Brigham Young University administrators declined to promote a professor who has been at the forefront of criticism of the school's record on academic freedom.
BYU officials praised Scott Abbott's scholarly work as a professor of German and Slavic languages but said his "zeal to change policy at BYU" had thrown his loyalty and citizenship on the campus into question."You have engaged in a pattern of contentious criticism of the university, church leaders, faculty colleagues in another college in the university, and others that falls below the standards of civility for a BYU faculty member," wrote James D. Gordon, the school's associate academic vice president in a May 7 letter to Abbott saying he would not be granted the rank of full professor.
The letter said that Abbott - a co-founder of the school's chapter of the American Association of University Professors - did not make enough "affirmative contributions" to the nation's largest church-owned university.
Abbott has appealed the decision.
"I am disappointed, but not surprised," Abbott said in a statement Friday. "I have worked with like-minded colleagues for several years to promote a more open, more trusting, more productive climate for teaching and scholarship at BYU.
"It is disappointing that some would interpret that effort as a non-affirmative contribution," he wrote. Abbott declined to be interviewed.
The AAUP has been harshly critical of BYU. In a report published in its journal last September, the organization found the climate for academic freedom at BYU "distressingly poor."
The 45,000 members of AAUP, a national faculty group committed to academic freedom on campuses, are to vote next month on whether to censure BYU's administration.
Such a censure would not threaten BYU's accreditation, but could be a blow to its prestige in the academic community.
Gordon said the decision to not promote Abbott was made by the school's Faculty Council on Rank and Status, the dean of the Department of Humanities and finally by BYU President Merrill Bateman.
"Faculty members and administrators made a professional evaluation that was not affected by politics or public relations," Gordon said.
"The AAUP will do whatever it chooses to do," he said. "Less than 5 percent of faculty in the United States belong to (the organization) and it has a history of antipathy toward religious colleges and universities."
Indeed, the AAUP has been harshly critical of BYU for its decision not to grant continuing status to former English professor Gail Turley Houston. The administration had accused Houston of attacking the university in a speech at the Sunstone Symposium, a non-church sponsored forum on Mormon studies, and in Student Review, an off-campus newspaper.
Gordon's letter said Abbott wrongly criticized leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and some colleagues. While Abbott later publicly apologized for the statements about church leaders, the school said the "general pattern of behavior has continued.
"The emphasis of these activities has been to pressure the university to change policies of the Board of Trustees," the letter said. "Your behavior does not meet the standards of citizenship expected of a full professor of the university."
Administrators were particularly upset over Abbott's claims in a paper presented last October in Chicago that the number of non-Mormon faculty at BYU has declined precipitously and that others have been forced to leave or have left on their own.
Gordon said those statements are wrong.
Abbott, however, said Friday he can prove them right and will at his appeal.