Friday, August 8, 2008

Intellectual Dishonesty in the BYU Religion Department is Pervasive Even Today

My daughter called me in June on Father's day to chat. She said she had been working as a research assistant at BYU. I was very interested and explored what she was doing for the professor. It all seemed above board and I was beginning to think maybe they had licked the intellectual dishonesty problem that I had discussed in an earlier post entitled Intellectual Honesty at the BYU Religion Department. We discussed her interest in women's issues dealing with spirituality. I encouraged her to give her best effort to her job as a researcher and not short-change the professor.

Then my daughter said one of her religion teachers had called her in for an interview. He said when he called her in his was interested in helping her in her life. He told her he was very impressed with the writing she had done in his class. He told her he was working with a member of the Seventy on a new book. He asked her if she would like to do some research and maybe write something. He said she wouldn't be paid but that he would help her later if he liked what she did. She had expressed an interest to him in their meeting of being a future Church magazine editor or possibly a CES teacher. He promised her if she helped him he might be able to help her later and that her research and writing on his project would help her accomplish her goal since it would make her a better writer.

I told her to help him if she didn't care about his really helping her. I told her that he had access to as many assistants as he wanted and he could hire and pay them since he was the head of the department. If he really wanted to pay her he could. I told her in my opinion she was delusional if she thought he would actually do what he said down the road but she could do what she wanted if that is what the Spirit really told her to do. I told her that what he was suggesting was one of the oldest tricks in the BYU Religion Department's book and I had heard the same thing when I was a student from another man. I told her if she did do it she should not expect them to do anything they said and not be disappointed. Being young and idealistic she was excited for the opportunity to work with such a distinguished professor on a gospel topic. She said it didn't matter if he paid her or if he gave her credit, she was helping in a worthy cause. I said go ahead since who knows maybe I was wrong and this time one of them might do what he says. I told her he would eventually feel guilty and make amends by hiring her as his assistant but I was dubious he would mention her other than on acknowledgment page and even that I said was highly unlikely.

I was being optimistic myself by telling her he would feel guilty and possibly pay her as a research assistant. I have seen it done both ways during the eight years I worked there. For the most part their hearts are in the right place and they want to do what is right but sometimes they don't have an opening for a while and the student just has to volunteer. It is just plain wrong that they are using students without giving them credit where credit is due. The non-payment can be racked up to volunteerism or "paying your dues." This is a minor form of intellectual dishonesty.

The real intellectual dishonesty is that a few of these men crank out publication after publication with no co-authorship on the efforts of unsuspecting students. In other institutions there is a hue and cry and truthfully most prestigious schools are more honest and ethical than BYU. In other universities men lose their jobs and their reputations for such behavior. It is not swept under the carpet. That intellectual dishonest occurs from time to time is true in other schools but the culture and climate of research calls for students to be mentored and acknowledged through co-authorship. It is no skin off an academician's nose to give a student or colleague a second, third, or fourth authorship on a publication. No one discounts their publication in a rank, tenure or promotion review whatever place they are listed, all get the credit.

It strengthens the profession by giving young up-and-comers exposure and credit for their research and writing. It is time for the BYU Religion Department to clean house. I don't want anyone fired all I want to see is their giving credit for credit is due. I want to see them adhere to national standards of mentorship and carry their students like on "eagles wings." To lift up their students and replace themselves later with those they might have mentored.

Gene Campbell, a former BYU history professor, used to tell us as graduate students the story of Herbert E. Bolton, who had a map in his office at Berkeley of all his former students. He supposedly would orchestrate the movement of them from university to unversity so that his his man was promoted to a more prestigious professorship even if three of the men had to change places.

This is the kind of devotion that these professors should feel for the best and brightest. They could offer authorship for chapters, co-author in the Ensign or other journals, they could let the student teach a few introductory courses etc. They could have guest lectureships or even picnics where the work of their students is acknowledged. I think part of the problem is that since no graduate degrees are given out by them they don't participate in the production of scholarship so perhaps they should be outside members on other departments' master and doctoral committees so they can see how students are treated in more academic departments.

As a parent I don't want to see my daughter's hopes dashed on the rocks like mine were many years ago. I appreciate that the BYU Religion Department is improving in that he was upfront about not paying her. I wish they were more inclined to share the credit though and not be dishonest intellectually.

The Religion Department at BYU is not a church calling it is a paid professional position in an academic environment. In academia a scholar has the expectation that she or he will contribute to the body of knowledge. We have developed an ethical basis for sharing. I don't think as LDS we want to give an appearance that we are not being honest, especially when it comes to producing religious materials at the Lord's university.

I remember Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi, once told me that we should all walk in the noon day sun rather than do something less than honest. The Church school's need to separate the notion that you can release people and move them to areas they are not qualified for. I had a friend that was a distinguished historian, a former Fulbright fellow and the author of dozens of publications. One day they made him a librarian and hired a less qualified man to take his place. The man was devastated but he did the job. I feel his professional accomplishments were never fully realized since his scholarly production was diluted. The Church's leaders are not always aware of the crap going on in the Church schools.

The members of the BYU Religion Department need to treat their students with dignity and respect their accomplishments. If the student did a significant part of the writing what is lost by giving them primary authorship. Even research assistants who do the majority of legwork deserve a coauthorship. I feel that since BYU likes to think of themselves as the Harvard of the west that they need to treat their students like Harvard. Many a Harvard student got their academic start by co-authoring with their professors or by co-presenting a paper at a national conference. I owe my publications to my cognate professor at Ball State University who has co-published with me over thirty articles during the last thirteen years. It is time for the BYU religion professors to raise their ethical standards and raise up the next generation who will one day take their place. When you don't share with them you are teaching them to continue a cycle that doesn't reflect well and making future professors think that it is okay to be unethical.


Jon Spell said...

I think you're missing a word in the first sentence of the 3rd paragraph. Took me a while to realize it.

Steven said...

I hate to say this, but I'm not sure the Religion Department has many real scholars (there are a few). Most seem to have PHDs from BYU's Education Leadership Department, which as far as I can tell exists to be a place designed just to give CES people a PHD. This is called inbreeding in most institutions and is frowned upon. When BYU's religion department is staffed with real scholars they will be less threatened that students take away their glory and give proper acknowledgement for their work.

Dr. B said...

Jon you have the right name since I found several poor choices of words. Steven you are right that the quality is improving but there are still a few professors who must feel such heavy pressure to "publish or perish" that they take the easy way out.

Jim F. said...

I have several bones to pick. First, I suspect that you are wrong about the how often professors at universities other than BYU abuse students. Second, though I am sure that there are those in Religious Education who are intellectually dishonest, I doubt that intellectual dishonesty is "pervasive" in that college. One instance--if what you cite is an instance--doesn't indict the whole group. Third, I'm not sure what the professor asked your daughter to do that was dishonest. You are right that she ought not to rely on his offer of future help. But whether his request that she help with his work amounts to dishonesty depends on what she does and what he does with it. If he publishes what she writes substantially unrevised, and he doesn't explictly give her credit for writing it, that is intellectually dishonest. But he could ask her for research reports and then use them to write up his results without making her a co-author. Of course, sometimes the line between those two is difficult to discern, and a professor ought to err on the side of giving more rather than less credit. But using research assistants to do research without making them co-authors doesn't necessarily amount to intellectual dishonesty or student abuse.

Dr. B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. B said...

You seemed to justify a system of publishing and perishing at any cost. It is actually a very dishonest system to feel that you shouldn't give credit where credit is due.

I have seen abuse even with the so-called using research assistant where they perform the task of finding stuff. In the case of my daughter he asked her to write some initial things.

Professors don't necessarily direct their research assistants other than to give them a topic, which means many time they find information and insights the professor knew nothing about.

The person then does more than go to the library and find material. Many timees they write rough notes which are used very often with the professors editing them and putting in transitions.

That fact that you buy in to a system where publications are built on the intellectual finds of unnamed research assistants is dishonest in itself. I prefer an environment where I did my doctoral work where people collaborated.

I had a library employee once who did all the research for a bibliographic work on Black Progressivism. The full professor gave him a grateful mention despite the fact the librarian did seventy percent of the work. I questioned him and told him what he was doing was dishonest. He cussed and swore and finally to my surprise not only did he give my employee a second co-authorship he gave him all the royalties to their second book. That is more impressive than what you are suggesting.

My professor and I have continued our relationship for fifteen years co-writing, sometimes I carry my cognate professor and sometimes she cares me. We have not had a problem in the RTP process both having obtained rank and promotion to the full professor level.

I think since I have spent twenty years of my life in academia I can speak from experience here. I was granted tenure at San Diego State University which will compare with anywhere you might have worked. I had to go up against three RTP committees including the main SDSU review committee and I made it in four years. I have worked in six universities and have published. I have seen abuse in the publlication process and I have determined not to use students work dishonestly.

You ought to be ashamed of yourself if you are a professor that doesn't build up his students and raise them up. Because your are promulgating a dishonest practice. I can see you have bought in to the idea that is okay to use the intellectual property of others because you gave them a fellowship or ten bucks an hour. How sad you don't consider them colleagues to be respected and develolped.

The system you believe in is a form of slavery. Mormon scholars should be the most ethical not calling for the status quo.

I am not going to out the professor at BYU I worked for but one time I found a unique fact of Mormon history that had nothing to do with what he paid me. I naively shared it with him. Later he used it as if his own in a publication.
Since I depended on my graduate assistantship there wasn't much I could do about it since I had a wife and two kids to feed.

A lot of times the research assistants become experts at the topic. I remember Bruce Satterfield and a few guys like David Whitaker and Bruce Van Orden that were treated better. They went on to great things. Itis better to err on the side of the student than to make your career on their intellectual finds.

Anonymous said...

Don't even get me started!! The rampant misuse of student work at BYU College of Cardinals is really just the tip of the iceberg at BYU. The old history department was just as bad. No student with a brain would expose their ideas to these robberbarons. I could, literally write a book about my BYU experiences.

Of current interest, the History department has just dropped its masters program. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch. Now if could just defrock most of the religion department faculty, we could say "All is well."