July 4, 2013 1 Comment
“The truth is not uplifting. It destroys.” — Boyd Packer (alleged)
Apparently the truth can also get you fired if you happen to work in a Utah university. Jared Lisonbee, an Assistant Professor at Weber State University, alleges that he was terminated from his position because he protested naming an academic center after Boyd Packer, a leader in the Mormon Church. I can only assume that Jared Lisonbee is related to the author of this editorial (another Lisonbee), which criticizes the name in very sharp terms:
Naming a state university program that is supposed to represent and serve a variety of non-traditional families in the community after Packer sends the message that only certain types of families are valued by the state, and that is insensitive at the least. In Utah, where the separation of church and state is paper thin, this naming of a public program sends a loud, clear message to many that discrimination is both acceptable and embraced at Weber.
Sadly, it would not shock me if this allegation were true. It also wouldn’t surprise me if there were other, more appropriate reasons for Lisonbee’s termination; but let’s talk about Packer. Among Utah academics and intellectuals, Boyd Packer is infamous for his attacks on intellectuals within the church, including faculty at Brigham Young University. Slate recently published a retrospective on Packer’s purges that took place in the mid-1990s. Packer is alleged to have specifically targeted individuals based on the content of their publications, resulting in the scandalous termination of some faculty from BYU. If academic freedom still exists among the University’s values, then Boyd Packer’s name should not be considered as a suitable advertisement for those values.
Since I am myself a professor at one of Utah’s esteemed academic institutions, I am also conscious that I create some risk for myself by making these comments. According to Weber State’s spokesman, “Employees are evaluated on neutral, job-related criteria.” I’m sure my university’s spokesman would say the same thing, but it is statistically implausible. My university hires the best candidates from across the world, people from all walks of life, allegedly without regard to their faith or non-faith. One can easily verify that the starting faculty are religiously diverse. And yet one can easily confirm that in some departments as much as 100% of full professors are members of the Mormon faith. There is a vanishingly small probability that this could happen by chance, if we practiced an even-handed process for tenure and promotion. One of my former colleagues once told me (quietly) that “After enough time, all the coffee drinkers will be gone.” And soon after that, he was gone (of his own choice, I should add).
It is quite difficult to exist in this environment without remarking on the situation, even though such remarks may yield unpredictable consequences for one’s career. I’m sure that I wouldn’t be remarking on it now, except that I happen to be on sabbatical in a far-distant location. We shouldn’t need to speak in fear about matters of academic freedom and institutional bias. Yet still, even in this post, I’m carefully guarding what I say. Time will tell if I guarded it well enough.