Over at BCC, John S. has a post that is, overall, not very helpful.
I mean, first off it’s trying to cram together the question of opposing a sustaining vote and the nearly unrelated issue of requiring BYU faculty to hold temple recommends, but the bigger problem is that it reinforces some untrue and counterproductive things that BYU faculty and academics more generally tell themselves.
Most importantly: if you’re in need of pastoral care, you do have people to talk to even if you’re reluctant to talk to your bishop. For several years now, the first place for adults to turn in most situations hasn’t been the bishop anyway. Bishops are supposed to be focusing their efforts on the youth. If you need to talk to someone for pastoral care, the first person to see is a ministering brother or sister, followed by a member of the elders quorum or Relief Society presidencies. If those don’t seem like good options, try telling your elders quorum or Relief Society president what you need and asking who you could talk to. These people want to help you and probably could if you tell them.
There are a few issues that do require meeting with your bishop. Maybe you’ve decided that God is dead, or the Restoration is baloney, or what the church teaches as important standards of behavior are not compatible with the life you’re living. Sometimes the pastoral care you need isn’t affirmation, but someone to call you on your nonsense, and sometimes pastoral care has hard consequences. Another hard-to-swallow pill (and there will be a few of them here) is that sometimes institutions head one direction and you head another and the relationship just isn’t going to work out. It’s not tenable for the church to have high-profile frontline people (as a faculty member, that’s you) who can’t contribute to one of the university’s core missions. You can’t ask faithful Dr. Jane Smith, who would love to teach at BYU, to keep waiting indefinitely while you, Dr. John Doe, continue teaching at a place you dislike while resenting having to attend church, pay tithing, accept Russell M. Nelson as a prophet, or whatever your issue is. (The situation with nonmember faculty is different; think of Harry looking on while the Weasleys argue among themselves.)
One more hard-to-swallow pill (and then we’re done). Asking faculty to qualify for a temple recommend won’t lead to a devastating crisis for BYU. My impression is that most students, staff and faculty like BYU how it is and will approve of the requirement. People calling for a vast walk-out by disgruntled faculty are living in a fantasy world and you should ignore them, no matter how much you wish it would happen. If your job at BYU ends, the school’s reputation will not suffer, its graduates will continue to get jobs, and it will quickly replace you with someone else with excellent qualifications and then continue sailing on its course, because that’s what institutions do. The position you loathe is someone else’s dream job. They will fill it only too happily, and everyone – including you, eventually – will be better off for it.
I know this because I’ve had my own opportunity to seek employment elsewhere after being a CES employee. It wasn’t due to the temple recommend requirement or anything like that – I actually think the requirement is a good idea – just a simple case of me believing that BYU-Idaho should continue offering courses in my field, while BYU-Idaho believed it should stop offering courses in my field, and, well, here we are. Enrollment has increased steadily even in my absence, and the dollars that would have gone toward my salary are now used for something that better aligns with the vision of whoever’s in charge of the university’s mission.
And what you have to understand despite what you may be telling yourself is this: you have options. You can get hired somewhere else after BYU. The international currency of academia is research (or innovative teaching initiatives, if that’s your game), and if you put enough of that on your CV, you can get hired somewhere else. I got hired twice more for full-time academic jobs after teaching at BYU-Idaho, plus I was a finalist for a tenure-track job. You’re not trapped. If you need to plan for an academic career after BYU, there are things you can do now to make it possible.
I’m not saying that moving will be easy. The first semester or two at a new place is always rough, and the personal side may be even more difficult. You might love your house or your ward or your town, or your spouse might have a good thing going where you are, or your kids might have friends and activities they enjoy. It might be a hard move.
A hard move: when you can’t stop thinking, from the day you pack the first box to the time you close the door on the moving truck, This is all so stupid. When you come home and find your spouse has walked into the bedroom closet, closed the door and turned out the light, and just lain down on the floor because she can’t accept what’s happening. When you drive to your new town and walk into your new house and your children lie on the floor and cry. I can’t promise you that moving on from BYU won’t be a hard move.
But here’s what happened after our hard move. My kids went to school, made new friends and started putting down roots. Our new ward was wonderful and well-stocked with people who understood how academic careers can go sideways. We found new activities we enjoyed. After six months, I had the surprising realization that I had gone a whole day without feeling terrible.
Or don’t move! Moving is awful and you have options. Maybe you love your house and ward and friends, plus the great skiing or the Provo ambience or the easy access to national parks from Rexburg. On good days, working in academia is fantastic, but ignore the people telling you that academia is the only option. I’m not saying it’s easy to reconfigure your career and professional identity – it’s kind of unpleasant, actually – but you have everything you need to do it. You have an advanced degree and years of experience. You know things that no one else knows. You have a network of contacts across at least one country. And unemployment is low. You don’t think your degree or skills have economic value? Look, one of my qualifications is a doctoral certificate in medieval studies, so I know a thing or two about useless degrees. Academics have to stop thinking that they can’t make a living outside of academia.
Or if you can’t wait to shake the dust of Provo from your feet, don’t let your academic job keep you tied down somewhere you’re not happy. You have options. You can choose. That second time being hired for an academic job after BYU-Idaho that I mentioned? That’s when I should have recognized that the academic job market wasn’t my own personal oracle revealing the divine will. When I got the offer, everything was telling me This job does not make sense for you, but I didn’t think I had any options, and I’d been pleasantly surprised by unpromising jobs before, only this time all the surprises were bad, and six weeks after moving yet again, everything was telling me Your family cannot stay here and eventually I acknowledged that remaining in academia wasn’t worth the cost. Without having another job lined up or an obvious plan B, I told my colleagues I wouldn’t be returning in the fall. The department head asked to have it in writing so they could advertise for my replacement, and before long the position in a town I loathed was filled by someone for whom it was a dream job. We moved, I found some temporary teaching, and then that too dried up.
But the global economy is much larger than you can imagine, and people do all kinds of things for pay, and your degree and background means you’re probably the best person in the world at something or another. Since leaving full-time teaching with only a vague idea what to do next, our financial situation has improved, unsteadily but substantially. I still get to work with mostly nice people on mostly interesting problems, and people give me money in return. I’m still active in research because that’s the part of academia I like most. I no longer rewrite a year’s worth of introductory courses every time the department switches textbooks. I don’t stare at enrollment numbers with gnawing dread. I don’t sneak into my office on Sunday afternoons to prep Monday classes. I don’t feel constant desperation from trying to keep a program afloat by myself. There are still occasional moments of anger and regret and loss that probably won’t ever entirely go away, and maybe there will be for you too, but life without a daily dose of despair is actually quite an improvement.
Most of all I hope you can work through whatever issue or crisis or situation makes you worried about talking openly with your bishop, and that you can enjoy a long and happy career at BYU. But if that’s not how things turn out, it’s not the end of the story. It can be hard to see in the moment, but you have possibilities to consider and options to weigh, possibly including things you’ve previously resisted, but probably including options that will leave you happier with the world than you can imagine right now.