Westminster off prof censure list, but BYU remains
The Salt Lake Tribune
June 15, 2006
By Shinika A. Sykes
National group: Academic freedom and tenure are issues at the LDS-owned Provo school
A professors' group has removed Westminster College from its list of censured schools, but Brigham Young University remains one of 43 schools on the list.
The American Association of University Professors at its annual meeting Saturday removed Salt Lake City-based Westminster and four other schools from its censured list. It placed one school, New Mexico Highlands University, on the list.
AAUP is a nonprofit organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process and standards of quality in higher education. It has more than 45,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.
Spokeswoman Helen Langan said Westminster, a private, liberal arts college, was placed on the association's censure list in 1985 after the school's board of trustees eliminated Westminster's tenure system and fired tenured history professor Jack Gifford as a cost-cutting measure.
Gifford unsuccessfully appealed to keep his job. AAUP intervened on his behalf and its investigation determined Gifford's termination wasn't justified. Westminster spent 21 years on its censure list as a result.
In 2004, however, Gifford and Westminster reconciled. That same year, an AAUP official met with Westminster administrators, its association members and the school's faculty members. He reported having heard strong support for new policies, strong commitment to academic freedom and that Westminster faculty had no "reservations about removing the censure," Langan said.
Gifford on Wednesday declined to discuss the matter except to say he and Westminster are on good terms. He recently taught a class for the school's ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program.
BYU made AAUP's censure list in 1998 when then-professor and AAUP board member Scott Abbott's criticism of the school's restrictions on academic freedom cost him a promotion and a $4,000 raise. AAUP blasted BYU for creating a "distressingly poor" climate when it comes to allowing faculty to speak freely.
Now director of integrated studies at Utah Valley State College in Orem, Abbott applauded Westminster for dealing with problems of tenure and academic freedom.
"BYU, as far as I know, has refused to address the issues raised by AAUP and continues the pattern of limiting academic freedom that caused the censure in the first place," Abbott said.
BYU has made "great effort" to explain to AAUP the school's mission and policies and how they relate to academic freedom, countered spokeswoman Carri Jenkins. However, a BYU-AAUP resolution appears unlikely.
This week, BYU administrators fired philosophy instructor Jeffrey Nielsen because he questioned the LDS Church's opposition to same-sex marriage in a newspaper opinion piece. Nielsen is the latest in at least three recent terminations.
In March, BYU didn't renew adjunct professor Darron Smith's contract. Smith, an African-American convert to the Mormon faith, said he was told it was because of his book and media interviews calling for the hierarchy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to repudiate racist folklore once used to ban black males from the priesthood.
Also in March, administrator Todd Hendricks accused BYU of wrongful termination. Hendricks alleged he was fired after the campus newspaper published a letter he wrote critical of how student elections are handled.
Hendricks' firing resulted in a campus protest where students contended that BYU limits free expression.