Alonzo Gaskill and BYU: In the Headlines Again

Last week an article appeared that claimed Alonzo Gaskill, (full) Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University (Provo) had repeatedly plagiarized from other publications in his books. Although it does seem that the document underlying the articles, which isn’t even a comprehensive survey of the evidence, reveals a repeated and willful pattern of plagiarism, this post is not about plagiarism. Instead, my purpose is to address an underlying issue: Gaskill’s claims regarding his academic credentials.

As of today, April 2nd, 2019, BYU’s Faculty Directory entry for Gaskill indicates that he has a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, a claim that has so far proven impossible to verify. In light of the current standards for accreditation of an institution such as BYU, as well as BYU’s own published standards, this is quite unusual. In my opinion, these are the questions for which those interested in BYU’s academic accreditation and reputation will need responses:

• Did Alonzo Gaskill in fact complete a PhD, as he claims on his CV? Can he produce a diploma, which says those words? And not “DRS” (Doctor of Religious Studies, which is an unrecognized type of degree in the field)?

• If so, can he show that the institution was accredited by a recognized accreditation body, not, for example, an “acceptance,” that would make his degree legitimate?

• Can he produce the dissertation that he claims to have written, but for which no evidence has been produced? Does it have a standard cover page that reads something like “In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of…”, with the signatures of advisors who approved the dissertation? Were there advisors? Did he study under anyone? For multiple years?

• Can he explain why Trinity Theological Seminary, from which he claims to have a Ph.D., is unable to produce a record of his degree or his dissertation?

• Can he explain why he has produced no record of his degree, either?

• Can he describe the decision-making process that led him to seek a doctoral degree from an unaccredited institution?

These inquiries can be readily met by anyone with a degree from an accredited institution or from a hiring institution’s personnel files. However, I do not expect a response from either Gaskill or a BYU representative who speaks for the hiring process because merely being asked about this sort of information under these circumstances reflects very poorly on both.

Finally, I think that were Gaskill part of an institution other than BYU, he would most likely be terminated. A more merciful option might be to give him a four or five-year unpaid leave of absence to earn the needed degree from an accredited institution. As it is, perhaps the decision-makers hope that in the seven or eight years that remain before another accreditation cycle, Gaskill will retire. Alternatively, he could be temporarily removed from the scene by being called to serve as a mission president, although one wonders about the wisdom and morality of such a utilitarian approach.

In any case, it will indeed be interesting to see how this plays out.

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. Continue reading “BYU’s Religious Education: A Ticking Time Bomb in the #metoo Era?”

A Meek Suggestion

BYU faculty have been admonished again this week that BYU must be a great university but not after the manner of the worldly universities. This morning’s leaked video of BYU football players who have clearly had too much of their own entitlement to drink brings into sharp focus an area where there is room for immediate improvement. Clearly BYU’s fixation on winning and garnering lucrative ESPN contracts is not producing results that benefit the cause of moral superiority to which it so incongruously aspires. Perhaps BYU would be better off if it were to repent entirely—and in all meekness, thank you Elder Bednar—of its glory-seeking NCAA competition teams.