A Brigham Young University English professor says she is appealing the university's decision to deny her continuing employment.
Gail T. Houston, who's served as the adviser to the student organization VOICE and been actively involved in feminist issues on and off campus over the past six years, said she doesn't believe the university should be involving itself in ecclesiastical issues - particularly when she's in good standing with her own LDS ward bishop."I have a temple recommend. I teach the 15-year-olds," said Houston in a Deseret News interview Tuesday.
"When they want to talk about my teaching and scholastic performance, that's OK, but when it has to do with my spiritual life, my heavens, they're on very dangerous ground. I believe they
should let my bishop handle it."
Houston was informed Thursday by her department chairman and dean of the decision.
"I cried. They cried. We all cried," said Houston, 45. "I always knew there was the possibility they would fire me, but I knew my academic record was so sound. I just really didn't believe it would happen. I've received perfect scores on the spirituality in my classes."
Houston noted that she had passed departmental and college committee reviews with positive recommendations. The University and Faculty Council on Rank and Status disagreed, as did the president and provost.
A letter to Houston notifying her of the decision said, "The genesis of our grave concerns and ultimate recommendations . . . was the number and severity of occasions when your actions on and off campus . . . were perceived as harmful to tenets held by the church and the university."
Houston said the decision is a surprise. "Those who know me don't have a problem with me. The further up the line it got, that's when the stereotyping starts. Without meeting me, they've made a judgment."
The university letter said Houston has "engaged in a pattern of publicly contradicting fundamental church doctrine and attacking the church." It said she has made public statements "that approvingly and positively describe the practice of praying to Heavenly Mother as well as Heavenly Father" and has appeared to oppose church doctrine on not extending the priesthood to women. It said she has also disputed the view that BYU faculty should be models of spirituality.
BYU President Merrill J. Bateman has been emphatic about his belief that the university exists primarily to be a beacon for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jim Gordon, the associate academic vice-president with BYU who signed the letter, said Houston has 10 days to appeal the decision. Houston said Tuesday that she has already written a letter requesting additional hearings. Because of that appeal, Bateman said he could not comment.
Gordon said Houston has found other employment at the University of New Mexico. Houston said she began looking for another job last October, "just to be prepared."
"BYU's been very kind to me. It's going to be hard to leave here. I've established a wonderful network of colleagues. The students are wonderful.
"My whole career is coming down to a five-minute talk given at Sunstone," she said, referring to a speech where she discussed a woman's relationship with her Mother in Heaven.
But she would find it hard to deny that speech, she added. "It came from the depths of my soul. It had to do with my mother dying and issues that are very basic to my inner being."