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BYU Professor Fired 13 June 2006

Posted by Todd in Academia & Education, Cultural Critique, Gay Rights, Homosexuality, Mormonism/LDS Church.
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[This is a continuation of the discussion about the BYU professor who protested the church’s political and partisan backing of the Federal Marriage Amendment earlier this month. See my two previous posts, BYU Professor Speaks Out and BYU Professor, Part 2.]

The Salt Lake Tribune reported today that, as expected, Jeff Nielsen, adjunct professor of philosophy at BYU, was terminated based on his letter to the editor challenging the church’s political stance on same-sex marriage. The termination letter from the department chair, Daniel Graham, read in part,

In accordance with the order of the church, we do not consider it our responsibility to correct, contradict or dismiss official pronouncements of the church. … Since you have chosen to contradict and oppose the church in an area of great concern to church leaders, and to do so in a public forum, we will not rehire you after the current term is over.

I have an unverified letter from Nielsen responding to his termination. I’ll get a citation as soon as I can and post it here. I thought Nielsen’s thinking about the role of the church in the academic freedom of BYU to be worth putting up here for those of you concerned with issues of free speech, academic freedom, and the role of religion in American politics. I think it specifically illustrates the deep intellectual problems inherent in an institution of higher learning that tries to “serve two masters.” [Emphasis in letter mine]

June 13, 2006

Daniel W. Graham, chair
Department of Philosophy
Brigham Young University

Dear Dan,

I regretfully read your letter of June 8 informing me that because of my opinion piece in the Salt Lake Tribune of June 4, you have decided not to rehire me to teach the philosophy courses I had already been scheduled to teach through next year. I have only the utmost respect and admiration for you and for the students, faculty, and staff in the Philosophy Department at Brigham Young University. In my experience, the students and faculty have always been engaged and lively participants in the academic pursuit of truth. Now let me address some of the issues you expressed in your letter.

Church leaders have consistently opposed same-sex attraction and gay marriage. I have never agreed with this position believing that it was based in misunderstanding and in a purely human bias of cultural place and time and not reflective of divine will. Yet I have never publicly, or in the classroom, opposed their policy. Yet when church leaders take a political stand on a moral issue, then I am not only engaged as a member of the church, but also as an American citizen. As an American citizen, I publicly expressed an honest opinion contradicting a political statement by our church leaders. I fear for the church and the university if the time comes when the members of the church, including faculty at BYU, are not allowed to disagree, either in public or private, with political positions taken by the church. If such conformity is required, then we deserve to be called neither a church nor a university.

I also strongly disagree with the implications of your statement that faithfulness and loyalty to the church and church leaders never permits expressions of disagreement, or questioning of our church leaders – especially in an academic setting. Unquestioning acquiescence and blind loyalty to leaders in positions of power over human beings have no place in any institution of higher learning that values the pursuit of truth and search for justice. And in my mind, what is philosophy but the quest for truth and justice. I believe that there is great potential at BYU that will never be realized if the faculty, in certain areas of study, are limited in their research and work by the necessity of arriving at pre-approved answers given by church leaders.

Finally, when it comes to the sustaining of church leaders, I will always argue for the privilege of church members to examine, question, and dialogue with each other and with their leaders in order to genuinely sustain and support church doctrines and teachings. I do not believe that sustaining leaders requires either silent acquiescence or unquestioning conformity, but it does require active engagement with one another and with our church leaders, regardless of our place or position within church leadership hierarchies. If sustaining our leaders is to be real and genuine – not a sham as are elections in totalitarian governments – then members must be free to examine, question and benevolently criticize. Ultimately, I strongly believe that every person possesses the privilege to speak and the obligation to listen.

Again, I have only respect and admiration for you. I have enjoyed our association, and I also wish you the best.

Sincerely,

Jeff Nielsen

Previous post about Nielsen/BYU here.

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Comments

1. Ed Ormsbee - 13 June 2006

This is certainly not a new issue at BYU and it has been thoroughly debated over the years. Good golly, it was an issue when I was on a first name basis with the BYU Standards Department and Dallin H. Oaks was the President. With that in mind, did Nielsen actually believe he wouldn’t be dismissed? I doubt it. He should be able to use this issue to catapult himself into a similar position at another university (U of U ??), with newly acquired fame and probably at a much higher salary. If he actually didn’t think he would be terminated then he probably shouldn’t be teaching at any level.

2. J. Todd Ormsbee - 13 June 2006

lol@dad. Yeah, I’m sure he knew he would get fired. Since 1992, BYU has regularly fired not only adjunct, but tenured faculty for taking positions not in line with the “brethren.” It had to be, in some regard, calculated on his part. As I understand it, Nielsen is a pretty well-paid consultant, so probably not going to be hurting for money anyway. But the fact that these are internal debates at BYU (which have been going on since its founding) does not answer the deep criticism of the effect on a university to be beholden to a church in that way. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the catholic church does a great job on most of its university campuses of staying out of the classroom, while maintaining other cultural control ecclesiastically. my experience with the Jesuits at USF last year was brilliant, and i think they struck a much better balance (but the jesuits are an intellectual order to begin with, so maybe my experience isn’t very representative of catholic higher education in general).

3. belaja - 13 June 2006

There are a lot of comments going around on the different boards (both “loyal” Mormon and otherwise)about “he must have known this would happen.” My feeling is, from the tenor of his letter and the Trib article in question, is that of course, he knew it would happen but that these are deeply felt issues of conscience to him that had to be addressed AS a matter of conscience. There are plenty of people, I believe, out there who feel exactly this way (I know quite a few of them—some of them very true-believing Mormon)but they keep quiet about it because for some reason as a Mormon we’re not allowed freedom of speech. And freedom of conscience without freedom of speech is a complete sham.

I admire him very deeply and I don’t get the impression at any point that he was doing this to selfishly draw attention to himself or to be some kind of martyr. Would we say that about somebody like Bonhoeffer (though I’m not comparing the actions of the two–Bonhoeffer’s action took infinitely more courage and much more was at stake, in a life-and-death sort of way). My point is why do people think he’s a grandstander for simply speaking his mind? I don’t believe this was thoughtless, stupid OR personally calculating. I think he said something that needed to be said–both about the anti-gay marriage amendment and about freedom. The church is moving towards totalitarianism in its internal functioning and for the most part, members are lying down for it.

4. Buck Jeppson - 13 June 2006

I admire Professor Nielsen greatly. I am willing to take him at his word when he says he’s speaking his conscience. It is a sad day when a philosophy professor at a university gets fired for questioning the status quo. Church members and BYU students, we are all denigrated when this sort of thing happens. The day will come when BYU will lose its accreditation and there will be thousands of students with diplomas that will be justifiably sneered at.

5. Clark Goble - 13 June 2006

Just a clarification. While he was hired to teach classes he wasn’t a professor at BYU. He was only a part time instructor. Further he wasn’t fired. He was just not rehired to teach further classes. (As I understanding such teaching is assigned on a semester by semester basis – although I might be wrong in the details)

6. J. Todd Ormsbee - 13 June 2006

He was an adjunct professor (same thing as instructor at most universities). Hiring temp professors is a way for universities to save money. You hire people who are fully qualified to be professors, but pay them much less, deny benefits, no tenure and no job security.

For the matter at hand, it’s a distinction without a difference. It doesn’t make it any less egregious to “decline rehire” an adjunct professor based on speech than it would a tenured full professor.

In any case, his contract was indeed terminated, as he had already been rehired and scheduled for courses during the 2006-2007 school year.

7. nicolaepadigone - 14 June 2006

hi,

I have commented on my blog about Professor Nielson getting the boot: BYU fires Professor who speaks out on gay marriage.

This professor unfortunately fell to the propaganda by gay rights activists that homosexuals do not have a choice in their actions, and thus, must be granted their “natural” rights.

This professor must not have, then, read Elder Oaks’s talk called Same Gender Attraction wherein he dispells the myth that homosexuals lack choice or agency in their thoughts or actions.

It is his right to speak out, but also BYU’s right to fire him for the reasons they did. He is going to go on a martyr complex now, and so it is.

8. April Foreman - 14 June 2006

It was Nielson’s choice to write the letter, and BYU’s option to send him packing. And anybody could guess this was a likely result. I don’t think these are the main issues, though.

Just as in the civil rights movements about a half-century ago, it is important to illustrate this issue and raise awareness.

Whether or not BYU has the “right” to dismiss Nielson, it is another matter entirely to question whether or not they “should” have done so.

There are big academic, social, and political problems that can only occur when voices of dissent are silenced. I think that is the underlying issue here.

9. J. Todd Ormsbee - 14 June 2006

Hi Nic,

Thanks for stopping by. It may be helpful in the future if you take a breath and try to make substantiated, rational arguments here, rather than tossing around words like “propaganda”, “gay agenda” and “Elder Oaks.”

While I do want to promote speech and dialogue here on my blog, I don’t feel it is necessary for me to subject myself to dealing with homophobes in my private, personal time. If you post in the future, I will demand that you make arguments with evidence in rational terms without the homophobic overtones.

A couple things to note:

Scientific research published in peer-reviewed journals is actually the antithesis of propaganda. I’m a bit of a sticular for correct word usage.

Posting here would actually require that you understand the arguments made and address those arguments directly. No one has argued that BYU acted beyond it’s rights. Rather, my (and others’) argument is that doing so demonstrates the degree to which BYU has abdicated it’s goals as an institution of higher learning in favor of being an institution of religious learning. I have also argued that degrees from BYU should be suspect and not accepted by businesses or other institutions of higher learning, as the education received by students at BYU is compromised by the intrusions of a religious authority. I make the same argument for other religious institutions that curtail speech and real inquiry.

As for Nielsen’s martyrdom, I highly doubt it. He is simply the latest in a long string of professors fired for not toeing the line over the past 15 years.

10. nicolaepadigone - 14 June 2006

Todd,

no worries.

I do toss those words around very accurately, actually, and I do know what I am talking about. If you cannot handle my retorts, I shall leave your blog alone.

gay rights activists will tell you one thing: they have no choice in who they are, and in their actions. Can you dispell this? Can you show me gay rights activists who say otherwise? Can you show me gays who say it is their choice to act out their feelings? If not, then what they say is propaganda. And the word is accurately used.

second thing, I believe Elder Oaks’s talk is the best explanation yet on same gender attraction. If you wish to refute him, please do so.

thirdly, where have I said a derrogatory remark towards anybody with homosexual tendencies? Or are you implying that you see everybody who disagrees with homosexuals as homophobes? You’re a “stickler for correct word usage,” then please tell me what a homophobe is?

you state:

“I have also argued that degrees from BYU should be suspect and not accepted by businesses or other institutions of higher learning, as the education received by students at BYU is compromised by the intrusions of a religious authority.”

then all degrees offered from “religious institutions” such as Notre Dame, should then be suspect, right? Where is the line drawn?

I had hoped to engage in a real debate, but your first response here has soured that hope.

11. mattblack - 14 June 2006

Hi Nic,

You said you hoped to engage in a real debate but it seems as though you are jumping into the middle of an ongoing debate and trying to change the terms. The terms are already set, and Todd was politely trying to point that out and give you some friendly advice on how to participate if you so desire. You might check out Todd’s earlier post Biology and Homosexuality to get a sense of how this debate is going.

12. nicolaepadigone - 14 June 2006

mattblack,

being called a homophobe was not polite, so forgive me if i responded a bit stronger than i had hoped. my original comments were directly related to the question of this
BYU professor. I felt the professor lost track of what General Authorities he claims he supports have said on the issue of choice and homosexuality, particularly Elder Oaks’s talk.

Now he purportedly writes a letter he is making public, in which he basically casts himself as a martyr.

13. Mike Kessler - 14 June 2006

nic,

What makes someone a gay rights activist? Someone who is merely openly gay? I am openly gay but not an activist, and come from a family and community where being homosexual is not viewed as anything different than heterosexual but with a few letters changed. My employer and the city in which we live recognize my husband as my husband. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with him for many years and have been married to him for two. (We couldn’t legally get married before that or we would have.) I have many women friends, several of them close friends for more than twenty years, but since I am a homosexual, not a heterosexual, I feel no sexual attraction toward women. That’s fine with me, my parents and my sisters, because my whole family knows I have always been gay and to attempt to become something different would be against G-d’s plan. After all, I certainly didn’t choose to be homosexual anymore than someone chooses to be heterosexual. (Did you choose?) But I have never missed out on anything in my life because of it. I have the pleasure of a family, including a daughter and son-in-law and a new granddaughter. Before you talk about someone else “falling to propaganda,” you might want to examine yourself. You have cited some extremely biased sources on which you base your opinions. Talk about falling to propaganda.

14. nicolaepadigone - 14 June 2006

Mike,

I’m glad to hear that you are in a good, loving, stable relationship. I hope from the getgo that my thoughts are not perceived as gay-bashing, because I have gay friends and co-workers, and feel no ill will towards them. For the most part, what you said is good, but I disagree, or need clarification from you, on several points.

first to respond to your question.

What makes a gay activist? A gay activist is one who openly pushes for gay rights, who advocates through print or internet, who contacts representatives, or tries to persuade other citizens to contact representatives to push for gay rights. That is an activist. They generally are not wholly truthful (hence my use of the word propaganda), because they have an agenda to push.

“That’s fine with me, my parents and my sisters, because my whole family knows I have always been gay and to attempt to become something different would be against G-d’s plan.”

I am curious if you could expound on this. How would it be against God’s plan to be something other than homosexual?

“After all, I certainly didn’t choose to be homosexual anymore than someone chooses to be heterosexual.”

did you choose out of your own free will to partake in homosexual activity? Did you, out of your own free will and choice, become sexually active with your husband?

“(Did you choose?)”

I did not choose my gender or my sexual identity, just as much as I did not choose to be born in Romania. What I did choose out of my own free will is to ACT on that desire and find me a wife. I chose before marriage to not be sexually active, even though my body told me it wanted to be sexually active with women around me. Why? Because it was wrong. Why? Because God said so, and He is the ultimate Judge on morality.

Being something does not remove our ability to choose to act on something. A pedophile will tell you he has no choice, he loves kids, and it is in his nature. Is he wrong in going after kids sexually? Of course he is. Why?

Finally, you say my sources are “extremely biased.” What is biased about them? please explain your point.

15. nicolaepadigone - 14 June 2006

Mark,

my apologies, but I won’t be posting on this blog again. According to Mr. Ormsbee, I’m not up to his level of discussion. So please don’t bother to reply to my post.

Have a great day, y’all.

16. J. Todd Ormsbee - 14 June 2006

Oh good lord, I did not make the personal statement that you were incapable of having a solid, substantiated dialogue; I was saying that you hadn’t done so in your first post. I think the major problem you’re having here is that you’re arguing from assumptions that few of my readers share with you, namely about morality, God, Mormonism, and sexuality. When people don’t share basic premises, dialogue gets incredibly difficult, unless one of the other side can speak the language of the other. For me, I’m just so far beyond my mormon past that it’s exhausting to engage with it. I do sincerely mean it when I say that you are welcome to post here; but you must do so with the knowledge that people will talk back to you and that, in general, my readership expects a level of rigor, rationality, and evidence that you may not be used to in a more faith-based dialogue.

Good luck to you.

17. belaja - 14 June 2006

Oy. On top of everything else the pedophilia thing again. Jebus. Good-bye, Nic.

18. J. Todd Ormsbee - 14 June 2006

Christ, I didn’t even catch that. Good riddance I suppose. Of course, if he comes back, I’ll just cut and paste from Foyer. LOL

19. belaja - 14 June 2006

Yes, please do! ;^)

I don’t have the energy to go through all that again so soon!

20. Michael Nielsen - 14 June 2006

Todd, I got a smile when I read this. You said,

” I think the major problem you’re having here is that you’re arguing from assumptions that few of my readers share with you, namely about morality, God, Mormonism, and sexuality. When people don’t share basic premises, dialogue gets incredibly difficult, unless one of the other side can speak the language of the other.”

And wasn’t that just the point of the entire Nielsen – BYU flap? Nielsen assumes that BYU values academic inquiry the same way that he does… but they don’t. Some things there are simply off-limits. At another university, there might be different things set aside as off-limits, but at BYU “thou shalt not commit a social science.” (To quote Mark Twain)

Anyway, I enjoyed your comments on this, Todd. FWIW, I have a few comments on it on my blog.

21. nicolaepadigone - 14 June 2006

Todd,

this particular post entitled “BYU Professor Fired” was linked at BCC (By Common Consent). That is how I got to your blog. I had never read your blog before, so I was not familiar with your level of discourse. I had actually made the assumption that you weren’t as anti-Mormon as you really are. I didn’t know, also that you were a professor of gay studies. I’m just a layman on this subject. Your first post threw me off because I had not said a dispariging remark towards gays themselves and yet you called me homophobic. Kinda makes it hard to want to continue a discourse. Basically I misunderstood your blog. I obviously won’t be able to really discuss with you all because you already reject all my premises.

However, now that I do have your attention, I would like some answers to some questions I have, and a professor on gay studies should know them.

1. Gays believe that God created them as such.

Where is their proof of this? What scriptural references can they show of this? Take any from any religion. I’ll take all references, even the stretched ones (ex. God created nature and in all species there are gay animals). See, if we are ever to find common ground between “religionists” and “gay rights” then we’re going to need the scriptural references.

2. God says a great deal of things regarding marriage between a man and a woman in scripture. What does God say about gay relationships?

Those were two questions that I felt were intriguing, and would help gays in their cause with religionists. I would appreciate very much if you could share either your thoughts on it, or if someone else already has, if you could link to them.

22. Guy Murray - 14 June 2006

J. Todd Ormsbee: I’ve read Mr. Nielsen’s supposed response with some interest. (btw did you ever confirm this letter you posted was actually written by him?) Again, I have to disagree on the academic freedom issues you raise in your post.

In response to a similar discussion of academic freedom over on my blog, I posted a comment, which I will repost here (if I may) which I thinks addresses some of your concerns, and hopefully sets forth my opinion on this issue:

I think we need to define our terms. The AAUP website which is the body which deals with academic freedom defines academic freedom as:

ACADEMIC FREEDOM

1. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.

2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.

3. College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

Given the context of Mr. Neilsen’s utterance one can make the case his academic freedom was not infringed based on the above definition.

1. This one clearly does not apply. His contract was not renewed as a result of any of his endeavors in his research, publication, or academic duties.

2. This one clearly does not apply as he was not involved in teaching in the classroom or discussing a subject in his class. And, even if he were, he is obligated not to introduce controversial matter that has no relation to the subject. Furthermore, limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution (BYU in this case) were absolutely crystal clear to a “believing, practicing” LDS faculty member at BYU.

3. The argument here, I would make is that Neilsen abrogated his duty and obligation that as a scholar and an educational officer to remember the public would judge his profession and BYU by his utterance. He was not accurate, did not exercise appropriate restraint, show respect for the opinions of others (The Brethren–in this case). He did not make every effort to indicate he was not speaking for the institution. Rather, he made certain the Salt Lake Tribune put into his bio line the fact he was a BYU affiliated instructor. He failed miserably in my opinion in this third prong, and in this context his academic freedom was not infringed.

So, I disagree that I have made your point, when you take into context the definition of academic freedom above. Furthermore, BYU’s website has an entire section dedicated to academic freedom. Under either the AAUP’s definition, or BYU’s criteria, I don’t see how Mr. Neilsen’s freedom was abridged in any way.

I’m not certain if I understand you correctly; but, it appears to me you are comfortable with the idea that BYU professors are shielded by the concept of academic freedom to say and/or write anything that challenges “The Brethren” as “troubling, immoral, discriminatory, and based on fear and superstition” on any issue they deem fit. Here, you and I have a fundamental disagreement. This to me emasculates BYU and its educational mission, as well as the gospel principle that we should seek learning out of the best books, even by study and by faith.

Again, I agree with you that BYU is fundamentally different from most universities. It is the fundamental difference, that in my opinion makes BYU unique in the universe of universities. I’m afraid this is a big deal to some because they want to make BYU appear odd, strange, out of touch, and limiting the learning abilities of its student body. Again, I just don’t see it. But, reasonable minds will differ. Thanks for your ideas and comments.

23. J. Todd Ormsbee - 14 June 2006

To Michael Nielsen,

Wow, a great run-down of the issues on your blog, stated with more compassion and patience for the tensions at religious universities than I can muster. Being a BYU survivor, but also having taught at a Catholic university as an adjunct for a year, I’ve seen how religious institutions can really work to balance their missions in contrast with how BYU works actively to stifle inquiry.

24. Mike Kessler - 15 June 2006

nic, to respond to your comments on my comments:
“What makes a gay activist? A gay activist is one who openly pushes for gay rights, who advocates through print or internet, who contacts representatives, or tries to persuade other citizens to contact representatives to push for gay rights. That is an activist.”
nic, there are no such things as “gay rights.” What activists in the U.S. are pushing for are that gays and lesbians have the same rights in this country as every other American, not rights that are any different. So if you replace “gay rights” in your description with “equal rights applied equally to all Americans,” you would have a more accurate description. You would also describe an average American.

“How would it be against God’s plan to be something other than homosexual?” G-d made me who I am. G-d created me this way. I didn’t make me this way. Therefore, if I were to try to be something that G-d did not intend me to be, I would think it would be against G-d’s plan.

“did you choose out of your own free will to partake in homosexual activity?” First, that question is way, way out of line. Second, “partaking in homosexual activity” is not the sole, or even primary, defining characteristic of what is a homosexual, any more than a person can be called a heterosexual for engaging in sex with the opposite gender. There are plenty of celibate gays out there, but they are still gay. There are several organizations of men who are married to women and even have children but identify themselves as homosexual. It’s not about the sex. I’ve certainly met many men who solely and strongly identify themselves as heterosexual, and have families, but who frequently engage in sexual activity with men. Health agencies have come to refer to this as “MSM = Men who have Sex with Men.” It is distinct from the emotional, psychological and romantic feelings one has, feelings of wanting to spend eternity with someone. That is much more a defining characteristic of whether someone is either a heterosexual or homosexual.

On acting on one’s sexual desires: Again, being gay is not defined solely by sex. And I realize that many people believe that it is G-d’s plan that certain people have been created to be attracted to others of their own gender, and that G-d expects that these people must spend their entire lives never having a relationship in which they find emotional, romantic or sexual fulfillment of these desires they were born with. I don’t believe that at all, but that is my opinion and my personal understanding of G-d’s word. Others may vary.

You bring up pedophilia. It is a pathological illness in which a person feels compelled to prove their dominance over those who they feel are weaker of body and mind. It is a pathology that uses sex as a weapon. There are no romantic or emotional components to it. Pedophilia is akin to rape and both are characterized by having a victim who is unable to make a choice. Those who commit sexual crimes do not commit these acts in the hope to spend eternity with their victims. Whether the sexual criminal feels compelled to do this is of no consequence — and the fact that there is an unwilling victim is of great consequence which compels society to punish these crimes.

People do not choose their sexual identity, their eye color or skin color, and many other things. We can, if we choose, attempt to conceal any of these characteristics, but I believe they are all G-d given and therefore should be honored, not changed. There are some who have tried to “pass” as something they are not, but that, to me, is dishonest to G-d’s intention and to oneself.

25. mayan elephant - 15 June 2006

nic

you make a huge assumption – that the scriptures are the be all end all of science or any other topic.

the bible says nothing about speed limits, FIFO vs. LIFO, seismic retrofitting or hybrid cars. but, we still manage to learn something about those topics and make choices accordingly.

the scriptures you most likely use were written by a person that not only had sex with children, but coerced those children and their families. so wtf, i think its a good thing to dispense of those silly books and find something more meaningful.

the bible is full of whack sex. incest, homosexuality. the works. in fact, didnt a bunch of brothers pimp their sister out to a bunch of dudes, tell them to cut the skin off their cocks, and then, while the dudes were putting icebags on their daggers the brothers came along and killed them. i tell ya, there aint no business like “ho” business in those scriptures.

so, to answer your question. the proof that god created gays as they are is simple: gays are what they are, and it is natural for them. so IF you believe in a creator and that he is not a failure, you have your proof.

i asked god about gay marriage on my way to work today. he said it was great. he approves. he told me personally. i can prove it too – i felt great about the answer.

admittedly, he didnt tell gordon or boyd to relay the message, because they are crazy, gordon is having some serious life regrets right now about his role in a few deaths. he feels terrible, so god just answered my question directly and said i was right.

Now, more directly. you gotta stop this crap about looking for answers to moral questions in old fiction books.

Morality is in the here and now. consider your world and life as it is right now. do you want to share the planet with suppressed people, if so, by all means, suppress the hell out of others if that makes you feel better.

do you need to feel superior, elite and special by belonging to a group that says you are superior, elite and special? if so, you seem to have found that place.

if you want to be surrounded by compassionate people that love others and seek equality for all, keep shopping.

if you want to expand your brain and thoughts to allow for greater understanding of your neighbors, family and self, then start looking into solid information that is not tainted with myth and fiction.

do you want the world to be a better place for all people? if so, stop hating others, allow them the freedom to worship the almighty god according to the dictates of their own conscience. after all, they may worship a god, with their dictated conscience, that allow for people to live and love and share survivor rights, children, homes and wills.

and specifically to mormons – they are a statistical zero on this planet. more, they are a statistical nonevent in history. so a few thousand go to church. so what, the world is much bigger than that church. figure out what makes the world tick, outside of utah county. its a grand place, with fine people, including people that dont appreciate your alignment of pedophiles and homosexuals.

if you cant rest that association, then, by all means, just STFU.

26. J. Todd Ormsbee - 15 June 2006

Hey Guy,

Thanks for returning to my blog. I appreciate your well-reasonsed and thoughtful engagement, even if we often disagree. first, I know the person who obtained Nielsen’s letter and I trust its provenance, but until it’s published somewhere, I won’t have a citation for you. I’ll put it up as soon as I get it.

We come at this particular topic with completely different assumptions about what a “search for truth” would mean and why a professor’s ability to speak out about political, moral, and scientific issues is paramount to their ability to be good teachers and researchers. But I think the dialogue is useful for both of us.

I will use your numbering system from the AAUP:

1-I agree this is probably not relevant in Nielsen’s case.

2-however, I think this point is of utmost relevance. Nielsen revealed in his response letter that he had censored himself in the classroom. This was so as not to offend the sensibilities of the students or challenge their testimonies and most likely to keep his job. When I was at BYU 15 years ago, I had teachers who would constantly edit themselves (i was in the humanities and social sciences). This is, on its face, bad for education.

Nielsen points out the effect, and I agree, that in such an environment, the search for truth cannot move forward in any sort of meaningful way, because the outcomes are determined from the beginning, in this case, by the “brethren” and by the dominant Mormon culture at BYU (which is, you’ll admit, quite a bit more intense than mormon culture outside of BYU).

That is the absolute worst and most basic mistake that any researcher can make methodologically, in any field, to know in advance what you will find. It warps and distorts the research process and produces faulty results. That is the inverse of what a university should be teaching its students, which is to question, reflect, critique, and evaluate ideas. That process is damaged from the beginning if you tell the students what their conclusions have to be before they begin.

3-I simply disagree with you here. I think Nielsen’s brief Op-Ed piece went above and beyond his ethical responsibility. He bent over backwards to be respectful in expressing a dissenting opinion. I don’t know your heart or mind (we’ve only recently begun exchanging ideas), but I find often in Mormon culture a deep aversion to disagreement and argument; when someone disagrees, it is read as “contention” and judged unethical. However, that is simply an untenable position both academically and democratically. For truth to advance, we must be free to disagree and doing so is not unethical. In fact, I would argue the opposite, that not to disagree is unethical as it violates the common good and forecloses the search for truth.

I doubt that Nielsen insisted BYU be in his by-line. Rather, journalism requires thorough citation, and that’s his affiliation. It is highly problematic ethical position to state that a BYU professor (adjunct or permanent) can only speak as a BYU professor if he is toe-ing the LDS line. I would also argue that BYU’s reputation is improved when BYU professors are free to think, express, research, and speak openly even when it disagrees with the church. This freedom is one of the reasons why Jesuit universities have such high reputations. The church is highly active in the personal, religious lives of the students; but is hands-off in the classroom.

Notre Dame’s current controversy about a gay student group is a much better model for how a religious insitution can work. Although I think ND has refused to allow such a group on campus, you’ll notice that the president and university students had arguments and dialogues about it; you’ll also notice that professors at ND regularly publish and speak and research about gay and lesbian issues, without consequence to their jobs.

It is difficult to balance the religious and the academic misssions of a church-funded university, but there are better and worse ways to do so. BYU exercises a virtual dictatorial control over the thought and expression of its academics, which is detrimental to its mission as a university. (I would also argue that it ultimately damaging to the Mormon church, but that is based on my own ethical views of what a church should be, which is separate from our current topic.)

It is difficult for me to see how allowing professors to examine and critique the political positions of the church hampers (“emasculates”) BYU’s academic mission. I’m frankly baffled by your argument there, because I just don’t see how allowing freedom of speech could ever be harmful to the pursuit of truth.

Do please realize that “learning from the best books” is a highly subjective proposition, and that BYU chooses it’s “best books” based on a very limited and limiting criteria. Again, this impedes professors from teaching materials that students should. I had a professor who actually had alternate books for students who were “offended” by the books he’d chosen–this was in 1993 and he was obviously in fear of his life, but still wanted to expose those of us open to it to the real literature and ideas that we should be reading as college students. Determining what the “best books” are is part of the open dialogue a university should be having, and those books and ideas will change and move over time with the ongoing dialogue among professors and experts in their respective fields.

You should check out Michael Nielsen’s blog (no relation to Jeffrey Nielsen). He’s a professor of psychology of religion and has recently been posting a lot about the relationship between religion and universities. He’s an expert in this field, and I’m just speaking from my own values and experiences as a professor.

27. Anonymous - 15 June 2006

mayan elephant,

marry me.

lol

28. Ryan Kade - 15 June 2006

Todd,

One quick comment on this statement:

“I have also argued that degrees from BYU should be suspect and not accepted by businesses or other institutions of higher learning, as the education received by students at BYU is compromised by the intrusions of a religious authority.”

I find that to be an interesting if not amusing comment considering that BYU is a legitmately accredited university. I don’t make judgments about the validity of degrees from CU based on how the administration handles Ward Churchill, or South Florida based on how they handled Sami Al-Arian.

As someone who has attended classes at both BYU and other state schools, I can attest to students receiving adequate if not excellent educations–a fact further attested to by the excellence of BYU students’ performances after graduation in the “real world.”

Your desire to cast aspersions on a BYU degree (yes, I have one) based on this incident (and others like it) is perplexing and inconsistent.

29. Trevor - 15 June 2006

Thanks for posting Nielsen’s response here. Haven’t seen your blog until now; so far, so good.

You’re right to point out his precarious position as an adjunct makes him an even easier target. I discuss this point at my own blog.

Thanks again.

30. J. Todd Ormsbee - 15 June 2006

Hi Ryan, and welcome.

I do actually believe that degrees from institutions that put intense pressure on faculty and students to arrive at pre-determined conclusions should be worth less than degrees from institutions that encourage and foster open, critical, and even confrontations discussions about morality, politics, science, and truth. BYU’s accreditation is, you are correct, not in danger. Accreditation agencies only assess general curriculum, not the learning environment on campus. For me (I am an egghead, adimittedly), the economic or market success of BYU graduates is not evidence of a superior or even adequate education. The labor market has completely different criteria for evaluating education, and those criteria are not things such as questioning valued social structures, like, say, the economy.

I don’t know what your major was, but if you got a degree from BYU in, say, business, then of course you got an excellent education. The focus of the administration is on the humanities and social sciences.

Nielsen losing his job is the latest in a long string of faculty members who have been censured, silenced, and fired since 1993. My assessment is based on a 15 year old pattern at BYU, academic freedom violations and and sanctions from the AAUP, and more than anything the general learning environment on campus, which is antithetical to the goals of a unversity.

Finally, just to be clear, I also did my undergraduate at BYU. And it is one of the biggest regrets in my life.

Incidentally, the Ward Churchill affair at CU is actually a fantastic example of how universities really should work. There was a council of his peers who evaluated his research and the actions of the administration and took action based on their conclusions. While it has been an embarassment to CU that they allowed these problems to persist for so long, the outcome has been a model of how a university should function: That has been an open, transparent process of evaluation, based on widely accepted standards of tenure, academic integrity, and research evaluation.

31. Mike Kessler - 15 June 2006

mayan elephant,

I wish I could write like you. I wish I’d written what you wrote. You rock!

32. Ryan Kade - 15 June 2006

It is inconsistent to say on the one hand that “degrees from BYU should be suspect and not accepted by businesses” and on the other hand claim that “the economic or market success of BYU graduates is not evidence of a superior or even adequate education.” If you insist on dismissing a graduate’s post-university success as it relates to his education, then you cannot in the same breath recommend a business use that education as a benchmark for determining his performance potential.

By the way, I do not put forward this example as empirically ironclad evidence, but what we’re talking about is subjective anyway. I know plenty of businesses who enjoy hiring BYU graduates based on previously positive experiences, and in my chosen field (computer science) I’ve not found my education to be materially different from or inferior to my colleagues who graduated from other comparable institutions. This is not to say, of course, that all BYU programs are created equal. But neither are the programs at just about any university you can name.

Your other assertion about the nature of the campus learning environment is similarly bizarre. Whose standard of “open, critical, and even confrontational” are we going to use, anyway? The AAUP? Please. I could likely find 100 stories from 100 different conservative students attending liberal-leaning institutions that would cast a shadow on how “open” such institutions really are. Accreditation is appropriately limited to curriculum, and not left to someone’s subjective viewpoint of what they think the learning experience should encompass. The facts of math and physics that I was required to learn for my degree did not change simply because they were taught by an LDS professor with so-called “pre-determined conclusions” about social issues. In Nielsen’s case (psychology) the facts of the discipline may be slightly less well-defined, but that need not diminish the value of the education.

I am truly sorry you do not value your BYU education. Fortunately for me, I have not encountered businesses or institutions of higher learning in my years since graduating that espouse your perplexing and condesceding view of a BYU degree.

33. pARIS hILTON - 15 June 2006

This post has been removed by the author.

34. J. Todd Ormsbee - 15 June 2006

Hey Ryan,

You and I simply have radically different values when it comes to judging a university education, and so there may be no way to have this conversation. My evaluation of BYU is neither bizarre nor nonsensical; but it is based on a vision of what a university education is supposed to be, a vision you do not share. Because you don’t share that value, my arguments make no sense to you.

It actually might be helpful, if we continue talking, for you to lay out what you think a good university education is supposed to be. Then we could move our conversation in a direction where i could at least address your concerns understanding the values behind your critiques.

It makes complete sense to me that in computer science and in the hi-tech world you have encountered no problems with your degree or education. When was the last time a computer science professor had occasion to teach about gender, race, sexuality, or evolution in class (the issue that seem to cause BYU’s administration the most angst)?

You are right that I’m being inconsistent with my previous statement about a BYU degree and the business world. Let me try to restate my position vis-a-vis business and the market position of degrees a bit more clearly: I am making a *normative* statement about the way the labor market *should* be, rather than an observation about how it *is*. For example, I find it disturbing that a BYU degree (or an ORU or Liberty University degree, for that matter) hold the same market value as a degree from a university that fosters free and open debate.

But I will concede that in a field like business or computer science, it probably doesn’t matter if a worker’s education was at a university without academic freedom; but even that makes me uncomfortable, becasue a computer scientist should still be educated in such a way to participate fully and intelligently in a democracy, knowing how to argue, the rules of evidence, the structures of arguments, etc. Again, it is completely sensible to me that in your computer science classes you would have never had to experience this, because, seriously, when was the last time Russel Nelson flew to Washington to lobby for a bill about computer chips or perl programming?

Free and open is not entirely subjective, but you are right that it is a value-based project. That means that there is an ongoing debate within higher education about what institutions should look like and how they should conduct affairs to maximize student and faculty freedom of conscience and inquiry. This has been on-going since the early religious universities during colonial times. The fact that it is a value argument does not mean that it can be dismissed out of hand. We have 300 years of experience under our belts as a nation upon which we are drawing those conclusions.

Regardless, you can see and evaluate an institution’s general openness and freedom in the actual practices of a university. And you can observe and measure the effect that a university’s practices have on its students and faculty. While in computer science, this may all be academic, in the humanities and social sciences, the chilling affect at BYU is palpable, from French, to Anthropology, from Film Studies to “family sciences.”

Regardless, the way you figure it out is to make your arguments for what exactly constitutes academic freedom (open, free discourse) and then evaluate the practices of the university in question: Does the university allow dialogues to happen or does it squelch them? Does it punish professors or students for their beliefs?

These are measurable and observable practices at BYU, and their affect is felt by any professor who has to even THINK about what s/he will do/say based on their job security or the whining of BYU students who don’t like their “testimony” challenged.

There is no way you can parse BYU’s environment as in anyway resembling a space of free inquiry.

It is a favorite bugaboo of the current iteration of the culture wars, a la David Horowitz, to bemoan the persecution of conservative students on campus. I cannot speak with any certainty, here, but my experience teaching at five different universities is that faculty usually bend over backwards to accomodate conservative points of view because they are hyper senstive to their position of power within the institution. I have found that conservative students (and conservatives in general) do not like to have their ideas examined or critiqued at all, and that any such close scrutiny of their ideas is interpreted as a violation of their rights in some way. This is the peculiar way that the right-wing has coopted some of the more irritating aspects of postmodernism for its own ends. As I’ve mentioned earlier today, the purpose of the university classroom is to seek out truth; it is my responsibility in the classroom to challenge students thinkings and ideas and force them to make arguments supporting their positions. All ideas are not equal, and faulty or false ideas will be challenged, in order to teach students how to actually conduct a rigorous search for truth.

35. J. Todd Ormsbee - 15 June 2006

Uh, Paris, although I’m no longer a member of the Mormon church, you’re talking about the religion and culture of my family and ancestors, so a little respect would be appreciated.

You are right to criticize the thought control on BYU campus, but hurling the “cult” epithet is just irritating, inaccurate, and unnecessary. Religions writ large seek to exert control over the beliefs of their adherents. In that regard, BYU is on par with most evangelical christian universities around the country.

36. Ryan Kade - 15 June 2006

I appreciate your comments, Todd. As you suggest, I agree that a degree in a “hard” science (math, phyics, etc.) is different than a degree in a social science. You are also right that I do not deal directly with gender/race/etc. issues in my profession, nor did my professors spend time on those topics. However, I do not remember you making that distinction in the original comment with which I took issue.

And though I’d be happy to confine our conversation to just the social sciences, you don’t seem to be able to do so. In the same breath acknowledging the small relevance of these things to my education, you insist on suggesting that because BYU is ostensibly a university “without academic freedom” (more on that in a moment), that my education was deficient in teaching me how to “participate fully and intelligently in a democracy, knowing how to argue, the rules of evidence, the structures of arguments, etc.” Remarkable, isn’t it, that my education was presumably deficient in these areas and yet somehow I can hold this discussion with you? More broadly, a BYU education has produced many effective participants in democracy and society–lawyers, businessmen, scientists, writers, musicians–evidence which you conveniently dismiss because in your view, the labor market’s standard of excellence is inapplicable in evaluating an education.

I am not dismissing your value-based concerns out of hand. I point out the subjective nature of the topic only to highlight how difficult it really is to make a value judgment about a BYU education, especially when said judgment is predicated on perceived social injustice. The fact that so many graduates are so exceptionally successful in applying their university-acquired knowledge (at least one of the purposes of a university education) is a strong argument in my mind that the education has been a success too. Why else do universities tout the achievements of alumni, both academic and otherwise?

To this repeated charge of academic oppression: don’t be silly. Every university has its limits on what types of academic discussions it finds appropriate and acceptable. BYU’s is likely narrower than most on certain hot topics of the day. That does not logically lead to a de facto conclusion that its students are unprepared (or underprepared) for meaningful contribution in society, which was essentially the thesis of your statement, lest we lose sight of my original complaint. BYU fosters plenty of open debate on a whole host of topics. I reject the idea that my education is substandard because we didn’t argue about the origin and meaning of homosexuality in any of my classes.

Further, the process that you find ideal, I find laughable. Ward Churchill should’ve been canned the day his first reprehensible philosophies were made public, not years later after some lengthly peer-review process. His case is an example of what is wrong with academia today.

A footnote: I have no interest in getting into a conservative/liberal debate about university environments. I brought it up only to illustrate the stark difference in perceptions about what is open and what is not.

37. Anonymous - 15 June 2006

“open, critical, and even confrontational”

I believe it’s much easier to toss these words around than to apply them. I am reminded that the president(?) of Harvard was in trouble a while back for suggesting research regarding the question of whether any difference exists between the [typical] female and male brain that makes women less drawn toward the fields of math and science. He was attacked in the name of “open, critical, and even confrontational” academia for asking a question that is not only legitimate, but also obvious, however politically incorrect.

That said, I am both disgusted and embarrassed by my alma mater’s treatment of Mr. Nielson. Although the engineering education I received at BYU was of a high caliber, I would choose to study elsewhere, given the opportunity to turn back time.

And for the record: yes, I grew up in a strong LDS family; yes, I am gay; and yes, I choose to act on my sexual attraction, because I believe it is my divine right!

38. J. Todd Ormsbee - 15 June 2006

Hey Anon,

A few things. First and foremost, welcome. Hope to hear more from you, and please if you feel up to it, sign your name to your comments.

Second, there’s a profound misunderstanding in your description of the Harvard U Pres. Having people engage you in an argument after you make a public statement about something is NOT AN ABRIDGEMETN OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM. In fact, it is exactly what it supposed to happen. The past year and a half since his speech have produced some great debates and some great progress in our understanding of women in the academy. He did not lose his job over it; he was criticized and people started talking about research, evidence, and facts. Again, this is that weird dramatic misapprehension that so many conservatives in American have that somehow having freedom of speech (or academic freedom) means that you can say whatever you want, but that no one can talk back to you. That is, frankly, precisely wrong and indeed counter the whole reason we want these freedoms in the first place.

[The Harvard Prez did recently lose his job; however, this was over radical changes he wanted to make to the Harvard undergraduate curriculum. In this case, again, the issues were debated in the academic senate and on campus for over a year before the board decided to replace him when he refused to compromise or incorporate faculty feedback on the curriculum redesign. That is free speech and academic freedom in action, where the validity of claims is evaluated by peers and fellow experts.]

Third, the gender differences between men and women’s cognition is anything but obvious, and in fact, there is a whole branch of cognitive psychology devoted to studying it. There appears, given the present research, to be no innate explanation whatsoever for girls and boys differential achievement in math and science. (See my blog post about Gender on PBS a few weeks ago for a brief rundown of these kinds of debates.) The fact that you think it’s obvious and the fact that the president of Harvard could provoke such a debate points to both the need for such an ongoing debate and the good that comes from having free, uninhibited speech.

There was also a great edition of Science Friday last december with a panel of cognitive psychologists. ODdly, the show was billed as talking about the innate differences, but then all the experts said the exact opposite. You should give it a listen if you’re interested in an introduction to this vast field of study:

http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2005/Dec/hour1_120205.html

39. J. Todd Ormsbee - 15 June 2006

P.S. That URL I just posted looks like it’s cut off, but it’s actually all there. Just triple click and cut and paste and it should work. Cheers.

40. Anonymous - 15 June 2006

Read my blog again: ‘Tis not “the gender differences between men and women’s cognition” that is obvious, but rather, the question regarding whether there is any brain difference that contributes to the “differential achievement in math and science.” (Mind you, the answer is not obvious–the question is.)

And if you dig up contemporary reports regarding the Prez’ comment, I believe you will find that an organization of Harvard faculty members immediately called for his resignation, and indeed, his job appeared to be in danger for some weeks.

But I digress: Shame on “The Lord’s University” for attempting to extinguish thoughtful discussion among the university community, on or off campus!

41. mattblack - 15 June 2006

Todd-
I’ve been following with interest the discussion between you and Ryan. Like Ryan, I found it odd that you’ve taken such a hard line on devaluing degrees from BYU. While I agree with most if not all of your critiques of the academic culture at BYU I disagree that those institutional failings should necessarily follow a student that attended the institution throughout his/her career, particularly if that student shows evidence that he/she does not share such failings.
Being at a university where such conflicts play out is not without it’s benefits. In some ways, I feel forunate to have been on what I consider to be the front lines of the culture war. Though I would have preferred a more open environment for my studies, my time at BYU certainly gave me unique and valuable insights into issues that continue to grip the nation.

42. Tom - 15 June 2006

Nicolae –

“Being something does not remove our ability to choose to act on something.”

This free agency thing does not have sharply-defined edges. I refer you to Dallin Oaks:

“Just as some people have different feelings than others, some people seem to be unusually susceptible to particular actions, reactions, or addictions. Perhaps such susceptibilities are inborn or acquired without personal choice or fault, like the unnamed ailment the Apostle Paul called “a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Cor. 12:7). One person may have feelings that draw him toward gambling, but unlike those who only dabble, he becomes a compulsive gambler. Another person may have a taste for tobacco and a susceptibility to its addiction. Still another may have an unusual attraction to alcohol and the vulnerability to be readily propelled into alcoholism. Other examples may include a hot temper, a contentious manner, a covetous attitude, and so on.”

I’m not sure how he’s using “inborn” here exactly. Does he mean the spirit children in the pre-existence have these vulnerabilities?

But putting that aside, apparently people are more or less susceptible to different types of behavior. Oaks only calls out behaviors that are seen almost exclusively as negative. Surely, positive aspects of character — generosity, compassion, tolerance — are inborn, as well, wouldn’t you agree?

Thus, there is a scale of acceptability of these “inborn” traits that lead to “good” or “bad” behaviors. Isn’t having a “covetous attitude” a little lower in the pantheon of sins than alcoholism or compulsive gambling?

There is also clearly a scale of proclivity in Oaks’s mind: some simply “dabble” in gambling or tobacco, others become addicted.

The prime question though, is when does free agency enter into all this? The analogy that I think explains the conundrum best is handedness.

Like sexuality, it is possible for a left-handed person to choose not to use their dominant hand. But for the vast majority, these efforts will feel wrong, uncomfortable, ineffective – and virtually impossible to maintain. Attempts to “cure” left-handedness have been tried over the centuries, but they have almost always resulted in great harm being done to a child’s development.

Interestingly, no one knows for certain what causes left-handedness, either. It is believed there is a strong genetic component, but conditions during pregnancy may be a contributing factor. Regardless, we are as tied to our sexuality as we are to which hand we use to write or throw a ball.

Would we dream of firing a person because she is left-handed? Would a mother cry from shame and embarrassment upon learning that her beloved child was more comfortable using the left hand to write or lift a fork? Would children taunt a boy on the playground shooting hoops with his left hand? Would we deny the joys of married life to two left-handers who wanted to wed? Of course not. And yet all this – and far worse – happens every day to gay men and women, simply because our minds are wired in a slightly different way than the majority of people, and that compels us to express ourselves physically in a different way.

Fortunately, we no longer persecute left-handed people. We don’t try to reform them or change the way they relate to the world, even though that way of relating is radically different than the way the vast majority of people do. Left-handedness is one of the many variances (affecting something less than 10% of the population) that adds diversity and contributes to the wonder of creation. Perhaps in a generation or two we can say the same about sexuality.

The marriage equality gay people seek is CIVIL equality. It’s about a legal contract, not a spiritual bond. Marriage has a religious aspect, and the different forms that takes must be respected and tolerated. Polygamy, for instance. If churches in southern Utah and northern Arizona want to say God recognizes and approves of those unions, I can tolerate that. (If all parties are truly entering the unions willingly.)

But on a civil level, tolerance is not required, EQUALITY is. All must be equal under the law.

43. J. Todd Ormsbee - 15 June 2006

Hey Matt,

I hadn’t really thought of my position as being particularly hardline, but obviously it is reading that way. I’m just trying to argue that a degree from an institution that disallows free inquiry is not of equal value as a degree from an institution that does.

Obviously I don’t wish ill on the kids who go there, and I also know that people can learn and grow inspite of their environment. And I also believe that I learned a lot from surviving that environment.

I suppose my position on this issue comes a bit from my own idealism about what a university should be and what a university education should mean and should be worth. I’m also probably particularly sensitive to the issue of academic quality, given the issues that I have been dealing with in the CSU since I was hired (which aren’t really about academic freedom, but are centered on the fundamental questions of what a university education should be).

44. J. Todd Ormsbee - 15 June 2006

Anon,

Thanks for the clarification and sorry I misunderstood your comment.

Yes, there were people who called for Harvard prez’ resignation, and you should know that they were widely ridiculed, for precisely the reasons we’ve been discussing. The Chronicle of Higher Education basically harumphed at them and then went on to have the rigorous debates about gendered cognition.

Whenever anyone says something controversial, there are always individuals (left and right of the political spectrum) calling for their beheading. But nearly always in academic settings, those calls die down and the debate begins. (There are from time to time exceptions and some witch hunts, but they are rare, and people rarely lose their jobs–I’m thinking for example of the vicious backlash against Edward O. Wilson’s “Sociobiology” in the 1970s–and institutions and academia as a whole usually learn from those moments.)

My major point was simply that the debate and the dialogue and the rigorous vetting of ideas is precisely the point, and so the furor that arose after Harvard Prez (what the hell is his name for god’s sake?) was GOOD and the very reason why academic freedom is important. He needed to be free to say what he said, and professors and students needed to be free to argue back.

Anyway, yeah, BYU continues to control the academic pursuits of its students and faculty in ways that are detrimental to its mission as a university.

45. nicolaepadigone - 16 June 2006

Tom,

“Like sexuality, it is possible for a left-handed person to choose not to use their dominant hand. But for the vast majority, these efforts will feel wrong, uncomfortable, ineffective – and virtually impossible to maintain. Attempts to “cure” left-handedness have been tried over the centuries, but they have almost always resulted in great harm being done to a child’s development. ”

I was born in Romania during Communist times, (not the bastion of freedom for left-handed writers). I’m sorry to say but I write right-handed with no trouble at all, because they taught me to write right-handed. I do all other things left handed, but write. Yet, I do not feel any compulsion to bring the pen to my left hand. There is a world of difference between left-right habits and sexual activity.

One thing that I’ve been discussing on my blog is something I wish to know more about.

a reader had mentioned that gays have attempted to not “be gay” and had zero results. They’ve attempted to not be sexually active with members of the same sex, and have failed. I’m very curious about this, because, see, gays say their lifestyle is normal, and moreover, that God created them this way.

But, here’s the problem. Millions of heterosexuals abstain from sexual activity before marriage, and, not only do they handle it just fine, they actually are more enriched, and less addicted to their sexual desires when doing so. Moreover, there are plenty of examples of heterosexual men and women who abstain from sexual activity for their entire lives (I don’t personally recommend this, but just saying it is true).

So, here’s the question: If gays claim they are “normal”, just like heterosexuals, created by God the way they are, why can they not control their urges? Why can they not bridle their passions, their desires? Why have they, as one of my readers said, a zero result rate at not being active homosexually?

I’m going to research this more, but something is not “normal” here if this is the case.

46. Anonymous - 16 June 2006

“So, here’s the question: If gays claim they are “normal”, just like heterosexuals, created by God the way they are, why can they not control their urges? Why can they not bridle their passions, their desires? Why have they, as one of my readers said, a zero result rate at not being active homosexually?

I’m going to research this more, but something is not “normal” here if this is the case.”

I don’t know where you got this information but it simply is not true. Gay people vary as much as straight people and many are as able to abstain as straights are. My last relationship ended in 1994. Since then I have been celebate, simply because I do not choose to have sex outside of a loving relationship, and I have not met anyone yet that I want to partner with.

Please be wary of painting all of us gay folks with one brush.

47. nicolaepadigone - 16 June 2006

anonymous,

“I don’t know where you got this information but it simply is not true. Gay people vary as much as straight people and many are as able to abstain as straights are. My last relationship ended in 1994. Since then I have been celebate, simply because I do not choose to have sex outside of a loving relationship, and I have not met anyone yet that I want to partner with.”

I didn’t come up with it. This is what gays keep telling me. They keep saying that they cannot be celibate, that they have to be active.

48. Tom - 16 June 2006

“I was born in Romania during Communist times, (not the bastion of freedom for left-handed writers). I’m sorry to say but I write right-handed with no trouble at all, because they taught me to write right-handed. I do all other things left handed, but write. Yet, I do not feel any compulsion to bring the pen to my left hand. There is a world of difference between left-right habits and sexual activity.”

It’s obviously possible to overwhelm the brain and force it to behave in an unnatural way. At least for you. Interestingly, I would think that with your experience, you might have MORE compassion for gay people being told they must try to alter their sexuality. Are you thankful your behavior was modified by the state? Did you enjoy it at the time? Have you ever considered that you might be better off if you had been allowed to develop naturally? Was is the right thing for the Romanian authorities to have done?

Obviously, many gay people are also able to “control” or hide their sexuality for many years, often a lifetime. You also state that many people refrain from sexual activity before marriage and others are celibate. Yet you make the (to me) ludicrous point that gay people should have either a completely celibate life or a life where they alter their natural desires and never have physical contact of the type that feels joyous and transporting to them

But the most important point — one you did not address — is that of the differences between civil and religious marriage.

Mormons believe many things are wrong that are allowed under civil law — consumption of alcohol or coffee…masturbation. Some Baptists believe dancing is sinful. Christian Scientists would say there’s no need for a medical system.

Obviously, none of us would want the strictures of another’s religious beliefs forced upon us. You might greatly enjoy dancing, and are probably quite thankful for the medical expertise that likely was on hand at your daughter’s birth.

Yet, here you are, wanting to compel others to live under strictures that are solely religious in nature.

We’re not asking the Church to throw the doors of the temple open to same-sex unions — all we’re asking is that all people be allowed equal access to entering into the CIVIL contract of marriage.

Why should that not be the case? Why should there be this inequality?

49. Tom - 16 June 2006

“This is what gays keep telling me. They keep saying that they cannot be celibate, that they have to be active.”

Why should we have to be? Because your idea of God says only heterosexuals can express themselves sexually? Sorry –you’re going to have to do better than that.

Also, have you talked to ALL the gays? How many celibate STRAIGHT people do you know? Who are celibate by choice and plan to be celibate for the rest of their lives?

50. nicolaepadigone - 16 June 2006

Tom,

“Interestingly, I would think that with your experience, you might have MORE compassion for gay people being told they must try to alter their sexuality.”

first off, slightly off the topic, I appreciate that you didn’t call me a homophobe yet. While I do believe homosexuality is unnatural and sinful, I hold no ill will or hatred, or bigotry towards gays. I’ve worked with them and have a few gay friends. My former boss is gay, and he is one of the friendliest men I’ve ever known.

Now to your questions:

“Are you thankful your behavior was modified by the state? Did you enjoy it at the time? Have you ever considered that you might be better off if you had been allowed to develop naturally? Was is the right thing for the Romanian authorities to have done?”

I actually am not bothered in the least bit. I used to think it would have been cool to be left handed (part of my rebel side that doesn’t like conformity), but have dropped that desire because it honestly is not important. Honestly, it was probably the right thing for the Romanian government to do. There are so many things that we teach our children to do that are unnatural. Take for example potty training. If we go by the natural world, we should be able to defecate and urinate at first inclination. But we don’t. We train them to hold it in until the proper time.

Take the issue of anger. Is anger right? I feel it naturally sometimes. Should I be acting out on it? After all, it is natural. Why is it that we teach and alter ourselves in regards to anger? Just because someone has a natural inclination, identifies himself by his anger, does not mean that anger is right. Almost always, that anger is wrong.

“Yet you make the (to me) ludicrous point that gay people should have either a completely celibate life or a life where they alter their natural desires and never have physical contact of the type that feels joyous and transporting to them”

Tom, please don’t take this wrong, but sometimes that’s just how it is. Life’s tough. I think many Americans take for granted that they live in such a comfortable life, that they forget just how unfair life is sometimes.

“Obviously, none of us would want the strictures of another’s religious beliefs forced upon us”

You are most certainly correct. and my church has certainly experienced that back in the days of polygamy. Other Christian religions forced Congress to pass laws against my religion. I totally empathize with what gays are going through politically.

Personally I wish to see marriage no longer a state function. My personal belief is that marriage should be handled only by religions (this way there are plenty of religions to cover all walks of life in America, including atheists).

“We’re not asking the Church to throw the doors of the temple open to same-sex unions — all we’re asking is that all people be allowed equal access to entering into the CIVIL contract of marriage.”

You are right, this is not being asked of right now, but the slippery slope to asking exactly that will get even more slippery.

“Why should we have to be? Because your idea of God says only heterosexuals can express themselves sexually? Sorry –you’re going to have to do better than that.”

Can you show me where God says homosexuals can express themselves sexually?

“Also, have you talked to ALL the gays? How many celibate STRAIGHT people do you know? Who are celibate by choice and plan to be celibate for the rest of their lives?”

no, you are right, i have not talked to all gays. there are too many of them. I know a few celibate straight people. They are all celibate by choice.

Tom,

perhaps you can answer the questions that Mr. Ormsbee refuses to answer (he’s avoiding me completely now).

1. Gays believe that God created them as such.

Where is their proof of this? What scriptural references can they show of this? Take any from any religion. I’ll take all references, even the stretched ones (ex. God created nature and in all species there are gay animals). See, if we are ever to find common ground between “religionists” and “gay rights” then we’re going to need the scriptural references.

2. God says a great deal of things regarding marriage between a man and a woman in scripture. What does God say about gay relationships?

51. J. Todd Ormsbee - 16 June 2006

Nic, the fundamental question that you still have not answered is WHY SHOULD a gay person try to conform to hetero norms? There are no compelling reasons whatsoever. Whether it’s a choice or biological, there are simply no good reasons why I should not love and have sex with men. It harms no one and it’s between consenting adults.

In any case, this conversation has flown way off the topic of Prof. Nielsen. You may want to move it over to the homosexuality and morality thread or the biology and homosexuality thread. I’m glad that you have found a place to air and try out your ideas, but it seems clear that you simply believe that homosexuality is immoral and a choice and legitimately foreclosed in the public sphere. Given your intractability, I wonder at the utility of continuing the discussion at all?

Todd

52. J. Todd Ormsbee - 16 June 2006

Hey Ryan,

You may be interested to read my latest post in the main blog about the meaning of University education. You will be pleased to see that you made me stop and moderate my position somewhat.

Cheers

Todd

53. Tom - 16 June 2006

Nicolae –

“I used to think it would have been cool to be left handed”

According to your previous post, you ARE left-handed, except when it comes to handwriting.

“Honestly, it was probably the right thing for the Romanian government to do. There are so many things that we teach our children to do that are unnatural.”

You’re kidding, right? You think the Ceaucescu (sp?)regime was RIGHT to force you into unnatural behavior? Then to conflate this with potty training? Ridiculous — the two behaviors are not comparable. Are you saying that left-handedness is wrong? That ALL children should be forced to learn to use their right hands, regardless of what feels comfortable to them?

“sometimes that’s just how it is. Life’s tough. I think many Americans take for granted that they live in such a comfortable life, that they forget just how unfair life is sometimes.”

My first response is anger — to say “#$% you!” But I’m civilized. So instead, I’ll say: if we were talking about behavior that negatively affected others but felt compelling to me (pedophilia, kleptomania), I’d say you had a point. We do have to limit some of our behaviors to function in civilization. But why is homosexual activity one of them? (And don’t give me the “it’s sinful” argument — we’re talking civil life here, not religious.)

In terms of your questions about theological references to homosexuality, I am an atheist, so those questions matter not a whit to me. I am concerned here soley with civil liberty.

So my question in response to you (since you can comfortably choose to be a believer and I can comfortably choose to be a non-believer but neither of us can comfortably choose to live outside a civil society), what is the compelling states interest to deny equal civil marriage rights?

54. nicolaepadigone - 16 June 2006

Todd,

“Nic, the fundamental question that you still have not answered is WHY SHOULD a gay person try to conform to hetero norms? There are no compelling reasons whatsoever. Whether it’s a choice or biological, there are simply no good reasons why I should not love and have sex with men. It harms no one and it’s between consenting adults.”

Physiologically speaking, what is the purpose of a penis? What is the purpose of a vagina? What is the purpose of an anus? These questions need a clear anwer it seems.

You make a big fuss about “harm.” Tell me this, if a man gets sexually active with another man, just what does that entail sexually? There is no vagina involved, so where does a man go? Into the anus. Tell me, naturally speaking, without any protection, just how harmful is this to either of the two men? If it is natural, i.e. God created it to be as thus, is there really any harm to either individual? What is the level of “harm” that could happen between two sexually active men in comparison to a heterosexual couple? (controlling for outside sexual activity, let’s say both couples were monogamous all their lives). What is the proportion of other STDs in comparison between gay men and heterosexual couples?

I specifically asked about monogamous relationships because you can more easily control for other factors. If you take a heterosexual couple that has been sexually active before their union, they will probably be at a higher risk of STDs, just like homosexual couples. The point here is to show that naturally speaking, one has a far greater preponderance of diseases than the other.

The reason I bring this up is because nature is great at getting things right most of the time. God designed this world of ours to work, and to work right. When things do not work right, whether out of a flaw in the biology, or out of choice, there is a higher showing of negative consequences, such as disease and death. This seems to show that it really is more of an aberration, even biologically, and not the actual creation God made.

55. nicolaepadigone - 16 June 2006

Tom,

“According to your previous post, you ARE left-handed, except when it comes to handwriting.”

I was referring to writing left-handed.

“We do have to limit some of our behaviors to function in civilization. But why is homosexual activity one of them?”

I guess you are not aware of the health risks involved with sexual activity among homosexuals, eh? And I’m not even referring to just HIV (though that did come into the human world first through gays). Just in my post now in response to Mr. Ormsbee, I talked about the issue of diseases. What is the proportion of sexual diseases among homosexuals compared to heterosexuals? For the protection of the society as a whole, yes there would be very valid reasons to try and curtail homosexual activity.

“In terms of your questions about theological references to homosexuality, I am an atheist, so those questions matter not a whit to me. I am concerned here soley with civil liberty.”

Fair enough. But you probably do realize that all laws govern some form of morality.

“So my question in response to you (since you can comfortably choose to be a believer and I can comfortably choose to be a non-believer but neither of us can comfortably choose to live outside a civil society), what is the compelling states interest to deny equal civil marriage rights?”

Very simply put, because in a democratic society, that is the will of the people regarding one particular piece of morality. Secondly, it is not a marriage. You are altering the definition of marriage, and to do so is disingenuous. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman. Now you want to change that. Yet you cannot show how another man can even substitute for a woman in the “marriage.” Can a gay couple have children of their own? Can two men reproduce?

The importance of marriage goes far beyond the state. It is about the propagation of the species. It is impossible for two men to reproduce. It is impossible for two women to reproduce. And you want those rights? For what? you can’t reproduce!

Now, that said, I have no problem with civil unions, outside the bonds of marriage. Take whatever civil rights you want, i could care less. But do not call it a marriage, and do not try to redefine what a marriage is. You guys are all about nature, and what is natural. Well, what is natural is the propagation of the species. All plant life, all animal life reproduces. They do so in pairing up. Gays cannot propagate their species. It is impossible naturally speaking. Only through unnatural means can they do so. So if you want to talk about what is natural, then forget about gay marriage!

56. Regan - 16 June 2006

This is for Nicholae Padigone:
you’re so certain that gay people are lying about choosing to be gay…and you know all about that from whom?
Other straight people pontificating on the subject.
You asked questions you really don’t care to have answered.
You comment as someone all knowing or at least knowing all you want to know about gay people.

The most important thing for me to say is:
what do you care whether someone is or isn’t gay?
And whether or not it’s inborn.
I’m a black woman, and my undeniable genetic qualities as such never protected me and my sisters from horrendous incivility by a majority in America more interested in maintaining the lie that I was inferior and too inferior to appreciate the institutions established before I was born,

What this is about is self determination, freedom and equal TREATMENT under the law, not who we consider beneath ourselves or not.

Your insistence that gay people choose their orientation makes about as much sense as straight people choosing theirs.
The only difference is minute, obviously there is no genetic aberration or abnormal molecules to gay people.
We’re all sexual, celibacy is the unnatural state of sexuality.
The difference is in how we treat each other in being sexually self determined and healthy in our relationships.
I wish straight people would get over the fact that their orientation isn’t a virtue, and they aren’t the answer to what gay people need.

Once you disrespect the humanity and equal potential in gay people to yourself Nicholae, you know nothing about gay people.
And to say they don’t qualify for marriage or any other institution established by straight people because they haven’t before or didn’t create it, or will ruin it if they are a part of it, shows how low your expectations are for gay people….and the contempt you have for your so called gay friends.

57. J. Todd Ormsbee - 16 June 2006

Wow, Regan. Thank you for speaking and I hope you feel welcome here. I’ll try not to smother you with the as-yet scientifically unexplained white gay-male love of black women.

🙂

Todd

58. mayan elephant - 16 June 2006

nic,
“You guys are all about nature, and what is natural. Well, what is natural is the propagation of the species. All plant life, all animal life reproduces. They do so in pairing up. Gays cannot propagate their species. It is impossible naturally speaking. Only through unnatural means can they do so. So if you want to talk about what is natural, then forget about gay marriage!”

listen here you clown ass. granted i dont like you. but now you have thoroughly pissed me off to no fucking end. stick it up your hateful fucking head. got it. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME! SHUT THE FUCK UP.

you dont know shit about people. you dont know shit about sexuality. you dont know squat about relationships. you dont know shit and you are exposing yourself constantly. time for you to shut the fuck up.

the most amazing person i know on this planet is a not straight. she has more charity in her little finger than you could muster in a lifetime. she is the best parent the world could ask for. the best mentor a person could find. she does more for more people on any given day than anyone in that big fucking building on south temple.

who the fuck are you to decide who is a qualified parent or not. who the fuck are you to decide who is naturally capable of parenting. you are a dumbfuck who knows nothing you fuckwad.

being straight and hungry to have sex in the missionary position near gently folded garments is about the least reasonble qualification for being a parent. you fucking idiot. do tell, if being straight was the basis for parenting, and gods will, then all gods children would be perfectly parented little souls. go fuck yourself. its a damn shame your parents didnt fuck their own damn self instead of each other.

Todd, edit away. have a blast. delete the whole damn thing if you need to.

59. Tom - 16 June 2006

Nic –

If you’re worried about health issues, why don’t we deny equal marriage rights to the overweight, or to couples with genetic predisposition to conditions such as cystic fibrosis?

And FYI, the first human HIV infection probably came through human ingestion of chimp meat and was then spread through heterosexual activity.

In terms of STDs overall, there are probably higher instances of transmission between gay men. But I’m not sure why you would use that as a justification for denying same-sex couples the right to enter into civil marriages. Stable, committed relationships reduce STD transmission.

“there would be very valid reasons to try and curtail homosexual activity.”

More accurate to say there would be valid reasons to curtail dangerous sexual activity of all stripes — which is something our society does. But by denying equal marriage rights to same-sex couples, you are actually doing the opposite.

“in a democratic society, that is the will of the people regarding one particular piece of morality.”

Are you advocating for a theocracy based on the will of the majority?

“Secondly, it is not a marriage. You are altering the definition of marriage, and to do so is disingenuous. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman.”

First, marriage has a longer history of being one man and several women than it does being 1:1. Second, the definition of marriage has changed many times over history — for most of human history, it was about property rights and chattel. Love only entered the picture in the last 200 years or so.

“The importance of marriage goes far beyond the state. It is about the propagation of the species.”

Ah, so we should deny marriage rights to infertile couples? Or to couples who don’t want to have children? Good to know your position on that.

“It is impossible for two men to reproduce. It is impossible for two women to reproduce. And you want those rights? For what? you can’t reproduce!”

I want those rights so that if my partner is sick, I can visit him freely in the hospital. I want those rights so that his estate can pass easily to me. I want those rights so that I can have Social Security survivor benefits when he dies. My ex-wife’s great-uncle (yes, I hid in a marriage for many years) was a gay man, who shared a house with his partner for 25 years. They were married in all senses of the word but legally. When the uncle died (of cancer), tax law caused a reassessment of the home they shared, changing the tax basis — something that would not have happened if they had been married. His partner also did not receive any survivor benefits. Because of these two things — that simply would not be an issue for a straight couple — he had to sell the house. Hardly equitable. And you ask why we want those rights!

“I have no problem with civil unions, outside the bonds of marriage. Take whatever civil rights you want”

Do you stand for full federal legal equality of civil unions? In other words, will a civil union allow my friends in New York who spent years worrying that one partner (who is an immigrant) might lose his residency status, something that a straight couple could have remedied through marriage? Will the civil unions you support allow for Social Security survivor benefits?

If so, kudos to you. Unfortunately, many of these state initiatives state exactly the opposite, and deny ANY equivalency of any sort to marriage.

“what is natural is the propagation of the species. All plant life, all animal life reproduces. They do so in pairing up.”

Not all. Homosexual pairs are prevalent throughout the natural world. I believe there is some evolutionary advantage to this — a population limiter perhaps, or merely that homosexual individuals provide a level of diversity that is important to the success of the species as a whole.

“if you want to talk about what is natural, then forget about gay marriage!”

If you want to talk about what is natural, forget ANY marriage at all.

60. nicolaepadigone - 16 June 2006

regan,

“you’re so certain that gay people are lying about choosing to be gay”

when have i said they lied about choosing to be gay? have i attempted to refute the science that shows that homosexuality is possibly a biological tendency? hardly. I’m talking about the choices they make with that tendency, not the tendency itself.

“You asked questions you really don’t care to have answered.”

actually I do want answers, but for some reason gays refuse to answer them. I’ll ask them again, and I am serious that I want sincere answers to these two questions:

1. Gays believe that God created them as such.

Where is their proof of this? What scriptural references can they show of this? Take any from any religion. I’ll take all references, even the stretched ones (ex. God created nature and in all species there are gay animals). See, if we are ever to find common ground between “religionists” and “gay rights” then we’re going to need the scriptural references.

2. God says a great deal of things regarding marriage between a man and a woman in scripture. What does God say about gay relationships?

if gays don’t want to answer these questions, how can I take gays seriously? gays claim that God made them that way. Well, then prove it. Show me where God has ever said it. I’ll take any religion, Christian, Buddhist, etc. Any.

“what do you care whether someone is or isn’t gay?”

personally i don’t care what individuals do with their lives. if they want to destroy their lives, fine by me. if they want to live in peace, fine by me. if they want to indulge in homosexual behaviors, fine by me.

Where my concerns lie is when they want to sanction those activities by the state. Sorry, but that’s a line I will not cross.

“I’m a black woman, and my undeniable genetic qualities as such never protected me and my sisters from horrendous incivility by a majority in America more interested in maintaining the lie that I was inferior and too inferior to appreciate the institutions established before I was born,”

my apologies for your treatment. I wish whites would have learned more to this point that such discrimination is wrong. But, what does the color of your skin have to do with homosexual lifestyle? Can you as a black woman reproduce with a man (of any skin color)? Gays have gotten many “civil” rights over the years, much the same as blacks have (which they should have had from the beginning, but that’s obviously another story).

The ultimate question here is, what rights come from “marriage” that gays want that they cannot otherwise get? Can they get all the rights they desire from civil unions?

“Your insistence that gay people choose their orientation makes about as much sense as straight people choosing theirs.”

again, it’s not the orientation, but the actions, the actual act.

and there is obviously nothing to say about Mayan Elephant’s post, except that I’ve not been disrespectful to gays, and look at the response I’ve gotten.

I’m curious why some are so bothered by my “Life’s tough” comment. Life is indeed tough and unfair. That’s just how it is. There is no escaping that.

61. nicolaepadigone - 16 June 2006

“Do you stand for full federal legal equality of civil unions? In other words, will a civil union allow my friends in New York who spent years worrying that one partner (who is an immigrant) might lose his residency status, something that a straight couple could have remedied through marriage? Will the civil unions you support allow for Social Security survivor benefits?”

yes. that is a compromise I can live with. my ultimate ideal would be to remove marriage from the state and back to religion, personally, but we’re not going to have that for a while, unforunately. But yes, i have no problem with these.

62. Ryan Kade - 16 June 2006

Todd,

Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll check it out and leave comments if appropriate.

63. Stephen - 16 June 2006

I’m a full-time academic trying to make my way in the world and recover my own independence of thought and feeling.

Interesting to contrast your personal statement with this post.

64. DemDiva - 16 June 2006

Hiya everyone!
This is my first post on this particular blog, and I hope to come back…I just wanted to add my outsider perspective..

I attended BYU as a minority student (non-Mormon) in the Graduate School of Social Work. Granted, the School of Social Work, is, by nature, more “liberal” than another school of thought at the Y…however, I never heard any gay bashing or anything but the highest regard for all human beings within the context of our academic studies.

Many times I had to bite my lips and repeat the mantra “If they were going to the Yeshiva Univeristy in New York, they’d have to put up with MY people…” So, although I may not agree with some of what the University requires, I adhered to their rules while I was there. This was ten years ago, and the atmosphere may have become more restrictive since that time.

I think Mr. Nielson is a HERO. He chose to make a moral statement, probably knowing that he would get fired (or “not rehired”). One thing about being LDS, from my non LDS perspective, is that you can identify with being Mormon in culture without supporting all of the religion.

Many points of this incident are true- Mr. Neilson demonstrated that he wants to be able to publicly state what his heart tells him is moral and still be considered an LDS person, the “Y” is putting itself in danger of not being recognized as a true institute of higher learning by crushing academic questioning, fear of gay marriage is as polarizing in some ways as slavery was, brethren against brethren.

At any rate, this sure brings forth a lot of self examination and lively debate.

Peace on…

65. Tom - 16 June 2006

“that is a compromise I can live with. my ultimate ideal would be to remove marriage from the state and back to religion, personally, but we’re not going to have that for a while, unforunately. But yes, i have no problem with these.”

Good — I’ll trade equality for a slightly reduced vocabulary any time!

66. J. Todd Ormsbee - 17 June 2006

Stephan,

What exactly do you find to be contradictory between my personal statement and this post? Anyone is welcome to post here, but I insist that, in a discussion like this one, you actually make an argument, complete with rational thinking and evidence. If all you can do is make snide remarks, keep them to yourself. You’re wasting all of our time, on all sides of the debate.

Todd

67. J. Todd Ormsbee - 17 June 2006

Hey DemDiva! Welcome and I hope you’ll post on other topics as well. Of course this has been an unusually active thread because it was linked on a couple of TBM sites, so it’s received lots of traffic. The blog is pretty ecclectic, but hopefully from time to time there will be something that you find interesting.

By the way, I’d’ve loved to have gone to Yeshiva U.

Cheers

Todd

68. Guy Murray - 17 June 2006

Todd,

Just a couple of quick responses to your latest response to my prior response (if it goes on much longer we’ll need to start an entire new post). Yours are in italics–my response immediately following.

Todd wrote:

We come at this particular topic (academic freedom) with completely different assumptions about what a “search for truth” would mean and why a professor’s ability to speak out about political, moral, and scientific issues is paramount to their ability to be good teachers and researchers. But I think the dialogue is useful for both of us.

This is, I believe, where you and I agree the most. We do come at this particular topic (academic freedom) with completely differing assumptions. I understand the assumptions that you are making. I respect them. In many cases I think they are valid and good assumptions; however, I do not share them all. Or perhaps it is best said I make some additional assumptions that you would not make or accept.

Todd wrote:

I will use your numbering system from the AAUP:

1-I agree this is probably not relevant in Nielsen’s case.

2-however, I think this point is of utmost relevance. Nielsen revealed in his response letter that he had censored himself in the classroom. This was so as not to offend the sensibilities of the students or challenge their testimonies and most likely to keep his job. When I was at BYU 15 years ago, I had teachers who would constantly edit themselves (I was in the humanities and social sciences). This is, on its face, bad for education.

Nielsen points out the effect, and I agree, that in such an environment, the search for truth cannot move forward in any sort of meaningful way, because the outcomes are determined from the beginning, in this case, by the “brethren” and by the dominant Mormon culture at BYU (which is, you’ll admit, quite a bit more intense than mormon culture outside of BYU).

I still don’t see how number two is relevant in Nielsen’s case. His termination had nothing to do with his discussion of any topic in the class room. The fact he revealed he censored himself in the classroom was not a topic upon which he opined in his editorial. How is it now a relevant factor? In fact, I don’t think academic freedom was even an issue Nielsen raised at all in his piece.

But, since you brought it up, I would point out this particular paragraph anticipates that professors may utilize self censorship when appropriate for their students, and still preserve academic freedom:

“ 2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.”

The critical passage of course being careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter having no relation to their subject. Furthermore, this paragraph seems to clearly allow reasonable limitations on academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution–clearly applicable at BYU.

Todd wrote:

3-I simply disagree with you here. I think Nielsen’s brief Op-Ed piece went above and beyond his ethical responsibility. He bent over backwards to be respectful in expressing a dissenting opinion. I don’t know your heart or mind (we’ve only recently begun exchanging ideas), but I find often in Mormon culture a deep aversion to disagreement and argument; when someone disagrees, it is read as “contention” and judged unethical. However, that is simply an untenable position both academically and democratically. For truth to advance, we must be free to disagree and doing so is not unethical. In fact, I would argue the opposite, that not to disagree is unethical as it violates the common good and forecloses the search for truth.

Yes, we clearly disagree on this one. In my view calling The Brethren’s and the Church’s long established position on marriage troubling, immoral, discriminatory, and based on fear and superstition goes somewhat beyond respectful and simply expressing a dissenting opinion. You understand, from your background, that millions of latter-day saints consider this counsel to be inspired from God. I realize you do not; however, millions of others do. It seems a philosophy professor at BYU might have found a better word choice, and forum to have expressed his dissatisfaction with this particular issue.

Todd wrote:

It is difficult to balance the religious and the academic misssions of a church-funded university, but there are better and worse ways to do so. BYU exercises a virtual dictatorial control over the thought and expression of its faculty and students in a few key areas (esp. gender and sexuality, and most recently race), which is detrimental to its mission as a university. (I would also argue that it ultimately damaging to the Mormon church, but that is based on my own ethical views of what a church should be, which is separate from our current topic.)

I don’t think this is a very fair representation of BYU’s academic freedom philosophy. I’m certain you have read their treatise on academic freedom, and it is far from dictatorial. They use terms like reasonable limitations, which is consistent with AAUP’s language as well.

Todd wrote:

It is difficult for me to see how allowing professors to examine and critique the political positions of the church hampers (“emasculates”) BYU’s academic mission. I’m frankly baffled by your argument there, because I just don’t see how allowing freedom of speech could ever be harmful to the pursuit of truth.

What you describe above is a far cry from what Nielsen did. He wasn’t examining and critiquing a political position. He specifically called a moral position long taken by the Church to be immoral, among other things.

Todd wrote:

Do please realize that “learning from the best books” is a highly subjective proposition, and that BYU chooses it’s “best books” based on a very limited and limiting criteria. Again, this impedes professors from teaching materials that students should be exposed to. I had a professor who actually had alternate books for students who were “offended” by the books he’d chosen–this was in 1993 and he was obviously in fear of his job, even though he was tenured, because BYU was firing professors for their classroom content at the time. But he still wanted to expose those of us open to it to the real literature and ideas that we should be reading as college students. Determining what the “best books” are is part of the open dialogue a university should be having, and those books and ideas will change and move over time with the ongoing dialogue among professors and experts in their respective fields.

Here’s one of the assumptions I make, that you likely do not: I believe that part of learning from the best books also entails learning not only by study but by faith. You discount this as anathema to academic freedom. I view it as a perquisite. Faith by definition is not empirically measured; but, I’m not as convinced as you that it is necessarily a highly subjective proposition.

My experience at BYU was different from yours. I did not experience professors as you did; but that is not to say they didn’t exist. Unlike you, I do not consider BYU to be a mistake. I came away from BYU with my own demons; but over the years I have come to terms with them, and with the Church. Determining what the “best books” are is arguably a subjective process depending on who is doing the deciding. Under your analysis or mine, someone makes those decisions. You and I have a difference of opinion which method is better.

69. Todd’s Hammer » Blog Archive » BYU Professor, Part 2 - 14 July 2006

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