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The Lord's University: Freedom and Authority at Byu Paperback – December 15, 1998
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The Lord's University interprets recent events at Brigham Young University from a perspective critical of the administration. I found the book extrememly painful to read because I admire people on both sides of the controversy, and two of them are friends who taught in my department. The book includes chapters on Latter-day Saint education, women and feminism, student newspapers, the honor code, firings and resignations, and investigations by the AAUP and BYU's Faculty Advisory Council. The authors believe that the events took place in two contexts: (1) the tension between authoritarian religion and academic freedom, and (2) the rise of neoconservatism. I would argue that even more critical to understanding the response of the majority of the faculty to these events are two values central to Mormon culture, both of which were born and nurtured in a battle for survival with Protestant sectarianism, two state governments, and the national government. These values are the need for internal harmony and the belief in the benign motives of church authorities. --Thomas G. Alexander, Journal of the West
During the past five years, several incidents at Brigham Young University have attracted national attention. In 1995, Schindler's List was banned from a campus theater; in 1997, university officials removed a handful of pieces from the traveling Rodin exhibition that had been scheduled to open at the university's art museum. And in 1998, BYU was sanctioned by a national association of university professors for what it considered violations of ideals of academic freedom. These incidents and others are at the core of Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel's analysis of the intellectual environment and the academic culture of Brigham Young University in the nineties. The book is a remarkable accomplishment for such young scholars, and it should be read by a number of audiences. Waterman and Kagel, former editors of competing student publications at BYU, are currently graduate students at Boston University and North Texas State. Their journalistic training is evident throughout this lengthy book; in fact, both men were directly involved in some of the incidents they describe and analyze here. Most readers will wonder about their objectivity, but it is likely that many of them will be impressed with the research and documentation. The book begins with a section entitled "Contexts" and provides a brief overview of the role of education in Mormon life. Officially founded as a university in 1903, BYU has played a key role in shaping Mormon intellectuals. In many ways, this is the weakest section of the book. The authors spend little time attempting to address the evolution of the school through what is now regarded by most scholars as a critical period in the history of modern higher education, the period from the mid-1920s through the 1960s. Of greater interest to Waterman and Kagel than those years are the dynamics associated with the role of gender in Mormon culture and the tensions that it has created particularly for women faculty and students at BYU in the period after the 1970s. Not unexpectedly, they find the history of student publications revealing of the challenges associated with the free exchange of ideas there. The enforcement of dress and honor codes is also scrutinized with an eye toward disclosing the restricted environment. The bulk of the book analyzes several controversial cases involving faculty, with a particular emphasis on the dismissals of Cecilia Konchar Farr and David Knowlton. Amassing an impressive number of primary sources as well as oral interviews with many of the principal players, the authors try to use those incidents to show the ways in which the university infringed on academic freedom. Administrators clearly disagree. The last chapter attempts to place BYU in the context of the larger debate over church-related colleges, culture wars, and neoconservatism. Waterman and Kagel demonstrate an excellent awareness of the larger dynamics of religious higher education. They are clearly skeptical of some of those efforts to recover a religious identity among the nation's universities, and The Lord's University privides an important story that should not be seen in isolation. The study of Mormon intellectual life has not been particularly well integrated into the larger contours of American religious or intellectual life. Waterman and Kagel will make overlooking Mormonism difficult in the future. As it continues to grow in numbers, Mormonism will ineveitably exercise increasing cultural and religious influence during at least the early part of the 21st century. Kagel and Waterman have done well to place BYU into the larger narrative of higher education in the late 20th century. --Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Dale E. Soden
About the Author
Bryan Waterman, a Ph.D. candidate in American studies at Boston University, is the former editor of the BYU Student Review, former associate editor of Sunstone, guest editor for a special student issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, editor of The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith, and co-author of The Lord's University: Freedom and Authority at BYU. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and children. Brian Kagel, a graduate student in journalism at the University of North Texas, is the former editor of BYU's Daily Universe, former managing editor of Sunstone, and co-author of The Lord's University: Freedom and Authority at BYU. He is currently an Online Communications Consultant for Blue Cross Blue Shield and lives with his family in Dallas, Texas.
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Here are some quotations from the book:
"On a summer afternoon in 1993... a small nucleus of student activists... (staged) the first open protest over academic freedom at 'the Lord's university' since 1911... The student protest came in response to ... the firings of two controversial but popular faculty members: Cecilia Konchar Farr... who had reportedly upset church leaders ... with her pro-choice activism, and David Knowlton... who had critiqued the LDS's church's American image in South America..." (Pg. 1)
"President Ernest L. Wilkinson, a John Birch Society devotee... launched... a student spy ring that enabled him to keep tabs on certain 'liberal' professors..." (Pg. 12)
"From time to time, heated debates have gone public, as in 1911 when popular professors Ralph and William Chamberlin and Henry Peterson were dismissed or resigned for teaching organic evolution and higher biblical criticism, or seventy years later when tenured history professor D. Michael Quinn resigned..." (Pg. 177)
"To liberal intellectuals... President (Ezra Taft) Benson's mental incapacity meant one thing: greater freedom for the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer, widely rumored to be behind the recent actions against liberals and feminists." (Pg. 268)
"LDS General Authority Merrill ... Bateman's appointment (as BYU president)... caused concern... which verified to some that the BYU presidency had moved... from a position of representing the faculty to one of defending the board of trustees." (Pg. 373)
"(The American Association of University Professors) voted to censure BYU, placing the school on a list... that have violated ideals of academic freedom or tenure... (BYU spokesman James) Gordon told reporters... 'BYU will maintain true to its intellectual and spiritual mission. If we abandoned that mission, there would be no reason for us to exist.'" (Pg. 446)