Monday, August 26, 2013

Hiring practices for women change at College of Religious Education at BYU

Excerpts of A Revolutionary Hire at BYU's College of Religious Education, SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 2 (Summer 2013)
In the Summer 2011 issue of SquareTwo, we reported on the first-ever appointment of a female department chair in the College of Religious Education at Brigham Young University.  We were all pretty excited about that precedent-setting and paradigm-shattering event.  Well now something new has happened at the College that makes that appointment seem humdrum—and just two years later!  Indeed, we think you should be sitting down for this . . .

The Department of Ancient Scripture in the College of Religious Education at Brigham Young University has hired . . . drum roll . . . a married women with children ages 2 years old and 6 months old who plans to have additional children!  Yes, it's true!  Her name is Amy Easton-Flake, and she holds a Ph.D. in American Literature and Women's Studies from Brandeis University.  And her husband is moving to Provo, too, putting her career first and sharing child care responsibilities with her.          

 No married woman with small children has ever, ever been hired in a tenure track appointment in the College of Religious Education at BYU.  Indeed, it was widely understood that there was a prohibition against this, for a "righteous" LDS mother of small children would not be working outside of the home--and only "righteous" LDS women would be welcome to teach and thus serve as a role model in the College of Religious Education, which supplies religious instruction to every single BYU student.          

Now, let's admit that there have always been ironies surrounding this practice.  You could be a married mother with small children and work as a secretary in the College of Religious Education—and that has certainly happened many times over the years.  But you could never work as a tenure track professor.  Why?  You would be giving your students the wrong idea about appropriate public roles for mothers.          

If this can happen at the College of Religious Education at BYU, what does this say about the Seminary and Institute programs, which have likewise "let go" any married woman teacher who becomes pregnant, or, indeed, refused to hire young married women in the first place with the rationale that they would eventually become pregnant and would have to be terminated? Surely those programs cannot now justify maintaining a different standard than that of BYU, can they?  Doesn't BYU set the standard?  (A important tangent here—you can be a mother with young children and be called to be an unpaid volunteer seminary teacher as your ward calling.  But if you are interested in a paid position, those are reserved for men whether or not they have children, and for women without children.)          

What does shift this say about a changing view within the Church about what constitutes a righteous mother?  And about what the appropriate public roles for LDS mothers are?  And about what types of female role models the Church wishes to provide for BYU students?