Brigham Young University has formalized a statement outlining the parameters of institutional and individual academic freedom at the LDS Church-owned school.
The 10-page document defines in general terms how BYU's religious mission relates to principles of academic freedom. Until now, the university operated without a written policy. Academic freedom was based on a presumptive understanding of what was permissible."I think the statement basically formalizes the best norms that have always prevailed at BYU," said associate academic vice president John S. Tanner, who headed a 10-member committee that wrote the policy. "I think it's a very thoughtful, careful statement."
The document sets up a dynamic between institutional and individual academic freedom, Tanner said. BYU's institutional mission bears upon individual freedom. Neither freedom is unlimited.
"Therefore, academic freedom must include not only the institution's freedom to claim a religious identity but also the individual's freedom to ask genuine, even difficult questions. Learning can be unsettling," the document states. "There is no such thing as risk-free genuine education, just as according to LDS theology there is no risk-free earthly experience."
Tanner and James D. Gordon, a law professor, were asked to head the drafting of an academic freedom statement in July 1991. The committee was formed in January to finalize it. The draft document elicited at least 50 written responses from faculty.
"We tried to respond to every comment," Tanner said. The comments ranged from supportive to skeptical. Tanner said some of the suggestions were incorporated into the final product.
The revised statement elaborates on the concept of individual academic freedom, refines the three examples of reasonable limitations and adds the principle of prior notice.President Rex E. Lee said BYU faculty members enjoy a greater measure of academic freedom than do their counterparts at other universities. The limits, he said, are narrow in scope.
At BYU, faculty are prohibited from behavior or expression that seriously and adversely affects the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the university. Examples include expression that:
- Contradicts or opposes, rather than analyzes or discusses, fundamental LDS doctrine or policy.
- Deliberately attacks the church or its general leaders.
- Violates the honor code because the expression is dishonest, illegal, unchaste, profane or unduly disrespectful of others.
The statement says that faculty members shall not be found in violation of the academic freedom standards unless they can fairly be considered to be aware that the expression violates the standards.
Tanner said the committee will soon release its recommendations for an appeals process.