BYU’s Religious Education: A Ticking Time Bomb in the #metoo Era?

With the recent revelations of serious and disturbing allegations of a pattern of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault by a former bishop, mission president, and university president, and against the backdrop of the broader cultural #metoo and #timesup movements, it pays to reflect on the spaces that are likely to harbor such behavior and to do a bit of checking to make sure there is no package that looks suspicious.

One reason to start with Religious Education at BYU, above all others, is that it is the most lopsidedly male unit in an already lopsidedly male university within a lopsidedly male ecclesiastical power structure. What is the male-female ratio of tenure-track (CFS) faculty? I count 70 total. Of those 70, how many female? 6. Six. (It might be closer to seven of 71 after this year’s round of hiring, and I could be off by one or two in either direction.) Let that sink in. SIXTY FOUR to SIX. NOT EVEN A TITHE OF THE FACULTY ARE WOMEN.

Joe Bishop was in just such a lopsided institutional organization. He was always in a position of power over women. He was always protected and insulated from his consequences by that institution. He wielded his power against his enemies, and there was a distinct gendered component to it even where it was not overtly sexual. Is it possible that other Joe Bishops will be uncovered in an environment that may have an immune system only weakly incentivized by the appropriate moral compass to root out infections of his kind?

So, if I were the Church, in addition to addressing the inherent problems in a severely lopsided gendered leadership, I would take a careful look at Religious Education. I would ask a series of detailed questions and follow up with the full means available. Most of these questions are probably already being asked by the Title IX office. But for hypothetical purposes, I’ll take a stab. This is of course an incomplete list.

  • How many title IX complaints have been lodged against RelEd faculty, that we might become legally liable for, if we knew about it and did nothing back when we could get away with it without it being part of a national conversation? How many Title IX complaints relative to other units on campus? How thoroughly have those complaints been vetted? How were they handled by the RelEd Dean(s), if they knew about them? How were accusations treated? How are they treated?
  • How many professors hug, kiss, or otherwise inappropriately touch their students in classroom settings without said students’ consent? Have these professors been disciplined? Have their students been interviewed?
  • Have any parents complained to RelEd leadership about such behavior, and how was it addressed, if so? Did RelEd administration try to pacify, justify, or otherwise downplay said behavior? To obstruct formal complaints against even (and especially) well-known faculty?
  • Have any faculty engaged in acts similar to those of Bishop, involving their students, that the administration is aware of? If so, what steps were taken to reach out to other potential victims? Overnight firings of some (even “tenured”) male faculty in the past decade might need some more thorough investigation in light of the current moment.
  • Have female students been surveyed anonymously re: their religion classes and professors, generally?
  • What are the most likely areas in which RelEd teachers are out of sync with current doctrine/handbook teachings relative to gender and sexuality that may be causing active and lasting harm to students? What are the faculty saying, for example, about contraception and family size? How do they talk about female missionaries relative to males in the mission prep courses? How do they talk about victims? How do they talk about consent? How do they talk about D&C 132, for example?
  • Has any third-party (i.e., outside the RelEd power structure) interviewed the female faculty members to ask about their treatment as professional women in such a lopsided structure that is intimately yoked to male priesthood power? Were these reactions made available to the deanery? Was any disciplinary action taken?
  • Has anyone looked into the behavior of the male faculty while the women were job candidates? Has anyone asked the female job candidates whether they were the target of misogynist comments, or other illegal questioning based on their gender?
  • Are there any policies protecting the jobs and reputations of whistleblowers or others who lodge gender-based complaints against colleagues?
  • Are the salaries of the men and women on faculty equal among equal ranks?
  • Do the deans receive instruction from Salt Lake not to hire as many women, because it “takes away a job from a man,” whose responsibility is to provide? (And how do the classes that treat the Proclamation on the Family handle this?)
  • Were any males hired in recent years especially over females that were clearly more qualified, with much higher academic credentials than their male counterparts? What was the justification? Is it credible?
  • Have teaching evaluations ever been manipulated for hiring or firing? Have they ever been used disproportionately in hiring a male candidate over an equally or more-qualified female candidate?
  • Were there any recent hires made in which the protocol of only hiring people with completed PhDs was not followed, and if so, what their gender was? Has anyone asked whether candidates, including female candidates, in the same hiring round were discouraged from applying because their PhDs were not complete?
  • Have hiring practices been transparent at the department level? (We know they are not at the University level, in the totally opaque “pre-vetting” that precedes any department-level interviews.) Can we be sure that women are not being unfairly removed from full hiring consideration? Are departments shown the full list of candidates and allowed to vote on them? What is the composition of search committees?
  • How might the women on faculty and in the college be excluded from formal and informal opportunities, such as lunch groups, small committees, conference organization, etc.?

In case one doubts that RelEd fosters a “problematic” environment, where infected teachings and unprofessional practices can fester, not only ignored but protected, let’s look at only the *public* scandals of the past few years concerning the abrogation of professional standards. While none of these directly indicate sexual assault or harrassment, they speak to a highly fraught professional environment, which, in my opinion, is the result of far too much insularity and impunity, of the kind that can harbor much nastier and sometimes invisible agents. (No other BYU department comes close to the number of headline-worthy problems detailed here.)  Here are some highlights:

Illegal classroom recordings of faculty members, most likely executed by the administration, one surmises. Note that wiretapping potential enemies was a strategy allegedly used also by Bishop in his time as president of Weber State.

Alonzo Gaskill’s disingenuous publication of a fraudulent “revelation” of Jesus’ lost teachings about women, one that continues to make money. Deseret Book did not publish, but they still carry it after having pulled it for a time. It is still on the shelves of the BYU Bookstore.

Randy Bott, to the Washington Post, on how blacks didn’t merit the keys to the priesthood car during the ban.

The “Million Mummies” claim that got BYU’s license to excavate in Egypt revoked.

Unethical and unprofessional research on the Museum of the Bible’s papyri. Word on the street that this research, while paused during the media attention, has resumed.

Four guys in ties. Enough said.

And these are just the ones I can name.

BYU, it’s time to get your Religious house in order. Disinfect with sunlight. Hear women. Time’s up.

18 Replies to “BYU’s Religious Education: A Ticking Time Bomb in the #metoo Era?”

  1. CES is much worse.

    In the past few years seminary teachers Mik e Pratt and Brian Kishpaugh have been convicted of child sex abuse.

    None at the Brig AFAIK.

    1. Good point, Jpv. And even more reason to ask serious questions of BYU, since CES is still a feeder for RelEd.

  2. “Michael Pratt, 41, a Lone Peak High School LDS seminary principal, groomed and then had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old seminary student. He pleaded guilty to forcible sodomy and other charges and was sentenced in 2010 to one to 15 years in prison.”

  3. Also, let’s not forget the research showing that student evaluations, on which Religious Education has relied to hire men over more qualified women in the recent past, are biased against women. (Their argument: student evaluations showed the man to be more qualified. Even though he didn’t have a fraction of the publications, accolades, or experience.)

    For example:

  4. Reliable sources (multiple) have indicated that when [one of the women now working in RelEd] was applying for a former Dean of Rel Ed said, “at least you’re something to look at.

  5. Since religion profs at BYU are held up as spiritual examples to follow, BYU’s board does not want to hire married women to teach religion, lest women get the idea that working is ok.

  6. This post is highly ironic. It arises from a tragic situation. A woman has anonymously accused an individual of abusing his power and taking advantage of her and using the confidentiality of the situation and the interview to hide his crimes. These are serious accusations; if they are true, the accused has done devastating damage to the accuser; if they are false, the accuser has done devastating damage to the accused. Whatever the truth of the accusation, someone’s life has been ruined. Such accusations should not be taken lightly.

    Because one individual has accused another of abusing his power under the cloak of confidentiality, the individuals on the blog make an accusation of a whole group of individuals abusing their power under the cloak of confidentiality. Ironically the proprietors of this blog are using their position and cloak of anonymity to post unproven smears against an entire group.

    Furthermore, I noticed that once again I was attacked by the anonymous accusers for a completely unrelated issue at the end of the post. If these accusers are so sure of an impropriety on my part why don’t they make themselves known and openly demonstrate my impropriety as people of integrity and honesty do, instead of relying solely on insinuations as prevarications. Yes, I have attached my name to these comments. I do not need to cower under false anonymity as I have nothing to hide from the anonymous “eight scholars and archaeologists of the ancient world” (although there are not really eight and I don’t consider most of them scholars). If you (pl.) ever build up enough courage and integrity I would welcome a personal conversation.

    On this final point the counsel of the emperor Trajan seems most appropriate: Sine auctore vero propositi libelli in nullo crimine locum habere debent. Nam et pessimi exempli nec nostri saeculi est.

    Lincoln H. Blumell
    Religious Education

  7. Hi, Lincoln B, and welcome back to the blog! Thank you for going on record with your full name (I assume it’s you) as one who thinks a) that the recording was anonymous, b) that it was published by the accuser, and c) that it’s a toss-up as to the likelihood of who is in the right and who is in the wrong. All 3 of those positions, however, are factually untenable. The recording wasn’t anonymous, Bishop knew who she was since she was sitting across from him and that she was recording. She did not share it, as has been made clear, nor did she direct that it be shared. She was in negotiations with a Church that wanted to avoid the transparency you clearly value in people. I assume from your characterization that you have not read or listened to the transcript, because a substantial amount of the damage to his reputation is not coming from her accusations, but from his own mouth. As the county DA’s office made clear, there are prosecutable offenses indicated here that would have been pursued had it not been for the statute of limitations. So…not really a “he said-she said” situation.

    But about the bulk of the particular post, let me clear up a couple of things: the link to the controversy about your publishing with the Hobby Lobby people isn’t an attempt to smear you. It’s talking about a structure (RelEd) that potentially provides cover for unprofessionalism that might be dangerous and concealing other, more nefarious things of the sort that doesn’t generally make it to the public record because of the very kinds of opacity you hate so much in pseudonyms. I meant the post as I said above, to say that someone who is in a position to do so should investigate carefully an institution that has an especially problematic track record to make sure there are no people, especially students and especially women, who are being actively harmed by the system and the people in positions of power within it. I did not at all mean to imply or indicate that you personally have anything to do with sexual misconduct.

    Again, I am happy to remove any erroneous information you want me to. Just let me know where the error lies. Further, if you would like to engage in a healthy and good-faith discussion of the issues surrounding your connection to the Hobby Lobby materials, we would love to host that here!

    (And, next I’m a Roman governor, I’ll make sure not to use any anonymous pamphlets in my bringing judgments against defenseless Christians.)

  8. What is the male-female ratio of full professors in the Math Department at the University of Utah? I count 31 total. (No soft money “research professors”; no instructors; no emeriti; no associates; no assistants.) Of those 31, how many female? 1. One. Let that sink in. THIRTY to ONE. NOT EVEN A THIRD OF A TITHE OF THE FULL PROFESSORS ARE WOMEN.

  9. Thanks Nathan! Maybe your comment will spark a much-needed and heretofore neglected National conversation about the need for more representation and better treatment of women in STEM.

  10. This is an excellent article. The problem with Religious Education is very real, but it also happens A LOT in other departments. Take the Humanities College for instance. Very discriminating and abusive.

  11. So sorry to hear it, MEB. I have indeed heard of such abuses, which are part of the same hierarchical environment. Sunlight and transparency, and listening will go a long way to getting back on the right track, I think.
    (And sorry your comment got hung up so long in moderation!)

  12. Lincoln: Thank you for being willing to be transparent and honest enough to use your name. What I want are concrete facts and not witch-hunts, anonymous gossip and accusations or lack of transparency. People do not hide behind pseudonyms in the METOO era unless they just do not have a solid basis for their accusations. Standing up means being an actual person and not an anonymous accuser.

    Lincoln is not the only one in BYU Religious Ed. to be called-in to account for anonymous complaints without any foundation whatsoever — and the kind of thinking we see in this blog is the reason.

    Mere lop-sided numbers often do not tell the entire story. The concrete reality is that the preponderance of Blacks in the NBA and NFL are not due to discrimination. There are other factors at play that really tell the story. Our anonymous accuser makes a very basic and easy to detect fallacy in what has to be the worst argument I ever seen — logically and morally. Really? The Religious Ed. teachers are all suspect of sexual abuse and sheer discrimination because there is a preponderance of males teaching? That is the basis for a general investigation beginning with the presumption that all male-members are in question? That is not reason “to being with Religious Education at BYU” — and if you think it is then I suspect that a basic class in logic would clear up a lot for you.

    I represent female employees in Title VII and Title IX cases as a Plaintiff’s attorney. These cases do not begin with such a general accusations based on nothing but lop-sided numbers. In fact, lop-sided numbers alone show nothing and could not be a basis for an action. Pointing to some lapses in judgment by members of the RelEd Dept. hardly justify the implicit accusation and request for a general investigation from nothing but poor reasoning.

  13. I’m not aware that I’ve ever read anything in Faith-Promoting Rumor before (No offense intended, I just never read blogs.), but I stumbled upon this article and decided to respond. Blake Ostler is right on target in pointing out that the logic in this article fails every test. It goes something like this: Mormons are bad, Joseph Bishop is bad, BYU’s Religious Education faculty has lots of guys in it, hence they are certainly abusing women.

    In addition to that, notice the several questions asked in the article based on very hypothetical assumptions, followed by “if so.” The questions and the “if sos” are rhetorical tricks meant to insinuate that there is some truth to the assumptions. This pattern has problems that should be obvious to everyone.

    I was a member of BYU’s Religious Education faculty for thirty-seven years. Like anyone else in any job, there were things about it that I liked better than others. We sometimes hired people I didn’t vote for, for example. Hiring at any university is tricky business. Individual faculty members get to vote, and they bring their own notions (some of them undoubtedly misguided) into the process. In Religious Education we always had many more applicants than openings, and there was never a time when someone wasn’t disappointed. During my time, some women, and many men, applied and were not hired. There never was a case when a candidate wasn’t hired because she was a woman. The suggestion to the contrary is simply false. The accuser’s suggestion that someone received “instruction from Salt Lake not to hire as many women, because it ‘takes away a job from a man’” is purely imaginative and is not true. And the attack on Lincoln Blumell’s research (“unethical and unprofessional”) is further evidence that the accuser has no idea what he/she is talking about.

    Finally, it would be interesting to know what the pseudonym “ClosetedRelEdProf” is intended to suggest.

  14. Blake and Kent,

    While both of you point to “fallacy” and “logic” of saying that the highly-male environment may be a contributing factor to discrimination, harassment, unequal treatment, and abuse, neither of you are willing to state that all BYU RE professors are free from Title IX complaints in recent years or that it is a wonderful place for women to work in all respects. This is ultimately not a matter of logic, but a matter of fact. This post makes a claim that IF/WHEN there are such complaints, these factors may explain why. The questions posed here for a hypothetical BYU administrator to ask are clearly based on this premise. Perhaps the answers will be surprising, or perhaps not. But they are simply questions. If you want to know what the facts actually are, I suggest that you call some of your friends and former colleagues. If you want to know whether the environment is challenging for female candidates and faculty, I suggest you talk to them about it. They have lots of stories. Kent, since the instruction about hiring was reportedly giving to the deans, it is not clear that you can state definitely that it did not happen since you weren’t in the room.

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