Two science societies removed BYU job postings over the school’s Honor Code ban on ‘homosexual behavior'

Two internationally recognized science societies have removed Brigham Young University job postings from their websites after their members raised concerns about the religious Utah school’s LGBTQ policies — which ban “homosexual behavior” among students and faculty.

The American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C., and the Geological Society of America in Colorado pulled the ads early last month. The earth science groups have said the requirement listed in the job postings that those hired must adhere to BYU’s Honor Code was “inconsistent” with their ethical standards.

The decision has since touched off a debate in the field about when an organization’s stance on social issues might interfere with its ability to support research and contribute to science.

“AGU has always encouraged and fostered a diverse geoscience community throughout its history because we believe — and repeatedly see — that diversity and inclusion are essential to advancing science,” Billy Williams, the union’s vice president of ethics, diversity and inclusion, wrote in a public statement. “Since the job posting from BYU referenced its Honor Code as a requirement of employment, which conflicts with our policy, we removed the job posting from our website.”

The job ads for a BYU tenure-track position in the geological sciences were first put online by the two societies in mid-September. They were taken down two weeks later, on Oct. 1.

The BYU listings said that the private school in Provo, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is “an equal opportunity employer.” But all hired faculty, it added, must abide by its dress and grooming standards, as well as its Honor Code. “Preference is given to qualified candidates who are members in good standing of the affiliated church,” the posting continued.

That prompted pushback.

The code, which has been criticized by some students in recent months with issues surrounding enforcement, forbids “not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” The LDS Church teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin but that acting on it is.

Several members of both the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America — nonprofits that focus on earth, atmospheric and space science — called out the ads and the school for being anti-LGBTQ. They believe the wording amounts to discrimination.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins declined to comment for this story. But several science professors at the university wrote a response, defending the school and alleging that removing the posts silences “ideological diversity" and conservative voices.

Pushback from scientists

Ellen Alexander, a doctoral candidate in geology at UCLA who describes herself as an LGBTQ scientist, believes the job postings are “inherently discriminatory.”

As a paying member of both geoscience societies, she’s been using the websites to search for jobs for when she graduates.

“It really hurts me as a member of those organizations and as a young scientist to see the BYU ads,” she said. “Science is already unrepresentative of racial and ethnic minorities and gender and sexual minorities. It’s important that we not make it even harder for those folks to get jobs.”

Her partner, Peter Martin, first noticed the ad on the Career Pathfinder section of AGU’s website in September and wrote an email to the union asking it to take down the posting. He thought it was unusual to see the note about the Honor Code in the application and researched it to see what it included. He felt strongly that the section on “homosexual behavior” wasn’t a relevant requirement for a faculty position.

“But I also thought that it didn’t match with AGU’s diversity statements either," said Martin, a geochemistry doctoral candidate at the California Institute of Technology. "I don’t see why someone’s sexual preference should have any bearing on their employment.”

The union originally declined to remove the ads, though, saying the posting itself did “not contain any discriminatory language,” according to a copy of the response shared with The Salt Lake Tribune.

Alexander said she was disappointed by the message, so she and Martin then shared their thoughts on social media, encouraging other members of the two science societies to write in and protest. Martin wrote on Facebook: “If the Honor Code included the phrase ‘blacks need not apply,’ would the ad stay up? What about ‘Jews are not allowed on the BYU campus’? Is that acceptable?”

Even though LGBTQ individuals are allowed on campus, he said, faculty members would not be able to be themselves and act on their affections — and still keep their jobs. He also feels it effectively stops any same-sex married couples from applying.

Martin and Alexander’s posts quickly spread among scientists in the country and internationally. Many shared the tenets of AGU’s ethical guidelines for members, which include the goal of providing “a safe, welcoming environment.” GSA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, too, states members “will not discriminate against others … on the basis of race, sex, creed, age, sexual orientation, national origin, religion and disability.”

Some said it was hypocritical for the union and the society to take money from BYU for the ads.

Jennifer Glass, an associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, wrote that keeping the ads online equates to “endorsing homophobia.”

By Oct. 1, after the public pressure from hundreds of members, both ads were removed. The link to the posting on GSA now goes to an empty page. And AGU posted a tweet telling members it was pulling the listing. Neither society had removed an ad before under similar circumstances.

BYU’s response

GSA told The Tribune it “has no comment except that our advertising policy is under review” now and it has refunded BYU the $800 it paid to post. The society has 27,000 members worldwide, according to its website.

AGU said it had no statement beyond its already published note from Williams. It has 62,000 members in 144 countries. The union, though, allowed three BYU faculty members to publish a response in its science journal weeks later, at the end of October.

Benjamin Abbott and Jamie Jensen, who work in the College of Life Sciences at BYU, and Jani Radebaugh, in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, argue that pulling the job ads and excluding the university from posting on the geoscience societies effectively quashes “ideological diversity.”

In their post, they acknowledge: “Writing this, we can almost hear what many of you are thinking. Here comes a white, heterosexual, cisgender, religious complaint about discrimination.” They understand the outrage over the LGBTQ rules, they said, and they hesitated to submit the piece.

“Our point is not to defend BYU’s Honor Code or hiring policies,” they added.

But, they argue, diversity should include different ideologies and religious thoughts. For science to be the best it can be, all voices should be engaged in dialogue — including conservative groups.

Because BYU is a private school and a religious institution, it can legally have policies like its Honor Code and preferentially hire members of the faith. And “if we require progressive policies of all participating institutions, we would exclude many religious schools that have restrictive honor codes, including Baylor and most Jewish and Islamic universities,” the professors wrote.

Alexander and Martin believe it doesn’t matter what institution has the policy — they’d speak out against any similar requirements for members of the LGBTQ community at any university. “That ideology does not deserve an equal seat at the table,” Alexander said. “It’s not a belief. It’s discrimination.”

Martin added: “My goal is not to take down BYU. They do good science. And they provide value to the community. The problem is there is this conflict where they’re providing value but only providing admission to certain members of the population.”

The BYU professors say it’s important to distinguish between university policies and the beliefs of individual staff members. Radebaugh added that she’s been a member of both geoscience societies for 20 years. And Abbott has been involved with AGU since 2009. Their religious beliefs and the Honor Code, they argue, do not affect their focus on advancing science.

Abbott also said the decision to remove the ads was made without any dialogue with BYU, which he found frustrating. Twitter, he said, is like an echo chamber. And he wishes there could have been more discussion with both sides.

“This decision to cut off a group because of their beliefs on social issues is counterproductive to social and scientific progress,” he told The Tribune.

Now, he worries, that ad will be shared only with those in Utah and just promote more of the same perspective.

“One of the reasons I think pulling the ad is counterproductive is that it removes an opportunity for a diverse candidate from outside of the BYU system from finding the job," he said. "Again, if we want to learn from and potentially influence others, we shouldn’t cut them off.”

Possible changes?

This isn’t the first time a national group has clashed with BYU over its LGBTQ policies.

In April 2018, a political science group also apologized for holding its annual conference at BYU, saying it gave “insufficient forethought to matters of diversity.” The Society for Political Methodology said its choice to have the event at the university had a chilling effect on the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender scholars who participated. It ended up moving off campus as many of the lectures as it could.

It now requires the host locations for its conferences to sign a diversity statement, indicating that it agrees to support all identities.

In 2016, a group of national LGBTQ advocacy groups — including Athlete Ally and the National Center for Lesbian Rights — advocated for the Big 12 athletic conference to keep BYU out over its intolerance.

Calvin Burke, an openly gay BYU student and active Latter-day Saint, said he appreciates the societies for taking a stand. But he also worries about the impact the attention has and if it might deter improvement.

Particularly with removing the geoscience faculty ads, he wonders, will that mean fewer scientists coming to the university who are allies to the LGBTQ community? He says now is “a time when we desperately need professors who are willing to protect and stand up for the most vulnerable here on campus.”

He added: “Ally professors have been a refuge to me and many of my friends at BYU; I really hope we can have this conversation about improving BYU’s atmosphere toward LGBTQ students while also encouraging allies to reach out.”

The conservative school has recently held some events aimed at better understanding LGBTQ students and staff, including a forum Tuesday night and a panel in March 2018. While policies mostly haven’t changed, Burke said, the conversation is starting. And more open-minded faculty could push it further.

Alexander believes that’s a good start, but ultimately not enough — just like removing the ads was only the beginning in her mind.

If BYU wants to feature job postings on the geoscience websites, she believes the school has to be “a more welcoming and open organization” first. Going forward, she wants AGU and GSA to vet all ads for possible discrimination. She wants the societies to take a bigger stand.

“They have a huge role in shaping science,” she said. “And they need to be responsible.”