BYU action on Jones lamented
=09 =09 =09 =09=09
=09=09 By Tad Walch
Deseret Morning News =09 =09 =09 PROVO =97 Leaders of the American
Association of University Professors are criticizing Brigham Young
University for placing physics professor Steven Jones on paid leave
while university administrators conduct a review of his statements and
research about the attacks on the World Trade Center.
AAUP general secretary Roger Bowen called BYU's decision
"distressing" and said Jones shouldn't have been removed from teaching
two classes this semester for statements made outside the classroom.
Jones has said he discussed his theory in classes only after
students asked questions. Jones has published a paper =97
www.journalof911studies.com =97 suggesting that evidence shows the World
Trade Center towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, because of pre-set
demolition charges, not just because they were struck by airplanes.
"Academic freedom also protects extramural utterances, that is,
statements made by faculty outside the classroom when they speak as
citizens," Bowen told the Deseret Morning News. "It's very clear there
never should be official retribution for faculty who exercise their
rights as citizens, with the very careful disclaimer they are not
speaking on behalf of the university."
What Jones said in the classroom and how careful he was about
disclaimers are subjects of the university review, BYU spokeswoman
Carri Jenkins said.
"The university has not come to a conclusion," she said. "This
is why we're conducting a review. Professor Jones is still on campus,
and he will be a part of this review."
Jenkins said some had expressed concerns to the university
about what Jones was saying in classes.
"We do believe professors must speak responsibly," Jenkins
said. "Professors need to clarify when they are speaking for
themselves on personal concerns. That is a point that professional
organizations continue to make."
The AAUP and BYU have a long, adversarial history over
questions of academic freedom at the school. The AAUP placed BYU on
its list of censured schools in 1998 after the university declined to
grant continuing status, its form of tenure, to professor Gail
Houston. The group said infringements on academic freedom were
"distressingly common" and that the climate for academic freedom was
Each year since, the AAUP has invited BYU back to the table.
Each year, BYU has declined, citing its vigorous response to the AAUP
"Our policies have not changed," Jenkins said. "Since that time
our departments, colleges and the university have had accreditations
reaffirmed. We have continued to put our effort into becoming a superb
university, particularly concentrating on undergraduate education."
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also
criticized BYU in an article posted Monday on the U.S. News & World
Report's Web site.
"BYU is literally the example we use of a university that does
not promise strong free speech or academic freedom protections," FIRE
president Greg Lukianoff said.
The Jones case has reopened the decades-old debate of whether
BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, should
be revered for allowing far freer discussion of religious topics than
most universities or derided for stifling some of that speech.
Many BYU professors say they appreciate academic freedoms at
BYU that they have not experienced elsewhere.
In Houston's case, BYU officials said they warned her that
endorsing prayer to a Heavenly Mother was inappropriate at BYU. Jones'
case is unusual at BYU because it does not revolve around religion or
religious values. BYU decided not to rehire part-time philosophy
instructor Jeffrey Nielsen in June after he, by his own admission,
clearly affiliated himself with the university when he wrote an
editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune opposing the LDS Church's stand
against gay marriage.
Academic freedom debates have engulfed other university
instructors who joined Scholars for 9/11 Truth, an organization Jones
The University of Wisconsin conducted a 10-day review of Kevin
Barrett, a part-time professor, for statements he described to the
Deseret Morning News as "far more radical, inflammatory and
potentially offensive to public sensibilities than anything Professor
Jones has said."
Barrett wrote and published a satirical letter to the U.S.
Secret Service predicting President Bush would be executed for high
treason. Wisconsin's chancellor cleared Barrett, citing academic
"If BYU tries to violate this clear-cut, long-established norm
of academic freedom, it will set itself up for a very unfavorable
place in history, immediately trigger the wrath of virtually the
entire U.S. and world academic community and soon become a target of
the righteous wrath of the American people," Barrett said.