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.
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.