The appointment of the new BYU President, Kevin Worthen is the first major leadership change for the church owned, run, and administered University since the Mormon cyber reformation. From New Zealand I watched Eyring’s announcement at today’s BYU devotional – live. Aside from the fact that it was pretty cool watching this live event, it was even cooler being part of an international social media conversation in the minutes – even seconds – after it unfolded.
Which went something like this:
“…you don’t have to be a GA to be a BYU president. You may have to be a white dude”.
“Oh a grey-haired white dude, huh? What a shock.”
“Can’t have a woman because that would put her in charge of too many men and that’s against doctrine.”
“I was totally shocked to find out it was a upper-middle class, white, male, lawyer, previous dean of BYU law school.”
“You apparently need the Priesthood to be a BYU president. I think on account of all the blessings you are required to give, and all of the sacrament you have administer.”
BUT then there was this shortly after from the LDS newsroom:
The search committee, appointed by the university’s board of trustees, considered many outstanding, well-qualified men and women for the position.
Whoah! Stop press! They considered men AND women?
Now, I’m a little suspicious of the LDS newsroom, not because I don’t think they are doing a great job, but because I can see the heavy hand of PR conscious media professionals in there wrestling to give birth to LDS stories that don’t make Mormons look like patriarchal racist misogynistic cultish crack pots. But I have to ask, was this ‘spin’ or did they actually, really truly look at the CV’s of women to head up the church’s ‘Go Cougars’ flagship tertiary education institution?
If it’s the latter, and lets proceed on the basis that it is the latter, then do we have something new on our hands? Apparently not. Elder Tom Perry, in an interview explaining the selection committee’s process leading to the appointment of Merrill Bateman in 1996 admitted that they considered men AND women back then as well. The church government does not require the office holder of the President of BYU to be a priesthood holder. Which beggars some questions:
Theoretically there have been at least three opportunities over the last 20 years to appoint a woman as President of BYU, and each of those times they have opted for a man from a very, very, very (excuse the yawn) familiar demographic.
Then why not a woman? As Elder Perry explains of the work of the selection committee:
“We were united in the opinion that BYU is different from any other university. It has the charge of building faith in the gospel and achieving high academic excellence in its students. Our first requirement for the president of the university was to find a person who could provide leadership in both areas”.
And there we have it! Those with experience in leading faith building in the LDS church are men. This is like saying, “we are open to anyone – regardless of gender to apply for the position of All Black’s coach,” when we know from the outset no woman is going to get the job. Sure women in the church get leadership responsibilities, but only over women (and children) and will never have the opportunity to excel in more general spiritual leadership roles unless given those opportunities (which she won’t be given, until she gets the priesthood).
But what a huge pity not to take this opportunity to send a message to the 15000 female students, as well as the community, stake holders, and the world, that Mormons believe women have the power and potential to provide significant spiritual leadership, and academic motivation for both males and females irrespective of an ordination into the ecclesiastical priesthood – when they could have.
I wish Kevin Worthen all the best. He heads a church university at a time of significant change in light of unparalleled cultural diversity; political pluralism; and claims on gender, and sexuality rights. We are living through an epoch of unprecedented disaffection; questioning; doubting; resistance; contest, and indignation. How he manages over 35000 people, students and faculty, in this climate is any one’s guess. But I can only hope his appointment reflects a compassionate concern to navigate our community’s young people from the position of generous mindfulness – which in the first instance might involve some key leadership appointments of women.