Goodbye to All That

As noted earlier, Jerry Bradford is stepping down as director of the Maxwell Institute, and BYU has chosen a committee to select his successor.  (http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/now-accepting-nominations-and-applications-for-next-institute-director/)  Unfortunately, the mandate of the committee has not been made public, but let’s take a look at what the composition of that committee can tell us about the staying power of the Bradford Junta’s “new direction.”  

When academic committees are formed they are often merely showpieces to give the facade of faculty consultation and participation.  Quite frequently a decision has already been made as to who the leader, or what new policy will be before the committee is even selected.  (See Religious Education’s implementation of a new curriculum agains the protests of nearly all its ancient scripture faculty.)  Committees are often given a mandate, telling them what the university expects them to do.  This mandate has not been made public in this case.  Generally committees also can only make recommendations.  The university administrators (in this case Alan Harker, a microbiologist who knows nothing about the field, and Brent Webb, a mechanical engineer and AVP) will make the final decision, and can ignore the advice of a committee if they so choose—subject to approval of the university president and Board of Trustees.  

The first thing to note is that no one on the committee, with the exception of Dana Pike, has ever published anything on ancient Book of Mormon studies.  Indeed, nearly all of them are not Book of Mormon scholars in any sense of the word.  The committee is furthermore slightly weighted in the direction of modern Mormon Studies, but the reality is that most of the committee members have nothing to do with Mormon Studies at all!  

Alan Harker = microbiologist

Chadra Poulson = administrative staff assistant

Morgan Davis = Islamic philosophy

Kristian Heal = Syraic studies

Jeremy King = accountant

Spencer Fluhman = 19th century US and Mormon history

George Handley = comparative modern literature

Dana Pike = BYU religion, Bible

Reid L. Neilson = Mormon studies

Bruce C. Hafen = law professor

I know of no other university where a committee organized to choose a new director for a research institute would be composed mainly of people who don’t know anything about field of the Institute!  Only one (Pike) does anything related to ancient scriptural studies, and only two (Fluhman and Neilson) have anything to do with Mormon Studies.  How could I, as a historian, possibly be expected to make an informed decision in selecting a new director of a research institute for microbiology.  It’s preposterous.  Yet there it is.  

Note that there is no voice on the committee to speak for classic-FARMS and ancient Book of Mormon Studies.  Two of the four members of the original Bradford Junta (Heal and Davis), which implemented the coup which ousted Dan Peterson and established the new direction, are on the committee.  Furthermore, neither Gee nor Roper—who like Davis and Heal scholars at the Maxwell Institute, but unlike them opposed the new direction and want a return to ancient Book of Mormon studies—are on the committee.  Why?  The only coherent reason is because the administration doesn’t want those voices to be heard in the selection of the new director.  If they have not already selected Bradford’s successor, in which case this committee is a showcase, they have clearly decided that they want someone who will sustain the new direction.  

At one time I had hoped that the Bradford coup was a fluke, and that the BYU administration would come to its senses and would eventually adjust course of the Maxwell Institute to return to its roots in ancient Mormon studies.  Given the composition of this committee, this is clearly not going to happen. Through their selection of members of this committee, the BYU administration is clearly affirming their support for the new direction.  As I’ve noted earlier, this is decision is consistent with their long-standing policy of discouraging the serious study of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text.

So, its time to say “goodbye to all that.”