 BYU Spy Ring,” 166-168. Some historians, like D. Michael Quinn, have suggested that then-Elder Ezra Taft Benson initiated the spy ring, but Lou Midgley, one of the targeted professors, denied Benson’s involvement in 2001.
[fn4] The Church handbook refers to abortion as a sin due to its similarity with murder, but it does allow that there may be circumstances to justify an abortion (Section 38.6.1). Because of these exceptions, some pro-life groups do not consider the Church a pro-life organization. Officially, the Church does not favor or oppose “legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.”
[fn5] Lee Davidson, “FBI files shed light on Ezra Taft Benson, Ike and the Birch Society,” The Salt Lake Tribune, November 16, 2010, https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=50349153&itype=CMSID. See also Matthew L. Harris, ed., Thunder from the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2019).
[fn6] See the October 1967 Conference Report, p. 35.
[fn7] Lavina Fielding Anderson, “The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Vol. 26, No. 1 (Spring 1993), p. 54.
After publishing this post I was alerted to an article by a former BYU professor* who was fired earlier this year because her ecclesiastical endorsement was pulled. It seems appropriate to include here, but I want to be clear that this happened BEFORE the petition. https://berlinkaufusi.wixsite.com/website/post/the-inquisitions-and-my-retreat-into-the-wilderness
*ETA: commenter Ben below has corrected me and says that “former BYU professor” is not accurate. She was a “part-time adjunct finishing her MA, and was just starting her PhD when notified of her Endorsement being pulled.”
Mary Ann, the link is very helpful — it shows that the Race and Priesthood essay (which is what the LDS faculty member got in trouble for teaching in LDS Sunday School) is largely a sham and that racism is still the rule in the Church at the local level and among bishops (like the one who found the faculty member “not worthy,” apparently for teaching the Race and Priesthood essay as if it meant what it said). I think the LDS leadership is largely okay with racism within the Church as long as it is pushed down to the local level, where it won’t cause PR problems for the Church.
The flourishing of alt-right politics and the DezNat gang within the Church confirms this state of affairs. The likely outcome is that the DezNats and affiliated BYU students will be successful in getting some BYU profs and students in trouble, possibly disciplined, but won’t suffer any consequences themselves. Which, again, shows that BYU and the Church are sort of against racist teachings and organizations in theory but not in practice. Of course, I’d be pleased if BYU proves me wrong on this, but don’t hold your breath.
Powerful post from Sis Kaufusi. And sad.
I wonder how accurate this is: “SLC leaders finally found someone willing to be their attack dog when they hired Ernest Wilkinson as president, who was dedicated to rooting out unorthodoxy and emphasizing conformity.”
Though Wilkinson had been a counselor to Ezra Taft Benson in the Washington DC Stake Presidency, I wonder if the board of trustees was actually looking for an attack dog? or just happy to find one who was lobbying for the position and agreed to take it at no salary?
“The favorite candidate of J. Reuben Clark to fill the vacancy of BYU president was the vocally conservative Wilkinson who lobbied LDS Church leaders to be appointed as president of BYU and was offered the position in July 1950. Wilkinson refused to be paid a salary, which attracted church officials in the aftermath of tense financial negotiations with previous president, McDonald.” Wikipedia citing:
Bergera, Gary James (Summer 1993), “A Strange Phenomena: Ernest L. Wilkinson, the LDS Church, and Utah Politics” (PDF), Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 26 (2): 89–115. and Bergera, Gary James; Priddis, Ronald (1985), “Chapter 1: Growth & Development”, Brigham Young University: A House of Faith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, ISBN 0-941214-34-6, OCLC 12963965.
Wilkinson seems to have been particularly adept at manipulating President McKay and avoiding the board of trustees. I suspect that he was his own attack dog at least as much as theirs.
This all goes to what are the aims of education (or more particularly higher education)? Is it to indoctrinate and inoculate? Or is it the teach critical thinking? With ETB and Ernie, it was clearly the former. Facts and thinking be damned. Ernie had no business being a university president. When spygate was discovered, he should have been immediately fired. But he was ETB’s minion.
The BYU’s still haven’t figured out their honor code problems after years of committee study. And it appears that their presidents are powerless. It seems that every time there is a controversy, they disappear. During the recent HLBT+ dustup, the CES administration dropped the hammer. And made the BYU administration look powerless. Which maybe it is.
There needs to be some commitment to academic freedom at the BYU’s. Spies and other ridiculousness needs to end. They need to act more like real universities. By acting stupid, the university is devaluing its degrees.
And please kick the Mormon religion classes off campus. Have an Institute like at other universities.
Frankly, the BYU ecclesiastical endorsement policy makes matters worse than they were under Wilkinson (the president of my undergraduate years), if only because of local church leadership roulette, lack of training, and lack of appropriate supervision.
Ms Seariac is promoting herself as a church apologist, and this is part of her self promotion. Oviously an extreme right wing nut job too, and sees BYU, the church, and the world through that lense.
She believes a set of lies, and can’t understand why everyone else doesnt. It will be interesting to see how church leaders respond. In current America it could go either way.
If BYU goes down a right-wing path it’ll hurt all it’s own graduates who won’t be able to find jobs because too many employers will blacklist them. They have to know that and I hope they’d respond appropriately. As it stands, I won’t be encouraging my kids to go there (but had already decided that with the honor code fiasco).
On the other hand, I do sympathize with the idea that most of higher education is super left-wing and intolerant of conservative ideology. Although I lean left I think this is a troubling development that will push right wingers further to the fringe if they aren’t allowed to participate in actual academic discourse. And I get that conservatives will see BYU as a safe haven and be disappointed when they feel it isn’t. (I’m not talking about racism but yes about the pro life club, family proc club – those are both extremely distasteful to me but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they should exist).
FWIW, I have a ton of respect for Pres. Worthen. I believe his hands are tied by the Q15 and in particular DHO.
I adjunct taught at BYU and UVU. At BYU I realized I had to be very careful about what I said about a variety of topics ranging from human history predating 6,000 years to evolution to horses not existing in the pre-Columbian Americas. There are a number of students who are ready to pounce on you if you say something out of line. Students at UVU, many being Mormon, knew that any complaint about a professor not confirming to doctrinal teachings would be ignored and deemed ridiculous. I say it’s time to let free speech reign at BYU. Let teachers teach reason and challenge students to think and not feel that they need to be beholden to the expectations of the orthodox speech police. It is a university teaching adults, for Pete’s sake.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
It’s a common (and legitimate) complaint that universities run liberal, but I’m skeptical about the scale of the problem. When I was a BYU student in the anthropology department, I felt like I was on the liberal end of things just because I had religion professors railing against the science (and anthropology) departments as teaching heresy and the “the philosophies of men.” But then I went on a dig with archaeology students from the University of Wyoming and I realized just how politically conservative the BYU environment was.
I like the combined religious-academic experience at BYU, and I think it’s worth preserving. I read a great article analyzing the secularization of universities founded by Protestants and Catholics, and I’m glad BYU has so far been able to avoid complete separation of the religious and secular. One important point was that there will always be a “low-grade” tension between religious leaders (who tend to be suspicious of intellectuals) and academics. I don’t think the tension is bad, since it forces people to think about harder about how to function as a “disciple-scholar.” For anyone who wants to read the article, here’s the link: https://www.firstthings.com/article/1991/05/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-christian-college-ii
A couple of additional thoughts. It seems probable that Ernie didn’t deserve the salary he didn’t get. Wilkinson’s name should be taken off the Student Center.
If the BYU’s would develop into a something closer to a traditional university (instead of an indoctrination center), its graduates would earn more money. And they would subsequently pay more tithing. A win-win situation for everybody.
Thank you to Elisa and Mary Ann for their very helpful Comments.
Elisa, I am sorry to say that there is no “if” about it; BYU went down the right-wing path long ago. I studied for my BA in English and American Lit. between 1970-1973 at U. Of Oregon and Lewis and Clark College. They were by no means the most radical of campuses during the era of Vietnam War protests, but the overwhelmingly liberal bias at those two places made me re-examine my own traditional labor Democrat values, and I changed into a libertarian conservative, and I stuck out like a Conservative sore thumb on those two campuses.
Then, after military service and a mission, I went off to BYU to get an MA in East Asian Studies, 1979-1981, and I found myself on the liberal side of things, there. I was getting my Masters Degree, so I did not have to take religion courses, and the Chinese Department at BYU and the History and German Departments, whose courses formed the bulk of my studies, were refreshingly devoid of religious orthodoxy and conservative politics. The teachers and students I worked with were believing Mormons, but not necessarily politically conservative. I was still politically conservative, but the overall atmosphere of the campus was so overwhelmingly conservative, even ultra-conservative, and so orthodox, that I got labeled as a liberal.
It’s all relative, I guess, but the larger environment that one is in tends to define one, in ways that often do not fit the reality of one’s self. I particularly appreciate Mary Ann’s observation that it was not until her association with U of Wyoming students that she realized just how conservative BYU is. And the BYU Anthropology Dept. has to fend off attacks about its liberalism. Gotta love it.
Three of my four children had very positive experiences at BYU-P and BYU-H, getting their degrees from those places, but I probably would be a bit more iconoclastic, if I were at either of those places, now.
Mary Ann has accurately fingered one of the sources of liberal-conservative tension at BYU-Provo: science and anthropology departments vs. religion departments. Richard Bushman once referred to the “high priests of conservatism in the CES,” and GBH is cited as complaining, while President of the Church, that he hoped that the CES would someday join the Church.
I think that conservatism at BYU has only intensified over the years, in response to fairly radical social changes, such the mainstreaming of LGBT rights:
” I do sympathize with the idea that most of higher education is super left-wing and intolerant of conservative ideology. Although I lean left I think this is a troubling development that will push right wingers further to the fringe if they aren’t allowed to participate in actual academic discourse.”
As they say, facts have a well-known liberal bias. But in all seriousness, the terms “conservative,” “liberal,” and “left-wing” only seem to mean as much as what people who self-identify as such say it is. There is no conservative race or ethnicity. No one is born a conservative. Conservatism is simply a set of a ideas that cohere to what a group of self-identifying conservatives say about a range of issues. This set of ideas may or may not be able to compete in a high-level academic environment. In the case of modern conservatism, I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t morph into a set of well-argued ideas that gain currency throughout different academic departments. Its failure to do so suggests that the problem isn’t with academia, but with modern conservatism. There is no evidence that conservatives aren’t allowed to participate in actual academic discourse. The problem is that there has been a longstanding tendency among US conservatives to decry academia and consider it a hostile environment. They’ve long flirted with white identity politics, maintained a base in traditional religion, and been beholden to pop business philosophies and corporate interests, which are environments that do not lend themselves to critical thought. Modern conservatism is too rooted in traditionalist thought, tribalism, and corporatism. Conservatism decades ago used to have a stronger presence in academia and spawned a great number of impressive conservative minds. With Trump having rebranded conservatism and converted it to Trumpism, the conservatism of the present days has largely been abandoned by conservatives of the past (i.e., Bill Kristol, George Will, David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and many others) and it has grown increasingly incompatible with reason itself. I’ve known a fair number of self-identified conservatives who when they began to study the social and physical sciences in depth found that they were no longer conservative. I’m one of those people. Conservatives are not owed anything, let alone some sort of safe space where their ideas are free from being seriously tested, challenged, and scrutinized. They have to earn respect in the walls of academia.
@Taiwan Missionary yes I think you’re right about BYU and I’m not under the illusion that it is or ever was a liberal school. But you’re particularly right that conservatism there seems to have intensified over the years as the church has staked out gay marriage as the single most important moral issue of our time. When I went it was certainly conservative but this was the good old days of “I’m a Mormon” and trying to show everyone how normal we were (and I only went there for grad school in a program that was quite removed from main campus).
@John W that’s an excellent point and I do not disagree.
Like I said, I do not consider myself conservative at all but I am personally uncomfortable with extremism on either end. So I do think there are some troubling trends where on some campuses conservative professors literally have to hold classes in secret locations because protestors try to disrupt their classes, speakers who are perceived as conservative leaning are shouted down and boycotted and even threatened, etc., as if college students are so fragile and so correct that they can’t possibly be exposed to ideas they disagree with. That’s different from conservative ideas being challenged and tested in academics. So I can see where students hoping that BYU of all places can be a conservative refuge would be disappointed if they can’t have a pro-life club (even though it’s not a club I’d join!!!).
And to be clear by “conservative” I’m definitely referring to the David Brooks variety, not Trumpism which I don’t even consider to be conservatism or the least bit worthy of academic respect. So there’s my bias showing through.
I can get a temple recommend while believing in gay marriage, being pro choice on abortion(less abortions under democrats), and believing in evolution, climate change, and universal healthcare, but at BYU might loose my bishops support, either as a student or teacher.
I think we have backed the wrong horse, we are on the side that is more violent. 329 deaths due to right wing violence in America since 1994 (and we are on the extreme right). No deaths due to left wing violence.
And they presumably support a President, who is willing to destroy American postal service, in order to prevent peoples vote being counted. I would think admitting he is trying to undermine democracy would turn the most conservative Trump supporter. Will it? As he said he could shoot someone and still be supported. And BYU and most members are on board with him still.
Not my kind of people!
Agree with John W. “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men;” Does that describe conservativenideals, does it describe Trump. Do we no longer believe the 13th?
Geoff-Aus, It is a fundamental and tiresome mistake, though understandable in the current climate, to identify conservatism with Trumpism. There is such a thing as economic conservatism (budgeting and planning) that is not inconsistent with humanitarian goals claimed by self-proclaimed “liberals” or “progressives.” You might be more persuasive if you named Trumpism for what it is and stopped the apparent effort to lump all “conservatives” into that category. The fact that Trumpism has largely co-opted the Republican party in the US doesn’t require distorting the broader meanings of the word “conservative.”
I’ve noted that some people opposed to Trump for his behavior and his ideals are labeled “moderate” in Utah Valley, and without changing any of their views, are labeled “conservative” in New England, and “liberal” in the Midwest. Such use of labels instead of ideas is unhelpful to either dialogue or persuasion. Does it amount to anything more than a “dog whistle.”
“a former BYU professor” This isn’t accurate. She was a part-time adjunct finishing her MA, and was just starting a PhD when notified of her Endorsement being pulled.
OK, why do you keep deleting my comment and not correcting your information?
Ben, I added your correction to my original comment above. I’m sorry for the delay. Your comment got stuck in the filter.
“on some campuses conservative professors literally have to hold classes in secret locations because protestors try to disrupt their classes”
I have never heard this story. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind directing me to more information about it. But I’m aware of the incidents of students protesting the appearances of some conservative speakers and other instances of so-called “political correctness” (not a strictly liberal phenomenon, nor is it a novel phenomenon as all cultures have taboos that they rise to protest of violated) out of control. While the anecdotes are there, my question is is there any statistical evidence showing leftist political correctness having a measurable impact on collective discourse at the university or overall university instruction? Not that I can see. I don’t think that university department curricula are being shaped so much by the demands of students, as they are by different philosophical currents within the various departments. Some departments are more given to liberal thought. Sociology, for instance, tends to have more liberal professors, but that is largely because the field was developed by Marx, Engels, and Durkheim and because it is in large part a study of poverty. And studying poor classes might tend to make you more sympathetic to them and thereby liberal. Contrast this with finance, which is in large part a study of profit and how to leverage a capitalist system to one’s advantage, and it is in this department where we are likely to find a good deal more conservative professors. Many departments (most STEM fields) are apolitical. In general students aren’t that well informed about politics and many don’t have a clear political ideology to which they tilt (the adult world is very new and difficult to understand to someone in their young 20s). Young folks mostly do not vote.
From an interesting 2017 article published by Inside Higher Ed (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/02/27/research-confirms-professors-lean-left-questions-assumptions-about-what-means)
“Yes, professors lean left (although with some caveats). But much of the research says conservative students and faculty members are not only surviving but thriving in academe — free of indoctrination if not the periodic frustrations. Further, the research casts doubt on the idea that the ideological tilt of faculty members is because of discrimination. Notably, some of this research has been produced by conservative scholars.”
@John W, I’m thinking specifically about John Yoo at Berkeley. Obviously Berkeley is Berkeley, and he wrote the torture memos, so that’s about as extreme as it gets. His class locations are not made public.
I’m happy to be wrong on this and maybe the conservatives-on-campus problem is overblown. In fact next time I hear people complain about this I will happily point them to your sources :-). My personal experience is that I was more comfortable expressing liberal views in grad school at BYU than disagreeing with them at the East coast school I attended as an undergrad but that could just have been my perception and life stage.
To go back to her assertion that the Church is “clearly” pro-life, she’s simply wrong in our current political environment. The Church handbook has always held exceptions for rape, incest, viability, and health of the mother, but the current pro-life camp seeks to eliminate those exceptions, with some legislators making outlandish claims that pregnancy can’t result from rape because a woman’s body won’t allow it somehow, meaning that if you got pregnant from rape, you are a liar. The Church’s latest handbook changes are even softer on the topic of abortion, sounding quite a bit more pro-choice than any prior statements, while cautioning about the moral stakes of the decision. It’s not as cut & dried as the current pro-life Mormons think it is. Not at all.
Unfortunately, BYU has, over the decades since I left, become MORE conservative than the Church itself. Not the student body, and not the professors. Just the administration. In the days of social media, witch hunts like this are far more problematic than ever before. We’ve outlawed questions, free speech and THINKING. It’s a huge embarrassment for all of us as Church members.
Thank you for this article, Mary Ann! As someone who grew up conservative and then became liberal and struggles to find a place for myself in the midst of Utah…I grew up with this atmosphere.
I’d been listening to Hanna who is now hosting Fair Mormon’s podcast… and I didn’t like her. She comes off as very young and naive and made a comment about “I don’t have a problem with polygamy, I don’t see why others should….” so now knowing she is behind this petition and account, I gladly unsubscribe from FairMormon (I did like the rebroadcasts of their seminars). I don’t like being lectured to about the state of my soul. I get that enough not being a GOP supporting member of the Church.
I listened to the FairVoice podcast today as well. Ugh. I didn’t find it helpful for many reasons, although kudos for trying, I guess? This is honestly one of those times when the muddled apologetic argument (and lack of knowledge on when exactly polygamy was practiced during our Church’s history) may do more harm than good.
That being said, I also enjoy a lot of the FairMormon conference rebroadcasts. There are usually several speakers from the Church History Department, and they have some really neat insights and previews of upcoming projects.
Moderate, I honestly have a hard time understanding what this “true” conservatism is or the “broader meanings” of conservatism are. The overwhelming majority (<80%) of Republican voters, who overwhelmingly self-identify as conservative, approve of Trump. You note that this "true" conservatism is "budgeting and planning" and is something not reflected in liberalism. Hardly. Liberal politicians budget and plan as well. In fact, more and more conservative politicians appear to be embracing the voodoo economics that George H.W. Bush accused Reagan of when running against him in the 1980 Republican primaries, which is the idea we can magically create growth by cutting taxes on the wealthy. The most recent tax reform bill put out by the Republicans cut taxes mostly on the wealthy and will drive up the deficit $1 to $2 trillion dollars over the next ten years. These cuts are permanent for the wealthy and temporary for the middle class. This is hardly responsible budgeting and planning. This is trickle-down economics. The coronavirus relief plans are much of the same. Huge and wasteful giveaways to the already wealthy. As for labels not being useful, people self-identify as such and form groups and group identity, political parties, and movements on the basis of "conservative," "progressive," etc. They are most certainly valid.
Last year, two science societies removed BYU job postings over the school’s Honor Code ban on ‘homosexual behavior’.
I started BYU with Holland as the president and finished with Oaks. They were pretty heroic figures to me and I don’t recall ever being shocked or disturbed by anything they said while I was a student (young and innocent?).
I think it’s very fair to say that they have both become more conservative (maybe even hardline in some areas) in the decades since. Oaks has served on the Church Board of Education and Boards of Trustees, including as chairman of its Executive Committee. Holland continues his service on the Church Board of Education and Boards of Trustees, where he also serves as chairman of the Executive Committee.
I shouldn’t wonder that BYU has become more conservative under their apostolic influence.
I didn’t notice ideology in my core finance, accounting, and tax classes. Electives exposed me to more liberal ideals. Just a couple of anecdotes:
My sociology professor was the brother of the then-current Presiding Bishop. He *gasp* didn’t wear socks in his loafers and he kept his knotted tie in the pocket of his sport coat in case he had to deploy it on short notice due to an unexpected encounter with management. We talked about how sexual progression in Mormon relationships differs that the outside world: once petting starts you better just get engaged. He wasn’t for it.
He told us about how a new GA pulled into the parking garage at headquarters in his VW Beetle and was told that foreign cars were not welcome. As his fortunes changed due to his elevated role, he showed up sometime later in a Mercedes and had no problem with parking access.
Political science professor, new to BYU: “I am a Michigan Republican. I guess that makes me a Utah Democrat.”
The first minute of an introductory geology course: “The earth is older than 6,000 years and the continents didn’t split apart when Jesus was crucified. You’ll have to deal with that.”
Having read several of Oaks’ talks to BYU faculty in recent years, he expects each class to include faith-promoting content. He also expects faculty to publish on and promote religious liberty concepts with their fellow academics.
There was a time when conservatism in the United States centered itself on a belief in limited government, Vis-a-vis economic policy and foreign affairs, and was guided by people like William Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan. That was more or less true through 2012, when Mitt Romney ran for president. The degradation of the word “conservatism” began with George W. Bush foreign policy disasters in the ME.
Trump engineered a hostile takeover of the Republican Party in 2016. His “philosophy,” if you can attach such a term to the incoherent ramblings of his unstable mind, is based on resentment, appeals to ethnicity and nationalism, and is NOT what conservatism once was. Even if the great majority of self-ascribed conservatives support him, that merely means that their conservatism was shallow and not principle-based. Most Republican politicians sold their souls to the devil, as long as it would get them re-elected.
Conservative writers like David Brooks, Jennifer Rubin, Megan McArdle, Bret Stephens, and George Will, are all part of the”never Trump” faction of what is left of the conservative movement. Unfortunately, they (and people like me) are losing the battle of definitions, and I now use the word “libertarian” to define my belief in limited government.
I think this movement (BYU’s version of political correctness) will have success and here’s why: As I have stated before on this site, parents who send their kids to BYU do so in the hope (generally) that their kids will find experiences, people, and education that reinforces their conservative values. BYU parents want their kids to go in conservative and LDS believing and graduate as solid conservative and unwavering LDS. This contrasts with LDS parents who are comfortable sending their kids to other universities, knowing that their ideas and religion might get challenged.
As long as the demand is there for a BYU that reinforces political and religious orthodoxy, movements that strive to align BYU with those values will have success. It’s BYU’s version of political correctness.
josh h: I don’t fully agree with your statement that parents who send their kids to BYU approve of the current direction and hope to instill bigotry (my words) in our kids. I sure don’t feel that way as a BYU alum! If I didn’t pay attention (and I didn’t until my son attended there), I’d assume BYU was more or less like it was when I was there. It absolutely is not. I am also appalled at how much of my tithing money has been used to further this agenda at BYU, and is now supplementing other people’s kids’ education, kids who beat my own out of entrance despite her incredible scores and grades. It’s simply unconscionable, IMO. If I had a time machine, I would do things differently. Here’s a thought on that front: if the Church can’t have enough spaces for the kids of tithing payers at a reputable institution (no, BYU-I doesn’t count), then the Church should supplement our kids’ with a voucher / scholarship of some sort. There were PLENTY of spaces available back in the 80s and 90s for any students with even average grades. Not true anymore.
It is true that in the 60s, my “parents want[ed] their kids to go in conservative and LDS believing and graduate as solid conservative and unwavering LDS.” But the real reason for going was that they were financially strapped, with 7 kids, and it was cheaper than any of the state schools where I was eligible for in-state tuition.
But in fact, the BYU religion department was then, contrary to its intentions, the most effective influence in broadening my outlook away from religious conservatism, just as Ezra Taft Benson and Cleon Skousen were, contrary to their intentions, the most effective influence in broadening my outlook away from political conservatism.
I know of many parents who dislike current BYU because it is too “liberal”, just as there seem to be many who dislike it because it is too “conservative.” To the extent both perceptions have any accuracy, perhaps that’s an indication that multiple strains of thought can be found there. But perhaps not so much as listening to Hugh B. Brown address the assembled student body, contradicting most of what Ezra Taft Benson had previously told the student body. That was, in retrospect, both unique and valuable.
Perhaps BYU students still have widely varying experiences depending upon which BYU teachers and subjects they encounter. E.g., I am belatedly convinced that I made poor choices among the religion teachers then at BYU.
Taiwan, absolutely. I feel like even though I’m liberal, conservatives like David Brooks, George Will, and yourself and I are on the same team (anti-Trump, pro-reason, pro-collaboration). We can have a conversation and get somewhere.
The problem with the “libertarian” identity is that it seems to mean a lot of things. While there is a Libertarian Party, it never gets many votes. Consequently there are few elected officials that represent a libertarian view around which self-identifying libertarians can root their political identity. And what that means is that there are no central figures in libertarianism to stabilize the ideology and give it a definition on which foundation it can stake itself in mainstream thought. It then becomes a breeding ground for extremists and loons. So many self-identifying libertarians I know are also conspiracy theorists. I find that highly problematic.
Moderate, This is not a pile on just my time zone. I do not understand your fine definitions either. You have a choice between Trump and Biden. Trump as you agree is an extreme right winger. Biden is a moderate Democrat. If you are not voting for Biden, your fine definitions are meaningless you are a Trumper.
I keep trying to point out that in most of the first world the issues that divide America, racism, gay marriage, abortion, climate change, evolution, universal healthcare, the virus, are not politicized. The science/truth is accepted by all sides of politics. Things like inequality, debt, taxes, caring for the poor are where the difference is. Though our conservative government has put the few homeless people we have in hotels during the virus.
That BYU is generally ultra conservative and this petition claims it is not conservative enough is telling. If you don’t have hard science being taught at a University it wouldn’t be a
As for a right to life club. I may have said it before but if you want to reduce the number of abortions vote Democrat, if you want to repeat lies about abortion be pro life. https://qz.com/857273/the-sharpest-drops-in-abortion-rates-in-america-have-been-under-democratic-presidents/
I believe you are having extreme weather there with fires, and the virus is out of control.
My state of Queensland in Australia, has not had a virus case for weeks, and we have basically returned to normal. Our state and national borders are closed to keep the virus out. We have lots of foreign students at our Universities, and these are being let back in, but have to be quarantined for two weeks. Our population is 5 million similar to Utah and Idaho combined. We have 8 active cases, 3 in hospital, have had a total of 6 deaths. Doing 40,000 tests a day, with no positives, and results back in 24 hours.
If the virus wasn’t politicized you could be over it too, and have lost 150,000 fewer lives.
Good grief!. There’s more ignorant black and white thinking for you — combined with a rush to tribalistic labeling. As John W noted, it’s quite possible to be “anti-Trump, pro-reason, pro-collaboration” and “conservative.”
BTW, I voted last time around, but didn’t vote for Trump or Clinton. Similarly, I don’t have to vote for Trump or Biden this time around. While the US as a whole is faced with a choice between Trump and Biden, as to my vote, I am not. (Actually, however, I haven’t decided whether to vote for Biden or some third candidate I know will lose.) It makes no difference anyway since I live in a state that can be reliably predicted to vote for Biden by a reasonably substantial margin, giving him all its electoral votes.
Taiwan Missionary, you may be interested to read “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer if you haven’t done so already. The book details many of the changes within the conservative movement in the US and the influences on those changes. You strike me as a truly thoughtful person, with a not-very-commonly-found humility and willingness to consider new information.
Much of this discussion founders upon unstated and varying definitions of “conservative,” which hardly bears a universal and agreed-upon definition. Financial policy? Pro-life? Environment? Socio-sexual? Immigration? Authorship of Genesis? Whether Job is parable? Number of children? I see several comments here reflecting very fast societal shifts, and then claiming BYU has shifted “rightwards” or “conservative.” From my research, I do not see support for that claim at all.
Seriously, I don’t understand why for so many the teachings of the church are conflated with any political party by individuals. I absolutely support the Proclamation on the Family, but I would never want to subject myself to discussions that attempt to cram its concepts into some fundamentalist definition of family roles and behaviors. I wish for better for all of us — what a way to cheapen the doctrine of the Church by making it conform to any party platform.
Trump = Crazy. Biden = Senile (there is a reason his handlers will not let him out of his basement.). I plan to vote Libertarian simply to express my displeasure that we are stuck with a lousy choice of sin party candidates.
Moderate, It may interest you to know that in Australia all, elections, and electorate boundaries are handled by an independent government body called the electoral commision. Not political.
We have compulsory voting. You can be fined for not voting, unless you have a good excuse.
We also have optional preferential voting. This means if there are multiple candidates, you can either put a 1 for your preferred candidate, or you can number all in the order of your preference, so you can vote for an independent, or minor party, and if they are not elected your vote is then transferred to your #2, so you still get a say on which of the major parties you prefer.
If there is talk of electoral reform, there are lots of options, some of which could improve your system.
As a matter of correction, I did not make and am not associated with the Twitter account “Keeping Faith at BYU” and therefore, am not responsible for its content. I am tangentially involved with the Instagram account, but did not create that Twitter account.
Hanna, thanks for the clarification. I’ll add a note in my post when I get to a computer. It appears the Keeping Faith at BYU Twitter account predated the petition, but the related Keeping Faith at BYU Instagram account and firstname.lastname@example.org were created for the purpose of soliciting and sharing stories related to the concerns of the petition. So how did those two (separate?) causes get combined?
I would love to know this cleansing of BYU would even work. Is Tristan Mourier and Hanna the boss’ now of BYU and they decide what is appropriate to say and what not to say? Who decided they know everything? I would like to know how they know all the ins and outs of the Church teachings, show me how they know everything. Do they have other people who know everything about the gospel following all the BYU Prof’s all day everyday, reading all their emails and deciding if and when someone has crossed the line? I wonder why all of a suddden we are hearing about people who know everything about the Church, is their a special palce hey live and grew up? Hanna is a convert, tell me why I should trust her over someone who’s been a member for 50 years. Hanna is a BYU student now doing a MA. Should she and Tristan assign a monitor for her and every MA student, they are teaching assistants and research assistants, what if someone does not like what they say? can Hanna be expelled by the very system she set up? How far does this go? What if Tristan and Hanna want to take over BYUH and BYUI? what about the Junior Colleges? How many people are they prepared to assign to monitor every prof, and assistant? Hanna may be a MA student but have her and Tristan really thought this plan through? How do these people handle every day life when people say and do things that fly in the face of the Gospel? Do they make petitions for every social interaction they have? FYI I see Tristan being another local celebrity who will get his 15 minutes of fame, probably when no one pays any attention to him anymore and he ramps it up to get the spotlight back-if he hasn’t been exed by then. I think Hanna would do well to work on her MA and not spend anytime with this group. If she really doesn’t like BYU-then leave? Why is she contuining to attend school there?
Here’s a hypothetical. Is Hanna and Tristan prepared to pay someone a salary to monitor let’s say a prof. at the Ira Fulton School of Engineering. The only person they could get would be a PH.D. in Engineering to do that because they know more about Engineering than your basic recent grad in the program and could catch them when they say something out of line after all.Does Hanna and Tristan honestly think someone went to school for years to get a PH.D. in Egineering only to walk around a prof all day everyday, read their emails, follow them everywhere they go? Multiply that by every single BYU Prof. currently there, plus assistants. Where are they getting the money to fund all this? Why would someone spend all the time in school not to work in the profession and become a monitor for someone else’s entire BYU career?
There is now an article on millenial star about the change to the honor code that seemed to be less exclusionary of gay activity earlier in the year.
They seem to claim there is a conspiracy by ‘progressive dissenters’ who infiltrated BYU honor code office, and staff, and were responsible for the problems.
Do not explain why the prohibition on gay activity was removed from the CES new honor code (perhaps they have been infiltrated too.)
They infer blogs like this are part of the conspiracy. Where can I join? This is an extract
In the North American church, however, progressive dissenters (distinct from political liberals who are faithful to church teachings) have grown in numbers and visibility, especially online. Most Latter-day Saint blogs are run by progressive dissenters, who spend much of their time critiquing their religion from a liberal perspective. Many English-language Facebook groups and online spaces for members are dominated by people with liberal views of church teachings—hence the ease with which the far-fetched idea that the church permitted gay dating became conventional wisdom online.
But the influence of these progressive dissenters goes beyond online spaces. Virtually always white, upper middle class and college-educated, the dissenters are also over-represented at the church’s non-ecclesiastical institutions in the US. At BYU alone, the HCO, university administration, several academic departments and schools and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies, formerly a home for apologetics, have proven vulnerable to infiltration by progressives who reject church teachings.
It is the combination of their control of online narratives with their expanding institutional power that progressives use to great effect in their efforts to change the church. The story of the February-March Honor Code affair is a story of progressives in the BYU Honor Code Office and administration cooperating with Utah and national news media, a minority of students and faculty, and a chorus of heretics on social media to spin up a narrative of changing church teachings on sexuality, that, absent public correction from the church’s ecclesiastical leaders, would have become the de facto reality through sheer manipulation. Nothing prevents similar scenarios from playing out in the future—recently, American progressives have threatened to publicly press for Brigham Young’s name to be removed from the name of the university.
There seems to be a group of conservatives, who are painting a picture of progressive dissenters, who are not faithfull to the church organising and infiltrating in order to undermine the church and its teachings.
So whizzbang, they not only need to monitor BYU professors, but all these dissenters.
How to divide the church in order to preserve/ destroy it?
One of the posters urged that BYU’s religion courses be relegated to off campus teaching. He seems to forget that Brigham Young University is a PRIVATE university owned by a specific Christian religious denomination. The university is supposed to provide a sound religious education and basis to enable their students to enter the secular world with a strong religious application and understanding. If one wants a purely secular education there are many of those places to attend — University of California at Berkley, Stanford University, University of Utah, University of Colorado, Howard University, etc. There are many universities which have fundamental values taught along with secular studies — Weslyan University, Hillsdale College, Catholic University of America, Liberty University, CBN University.
I was a victim of racism! Yes in my public schooling radical revolutionary students who were indoctrinated in after school programs were taught to embrace Marxism, Maoism, and how to protest and riot. I both experienced this and witnessed the rage of these fellow students. I graduated high school early to flee from the hatred, violence, and racism targeted at me as I was not from the ‘right race’ to make these violent students happy. The administration acted much like many of the mayors in the USA today — placating the destructive and violent radicals. Then one spring the violent students turned their rage and honed skills upon the administration and teachers and then they left the school and spilled into the residential community. FINALLY! the administrators experiencing the rage of these students themselves took decisive action and installed an armed police officer to be stationed in the school every day all day long. I, however, had moved on by then to Brigham Young University.
At Brigham Young University I was welcomed by my college roommates, floor roommates, and peer students. I was seen a peer college student and NOT as I was seen as person of some unwelcome race as I had experienced in my public education system for years. I no longer felt threatened nor was I on guard for my own safety.
Brigham Young University was a refreshing, welcoming, positive environment. I was thrilled to hear faculty members speak well of America as well as from my classmates. I was thrilled to see people stand motionless at the opening of each day when the campus played the national anthem. The respect for our country was awesome!
My family’s experience with racism goes back hundreds of years including in the 19th Century when the KKK would be night riders in packs of thirty or men riding their horses to terrorize people whom they hated. But, when the Mormon missionaries arrived in my relations’ community they were kind and accepting to my family relations. My family members quickly converted to Mormonism and were soon holding various callings in their branch and then wards and stake offices. These new converts followed the Gathering of Zion doctrine and migrated westward far away from the KKK members.
I was a victim of racism in my youth — but I never, ever experienced a single event of racism as a student at Brigham Young University. I was blessed to be able to attend BYU after experiencing years of violent racism in my home town.
And for these reasons from my own life experience and that of my family relations — I do not support the Black Lives Matter movement that was birthed from the Black Lives Matter, Inc whose founders have publicly stated that they want to de-structure the nuclear family and are trained Marxists. “I” have experienced what trained Marxists and Maoists to do those whom they hate — and they hate anyone who is not one of them. I stand with the Church of Jesus Christ and the Proclamation on the Family and the admiration for the US Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I have seen the woes brought on by the communists and Marxists that Ezra Taft Benson and Ernst J. Wilkenson warned those with eyes to see and ears to hear warned about. I have lived in a community where the radicals used force to push their agenda and hatred upon others. I have also seen the other side — a community at Brigham Young University where I felt safe and welcomed.
Just sign me as: Joy