BYU Professor, Part 2 7 June 2006Posted by Todd in Academia & Education, Democratic Theory, Mormonism/LDS Church.
I’ve been following a messy (but civil) debate about Nielsen’s Op-Ed in the Salt Lake Tribune on a believing-Mormon’s blog called Messenger and Advocate. Guy Murray is arguing simply that Nielsen was violating church and university policy by speaking out against the general authorities of the LDS church. The conversation is difficult to follow if you don’t know the conflicted ins-and-outs of how mormons reconcile their belief in “free agency” (freedom of conscience and action as part of mortal life) with their beliefs in “sustaining the brethren” (obedience to church leadership). Here’s my brief addition to the debate:
I’ve been wading through these lengthy comments kind of baffled at how, or whether, to respond. I’d like to add just a couple things to mull over.
academic freedom: In America’s past, we’ve gone through periods when the U.S. government has prosecuted professors for speaking out against its policies, and where state politicians and captains of industry were allowed to direct the contents of research and teaching (especially 1918-1940). That is where the concept of “academic freedom” comes from in American culture. It’s intricately connected to the purpose of a university. According to the AAUP’s 1940 document:
Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.
The debate, then, should be about about what effect it has on the search for truth when professors are told a priori what truths they may or may not explore, express, research, teach, or write about. The problem at BYU isn’t a “free speech” issue–in American democracy he can obviously say what he wants. Nor is it a religious issue–the American democracy also allows free association to churches, giving them the right to set their own membership boundaries. It is about the quality of the “search for truth” on a campus that shackles its professors from the beginning as does BYU.
[By the way, BYU’s is not normal behavior for a religious university. Notre Dame, for example, tightly controls student groups and university politics, but does not control the content of its professors courses or publications.]
biology of homosexuality: Although much of the research on the biological origins of same-sex desire is pretty much consensus among scientists at this point, there is much that we have yet to learn. That is simply part of scientific uncertainty that drives research and discovery. But Nielsen’s gloss in his article apty and succincty states the state of the research.
So the argument here on M&A is a fantastic illustration to gay and lesbian rights advocates as to why the biological argument ultimately fails in the public sphere.
It seems the real issue at stake is a democratic one. Does the majority have the right to impose its lifestyle choices on the minority? Well, sometimes, when the minority’s lifestyles cause demonstrable harm. The base measure of harm is a balancing of rights, the classic question, “Where do your rights end and mine begin.” I would add to this, with John S. Mill, that offense does not constitute harm. That is, merely being offended is not having your rights curtailed. [Ironically for our present conversation, in On Liberty, Mill used Mormon polygamy in Utah Territory as his illustration of why offense does not equal harm.] So the question becomes does recognition of same-sex relationships harm individuals’ rights or cause damage to a society such that rights would be harmed? The burden of proof on that one lies with the proponents of the amendment. There is literally zero social scientific or scientific research that demonstrates anything other than offense on the part of the traditionalists. In fact, tradition is really at the heart of the matter: Seeing society change to make room for homosexuals is offensive to the traditionally minded. [Don’t even get me started on how the tradition of “one man/one woman” marriage is a historical fantasy.] And so we wait for any rational, scientific demonstration of the harm caused by recognition of same-sex relationships (about 4-6% of all relationships).
[posted with ecto]