Most of the modern research universities in the United States began as Protestant colleges whose highest stated aspirations were to foster faith and the development of Christian character as well as higher learning. While some Christian colleges remain from that era, among the 207 universities in the Carnegie classification’s high and very high research universities, only nine claim a religious affiliation (seven Catholic institutions; Baylor University, with a Baptist affiliation; and Brigham Young University, operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). We will briefly outline some of the primary reasons that religious research universities are such a small proportion of American research universities. However, our primary intent in this article is to examine Brigham Young University as a limit case of the religious research university. In many ways, BYU is an anomaly. At its founding in 1875, BYU was organized in ways that were almost identical to the early Protestant colleges. What is remarkable is that through the period of secularization that led most of those colleges to cut their ties with religion, BYU became more closely tied to its affiliated church and more intentionally religious than any of the remaining religious universities.1
A popular twentieth-century myth has it that aerodynamics experts have examined the bumblebee and determined that “that critter can’t fly,” because “it does not have the required capacity (in terms of wing area or flapping speed).” Nevertheless, the laws of physics do not prevent the bumblebee from flying. Research shows that “bumblebees simply flap harder than other insects, increasing the amplitude of their wing strokes to achieve more lift, and use a figure-of-eight wing motion to create low-pressure vortices to pull them up.”2 In other words, the bumblebee flies, but it does so differently than many other insects.
As organizational scholars, we ask similar questions of BYU. Our goal is to help those who are interested in universities, and particularly religious universities, to understand them better by comparing BYU to the others in this niche. We believe that by studying the limit case we can shed light on the nature of such organizational “critters” and how they can actually “fly,” sometimes, as it might appear, against all odds.
After reviewing the primary reasons for the secularization of American research universities, we consider BYU by contrasting it with other religious universities in its institutional niche. We then focus on trying to understand how BYU deals with the inherent dilemmas it has chosen quite consciously and the implications of these choices for its ability to “fly.” We conclude by considering implications for faculty, administrators, and scholars of universities that for a variety of reasons (some more conscious than others) incorporate such dilemmas as a core aspect of their identity.
The Secularization of American Higher Education
Given the history of secularization in institutions of higher education in America, some might wonder whether BYU is the last of its kind. Most American universities started out as church-related colleges, but by the 1920s the majority of them had been “secularized.” George Marsden provides some perspective about just how rapidly this secularization took place:
The American university system was built on a foundation of evangelical Protestant colleges. Most of the major universities evolved directly from such nineteenth-century colleges. As late as 1870 the vast majority of these were remarkably evangelical. Most of them had clergymen-presidents who taught courses defending biblicist Christianity and who encouraged periodic campus revivals. Yet within a half century . . . the evangelical Protestantism of the old-time colleges had been effectively excluded from leading university classrooms.3
Harvard’s Charles Eliot offered what Marsden describes as the “shibboleth of the movement” against the possibility of a church university: “A university cannot be built upon a sect.”4 A few years earlier, the founding president of Cornell University, Andrew White, said something similar in his inaugural address: “I deny that any university fully worthy of that great name can ever be founded upon the platform of any one sect or combination of sects.”5 Indeed, this feeling became so shared among American intellectuals that in 1905 Andrew Carnegie was persuaded to bankroll a foundation that would provide incentives for universities affiliated with denominations to sever their ties in exchange for participation in a generous faculty retirement program. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching had on its board the president of almost every major university of the day.6
During this same period, a growing number of Protestants formed a loose coalition of northeastern states Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians desiring to establish a nonsectarian though Christian (Protestant) educational system that could foster a moral order for American society in the absence of an established religion. Their view largely excluded Catholics and Jews as well as more conservative Protestants and sought to avoid divisive sectarian battles regarding doctrine. This coalition (largely Whigs and later Republicans in the north) gained significant influence during and following the Civil War because the most powerful opposition had largely been religious conservatives, often Democrats, in the southern states.7
Ironically, the Whig/Republican Protestant coalition felt at first that they had won the day over their more conservative Protestant brethren and over Catholics and Jews. Many of them felt that democratic values were compatible with an emphasis on the development of individual character (rather than on salvation explicitly) and freedom to pursue truth through science.8 However, drawing on the historical work of Burtchaell9 and Marsden,10 we note four structural factors that influenced the movement to secularize higher education or to formally separate its institutions from influence by any particular church or religious order:
1. In their attempt to appeal to a broad coalition of Protestants (to get more students and to influence a larger part of the country) and to avoid unseemly and energy-sapping sectarian debates, academic leaders “established” a secular moral approach to education emphasizing values such as free inquiry, democracy, service to humankind, and so forth. The values were so general that many eventually came to believe they did not require allegiance to a particular religious tradition. Curriculum came to focus on disciplinary subjects, and Bible classes along with the study of church history and doctrine were no longer required and eventually did not appear in class offerings. Curriculum has thus become almost entirely focused on scientific values and critical thinking.11
2. Faculty were hired to teach increasingly specialized subjects. At first, Christian (though nonsectarian) values were deemed important in faculty candidates, but soon universities began to focus, with support from these more specialized and nonsectarian faculty, almost entirely on a faculty member’s academic expertise.
3. Funding sources changed. Many religious proponents of this era assumed that the state would fund “public” universities whose approach coincided with their Christian interests, especially as these interests became less denomination- or theology-specific. However, primary funding sources for both private and public universities shifted from churches (which had never provided more than meager funding beyond donated scholarships for students in any case) to increased student tuition, private industry, foundations, and, eventually, to government sources (largely in the form of loans or grants to students and funding for faculty research). Those who provided these resources sought to influence universities to adopt their more practical, nonreligious values. The government (both state and local) often required universities to give up hiring preferences and specific religious requirements in order to receive particular forms of aid and forbade the use of religious texts or religious tests in public schools, many of which had been seen as Christian institutions even though they were funded by state funds.12
4. Membership in boards of trustees changed along with the funding sources. Increasingly present on these boards were people from the world of business, alumni, and other citizens representing diverse interests of the university. Church leaders were less often involved in interactions with administrators and faculty. Soon the affiliated church leaders had no involvement beyond occasionally continuing to work with a divinity school or theological seminary that persisted at some universities but increasingly became located at the periphery of campus.13
Why Are So Many Religious Universities Catholic, Given the Protestant Beginnings?
During this era when many liberal Protestants were seeking less sectarian and more generally acceptable educational approaches, Catholics had relatively little involvement in higher education. They were largely immigrants without a tradition of higher education, and at the turn of the century perhaps 4,200 Catholics were in the sixty-three schools of the Catholic higher-education network.14 Marsden points out that this was a period of Americanization, when many in the United States saw progress as dependent upon political freedom and free inquiry.15 Catholic leaders in Rome and Europe viewed this movement with great alarm. The Catholic University of America (CUA) was founded in 1889 by Catholic progressives who were interested in bringing together “Catholic teachings with cautious versions of the attitudes typical of American university founders.”16 Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical in 1895 addressed to the American church, stating that the separation of church and state was not the desirable model for the church. While the Vatican had given approval to establish CUA as the only pontifical university in America, concerns about CUA and Americanization led the pope in 1896 to remove John Keane, the first rector of Catholic University of America.17 In 1910, a professor of scripture, Henry A. Poels, was dismissed because he held a multiauthorial view of the Pentateuch, contrary to the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s position that Moses was the substantial author of the first five books of the Bible.18
As interest in education grew, Catholics sought to protect themselves from what they saw as contradictions to their faith in the American culture and in its educational approaches. Catholic orders created educational institutions staffed largely by priests and nuns from the order. That approach was quite inexpensive and largely maintained a Catholic ideology. However, the quality of education suffered, and it was very difficult for these institutions to achieve accreditation by anyone beyond their own Catholic accrediting associations. Leahy suggests several reasons for the move away from priests as teachers: (a) increased post–WWII demand by Catholics for higher education, (b) increased desire to fit in with the American mainstream (fueled by a growing trust among Americans of Catholics, growing affluence of Catholics, and an increased desire to be a part of the economy), (c) an increased desire to be accredited and thus recognized more broadly, and (d) fewer Catholics becoming clergy and getting PhDs and therefore a lack of qualified priests.19
Midway through the twentieth century (in 1955), John Tracy Ellis summarized the intellectual situation among Catholic academics by writing that there was “general agreement as to the impoverishment of Catholic scholarship in this country.”20 Marsden’s conclusion regarding the first half of the twentieth century in Catholic higher education is: “Whatever the weaknesses of Catholic higher education during this era, and they were many, Catholics emerged from this era with one thing Protestants did not: universities with substantial religious identities.”21
James Burtchaell explained that in the 1950s many American Catholic educators were embarrassed at the lack of influence of Catholics in intellectual and scientific spheres. He studied a variety of American Catholic as well as Protestant institutions and concluded that from that time forward academic leaders of these Catholic colleges and universities sought independence from official church oversight because they felt it was too restrictive.22 In his massive study of the secularization of both Protestant and Catholic institutions of higher education, entitled The Dying of the Light, Burtchaell laments that just as Catholic intellectuals were becoming trained well enough to truly bring a unique light both to the secular world and to the church, Catholic institutions of higher education engaged in secularization that essentially made them look similar to all of the non-Catholic institutions of higher education.23 Elsewhere, he presents historical evidence demonstrating a secularization process among Catholic universities that closely parallels the Protestant secular movement at the turn of the twentieth century. While the process started a century later, it is heading in the same direction, according to Burtchaell, and is likely to have a similar result.24
Current Situation of Religious Universities in America
Given the history of secularization we have just reviewed, we were interested to learn that out of eight million students enrolled in undergraduate bachelor’s degree programs in the United States in 2004, over one million were attending religiously affiliated colleges or universities. Most of these institutions are quite small, as suggested by the fact that almost one-third (768 of 2,345) of higher-education institutions listed in the U.S. Department of Education database claim a religious affiliation.25 What we observe is that the Christian college (small, typically focused on the liberal arts, and either Protestant or Catholic) has persisted into the present. On the other hand, prominent universities with a clear dedication to research are almost completely secularized. Specifically, the Carnegie classification of universities (2012)26 that are high or very high in research provides the following:
Research Universities That Are Religiously Affiliated
|Research classification||Number of institutions||Number of religious institutions|
As figure 1 indicates, less than 5 percent of these institutions claim a religious affiliation; BYU is among that minority. Of particular interest to us are questions about how BYU and other universities that clearly value research have been able to deal with significant institutional pressures to secularize. Further, how does BYU organize itself to attend to its avowed (and what many outsiders at least would see as contradictory) goals to foster both faith and reason? While we could look at the extent to which such potential tensions exist in “doctoral universities” in the Carnegie classification system, our choice is to focus on the niche that is least likely in this age of secularization, the religious universities most focused on research.
Following a brief description of BYU’s history relative to secularization forces during this same period, we will compare the religious commitment and institutional structures of the nine religiously affiliated research universities using the best data we have available.
BYU’s Beginnings in the Context of the Secularization of American Higher Education
BYU’s history is all the more remarkable against the backdrop we have just reviewed of secularization among major universities in the United States. Contrary to the trends, BYU has become more closely tied to its sponsoring church during the same period in which the Protestant and more recently Catholic universities were distancing themselves from their initial religious affiliation. Indeed, during the past half-century when pressures on Catholic universities to become more secular and intellectual have led to significant changes in their intentional religiosity, BYU has in many ways reemphasized and strengthened its commitment to its religious moorings. At the same time, BYU paralleled the efforts of both Protestant and Catholic institutions to become accredited and establish a reputation of educational excellence that would benefit its graduates. As we shall see, this move to become at the same time stronger both educationally and religiously is indeed unique among universities.
Brigham Young Academy was founded by Brigham Young in 1875. As he wrote to his son Alfales, then a student at the University of Michigan, he established a private trust to fund Brigham Young Academy “at which the children of the Latter-day Saints can receive a good education unmixed with the pernicious, atheistic influences that are found in so many of the higher schools of the country.”27 At first, the Academy was intended to provide elementary and secondary education and a “normal” school to prepare teachers for the public schools in the Utah Territory that no longer allowed the use of the Book of Mormon or the teaching of explicitly Mormon philosophies. Its initial institutional structure was patterned after most of the Protestant colleges of the day: funding through small amounts of tuition (in BYA’s case, $4 per term per student, which over 60 percent of the students paid in commodities) and modest income from property donated by Brigham Young. The board of trustees was composed of local political and church leaders, with teachers who were for the most part members of the affiliated faith.28
Brigham Young Academy was not initially thought of as the Church’s university or even the predecessor of such a university. In 1891, the First Presidency of the Church asked James E. Talmage to leave the presidency of LDS College in Salt Lake City to establish what his biographer called “a genuine Church University.”29 Talmage thrilled at the prospect of founding “an institution of wide scope and high standards that would merit recognition by the established centers of learning throughout the nation and the world. It was a dream he had cherished for many years.”30 The proposed name was Young University. However, the Panic of 1893 destroyed any hope of continuing plans for Young University.
The Brigham Young Academy was named Brigham Young University in 1903 when the secularization forces were gaining strength and influencing the formation of most modern American universities. The newly named BYU still did not have additional or significant Church funding, but it was thought by its leaders in Provo that the new name indicated a direction toward more college-level work, even though the pace toward that end would be slow.31
The growing commitment of the Church to BYU is seen by the decision of its leaders in 1918 to liquidate BYU’s debts in exchange for its assets.32 In the years that followed, the Church provided an increasingly significant proportion of its budget. The dream of a genuine Church university was thus kept alive and eventually applied to BYU, remarkably during a time when the Church leaders were deciding that they could not support the Church’s breadth of educational offerings and were withdrawing for the most part from secular education. Indeed, in the 1920s and 1930s the Church withdrew almost completely from higher education. The result was that by 1934 only two higher education institutions were sponsored by the Church—Brigham Young University and Ricks College.33 A system of LDS Institutes of Religion was created.34 During this period, the Church appears to have committed to BYU the fulfillment of the dream of becoming a “real university”—one, however, that would remain committed to real faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.35
Figure 2 summarizes the improbable direction and result of changes at BYU relative to principal organizational indicators of secularization among religious institutions of higher education mentioned previously. What we may observe in BYU is an institution that is unique among American universities in general. We turn next to the question of how unique BYU is within these same parameters when compared to the few remaining religiously affiliated universities.
Comparison of Secularization Choices from Founding to Present
|Relationship to Church||Other Universities||BYU|
|Required religion courses:||None||Clarified and increased|
|Faculty from sponsoring Church:||Decreased to no requirement||Increased, including worthiness requirement|
|Church funding:||Decreased to 0||Increased, Church contribution|
|Church leaders on Board:||Decreased to 0||Increased, 100% Church leaders|
Source: George M. Marsden, The Soul of the American University (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 155–56, 251, 270, 281–82, 300, 419–21, 438.
How Does BYU Compare with Other Religious Universities?
Burtchaell36 points to a secularization pattern that included faculty seeking professionalization through increased specialization and prestige-seeking university presidents pushing to hire new faculty experts who were not members of the affiliated church. He also chronicles the move by most higher education institutions to admit students with no religious requirement to increase revenues. Additional funding was eventually received from private donors and alumni but was more immediately available from foundations, business, and government (through scholarships, grants for research, and so forth). Through this period of change, most institutions continued to label themselves religious. The label was often the last vestige to go once secularization had run most of its course.37
We noted previously key indicators that reflect the separation of universities from religious influence. We now use these historical indices of secularization to compare the nine universities that claim religious affiliation. However, we begin by using minimum criteria others have employed to qualify universities as having a credible claim to religious affiliation to indicate where each of these nine institutions falls with respect to these measures.
Serious claim to a religious affiliation. All nine of the universities that claim a religious affiliation in the Carnegie classification of Research/High and Research/Very High universities pass a minimum criteria test devised by Lyon, Beaty, and Mixon to determine whether universities have a credible claim to religious affiliation: Does the university have a mission statement that (a) “acknowledges a specific linkage to a church or claims a religious heritage,” (b) “mentions at least one explicitly religious goal,” and does it have (c) “a core curriculum requiring religion courses that reflect and support the university’s religious identity”?38
Figure 3 shows the list of these nine universities along with the number of hours of religion-related courses they require. Each of their mission statements contains an explicit acknowledgement of religious affiliation and at least one religious goal. Some variation in what might be termed a “religion” course exists between these institutions because of differences in definition of what is religious. Other differences exist because some of these universities require only a class about various religious traditions while others (specifically Baylor, BYU, Notre Dame, and Catholic University of America) require the study of scripture or doctrine of the particular religious tradition. Thus, while there is some variation in the extent to which a religious commitment entails study of the specific traditions, scripture, or doctrine of a particular religious tradition, all nine of these universities have at least a minimum commitment to identifying themselves with a religious tradition.
Religiously Affiliated “Research Universities” Required Religiously Related Credits
|University||# of Credits Required||Doctrinal course required?|
|Boston College40||6||May choose|
|Catholic U. of America42||9–12||May choose|
|Loyola of Chicago45||6||No|
|Notre Dame46||6||3 hours required|
|Saint Louis University47||9||May choose|
Faculty hiring. We are not aware that any of these religious universities requires that a faculty member or other employee of the university be a practicing member of a particular faith or religious order. Figure 4 provides a comparison of university hiring policies with respect to the religious character of the faculty candidates. BYU is the only one of these universities that has an explicit “preference” for members in good standing of the affiliated church. BYU advertises in its faculty position announcements that “preference is given to qualified candidates who are members in good standing of the affiliated church.”48 Most of the other universities have standard equal employment, affirmative action statements that claim they do not discriminate on the basis of religion or any other “excluded categories.” In addition, Notre Dame encourages women, minorities, and Catholics to apply, and Loyola of Chicago acknowledges, as does the Catholic University of America, that there are some theology degrees that must be offered by approved Catholic faculty members using approved content to receive pontifical sanction. Based on “The Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States,” all Catholic colleges and universities must require that theology professors obtain a mandatum from the bishop of the local diocese in which the university or college is located.49 However, in most cases, Catholic universities and colleges do not reveal whether a particular professor has a mandatum, claiming that such information is private.50
Religious Requirement for Faculty
|University||Hire from Specific Religion?||Faithfulness Requirement?|
|Boston College52||No (EEO/AA)||NA|
|BYU53||Yes (LDS preferred)||Yes (regular review)|
|Catholic U. of America54||No (EEO/AA)||No|
|Loyola of Chicago57||No (EEO/AA)||NA|
|Notre Dame58||No (EEO/AA)||NA|
|Saint Louis U.59||No (EEO/AA)||NA|
We have a general sense based on conversations with colleagues at several of these universities that during hiring interviews some discussion occurs regarding the candidate’s willingness to respect the religious tradition (or at least its predominant values) with which the university is affiliated. On the other hand, Burtchaell claims that few if any Catholic universities insist on faculty loyalty to their faith traditions.60 A study by Lyon, Beaty, and Mixon presents faculty attitudes at four of the religious universities on our list (Baylor, Boston College, Notre Dame, and BYU), demonstrating that at each institution there are at least some faculty members who would be willing to wait for a significant period to find a candidate who is a member of the affiliated religion. Nevertheless, BYU’s faculty are significantly more supportive of this idea with 82 percent of the faculty being willing to go shorthanded for a significant period in order to hire an LDS candidate (compared with 55 percent at Baylor, 38 percent at Notre Dame, and 28 percent at Boston College).61
At Baylor, there has been significant debate about how Baptist the university should be and how much religiosity, especially religious fundamentalism, should be required of the faculty. Indeed, two presidents previous to the current one, President Kenneth Starr, were fired by the board of regents for issues related to faculty hiring and the standards for granting tenure. Specifically, Robert Sloan was fired after a tenure of ten years because, according to critics, he was “devaluing teaching . . . and . . . edging the institution toward religious fundamentalism.”62
In their study, Lyon and his colleagues noted the very high percentage of BYU faculty who are LDS. They wondered whether the religious affiliation of faculty accounted for the differences in their attitudes about faculty hiring and academic freedom issues in general. They found that the Baptist professors at Baylor and the Catholic professors at Notre Dame and Boston College were significantly more committed to the religious mission of their institution than their colleagues who were not of the faith of the affiliated church. However, even comparing responses of members of the affiliated religions, BYU faculty were more religious in their attitudes.63
Indeed, hiring at BYU focuses on finding LDS candidates who are among the best in their field and who are judged by the leader of their local congregation (bishop) and by an interviewing General Authority of the Church to be faithful, even exemplary, members of the Church. In addition, on a regular basis the Commissioner of Church Education sends a letter to the local bishop of each LDS faculty member at BYU, asking whether he or she continues to abide by certain essential expectations of membership (as someone who is worthy of a temple recommend). Those who are not LDS are asked to abide by similar moral commitments and are reviewed regularly for compliance. These requirements would have been unusual for universities and even religious colleges in the late 1800s.64 The explicit goals of BYU for faculty members who are members of the sponsoring Church are that “they . . . live lives reflecting a love of God, a commitment to keeping his commandments, and loyalty to the Church. They are expected to be role models to students of people who are proficient in their discipline and faithful in the Church. All faculty are expected to be role models for a life that combines the quest for intellectual rigor with spiritual values and personal integrity.”65
Funding. BYU’s funding model demonstrates another clear difference in institutional governance and support compared with the approach taken by the other religious universities. Figure 5 suggests that a chief form of funding for the other universities derives from tuition, with the average tuition and fees charged for the 2012–13 school year being $38,116 per school year, compared with $4,710 at BYU (for LDS undergraduates; $9,420 for non-LDS students). BYU’s board of trustees, by contrast, has chosen to provide a subsidy for students that is comparable to what many states provide to state residents who attend a state-supported university. The university’s president, Cecil Samuelson, has stated that Church leaders have determined that the Church would be the primary source of support for the university, contrary to the trends of declining church involvement in other universities, to make it “abundantly clear to whom we would look for our leadership and guidance.”66
Tuition and Other Funding of Religiously Affiliated Universities
|Universities||Tuition (yearly)*||Funding from Church/Order?**|
|Baylor||$30,586||“A few million per year”|
|Catholic U. of America||36,320||No67|
|Loyola of Chicago||33,810||No|
|Saint Louis U.||34,740||No|
|Average tuition without BYU: $38,116|
* Tuition from the websites of each university for 2012–13 school year.
** Funding information from telephone call to financial VP or designee in that office during 2009, except for CUA.
When one of us called financial vice presidents at each of these religiously affiliated universities to ask whether they received funding from the affiliated church or order of the church, the response was often a chuckle and a clear no. In one case, the vice president of a Catholic university commented that it was indeed the other way around. He said that the university administrators are so interested in maintaining a religious presence in an era when those going into the Catholic priesthood is diminishing that they provide a full-time position (FTE) and salary to any department that will hire a priest of the affiliated religious order who also had a terminal degree in the area. After six years, if the department decides to give tenure to that priest/faculty member, the department has to come up with the FTE and funding. As a result of this process, the vice president said the salary for those FTEs across campus, which goes first to the religious order and then a portion to the priest, is helping to fund the order. Vice presidents from several other universities affiliated with the Catholic Church or one of its orders expressed a similar sense that the university actually helped the order in one way or another, rather than the university receiving financial support from the order.
Board membership. Figure 6 shows a comparison of these universities with respect to membership on a governing board or board of trustees. Only four of the universities have a requirement for a particular number of “religious” on the board (specifically: Baylor, BYU, Notre Dame, and Catholic University of America), and only BYU requires that all board members be General Authorities/Officers of the Church. Catholic University of America is the only other university that has more than 50 percent of the board made up of church representatives. Indeed, by the mid-1960s, Catholic university leaders came to believe that only by giving lay people (nonclerics) a “shared legal trusteeship” and a predominant role on boards of trustees would they get the financial resources needed to expand Catholic higher education. They were explicitly concerned that exclusive control of boards by priests, brothers, and nuns would limit or curtail state and federal monies. Most of the Catholic universities moved to increase the proportion of laity on their boards during this period.68
Membership of Governing Boards of Religiously Affiliated Universities
|Universities||% from Affiliated Religion|
|Baylor69||25% from Baptist General Convention of Texas (required)|
|Boston College70||10% are listed Jesuit priests (not required)|
|BYU71||100% are General Officers of the Church; past two BYU presidents have been General Authorities of the Church (not a requirement); all have been Church members in good standing|
|Catholic U. of America72||55.3% with religious titles currently; 24 must be clerics of Catholic Church, 18 of whom must be of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop of Washington is Chancellor of University|
|Fordham73||12.5% with religious titles currently (not required)|
|Georgetown74||12.8% with religious titles currently (not required)|
|Loyola of Chicago75||Percentage not specified|
|Notre Dame76||6 board fellows must be Holy Cross and 6 must be lay persons, and they approve/appoint board of trustees (trustees have no religious requirement); currently 7 of 47 (15%) have religious titles; according to bylaws, president must be a Holy Cross priest|
|Saint Louis U.77||18.8% with religious titles currently (not required)|
In addition, Notre Dame and Catholic University of America both require that their chancellor/president be a Catholic from the particular order or sponsoring church conference. The past two presidents of BYU have come from among the General Authorities of the Church, although there is no requirement that this be the case. However, the board of trustees (all General Authorities or officers of the Church) conducts the search and appoints the president, who has always been a member of the sponsoring church.
Summary of comparisons. Given the history of secularization in higher education, we should perhaps be surprised that any large universities interested in serious research would claim a religious affiliation. We can observe nine universities, mostly Catholic, that have maintained an explicit religious affiliation and seek to foster campus cultures that are open to an association with a particular religious tradition (and in several cases, religious traditions in general). Five of the nine universities do not require a religious presence on the board. They all require that at least six credit hours of the courses a student takes during his or her university experience be at least related to religious thought and lifestyles.
We agree, however, with Baylor scholars Lyon, Beaty, and Mixon that BYU is the most “intentionally religious” of the universities whose faculty they surveyed.78 As we compare BYU with the other religiously affiliated universities that qualify to be on our list, we see evidence as well that BYU is more focused on religiosity in addition to academic excellence than those other universities. Part of the difference must come from variation in what it means to be religious in each of the traditions represented, and that sort of comparison is beyond our current intentions and abilities. Nevertheless, what we can see clearly from our organizational theory perspective, which focuses on institutional and organizational structures, is that BYU is the only research university that has such a close relationship with a church. All of the others have been founded by religiously minded individuals and have developed impressive trajectories of academic improvement while at the same time inviting their campus communities to acknowledge the role of faith in their lives and learning. However, BYU is an integral part of its sponsoring church. Its board members are leaders of the Church, and significant church funds are invested directly in the education of the youth of the Church. No other university is structured in that way. The effects on faculty hiring, faculty attitudes, and curricular requirements are clear.
BYU’s Strong Ties to the Church and Its Goal to Be a Major University
Obviously, the responses by BYU and its sponsoring church to secularization pressures have been significantly “against the grain” of general institutional trends in America. While BYU has been able to develop increased academic excellence and commitment to faith, faculty and administrators often, of necessity, address dilemmas that require special attention. The following questions are representative: How can we grow in academic quality and still hire primarily members of the Church? How will the university and faculty members protect free inquiry in the disciplines and honor scriptural truth as taught by the Church when these interests come in conflict? How can faculty members develop excellent scholarly programs and share their learning in the top journals and presses of their disciplines while working primarily with undergraduate students? Will faculty hold students accountable for obedience to Church standards (honor code and dress and grooming standards, for example) as well as academic performance?
These are the sorts of tensions that, according to both Burtchaell and Marsden, led the pace-setting universities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to seek to free themselves from their affiliated churches. These dilemmas are not the sort that will disappear. They come from the interplay of the reigning “script” about how to be a “real university” and the Church “script” about how to develop faith and character, as well as from the Church’s intention to influence primarily undergraduate students.
Scholarly work by Albert and Whetten provides a framework with which to understand some of the organizational tensions that BYU faculty and administrators face in this institutional environment. They argue that organizations are significantly more efficient when they do not have to specify all of their organizational elements, that is, when the elements are institutionalized and largely taken for granted.79 For example, if you work in a retail bank as opposed to a local grocery store, the organizational structure, reward system, and strategies of the business will differ significantly but will not be explained fully anywhere. In higher education, religious colleges are still taken for granted in this way. They focus on undergraduate teaching in a specific religious context and often hire faculty based on their faith as well as academic expertise. But universities, even private ones, as we have seen, are expected to avoid religious commitments and give primary attention to research.
When organizations violate such institutional expectations or seek to combine expectations from two different institutional environments (in this case, church and academic environments), they are “swimming against the current.” They must exert extra effort to find people willing to be different, educate them about the differences, and help them value the “hybrid” organizational life they must then lead. They must convince those outside the organization upon whom they depend for legitimacy and resources that this way of organizing is valuable, or at least allowable (think of accrediting bodies, graduate schools evaluating undergraduates, funding agencies, alumni, and students, whose approval and support of the university are critical for its ongoing existence and success).
Albert and Whetten, along with many others, suggest, contrary to what we might assume, that a large number of organizations are “hybrid” because they combine two or more organizing scripts.80 For example, one of the most ubiquitous organizational forms is the family business. Family businesses enjoy the commitment of family members to get the business started and do not have to pay them big salaries. However, families tend to operate on an organizing script that gives membership in the family privileges, and businesses tend to operate on the basis of meritocracy (and to establish policies against “nepotism”). Hence, there are usually inherent dilemmas to manage in such hybrid organizations, as well as potential benefits to gain.
BYU is a unique case of hybrid organization because, as President Cecil Samuelson has reaffirmed, “We have been defined by our board of trustees as a primarily undergraduate teaching university with some graduate programs of distinction and high quality.”81 Their intention is to provide the very best education possible, first to undergraduate students, and to offer graduate programs that support, or at least do not detract from, undergraduate education. As figure 7 suggests, the commonly accepted institutional scripts in modern American higher education anticipate that a university will have a strong emphasis on graduate students and research. A religious frame of reference would be expected in small colleges. By explicitly designing BYU as a large university focused on teaching undergraduates in an intentionally religious context, the board of trustees has created a “dual hybrid”: church university and teaching university. The church university raises questions in the institutional environment about how to maintain academic freedom. The teaching university raises questions about time, resources, and students who can join with faculty in research.
BYU as a “Dual Hybrid”
As a Church-University Hybrid
|Expected frame of reference for a top-tier research university||Secular|
|BYU’s frame of reference as a research university||Religious|
As a Teaching-University Hybrid
|Expected focus of effort for a research university||Graduate students|
|BYU’s focus of effort||Undergraduate students|
Most outsiders to BYU would think that the principal tensions would be found in the church-university portion of the hybrid. However, our experience at BYU listening to faculty across campus talk about their career concerns suggests that for most of them the teaching-university tensions are more prominent and ubiquitous. Compared with the number of BYU professors who have academic freedom concerns, significantly more BYU professors wonder about the tension between feeling the need to share their work in the top journals and venues of their discipline while at the same time teaching relatively higher numbers of undergraduates with relatively fewer or no doctoral students to involve in their research.
Church-university tensions. Our observation based on experience finds some confirmation in the research cited earlier by Lyon, Beaty, and Mixon.82 In this study, three Baylor professors compared the attitudes of professors at four of the nine major religious universities (Baylor, Boston College, Brigham Young University, and Notre Dame) regarding their approach to dealing with their religious and academic missions. They surveyed faculty at each of these institutions during the middle to late 1990s. Their questions focused on various aspects of practices and attitudes of these professors in such areas as university goals, classroom activities, extracurricular activities, faculty hiring, academic freedom, and integrating faith and learning. Figure 8 provides several examples of how the responses from faculty at the four institutions compare regarding the roles of faith, scholarship, and academic freedom.
Comparing Faculty Attitudes about Faith and Scholarship in
Four Religiously Affiliated Universities
Survey Statement: Since we strive to be a Christian university, the encouragement of faith and learning are important tasks, but they should be separate and not integrated. (Yes: strongly agree or agree)
Brigham Young: 6%
Notre Dame: 38%; Baylor: 42%; Boston College: 52%
Survey Statement: We should guarantee faculty freedom to explore ideas or theories and publish the results even if they question the sponsoring church’s beliefs and practices. (Yes: strongly agree or agree)
Brigham Young: 32%
Baylor: 90%; Notre Dame: 95%; Boston College 98%
Source: Faculty Responses Reported in Larry Lyon, Michael Beaty, and Stephanie Litizzette Mixon, “Making Sense of a ‘Religious’ University: Faculty Adaptations and Opinions at Brigham Young, Baylor, Notre Dame, and Boston College,” Review of Religious Research 43, no. 4 (2002): 336–37.
BYU faculty are more likely than are faculty at other religious universities to see faith and reason as companion approaches that should be integrated to arrive at understanding and truth.83 Figure 8 shows the comparison of faculty attitudes at BYU and three other universities regarding the idea that faith and learning should be kept separate. It also suggests that when there is conflict between Church doctrine and research findings, BYU faculty are significantly less likely to assume that reason always trumps faith.
The responses to the second question in figure 8 show BYU faculty as much less inclined than faculty at the other universities to guarantee freedom to publish research that questions the sponsoring church’s beliefs and practices. At the time this survey question was asked, BYU faculty members were considering issues raised by an American Association of University Professors (AAUP) investigation many claimed to be related to academic freedom. Since BYU’s academic freedom policy was under scrutiny at that time and the question asked by the Lyon, Beaty, and Mixon survey is similar to but different than the BYU policy, we provide a brief discussion of BYU’s policy.
BYU’s 1992 statement on academic freedom argues for both individual and institutional academic freedom. The intent of BYU’s policy is to grant the individual faculty member freedom to “teach and research without interference, to ask hard questions, to subject answers to rigorous examination, and to engage in scholarship and creative work.” However, it also argues that BYU must have institutional academic freedom to retain the benefits of its unique religious commitments (which benefits include preservation of pluralism in American higher education, antidogmatism, and religious freedom). Both individual and institutional academic freedom are critically important and may occasionally come into conflict. Neither freedom is unlimited. Further, individual academic freedom is limited to some extent in all institutions (for example, secular universities limit racist and anti-Semitic speech, and public institutions limit advocacy of religion to maintain a separation of church and state). Nevertheless, at BYU, “individual academic freedom is presumptive, while institutional intervention is exceptional.” Indeed, at BYU, limitations on individual academic freedom are deemed reasonable only “when the faculty behavior or expression seriously and adversely affects the University mission or the Church.” Such limitations include faculty member expression in public or with students that “contradicts or opposes, rather than analyzes or discusses, fundamental Church doctrine or policy; deliberately attacks or derides the Church or its general leaders; or violates the Honor Code because the expression is dishonest, illegal, unchaste, profane, or unduly disrespectful of others.”84
The Lyon, Beaty, and Mixon survey asks a question about whether faculty should be guaranteed the “freedom to explore any idea or theory and to publish the results of those inquiries, even if the ideas question some traditional (Catholic, Baptist, Mormon) beliefs and practices.”85 At BYU, exploring ideas and publishing results that question the sponsoring church’s beliefs and practices would not be cause for dismissal. Nevertheless, some BYU faculty members may feel that the spirit of such an enterprise would not be in harmony with the academic freedom policy or with the spirit of searching for truth through both rational methods as well as through revelation to prophets of God. Whatever the interpretation BYU faculty members made of these issues, their responses to these and similar questions in the survey suggest that they are more likely to bring together spiritual and rational pursuits of truth than to see tensions between the two approaches. Indeed, from analysis of the results of the BYU responses to the same survey data used by Lyon, Beaty, and Mixon, Wilson reports that “88 percent of the women and 89 percent of the men say that they ‘have more freedom at BYU to teach’ as they deem appropriate than they think they would have elsewhere.”86
Lyon and his colleagues noted that BYU had the highest university religiosity scores on every question by a sizeable margin. The most common rank order was BYU, Baylor, Notre Dame, and Boston College. The Baylor professors concluded their study by saying that “in contrast to the overlap among Baylor, Notre Dame, and Boston College, our data suggest that Brigham Young faculty are distinctively committed to their school’s religious tradition. . . . Brigham Young is more committed to their religious tradition in both organizational structure and faculty attitudes.”87
Of course, BYU faculty members do experience tensions around academic freedom, in some disciplines more than others. Lyon and his associates report that professors in the arts and sciences at all of the universities, including BYU, have greater concerns about academic freedom than their counterparts in other disciplines.88 Particularly among faculty at BYU in the arts and sciences we hear concerns about preparing undergraduates for doctoral work outside of BYU. How can they help students understand and contribute to academic discussions that do not allow for the existence of God or that contradict their faith? How can they help their students be open to important ideas that appear to contradict their faith but that may indeed be a useful corrective to cultural definitions of their faith that may need to be reconsidered? In our experience, these faculty members are in general both academically thoughtful and committed to BYU’s unique mission, and they experience the tensions that result from these dual commitments. Nevertheless, as the Lyon, Beaty, and Mixon survey demonstrates, BYU faculty members seem to feel much less “hybrid identity” tension in these areas than do those at other religious universities, and certainly less than the hybrid identity literature would suggest.
Thus, the hybrid tensions around academic freedom are much more evident in interactions with outside entities like the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), accrediting bodies, and some funding agencies. For example, of the nine major religious universities, only BYU and the Catholic University of America (CUA) have been censured by the AAUP, and both for matters related to religion. CUA’s censure was related to a professor teaching in the university’s theology department in a degree program that requires papal support. The university and a papal board determined that this professor could not teach in that program because of his outspoken criticism of papal encyclicals regarding divorce, “artificial contraception,” “masturbation, pre-marital intercourse and homosexual acts.” The AAUP argued that this professor’s work had been well received in academic circles and that the university could not deprive him of his right to teach material that had received such supportive external peer review.89
In BYU’s case, the AAUP censure was triggered by the university’s decision to deny continuing faculty status (tenure) to a professor who, among other concerns, was unwilling to curb her discussion of prayer to Mother in Heaven (contrary to Church doctrine) after having been told that her expression was inappropriate. The AAUP argued that the university should not have denied this professor her academic freedom to engage in such expression.90
Others have noted that the AAUP is biased against religiously affiliated institutions and have pointed out that a large proportion of its censures have been given to such institutions.91 Many in the AAUP and in the academic world in general see no reason for any religious or faith-based limitations on what faculty members teach or write,92 and therefore universities or colleges that exercise any such limits at all are subject to critique or censure.
Some accrediting bodies for individual disciplines also raise issues related to the mission of religious colleges and universities. For example, in 2001, the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Accreditation conducted a six-month public comment on footnote 4 of its Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology.93 This footnote allows programs with a religious affiliation or purpose to adopt and apply “admission and employment policies that directly relate to this affiliation or purpose,” including policies that “provide a preference for persons adhering to the religious purpose or affiliation,” if certain conditions are met. The concern was that religious universities and programs would use the exemption as a way to discriminate against students and faculty on the basis of their sexual orientation. After a long deliberation, Susan Zlotlow, then head of APA’s Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation, concluded: “The committee remains committed to valuing all kinds of cultural and individual diversity, including religion and sexual orientation. We will continue to work with individual psychology programs to foster diversity.”94 In other words, such tensions are not likely to dissipate for BYU and for other religiously affiliated institutions that take their affiliation seriously.
Based on our observations, we conclude that while there are tensions internally at BYU, the greater tensions faced by faculty and administrators at BYU are with external entities. We argue that institutional pluralism (including a variety of religious as well as secular universities and colleges) is important for the academic landscape just as is the rational approach to scholarship that encourages competition among ideas. We believe that such scholarly tensions in the pursuit of academic learning are, up to a certain point, good for BYU. They help us define our theories and subject our ideas to rigorous testing and peer review. On the other hand, we see a continuing bias against BYU because of its religious commitments that will require vigilance and, in some cases, increased academic rigor to earn respect from skeptical disciplinary colleagues who assume a religious bias.
Teaching-university tensions. The choice to focus on undergraduates is an important one for BYU. One reason is that it allows the Church to influence more students at what could be argued is a relatively more vulnerable life stage than would be the case for graduate students. However, BYU’s undergraduate emphasis suggests a relatively higher teaching load and a lower level of student specialization when compared with a graduate research university. In addition, doctoral programs at BYU are asked to be supportive of this undergraduate emphasis. Faculty groups proposing a new graduate program must show how it contributes to rather than detracts from undergraduate work.
Some faculty members feel the undergraduate focus thus significantly constrains their ability to produce a high quantity of good research. For example, faculty at BYU who have been educated at some of the finest research universities will occasionally question how BYU can involve them in such teaching loads and also expect them to contribute to the best academic journals and presses. In response to such questions, BYU’s president, Cecil Samuelson, has clarified that “we should not, and do not, have exactly the same quantitative standards for our people as another institution might have for its faculty who have little or no other responsibilities. . . . On the other hand, we cannot, and must not, compromise on the qualitative aspects of the creative work that we do here.”95 Indeed, a number of BYU’s faculty have been creative about this tension and have involved some very bright undergraduate students in their research. When done well, the result is a rather unique undergraduate teaching and research university, what President Samuelson has called a “learning university.”96
But Can This Critter Fly?
Trade-offs and Performance
Given such tensions, why would any university or board of trustees consciously choose to organize itself this way? In BYU’s case, we note that its board of trustees, essentially leaders of its sponsoring church, believe that this is the best way to accomplish what are for them important religious priorities: to provide a first-rate educational experience for its youth in the context of faith.97 What should be clear from this article is that there are clearly trade-offs associated with hybrid organizations. They are able to do some things remarkably and perhaps uniquely well. There are other things they don’t do as well. Hybrid organizations also present unique challenges to those who inhabit them. In figure 9, we suggest some of the more obvious advantages and challenges faced by BYU faculty and administrators that derive from the particular choices made by the board to implement its vision of a church teaching university. We argue that, in this case, if you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other end too. From this point of view, we now consider how these conscious organizing choices create specific trade-offs. We also review available evidence on the extent to which these trade-offs are able to produce unique results sought for by the university.
Advantages and Challenges Come Together for BYU
• Stable source of funding
• Excellent teaching and research support
• Outstanding students (primarily undergraduate); low tuition; high grad school and job placement
• Distinctive mission and purpose
• Freedom to combine sacred and secular; most students feel inspired both intellectually and spiritually
• Generally high satisfaction with colleagues and students
• No “elite” researchers; limits on research time; fewer graduate programs
• Below-market pay (for full professors)
• Rarely hire non-LDS faculty; some are excellent
• Need to overcome outsiders’ presumption of religious bias, particularly in some disciplines
• Tendency of some faculty/students to avoid serious discussion of the relationship between faith and learning for fear of creating contention or because they take religious agreement for granted
• Slow hiring process; higher likelihood of faculty “career decay” (average tenure is twenty-five years at BYU)
Given BYU’s choice to be unique as a religious university, determining how well it is performing becomes more difficult. Admittedly, universities have a difficult time measuring success because they have so many publics who worry about quite different outcomes (for example, graduation rates, acceptance rates, win-loss records of athletic teams, amount of endowment, number of Nobel Prize winners, number of articles published in “A” journals, amount of government grants, impact on the local or national economy due to inventions by faculty and students, percentage of graduates employed, acceptance rates of graduates in quality graduate programs). In BYU’s case, these criteria are not all of equal importance. For example, its official policy is not to limit government funding, but it refuses to seek or receive funding that compromises its independence from certain government requirements that are incompatible with its religious commitments. As we have already seen, President Samuelson has invited faculty to engage in quality research in the best venues but perhaps not at the quantity level that some graduate research universities would require. In addition, BYU faculty focus significant attention on helping students develop in ways that go beyond intellectual ability, including being “spiritually strengthened,” developing Christian character, and living a life of continued learning and service.98
Because it is so closely aligned with the purposes of its sponsoring church, BYU receives uniquely stable funding. In what would seem an unusual move in a research university, the BYU board does not allow government research grant recipients to keep indirect funds to hire staff or to use in renting space. Rather, the board includes all indirect-cost money in the general budget of the university, where it is used to provide quite generous funding available to all faculty for travel, hiring of research assistants, and so forth.99 One result is that faculty members do not have the same incentive that faculty in other universities do to bid for more government grants and thus become relatively independent of the university. Indeed, BYU policy limits the number of faculty members who can buy out their time from teaching during the fall and winter semesters to six full-time faculty equivalents across the entire university.100 In terms of total research and development funds from federal sources expended each year, BYU ranks 226th in the U.S.101 We have also already noted the limitations on the number of graduate students and programs and the need to have them be supportive of rather than detrimental to BYU undergraduates. These trade-offs encourage the faculty to involve students (often undergraduate) in their research and to allow them to travel to conferences and research opportunities. They also provide opportunities for students to be involved as teaching assistants, for whom the university provides excellent teacher-development and online-learning supports. On the other hand, these conditions do not facilitate the flourishing of relatively independent “elite” researchers with their cadre of doctoral student followers.
As we mentioned earlier, BYU limits the number of graduate programs and the number of graduate students (to around 10 percent of the student body). Graduate programs must not detract from and should strengthen undergraduate programs. As a result, few departments outside of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas have doctoral programs. Some faculty members in the areas without doctoral programs see the advantage of working with very bright undergraduate students and often treat them like doctoral students. Those with doctoral students also make significant efforts to include undergraduates in their research. Over $2 million a year is spent from a variety of funds to sponsor “undergraduate mentored research” efforts that provide a stipend for students and for faculty members who collaborate in this program. This effort, along with the caliber of BYU students, has been credited with the growing number of BYU undergraduates who have gone on to obtain PhDs. Indeed, BYU ranks tenth among U.S. universities in the past ten years and fifth in the past five years in the number of its undergraduates who go on to receive doctorates.102
In addition, a recent report from BYU’s office of research and creative activities shows that over the past forty years both the quantity and quality (as indicated by citations) of scholarly work by faculty members has increased rather significantly. Figure 10 displays the increases in scholarly publications. Figure 11 shows the number of citations in each decade for articles published in that decade. Note the significant increases in publications and the accelerated rate of increase in citations particularly in the past two decades. These are not comparisons with other universities, but they suggest a marked improvement.
Further, while assistant and associate professors tend to have salaries that are competitive with those of the same rank at comparable universities, full professors at BYU tend to receive lower than market salaries.103 That is likely most true in the areas where many other universities are willing to pay large salaries to professors who can teach in “executive education” programs or bring in large government contracts, thus generating additional funds by which their particular program provides a higher proportion of its own budget.
In terms of students, BYU is blessed with undergraduates who are, relative to other universities, very well prepared for college and who are attracted to the excellent academic programs taught in the context of their faith. They and their parents are attracted by the wholesome religious environment, but the relatively low tuition is undoubtedly an attraction as well. For the past two years, BYU has been the “most popular” national university in the United States, and this year (2012) it was second only to Harvard. The measure of popularity fashioned by U.S. News & World Report is essentially a “yield rate” that calculates the “percentage of applicants accepted by a college who end up enrolling at that institution in the fall.” BYU’s rate has been around 75 percent.104 Further, the top 1,500 students in the BYU freshman class, about the size of the entire freshman class at Harvard or Stanford, look equal on paper to students at those universities in terms of intellectual ability. For example, their ACT scores are 30 (96th percentile) or higher. The average ACT score for the whole incoming freshman class in 2012 (7,101 admitted) is 28.13 (91st percentile).105 Furthermore, 84 percent of them have completed a four-year Duty to God or Young Women’s award program, wherein they have engaged in significant service and talent development. Almost all of them (96 percent) have completed four years of seminary (eight semesters of studying the doctrine of the Church during high school; 47 percent of the students have taken this class at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m., before their regular high school classes started). In addition, 71 percent of incoming freshmen were involved in sports, 83 percent participated in performing arts, and 76 percent were employed during their high school years. By the time they complete their undergraduate experience, approximately 85 percent of the men and 15 percent of the women (about 50 percent of students) have completed full-time missionary service for the Church (two years for men and eighteen months for women). In large part because so many of these missions require learning a second language, approximately 70 percent of graduating seniors speak another language.106
Certainly, students and their parents are drawn to BYU by its religious environment and the opportunities to meet other youth of their faith, but they are also drawn by the academic quality and, increasingly, by the relatively low tuition (see figure 5). Tuition at BYU is even lower than tuition for many state-funded institutions (for example, the University of Utah tuition for 2012–13 is $6,764 for in-state residents,107 compared to BYU’s tuition for LDS students of $4,710).108 Indeed, as state governments have been pressed to reduce their budgets, many have cut their contributions to public education, and for this reason, among others, universities have increasingly raised their tuition and fees at rates many times greater than yearly inflation increases to cover the lost revenue.109 Of course, private universities have to charge even more tuition to cover their costs, but most of them raise money through donations to provide scholarships and help students apply for government grants. CNNMoney has compared the total yearly costs of universities and colleges in the U.S. (this includes tuition, fees, room and board, and books; it excludes grants and scholarships).110 We present in figure 12 the comparative results for the nine religious universities we have been considering. The differences in costs are not as great as those seen in figure 5, but BYU’s costs are nevertheless more than 2.5 times less than the average cost for the other universities. In the current economic climate, BYU’s favorable cost advantage combined with the religious and social environment and academic quality of its offerings make it indeed a desirable place. No wonder it rivals Harvard as the most popular university in the country.
Total Average Cost of College Per Year after Grants/Scholarships111
|Catholic U of A||32,200||32,800|
|Saint Louis U.||26,400||30,700|
|Average without BYU||$24,187.50||$29,450|
Some BYU faculty members have felt that while the quality of the faculty is good, the university could get better faster if it opened searches to consider non-LDS candidates more seriously. The board of trustees has determined that to pursue BYU’s mission faithfully requires the vast majority of faculty members to be committed members of the faith. We will examine later why this choice is so important, given the way BYU is designed. For now, we want to recognize the trade-off that this choice entails. Even before the current rather austere economic climate, in which positions at many universities have been cut and hiring was curtailed or ceased entirely for a time, faculty candidates of other faiths or of no particular faith tradition would often apply for positions at BYU. Some of them were very well prepared and clearly could have helped improve the intellectual quality of BYU’s teaching and research contributions. However, with rare exceptions, LDS candidates have been sought or a department has been encouraged to hire faculty temporarily until qualified LDS candidates could finish their terminal degrees. Indeed, several departments across campus have developed doctoral preparation programs (often teaching them as an overload) to give their undergraduate students the necessary background to be admitted into the best PhD programs, with the hope that some of them will come back in the future as faculty members. This approach requires significant patience and confidence in the idea that it is critical to have faculty members who are both academically alive and well grounded in the faith of the sponsoring church.
Certainly, the increasing number of BYU undergraduates who pursue a PhD is helping to create more robust and well-qualified faculty hiring pools. And many LDS faculty candidates are drawn to BYU because of its distinctive commitment to developing faith and intellect. On the other hand, the closeness to the Church and any limitations like those discussed earlier (such as contradicting or opposing fundamental Church doctrine or policy, or deliberately attacking or deriding the Church or its general leaders) can lead to criticism from those outside the university. One consequence of this situation is that in many disciplines BYU professors feel that they are scrutinized regarding potential religious bias and feel discriminated against in some journals, academic presses, or other outlets for faculty work. Some faculty members would like to engage in Mormon studies early in their careers but are advised to first establish credibility as a scholar in non-Mormon topics, for fear that (1) they will not develop the rigor and respect necessary to overcome a presumption of religious bias, and (2) they may become focused only on Mormon studies and fail to be current and growing in important disciplinary areas that need to be represented and taught at the university. Some faculty members have noted the irony that no other institution has the breadth and depth of research capacity combined with interest in Mormon themes, and yet BYU has relatively few faculty members who focus on Mormon studies. The reasons are complex and beyond our ability to address in this article but are related to the hybrid nature of BYU and its relationship to multiple institutional environments with often conflicting expectations.
As we demonstrated earlier, most BYU faculty members feel freer academically at BYU than they would at any other university.113 They sincerely appreciate the freedom to discuss their motives (often related to their religious values) and their faith in conjunction with secular subjects. In recent surveys we have conducted with undergraduate students, the large majority respond that in their classroom involvement with BYU professors they expect to grow both intellectually and religiously (spiritually). Further, they believe that, by and large, they have such integrated experiences in many of their classes. Nevertheless, they would like to see even more opportunities for serious and thoughtful integration of both aspects of learning promised by BYU’s mission statement.114 BYU professors are relatively supportive of this mission, as we have noted in the research by Lyon and his associates.115 However, we have observed several responses from BYU faculty members that preclude more serious reflection and efforts to develop the ability to make such integration. Some assume that since we are primarily LDS faculty and students, we must all agree about any particular topic. These faculty make comments in class that take for granted this presumed agreement and tend to close down rather than open up exploration of potentially important insights. Others fear that examination of our differences will lead to contention and believe that we have a mandate to avoid contention at all costs (3 Ne. 11:29–30). Still others express openly the thought that because of these two previous tendencies, bringing faith-related ideas into a discussion of secular subjects will water down the learning and destroy real critical thinking.
We have interviewed individually and in focus groups many faculty members across the disciplines at BYU who are in the top 25 percent of their college or discipline in student ratings measuring how much the students learned in their class and how much they were strengthened spiritually. Interestingly, there are many things about how to integrate faith and learning about which faculty do not agree (for example, whether prayer is necessary to begin class, whether the introduction of religious ideas should be spontaneous or planned, and whether the ideas have to be tightly integrated with the secular subject). Nevertheless, there was virtual unanimity about the idea that relationships of trust and sincere concern precede any genuine investigation of something so important as how faith and reason are related and how that intersection contributes to the growth of character. These faculty members employed a variety of ways to demonstrate their concern for students and a variety of ways related to their own personality and discipline to consider faith and learning issues, but they almost universally embraced the concept of beginning with a relationship of Christian caring and high expectations for the potential and importance of each student. In addition, some were quite articulate about how they introduced potentially sensitive or complex areas of combining faith and learning.116
Because the Church and the university care so deeply about having faculty serve as role models of both academic excellence and faithfulness, the hiring process is very deliberate. Most faculty candidates are eager enough to be considered for a faculty position that they put up with the higher number of interviews (including by General Authorities) and the longer hiring process. Indeed, many have such respect for the General Authorities that they feel honored these men would take time to interview them personally and believe the interview is a statement of how much BYU is an integral part of the work of the Church. However, the slow process and its almost exclusive focus on candidates who are members of the sponsoring church limit the number and quality of candidates in the hiring pool. It may also lead some candidates to accept employment offers that come earlier in the hiring cycle with a deadline for responding that precedes BYU’s ability to make an offer.
For a number of reasons, once faculty members have been hired at BYU, they become part of an intellectual and faith community that many would not easily consider leaving. We are aware of many faculty members who have turned down opportunities at prestigious universities because of their commitment to the mission of BYU and to their colleagues and students here. At the Faculty Center, we sponsor an annual retirement dinner to celebrate those who are retiring from the university that year. As mentioned earlier, the average tenure at the university of those who retire is approximately twenty-five years, or most of a faculty career. That is, most faculty members are “lifers.” The good news is that their loyalty and desire to remain at the university can lead to great willingness to sacrifice and contribute in a variety of important but not always glamorous ways to the growth of the community. The challenge is that some of these faculty members may be so sacrificing that they do not remain current in their discipline and lose the ability to contribute as much intellectually.
These trade-offs are illustrative of the fact that BYU is uniquely designed to do some things better than others. Those who would improve the university must take into account how such “improvements” would affect the intentional tensions that make BYU uniquely able to teach and nurture undergraduates in the context of a specific faith.
The approach we have been using to understand hybrid organizations affords us a critical insight: participants in hybrid-identity organizations must learn to deal with inherent dilemmas or tensions, many of which cannot be definitively resolved. Attempts to completely resolve the dilemmas—by ignoring one aspect of the dilemma, for example—significantly change the nature of the organization and eliminate the benefits of that hybrid nature. In the case of BYU, the church-university dilemmas will most likely persist unless the American higher education institutional environment becomes more open to the possibility that religion and freedom of inquiry can coexist, or unless BYU and its sponsoring church become less concerned about the importance of faith. Alternatively, the Church and BYU could decide not to take seriously BYU’s academic reputation. Of course, such a direction would significantly reduce the value of an education for students and for the Church and university. Furthermore, Church leaders have routinely emphasized their expectation that BYU be a place where faculty members and students can and should succeed both academically and spiritually, and most faculty members and students agree with them and come to BYU with that hope in mind.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, at the time a member of the Church’s First Presidency, captured this sense of the need to deal well with intentional dilemmas in order to fulfill BYU’s unique mission when he said: “This institution is unique. It is remarkable. It is a continuing experiment on a great premise that a large and complex university can be first class academically while nurturing an environment of faith in God and the practice of Christian principles. You are testing whether academic excellence and belief in the Divine can walk hand in hand. And the wonderful thing is that you are succeeding in showing that this is possible.”117
Some Design Choices Are More Critical Than Others
Some of the design choices and resulting trade-offs that we have just reviewed seem more critical than others. Changing some of these policies might begin to erode the uniqueness of BYU, but changing three of them would likely destroy what makes BYU so remarkable: (1) the almost exclusive focus on hiring LDS faculty members and the heavy investment in their socialization, (2) the significant financial support from the Church, and (3) the related policy oversight by the board of trustees. Of course, not coincidentally, these were some of the most prominent factors whose change led to the secularization of religious universities and colleges.
Perhaps one more element from the Albert and Whetten study of hybrid organizations will help us understand why these factors are so important. The authors describe two alternative ways that a hybrid organization can deal with disparate organizing scripts: ideographic and holographic.118 The ideographic approach seeks to keep each organizing script located primarily in separate parts of the organization, whereas the holographic approach seeks to have each member of the organization embody and deal with the tensions personally. Figure 13 displays these alternatives and suggests how they are applied in different institutions and with respect to the two underlying dilemmas or tensions inherent in BYU’s unique approach to being a church-teaching university. Regarding the church-university dilemma, most religious research universities organize ideographically. They may have priests or other religious officials working as student-life advisers or teaching in a theology department, but the majority of the faculty are hired for their qualifications to teach a particular subject and are not necessarily expected to bring a Catholic or Protestant perspective into the classroom or their counseling of students. In this approach, students are exposed to faith in some settings and to reason in other settings, with little explicit overlap. Faculty and staff are also organized in ways that keep them in relatively homogenous subgroups, so that they do not often confront hybrid tensions.119
Alternative Approaches to Organizing Hybrids
(“compound in one”;
(“separate but equal”;
|Church University||Faith and Reason
|Faith or Reason
|Teaching University||Teaching and Scholarship
|Teaching or Scholarship
By contrast, BYU organizes “holographically.” The founding charge from President Brigham Young, then the President of the Church, to the first principal of Brigham Young Academy was “not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God.”120 Following this approach, faculty members are expected to find ways to combine faith and reason in their relationships with students. As another Church leader explained, it is not intended “that all of the faculty should be categorically teaching religion constantly in their classes, but . . . that every . . . teacher in this institution would keep his subject matter bathed in the light and color of the restored gospel.”121
Regarding the teaching-university dilemmas or tensions, some secular research universities tend to organize and reward in ways that keep the teaching and the research relatively separate. Indeed, graduate students are significantly involved in teaching undergraduates, and the greatest indication that a faculty member is valued is that he or she gets a reduced teaching load. Faculty members more often teach graduate students who work with them on their research. In contrast, at BYU, faculty members are expected to give significant attention to both teaching (particularly undergraduates) and research, and both activities count heavily in whether a faculty member is given continuing faculty status (tenure) or is promoted.
Selecting “hybrid” faculty. Such expectations put a premium on who is hired at BYU. Faculty are expected not merely to be civil to people in a different part of campus who respond to a “different drummer” institutionally (for example, those who work with honor-code violations or those who teach religion courses full time), but they are expected to embody the dilemmas and bring them together in their work. Faculty members who are uninterested in the particular dilemmas they will have to manage at BYU are not likely to enjoy their experience or want to perform well. On the other hand, most faculty report that they feel freer here than they would at any other university because of the unique environment that includes these dilemmas. Indeed, members of the Church who have gone through doctoral or other terminal-degree experiences outside of BYU have had to learn to manage their own personal dilemmas that may be inherent in the organizational dilemmas BYU is designed to create. Because of their religious commitments to marriage and family, for example, a relatively large proportion of them have been married with children during their postgraduate studies and have had to learn how to balance family, professional, Church, and other commitments. They have also been exposed to those whose academic and personal values are quite different from theirs, and many learn how to balance faithful commitment and tolerance. Many of them have had to work through the dilemmas of reconciling their faith with what they are learning about homosexuality, evolution, or other topics that have been historically problematic for some Christian groups. They also find in their religion many paradoxes, like justice and mercy, that are inherently similar to the dilemmas we have been discussing: essential, often apparently incompatible, and ultimately responsible for their sense of unique identity as well as for their growth, learning, and happiness.
In other words, time spent finding those who have already learned about dilemma management is likely to be a key determinant in the ability of BYU to create a holographic approach to teaching and learning. Such an approach requires much greater ability to deal with tensions of the sort we have been discussing but also promises a much richer outcome of understanding and furthering the university’s mission.
Developing “hybrid faculty” through socialization. In addition to carefully selecting those whose background has provided dilemma-management experience, BYU invests significant funds to help new faculty “learn the ropes” and make a quick start on their career. For example, new faculty members engage in an eighteen-month development program that introduces them to BYU’s mission, campus resources, and teaching, research, and citizenship requirements. This program also helps them find a mentor to work with on three projects (research, teaching, and service/citizenship) and gives them time with the BYU president and a member of the board of trustees for questions and answers. As one indication of their level of support and involvement, they spend half-days for two weeks at the end of their first school year engaged in workshops focused on the topics listed above, among other things. They are paid for attending this two-week seminar and receive additional remuneration when they complete the three projects. Beyond these formal university efforts to socialize new faculty, departments and colleges often sponsor their own “on-boarding” programs. These programs help new faculty address both the religious-academic and the teaching-research dilemmas that lie at the heart of BYU’s hybrid identity.
Some faculty members also become involved in additional socialization regarding the hybrid nature of BYU when they are called to serve in lay ministry positions in congregations of students. They often meet with students for church services on the weekends in the same rooms where they have taught secular subjects during the week. Furthermore, a significant proportion of the faculty outside of Religious Education professors (these are full-time teachers of religion classes) have taught a religion class.
Import of Church financial and policy support. Even with all of these efforts and the growing ability to find LDS faculty who are well prepared and faithful, the dilemmas and related tensions we have reviewed have led to pressures from outside and inside BYU to relieve them just as other religious educational institutions have done. As at other universities, some very wealthy donors have been willing to give more money if it funds their favorite emphasis. The board has routinely responded that the Church would provide the bulk of the funding and accept only those donations that help further the ends they have negotiated with the university and approved.122 Over the years, faculty and administrators have asked for permission to engage in greater efforts to obtain government funding and be allowed to keep the indirect cost allocations to build their own programs. As mentioned previously, the board has routinely removed much of the indirect-cost monies from the specific projects and provided generous research support across the university (though not at the level that some more research-oriented faculty might like). Others have asked for more graduate programs and graduate students, for fewer required religion courses, or for their courses to count as part of the religion requirement. These proposals usually meet with a negative response because they do not conform to the mission of BYU. In these and many other ways, the board of trustees has provided a steady hand along with stable funding, without which many of the dilemmas would likely have dissolved into following the more predominant academic organizing script.
Perhaps with this perspective we can see why so few religious universities remain and why BYU is unique among them in this niche. The particular hybrid dilemmas that BYU has chosen are not inevitable. That is, we can imagine other combinations of tensions or specific applications of them. However, any institution whose leaders and faculty set out to create a unique hybrid identity that combines faith and learning is likely to have to address the basic factors we have examined and to do so with unusual financial and policy support over a long period of time. As organizational scholars, we marvel at the unique combination of these factors at BYU.