A Brigham Young University professor whose critically acclaimed short stories were deemed too violent by school administrators has taken a job at Oklahoma State University.
Brian Evenson, author of "Altmann's Tongue," a collection of stories depicting lives without morality, said he has mixed emotions about leaving the university after just 18 months."It doesn't seem I can stay here and do serious work and be respected for it," said Evenson, an assistant English professor.
Evenson said he applied for three jobs after it became obvious the LDS Church-owned school would not allow him to keep his job if he published his second book, "Dark Property," a collection of three novellas.
Evenson believes he was given that choice during a March meeting with BYU President Rex Lee and Provost Bruce Hafen. Lee and Hafen would not discuss the meet-ing.
At the time, Evenson said he was told that even though "Altmann's Tongue" had been given high praise by reviewers, it was "not the kind of thing a BYU faculty member should be writing."
On Friday, BYU spokesman Brent Harker said, "There's certainly no triumph in his leaving.
"The university's sense of mission and Brian's sense of mission were quite divergent," Harker said. "He has chosen to take his own destiny in his hands, which he had indicated might happen in the beginning of this controversy. We wish him well."
Though Evenson provided copies of his stories to the university before he was hired in January 1994, administrators did not become alarmed until after they received an anonymous letter from a student.
The letter castigated Evenson's work for reveling "in darkness and degradation." It was sent to a high LDS Church official and BYU board member, though Evenson was not given the names.
The board of the nation's largest church-owned university is mostly comprised of general authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Evenson defends his troubling stories as artistically successful and moral tales that do not glamorize violence. He agrees that they are easily misunderstood.
While Evenson is taking a leave from BYU for the one-year appointment at Oklahoma State, he does not expect to return to Provo. After a year, his position in Stillwater, Okla., likely will convert into a tenure-track position, Evenson said.
The new job will pay 20 percent more than BYU, and he will teach mainly doctoral-degree candidates in the creative writing and English programs.
At BYU he taught mostly undergraduates. "The program is much more respected than the one at BYU," he said.
Evenson said BYU's academic freedom is not what it should be.
"If you put academics as second to anything, and that includes religion, then it is going to lessen the university. That's what has happened at BYU. I don't think I want my name associated with BYU."
Evenson is still negotiating with Knopf and other publishers for the rights to "Dark Property."