Sunday, February 3, 2008

Intellectual Honesty at the BYU's Religion Department

I have decided to raise a few red flags for consideration by the BYU Religion Department and BYU generally. I question the fact that graduate and research assistant have not been receiving the recognition they deserve. It is no skin off a BYU professor's nose to list their assistants as co-authors. I have checked recently to see if it has changed in the twenty years since I worked for seven years in the BYU Religion Department but it looks about the same. Since I doubt I will ever work at BYU I am writing this post. In the Mormon Church they say the "truth will make you free." I have found it mostly gets you in trouble.

I believe that the BYU Religion Department does an excellent job in preparing researchers. I just think they should be as professional as other universities in sharing co-authorship with rising young scholars. I think they need to raise the bar on giving credit where credit is due.

I have worked in the academic world for nearly twenty-five years now. I hold a doctorate in education and my entire adult life except for two years I have worked in eight colleges/universities. I have held the rank of associate professor at three institutions, assistant professor at two institutions, and instructor at one institution. I received tenure at one of these Universities passing three rank, promotion, and tenure committees because of my teaching effectiveness, scholarship/research, and service. I have nearly twenty-five publications in a peer-reviewed journal. I have been assigned to do twelve more articles for K-8 educators on South American cultures which will take five or six more years since I average 2-3 articles per year.

I gained my research skills and intermediate writing skills at BYU as an undergraduate and graduate research assistant to several BYU professors including, Dillon Inuoye, Grant Von Harrison, LaMar Berrett, Richard O. Cowan, Donald Q. Cannon, Larry Porter, James Allen, and Reed Benson. I did research on several publications. Only two professors ever mentioned me in the grateful mention page as having assisted in any way. Richard Cowan in Temples to Dot the Land and James B. Allen in his History of Salt Lake City. I was even the main compiler for the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson and was not named as compiler although I have a small mention on the acknowledgement page with V. Dennis Wardle the other compiler.

In 1981 I did a voluntary apprenticeship for Richard O. Cowan in the Religion Department at the BYU's Religion Department. I spent hundreds of hours researching LDS Temple work. Dr. Cowan and I eventually compiled a bibliography with selected articles. It was paid for by Homer Ellsworth, a prominent Salt Lake City physician who worked in the Salt Lake Temple and was a close friend to many General Authorities. Dillon Inuoye, a professor in the Instructional Science department at BYU was one of my mentors and one of the few men I dealt with at BYU who believed in intellectual integrity. He wanted to develop a new generation of scholars to take the place of those who were already at BYU or to enhance the corp of existing scholars. I had respect for him because of the many students that he helped. He arranged for Homer to pay for the compilation. I began paid employment with Dr. Cowan and worked for him for a three year period and grew to love and respect him. My only sense of disappointment was he never once offered me a co-authorship nor did it cross his mind to do so. Although he was a kind man the system at the religion department was that the main professors had research assistants. In his case being blind he had to depend on the eyes of his assistants and secretary so he trained us to be good researchers and writers. Some of his former assistants who later got jobs did co-author but not as assistants.

David Whitaker, an archivist and researcher in the Harold B. Lee library, wrote a historiography and said that Cowan and Bruno's compilation was the best to that date. Jay Perry drew heavily on it when he later did one himself. It was the only time I was acknowledged and that was because I handled all the arrangements myself except the selection of the articles which Dr. Cowan and I did together. Homer Ellsworth got to give a copy to all LDS General Authorities except for A. Theodore Tuttle. Dr. Cowan and I went to present it to him since he wanted something similar done when he was Provo Temple President. I never received one letter of thanks for my dozens of hours of work but I did get my name listed as a co-compiler.

The majority of my bosses at the BYU Religion Department placed a heavy demand on me asking me to do a significant portion of their research and to write rough drafts of articles. They demanded results and pushed me. I was told on a couple of occasions to produce or I would be replaced. A few of my researched and written pieces ended up in the Ensign. One of the professors told me laughing I thought about giving you an * and mentioning your work but I didn't in the end. One time I lived in his ward where he was my bishop and he called me in to his office. He said the Spirit told me I should call you as my counselor but I said "naw you don't dress nice enough." He had a wicked sense of humor. The few times I have seen him in the last twenty-five years he asks me if I'm still married to my wife saying I thought she would have divorced you years ago.

He as well as my other bosses placed a great deal of pressure on me to produce material for publication. One time one of my bosses wanted an article from Playboy Magazine. He told me that I was elected to get it. When I told him I had trouble morally doing that he said "if I didn't get it I could look for another job and he would find someone who wanted to be his assistant bad enough." I didn't have much choice with a wife and young children to support so when I went to the U I cranked the reel super fast to avoid seeing the color film with the naked women. My consolation he said was to have my miles paid and lunch covered. I did find the interview by Jim Clayton that he said was critical to the chapter he was writing. I guess that is why I later got a grateful acknowledgment. In most academic environments there is a publish or perish mentality including in the religion department at BYU.

I also worked on a couple of books besides the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. At the time I was made to believe that my contributions since I was being paid as an assistant were paying my dues where I would later get my reward. I later found out when I attended Ball State University that wasn't the case in major universities. A member of my doctoral committee who hired me to teach full-time wanted to co-author publications with me because we both had an interest in diversity. She was a full professor and chair of the library science department and had written two nationally recognized books and held many national positions.

I learned by observing professors at Ball State that you can work for the person and co-author that there really wasn't a conflict of interest. They considered your assistantship or fellowship as a way to help you get a degree and establish yourself as a researcher and scholar. I had a fellowship in the department of Education where all the professors used their assistants for research and writing but they gave them a second or third place under authorship and co-presented with them at conferences. Sometimes four or five people were listed on articles or presented together. This did not happen at BYU. A few CES types held assistantships but also taught so they weren't similar to the rest of his assistants.

I learned that most major schools did this to promote their most promising students so they would be more marketable and gain positions in other universities. I have continued to write with that professor now for twelve years. Sometimes I do the majority of the research and more than half of the writing but since the very beginning when our roles were reversed she gave me first authorship because she is near the end of her career. Even though she is fully tenured she still needs to produce one or two articles a year for post tenure requirements to keep her position, it doesn't matter whether she is second in authorship.

On one of the books at BYU I did at least half the research and sat for dozens of hours helping craft the text for what became a major book. I do admit it made me a first class writer so that I was able to write on the fly but looking back I wonder why I wasn't offered a joint authorship. I don't think the professor involved or most of his colleagues in the religion department really thought about including their assistants as co-authors no matter how much research help or writing the young scholars contributed.

One article I researched and wrote for another religion professor, he humorously critiqued me telling me he had trouble with about five transitions between paragraphs so he made a handful of changes and published it almost verbatim without giving me a co-authorship. It was a historical piece on an unusual historical event. I even came up with some other choice historical tidbits that professors took credit for. I was supposed to feel lucky that I was paying my dues since if I ever wanted to get hired later in the religion department this was a form of apprenticeship. Since I never received a job in the CES or at the religion department it was a great disappointment even today I wonder why I didn't get a break. I applied more than twelve times for jobs and was turned down every time. Only once did I get real consideration when Dean Garrett was chair. He respected my teaching and work. I had student taught under him at American Fork High School and he had recommended me for hiring. Most people I watched permanently hired were hired a few times on the basis of relationship rather than ability. A few like Van Orden or Holzapfel earned my respect because they were all-around researchers, teachers, and scholars but some I saw hired were works in progress like me.

I am publishing this blog because I have learned by sad experience that these individuals think they are above being held to national standards. I don't accuse all the faculty of this practice but I do think there are a few involved in it. I am speaking up because I have been angry about this issue for twenty years. I think it is something that needs to be changed if it still exists.

I discussed it with one of my former bosses who told me my foreword to the Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord compilation was motivated by Satan when I wrote how disappointed I was for not being listed as compiler of the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson and mentioning how Sheri Dew rejected my manuscript. He thought I should just shut my mouth and feel differently. I told him I would follow some advice he gave me years ago when working on Spencer W. Kimball on Missionary Work with Yoshihiko Kikuchi to "walk in the light." I told him when I stood before the judgment bar of God I would speak out then on the matter and would feel that for the eternities and that unless someone made it right I wasn't going to change my mind.

I believe in social justice. Since I could be targeted for attack by some I will self-disclose. Even a couple of times in my life when I had a questionable ethical lapse it was because the individuals involved kept saying how I should get a certain job but never actually helping me. They only helped me later when the situation was desperate and they never got me the job I was promised at all. They gave me intermediate help so I could work for anyone other than them. A few of them think I have too honest a personality which they feel is obnoxious.

That is far from the truth since I have survived in two major university systems gaining rank and tenure while serving as a university senator at SDSU, and California Faculty Association Union Representative handling grievances. I survived longer than any other university librarian in a Black University in a twenty year period. In my current job I actually hobnob with the royal family of Saudi Arabia working for the King's brother Prince Salman Azziz al Saudi at Prince Sultan University.

I couldn't buy a job at BYU even if I'm one of the best qualified people in the country because I have complained when I saw nepotism or unprofessional treatment. I once turned in a university president for using tithing funds to build a special needs child a playhouse which he then claimed to have repaid. I suspect I might even be blacklisted since I have been turned down more than fifty times for jobs with the LDS Church. Despite having an ALA-Accredited MLS, an advanced certificate in archival management, 60 graduate hours all but thesis in history, and a doctorate in education. Not to mention nearly seventy publications a third in peer-reviewed journals I have never been treated as a professional by BYU when applying of a job.

Fifteen times I was turned down at the HBLL library despite being considered one of the top librarians in the country. I have been nominated five years in a row to be on the governing board of the American Library Association, receiving over 2,000 votes to govern the 40,000 member group and missing election by fewer than 300 votes. I don't believe for one minute all the best scholars in the nation work at BYU. I think many do but there are many who are overlooked not just because of philosophical differences.

I observed when I worked at BYU Religion Department a former head of Ancient Scripture hire his son-in-law who went on to do a doctorate. I saw a few of their children hired later as professors through their influence. I also remember once going to the son-in-law's apartment when he was single and watching him and another current religion professor laugh at Boyd K. Packer and praise Mike Quinn and the Seventh East Press. I guess that was the folly of their youth. I was such a conservative I almost wrote Packer about them when they were later hired. However, they have since proved to be good scholars and teachers but I held my tongue for twenty years looking from the outside in while they had jobs and I did not. I really believe I would have produced as much. I learned how easy it was to teach since the students put you on a pedestal I taught for two years at BYU-Hawaii and gave one or two firesides a month the whole time I was there. It had nothing to do with me but the position I held as a religion teacher.

I take for my text the policy the Department of Religious Studies hold for students and which I believe should be applied to faculty publications as well:

"Intentional plagiarism is a form of intellectual theft that is in violation of the Church Educational System Honor Code and may subject the student to appropriate disciplinary action administered through the University Honor Code Office, in addition to academic sanctions that may be applied by an instructor. Inadvertent plagiarism, while not in violation of the Church Educational System Honor Code, is nevertheless a form of intellectual carelessness that is unacceptable in the academic community. Plagiarism of any kind is completely contrary to the established practices of higher education where all members of the University are expected to acknowledge the original intellectual work of others that is included in one's own work. In some cases, plagiarism may also involve violations of copyright law.

Intentional plagiarism is the deliberate act of representing the words, ideas, or data of another as one's own without providing proper attribution to the author through quotation, reference or footnote." Does that include taking credit for the work of your research assistants? Or is that something different?

I guess they fall under the policy for inadvertent plagarism and have imposed a looser interpretation to themselves:

"Inadvertent plagiarism involves the inappropriate, but non-deliberate use of another's words, ideas, or data without proper attribution. Inadvertent plagiarism usually results from an ignorant failure to follow established rules for documenting sources or from simply being insufficiently careful in research and writing. Although not a violation of the Church Educational System Honor Code, inadvertent plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct for which an instructor can impose appropriate academic sanctions. Students who are in doubt as to whether they are providing proper attribution have the responsibility to consult with their instructor and obtain guidance."

I checked some recent publications of the BYU Religion Department and I couldn't find any co-publications with research assistants. Maybe they have changed and do their own research and writing but I doubt it. I couldn't find a slew of new co-authorships so I suspect it might still be going on. How is that possible with the above policy of ethical behavior?

I think this is an ongoing unethical practice that should be stamped out not only in the religion department but across the whole BYU campus. I see some young turks or grad assistants blogging and wonder if any of them have received credit for their help in articles, chapters, or books in which they have done a major part in researching and ghost writing. I think we need a few other testimonials to get some action. If the assistants are still doing what I and several others did then they should be listed as secondary authors. It is time to share the credit with today's young LDS scholars.


Jorge said...

That's very sad practice going on. I think students should get the guts to ask for co-authorship directly from the professors they are working with. And Dr. B, I think you should try the same thing; may be you should just ask for it directly from the professors you worked with 20 years ago, that is if you still care about it. Maybe i'm naive, but as a general rule, going directly to the school, without going first to the professors, might make the professors get a harder stance on this.

I think many times, this kind of behavior is cultural and comes from the community of scholars not having enough interaction with national and international community. Moreover, if professors get their children hired on to their same departments, it might only perpetrate the practice. Hopefully this is changing already.

Nick Literski said...

A good friend of mine earned his MA at BYU. He had been working in a department of the HBL Library, and his supervisor happened to be on his thesis committee. One day he walked into the office and was surprised to find his boss, who was working on a bibliography for publication, sitting at the computer with my friend's thesis open next to him. The boss was copying my friend's bibliography verbatim, and oddly enough, never included my friend's thesis in that same published bibliography, despite it being on topic. Shameful.

Dr. B said...

Jorge, that is good advice but in the case of the Teachings book I was told I would be listed as a compiler which never happened. In the other case it is hard to invite yourself when your ability to work from semester to semester could end if someone else takes your place.

Nick, I think that is unethical that he wasn't included or that his boss used his materials without asking. I guess it is another example of feeling they paid you so it is their property rather than a collaborative effort.

Nick Literski said...

It's worse than that. My friend wasn't paid for his dissertation work. He was paid to work for the library. This boss just chose to steal my friend's bibliographic work. There was no potential (bad) argument of renumeration.

Jacob J said...

Wow, I instinctively hope that what you are saying is not widespread, but wherever it is going on it should be brought to light.

M&M said...

I agree that this is a problem but rather than post on a blog where the chance of someone who can change it reading it, why not just write the department directly? If your goal really is change rather than simply exposure (this post really feels more like the latter to me in tone...I hope that isn't your only motivation), take it between you and them (and/or those who could encourage change), share your experiences and concerns, and kindly make suggestions. You might be surprised. :)

Dr. B said...


I have made my concerns known and expressed my opinion to many people who could have done something over the years but have chosen not to. I even had an apostle who I chose not to identify state I should have been given credit but no one chose to do that.

I think as a topic of a blog it will get some discussion since I notice people at the LDS Church and other BYU types read my blog. I am afraid private matters don't always get action other than being ignored or told to shut up. This was a private matter but now it is a public one with my having less than twenty years to live. I have high blood pressure and diabetes I am taking a ethical stand because I don't anticipate living more than twenty more years. That is what blogging is about to discuss what is correct and what is not. I am not some disaffected member I expect that social justice would be stronger among members of our church. Thanks to President Hunter and Hinckley we have a kinder and gentler approach. The church is to make bad men good and good men better. Like my friend said we need to walk in the noon day sun and not trodden down those with real ethical concerns.

You have expressed your opinion which I respect but my opinion is different. I am sorry but working in academia has corrupted me I think you should be able to freely discuss any topic and socially correct things that is why I joined the LDS Church because we have the "truth" and the "truth will make you free."

It is a healthy discussion to bring a few controversial topics out in the open. It is great to see you are a defender of the faith and carry an olive branch. But this blog is nothing more than a discussion on a issue that appears to have existed. If BYU chooses to do something great I will have served a purpose if not it is just another perspective on a practice that is unique to them. I don't set policy for BYU I am only relating a personal historical personal experience that may or may not exist today. If I was going to get credit for anything it would have happened twenty years ago. I am just pointing out something in hopes of raising consciousness. There are better ways of doing things like sharing co-authorship with up and coming people. If BYU is sharing credit now my post will be no big deal if they aren't they might rethink their policy.

If you set a standard for students you need to hold the standard to your own practices to walk the talk.

Mormon Heretic said...

I'm in grad school at the U of U in statistics. I have to say that the professors here genuinely want to share credit with students, and I have found them very welcoming. I am curious if this is a problem with just the Religion dept, or is it more of a university-wide problem. Do you know if this is going on in other departments?

(Sorry, I know this sounds like a statistician--just trying to see if this is a representative sample of the entire university, or if it is localized to the religion dept. Are you aware if other depts have this problem also?)