How To Get Hired at BYU Religion

As an amateur, I am not really eligible for this, but in speaking to some friends of mine going through the process, I must say that I find the BYU Religion hiring process to be really weird, and a bit insulting. Perhaps some of you who are going through it/have gone through it can illuminate me on the ins and outs. What is mostly disturbing about the hiring process is that it seems incredibly ad hoc and much more demanding on grad students time and resources than any other job application.

The way that a normal job at an academic institution is offered is that an ad is placed in the industry newsletter or website. Applicants send their packets to the institution and if the institution is interested, they ask for a short interview at the national conference, usually for about 20-40 minutes. After that, if they are still interested, they fly you out for an on-campus interview that consists of (usually) a scholarly lecture, a teaching exercise, and a series of interviews with more faculty and administration. After that, you either get the job or you don’t. This process has the advantage of following a calendar schedule and being pretty straight-forward. The applicant’s time is respected and they are asked to do immediately relevant tasks in order to evaluate their teaching, research, and interpersonal skills.

In contrast, from what I understand, BYU religion asks graduate students to come and teach during the summer sessions, preferably a number of times. They are not formally being considered for a job by teaching, but they are being evaluated. If the graduate student who is interested in a job at BYU cannot come and teach in the department for an entire term, they are requested to teach an entire institute class voluntarily. A member of the BYU religion faculty will try to fly out to observe one session of the institute class. There are no job postings, there is no formal application, there is no schedule. Prospective employees are asked to teach an entire course, and one class of that course will be evaluated. They are not flown out to visit the campus or interview with a number of faculty. They are not asked to present their research.

Is such a process useful, or should BYU Religion adopt the industry standard for job applications? Of course, there are some distinctive qualities that BYU Religion is looking for, but these are not unique. Conservative seminaries posts jobs at the SBL/AAR, interview, and hire just like everyone else. Perhaps the number of LDS graduate students had been small enough that they could all be accounted for. Is this still the case? For those of you who have gone through this process, does it seem fair? Is too much asked of the applicants?

19 Replies to “How To Get Hired at BYU Religion”

  1. I can’t answer your larger question, but you make it sound like volunteering to teach an Institute class is a terrible burden. In my experience, most LDS grad students in Religious Studies, Biblical Studies, ANE, etc., are *already* teaching an Institute class because they like that sort of thing.

    As far as coming to BYU to teach for the Summer, given the status that BYU Religion profs have in the Church (whether that status is for good or ill is the topic of another post), I don’t think it unreasonable that BYU see more than a few-day campus interview before granting that status. I assume it is also useful for the grad student to get a better feel as to whether BYU is a good fit for them–something that is also difficult to do in a few-day interview.

  2. It appears BYU is currently doing what most employers would like to do in hiring people. Job interviews are generally a lousy way to assess a person’s true character and personality – mainly because some people interview well and some don’t, but a 20-minute interview usually tells a person very little about how an applicant actually works or interacts with others.

    Still, the process does sound overly demanding of applicants. This may be a case where the employer is getting a much better deal than the applicant.

  3. Another interesting example to consider is the Google hiring process, which is unusually prolonged and involved. I’ve heard there are hours of tests and multiple interviews just to be considered.

  4. There is one other issue: the more summers that one teaches at BYU (if included on a resume) might also make it more difficult to get a job elsewhere, with the result that the more that one tries to get a job at BYU, the more they limit their options if they don’t get that job!

  5. Julie,
    I don’t think that it is a terrible burden to volunteer to teach institute, but I also don’t think that the BYU religion policy to “request” that applicants “volunteer” is necessarily fair. Teaching institute is a big responsibility that requires time away from one’s family and studies without compensation. Remember, all of this is so that someone from BYU can come out and observe one single class. It seems that there are more efficient ways to observe someone teaching one class.

    Danithew, whatever BYU Religion is, it is no Google!

  6. Danithew (#2), I think you may be right about what other unis want to do with their interview process. I have a friend who just got a tenure-track post at a midwestern state school after having done a non-tenure-track post at the same school. Word on the street is that when they posted the tenure-track position they had him in mind for the job, but they still had to go through the motions, as is often the case with any position, professorship or otherwise. So they brought him there, tried him out for two years, and then gave him the job. But they still made it public, which is something BYU religion carefully avoids.

    There are a couple of scary things for me about the BYU religion hiring process: 1) that not even the regular professors know how many positions are open at any given time, only the deans and chairs hold this information and it is apparently closely guarded, and 2) that currently there is so much emphasis placed not just on teaching, but on teaching evaluations (I’ve heard longtime BYU rel profs say that the students hire the faculty). Research is downplayed, to the extent that they will hire someone, as was recently done, with a questionable degree (“doctor of religious studies”) from an online institution (also questionable) so they can get the person they want.

    Currently the Deans, Assistant Deans, Chairs, and Assistant Chairs are all hand-picked CES guys. No scholars among them (by which I mean people who got degrees at non-BYU institutions and participate in their fields outside of BYU circles). This does not bode well for those who want to get a job at BYU who don’t come through CES (at least it makes it somewhat of an uphill battle). Deans have final say, especially when they’re controlling which FTEs are filled, by whom, and when.

  7. So, how many of your want to work at BYU?
    Is that your first choice? Do you feel like you have no other choice?

  8. IMO part of the reason that the hiring process is as it is, is because of the CES relationship. Getting hired by CES is a rather grueling process (at least the way it is done through BYU): a class taken for a semester with video taped teaching reviewed, followed by another class where you teach for 2 weeks in a nearby seminary with a one-time review, followed by a year long part time status teaching two class and involving monthly observations and evening meetings; and then a visit to your home for an interview with you and your spouse by their social assesment person, followed by a one time big visit by the guy that has to OK the hires. After all that you must willing to move where the position available is.

    I think there are some parallels here. Part of the problem is that there are so many more applicants than there are positions; so they can technically afford to put the burden on the applicants. Another problem relates back to the CES relationship: in other parts of university where this relationship is much less prevalent, they follow the customary standard as explained above, despite the fact that could be many more applicants than positions available. But the RE deparment has never really had to conform to such conventions.

    The problem I have with being observed while teaching intitute is that institute classes are not BYU classes. The requirements are significantly different, and I treat my institute class very differently than I treat my BYU class.

    As far as coming to BYU to teach for the Summer, given the status that BYU Religion profs have in the Church (whether that status is for good or ill is the topic of another post), I don’t think it unreasonable that BYU see more than a few-day campus interview before granting that status.

    Not everyone is so fortunate enough to be able to easily relocate to the Provo area for summer. And for those who teach institute in hopes of getting hired, do you not agree that teaching institute is significantly different than teaching in the RE department?

  9. It looks like you’ve received some bad information. Religious Ed is bound by the same hiring policies as every other BYU college, which includes public posting of job openings and a formal, standardized application process. They receive an overwhelming number of applications for every position, so there is little need to advertise. They also have a faculty search committee (all colleges do) which works hard to identify and contact prospective applicants. You do not necessarily need to teach at BYU, or anywhere else, to be hired. Thom Wayment was hired without having ever taught at BYU or in the CES. I know other faculty who had taught but were never observed. Of course they would like to have a good idea of your teaching ability, but the summer teaching “requirement” you mention does not exist, and doing that may even work against you. Much more important is addressing the faculty in a Friday faculty forum, where everyone has a chance to hear you and, in some small way, get your measure.

    But honestly, like most BYU colleges, RelEd prefers to hire faculty who have taught or even been tenured elsewhere. And with hundreds of applicants for every position, they can often do that. There have always been a lot of CES hires and now three in a row from BYU Hawaii, which is becoming something of an new entry point for LDS grads in religion.

  10. Bodhi, this is very interesting and useful information. Thanks for sharing it. Again, since I have no direct experience with this process, I can’t comment on it. For those who have gone through it, does this square with your experience?

  11. But honestly, like most BYU colleges, RelEd prefers to hire faculty who have taught or even been tenured elsewhere.


    Are there any professors who have not taught in church operated systems that have been hired? In other words, where are these “elsewheres” you are refering to? And where are job availabilites posted? In speaking of BYUH, I know I’ve seen a clear posting on their RE website.

    And just to be clear, does “Religious Ed is bound by the same hiring policies as every other BYU college” necessarily mean that they adhere to these policies in the same way? Is my earlier post is off base?

  12. What no one has commented on is the importance of student reviews in the hiring process for those who teach a class or two while applying. A huge amount of importance is placed on what the students say about you and how they rate you. If you don’t rate at a certain level with them, it doesn’t matter how good you are everywhere else. And my sources tell me that the level in student ratings is much higher than many other colleges on campus. There seems to be a very heavy emphasis on reception of teaching.

    As for the old CES boys club of Chairs and Deans of RelEd, don’t be surprised when this doesn’t last. Most of the people that have not come through a Church system of one type or another are newly hired. I don’t think that you can argue that it doesn’t help to have come through CES or BYUH but some of the up and comers, especially Wayment, will be in a position before too long to fill those roles. I’m not sure that they’ve excluded non-CES/BYUH faculty from those positions intentionally, there just hasn’t been many to chose from. And there was that time when they made Stephen Robinson the dean and I don’t think that he ever worked for CES.

  13. Bodhi is confirming the impression I had, which was why I made the Google hiring comparison.

    Everyone and his dog wants to work for Google. Consequently, Google can do just about whatever it wants in the hiring process. I’m not saying Google is unreasonable or that it is trying to torture people – but the hiring process is unusually strenuous and doesn’t make much of a commitment to applicants – at least from what I’ve heard about it.

  14. Bhodi is right. One of my former religion professors never worked for CES as a seminary teacher. On the other hand most, if not all, full time institute instructors at one point went through the byzantine process to get hired by CES and started out as seminary teachers and then as they got advanced degrees and positions opened, they moved on to other things.

  15. I have an email from a member of the search committee to the effect that if I wish to be considered, I need to come out and teach as an instructor.

  16. #12: Don Cannon taught history at the University of Maine (in Portland), and Richard Bennett was an archivist at the Univ. of Manitoba, before they were hired. Stephen Robinson was tenured faculty at Hanover College when he was hired. Dana Pike had taught in a number of temp appointments, but this was his first appointment at a church school. Michael Rhodes taught at the Airforce Academy. Keller and Choi were former ministers. Not everyone comes out of CES or church schools.

    Job openings are posted with BYU’s own employment service and university policy stipulates how long it must be kept open, etc., before they can fill it. But of course they have a candidate pool and a very good idea of whom they want to hire well in advance of any openings. If anyone is interested in teaching there, they should contact the relevant dept. chair and get their name in the hopper well in advance.

    #16: My mistake on Wayment. I was told that by a religion faculty member but did not independently verify it. Apologies. The main reason they want you to come teach is so they have some student evaluations on record. You may or may not be observed. I never was when I taught. Someone else remarked on how heavily they weight these evals, and that’s very much the case. If the students hate you, you’ll never get hired, worlds without end. What the faculty think of your teaching is based on what the students think of your teaching.

  17. I don’t think they need to publish job opening because there are a million people who would love to teach religion at BYU. That’s probably the same reason they can be demanding with their applicants. If you can’t make the commitment to teach a summer term, there are 10 more people behind you who are ready and willing to. I’ve got to say that I like that idea. For a subject like religion it’s important for them to see what ‘spin’ you will be putting on gospel topics.

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