Summarized by Joyce H Feustel
Mormon Issue at the U. a Touchy One for Students, Faculty
Salt Lake Tribune 9Jan00 D3
By Brooke Adams and Peggy Fletcher Stack: Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY -- Bernie Machen, bristling at the suggestion that
anti-Mormon sentiment exists at the University of Utah, states that
there are no cases of discrimination, no substance to such claims and
that he has heard of nothing more than spotty cases of insensitivity
during his two-year tenure.
There is a perception that the U. fosters an anti-Mormon attitude in its
academic practices and in its faculty hiring which has dogged the school
for decades and is fixed in the fabric of campus life in the new
century. The Salt Lake Tribune found views evenly divided on the issue,
and everyone agreed it's the touchiest of subjects.
Certain faculty members feel disenfranchised because of their
affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and
some students feel pressured to suppress their religious beliefs and
backgrounds in the classroom. There is faculty talk of being shunned at
department gatherings, of being kept from influential hiring committees,
and of seeing excuses dredged up to exclude Mormon scholars from jobs.
The Tribune spoke with one well-respected faculty member who said he
sometimes felt he wandered the campus with a "big red 'M' on my
forehead. The first thing people think about me is that I am a Mormon,
and everything about me is judged or colored by that fact." He later
sought anonymity for his remarks because he feared he might jeopardize a
new assignment in his department.
"It's insidious and it's very difficult to put one's finger on it
directly," said Richard Cummings, who retired from the U. in 1995 after
38 years. "I had the impression there was a sub rosa tendency to avoid
appointments of native Utahns or members of the LDS Church. It happens
the way it happens, and nobody wants to be quoted."
Whether fact or urban folklore, as Machen would have it, the perception
of anti-Mormon bias may be one the university can never escape given
its position as the state's secular counterbalance to LDS Church-owned
Brigham Young University.
"The U. fills a role as a metaphorical anti-Christ. BYU can get away
with some of what it does because the U. exists," said Reba Keele, a U.
Cecil Samuelson, who graduated from the U., served as a faculty member
and dean of the medical school. He is now a Mormon church official and
says he never experienced overt discrimination, though in "class and
faculty meetings things get said."
There's no doubt the "Mormon issue" has puzzled the two university's
non-Mormon presidents -- Art Smith, who was appointed in 1991, and
Machen, who has served since September 1998.
Smith was concerned enough about the issue that he sent Norm Gibbons, a
former U. adminstrator, as an emissary throughout the state to gather
anecdotal views of the school.
Machen, aware of "cultural insensitivities" on campus is searching for a
forum to continue a discussion of tolerance and diversity that he
started several months ago in a meeting with the Latter-day Saint
Student Association. "Universities are places where differences are
meant to come together and mesh, and at the U., it's not working as well
as it could."
According to Thayne Robson, director of the U.'s Bureau of Economic and
Business Research, in the 60's as much as 70 to 80 percent of the
faculty was Mormon and now it is less than 10 percent.
Don Herrin, a professor of family and consumer studies and a Mormon,
said that years ago he began wearing a style of temple privileges) after
hearing colleagues comment about job applicants' "undershirts."
Machen says competition, rather than discrimination, is at work in
hiring practices, a view shared by others on campus, such as Jim
Clayton, a former provost and now a history professor.
Clayton said "Our standards are so high and the opportunity to get our
first choice is so strong there are not enough Mormons to compete in
national and international fields. Mormons are a tiny blip on the radar
screen in terms of numbers. The fact that we have a very declining
number is solely based on market forces."
Gregersen doesn't buy that argument and ticks off names of Mormon
scholars in top positions at Ohio State, Texas A&M, Washington
University, Case Western, and the University of Michigan. Neither does
Steve Wheelwright, senior associate dean for faculty hiring and planning
at Harvard Business School, where six of the 200 faculty are LDS.
Marie Cornwall, a BYU sociology professor who held a one-year
appointment at the U. in 1993-94, said the experience was both positive
and negative, though she learned "what it was like to be a 'white male.'
Because you are part of the dominant culture, you are blamed for
everything the church does whether or not you yourself did anything."
Although some people felt no inhibitions about making statements such
as, "'I don't like Mormons but I like you,'" Cornwall said "You would
never say that to a black person: 'I don't like blacks but I like you.'
What's the difference? Mormonism is an ethnicity. For them to feel free
to say that gives us a window into the fact that they really don't like
Ed Byrnes, a graduate student in social work, said he has "never, repeat
never, had any experience where any faculty or staff member was ever
derogatory or discriminatory in their behavior toward LDS people."
Said Ryan Thompson, (a U. student and president of the Latter-day Saint
Student Association) "There are innuendoes in lectures and snide remarks
here and there that kind of hurt. A visiting chemistry professor, for
instance, made a comment about the Book of Mormon on the first day of
class last fall. While some students who feel slighted and disdained
because of their Mormonism are often reluctant to speak out for fear of
exacerbating the situation, it wouldn't be appropriate to stand up and
say I take offense at that."
Machen says sometimes sometimes students "throw brick bats at each
other, but I think that is going to be healthy in the long run as they
learn more about each other."