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Independent Thinkers Need Not Apply

Well, in an unsurprising but still disappointing move, Brigham Young University has declined to renew Jeffrey Nielsen's teaching contract for next term. In a June 8 letter from the Chair of the Philosophy Department Daniel Graham, Nielsen was informed that:

In accordance with the order of the church, we do not consider it our responsibility to correct, contradict or dismiss official pronouncements of the church.  Since you have chosen to contradict and oppose the church in an area of great concern to church leaders, and to do so in a public forum, we will not rehire you after the current term is over.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, "Nielsen conceded he has endured 'sleepless nights' since the column appeared, but reaffirmed Tuesday he is sticking by his views and his religion.    'I have no desire to be anything but a member of the church,' he said."

Indeed.  The last thing you would want at an insitution of higher learning (in the Philosophy Department, no less) is someone who thinks for himself.  Yeesh.

After the jump, I have included Jeffrey Nielsen's letter sent in response to the termination letter sent him by Professor Graham.

June 13, 2006

Daniel W. Graham, chair
Department of Philosophy
Brigham Young University

Dear Dan,

I regretfully read your letter of June 8 informing me that because of my
opinion piece in the Salt Lake Tribune of June 4, you have decided not to
rehire me to teach the philosophy courses I had already been scheduled to
teach through next year. I have only the utmost respect and admiration for
you and for the students, faculty, and staff in the Philosophy Department at
Brigham Young University. In my experience, the students and faculty have
always been engaged and lively participants in the academic pursuit of
truth. Now let me address some of the issues you expressed in your letter.

Church leaders have consistently opposed same-sex attraction and gay
marriage. I have never agreed with this position believing that it was based
in misunderstanding and in a purely human bias of cultural place and time
and not reflective of divine will. Yet I have never publicly, or in the
classroom, opposed their policy. Yet when church leaders take a political
stand on a moral issue, then I am not only engaged as a member of the
church, but also as an American citizen. As an American citizen, I publicly
expressed an honest opinion contradicting a political statement by our
church leaders. I fear for the church and the university if the time comes
when the members of the church, including faculty at BYU, are not allowed to
disagree, either in public or private, with political positions taken by the
church. If such conformity is required, then we deserve to be called neither
a church nor a university.

I also strongly disagree with the implications of your statement that
faithfulness and loyalty to the church and church leaders never permits
expressions of disagreement, or questioning of our church leaders -
especially in an academic setting. Unquestioning acquiescence and blind
loyalty to leaders in positions of power over human beings have no place in
any institution of higher learning that values the pursuit of truth and
search for justice. And in my mind, what is philosophy but the quest for
truth and justice. I believe that there is great potential at BYU that will
never be realized if the faculty, in certain areas of study, are limited in
their research and work by the necessity of arriving at pre-approved answers
given by church leaders.

Finally, when it comes to the sustaining of church leaders, I will always
argue for the privilege of church members to examine, question, and dialogue
with each other and with their leaders in order to genuinely sustain and
support church doctrines and teachings. I do not believe that sustaining
leaders requires either silent acquiescence or unquestioning conformity, but
it does require active engagement with one another and with our church
leaders, regardless of our place or position within church leadership
hierarchies. If sustaining our leaders is to be real and genuine - not a
sham as are elections in totalitarian governments - then members must be
free to examine, question and benevolently criticize. Ultimately, I strongly
believe that every person possesses the privilege to speak and the
obligation to listen.

Again, I have only respect and admiration for you. I have enjoyed our
association, and I also wish you the best.


Jeff Nielsen



Oh god, that's so sad. He's right about what this could lead to for BYU -- I think the time will come, not too far in the future, when BYU will not only not be taken seriously, but won't even be considered in the academic world.

Lunar Quaker

I don't like to think about the implications of BYU losing its status as an accredited institution of higher learning. I have a degree from BYU. Does the church want our degrees to become meaningless? Fortunately, I've got a graduate degree from another university. But who wants to be embarrassed to put BYU on their resume?


I'm personally thinking of going to grad school for the EXPRESS purpose of being able to claim a different alma mater.


Yes, I am glad only 1 of my 3 degrees has the BYU name on it.

Cody Clark

How sad. Man, I start there in the summer as a junior. I really wonder about my standing, even as a student, for expressing what I am thinking and what I believe. Are they more sympathetic towards students?


Oh, Cody, my man, I hate to break this to you but the answer is NOOOOOOO! they are not more sympathetic to students. You would be wise to never visit this site or any site in the DAMU from a BYU computer. And never express aloud near any other student even an inkling of doubt or untestimony, if you want to remain a student at BYU. Just to give you a small taste of what life is like there. Once when I was there, I was walking by the "Wilk" and they had set up a big board with white paper on it so students could "express themselves" on the topic of "What Freedom Means to Me." I read many of the responses, some of which were thoughtful, some of which were funny, and some of which were lame. I came back a couple days later and noticed that some of the responses (including some of the more thoughtful ones) had been blotted out. That's right, they censored student comments on the subject "What Freedom Means to Me." I am afraid the irony was lost on the people who did that.

Lunar Quaker

I'm damn lucky that I was 100% TBM while I attended BYU. Whew.

desert vulture

I think Cody has about an icecube's chance in hell of faking it another two years. And then what? He gets his cracker jack box degree. Nice ending. I went to state schools, only the best for DV let me tell ya. I can't hobnob with the BYU crowd in my ward, but thats becoming more and more of an asset as time goes on. Fork 'em Devils !!!


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