Blacklisting at Brigham Young University

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(RNS) – I will never forget when I learned that I had been blocked * at Brigham Young University.

That was years ago, after I published the comic memoir “Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor”..” The book was unexpectedly a modest success, and I made a lot of appearances and book signings to promote it. One was tentatively scheduled to be held at the BYU bookstore — the usual social gathering, where an author reads a few excerpts from the book, then spends about an hour signing copies for customers.

This time, however, I found out a week before my trip to Utah that the store had canceled on me, much to the embarrassment and regret of the kind employee who tried to explain. “Unfortunately, we have not received approval to host a signing…I am truly sorry for the delay in getting this information to you. Much of the process is beyond our control,” the bookseller wrote. .

It ended up going well; a friend and I rescheduled the signing at the last minute for another location in Provo. But the whole experience was unsettling, especially because BYU never provided a reason for the cancellation.

“They don’t give reasons and aren’t responsive to our requests,” the bookseller replied when I asked. ” We tried. It’s a very strange time right now. One that we hope resolves itself soon.

I think we were all hoping that the “weird period” of being blacklisted at BYU would indeed be short-lived and would “resolve soon”. But given the recent news about the erasure of historian Benjamin Park from BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute, it seems the weirdness is alive and well.

Historian Benjamin E. Park. Courtesy picture

In 2018, Ben was a summer fellow at BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute, researching and writing his excellent book “Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier.”.The Maxwell Institute gave him funding and an institutional home for the summer, interviewed him for its podcast, and trumpeted his involvement on its homepage. The participation of a Cambridge-trained, nationally recognized historian of early America was a feather in the institute’s hat.

Until last week when news broke that all records of Park’s fellowship and involvement with the Maxwell Institute had been systematically erased from its website. On Twitter, @TheGrandScoobah shared screenshots of what the site looked like in 2018, when Park was a scholarship holder, and what it looks like now.

The Maxwell Institute website before the purge, highlighting three 2018 scholars. Screenshot courtesy of @TheGranScoobah.

The Maxwell Institute website before the purge, highlighting three 2018 scholars. Screenshot courtesy of @TheGrandScoobah.

The same page last week, after Park was removed from the Institute's website.  Screenshot courtesy of @TheGrandScoobah.

The same page last week, after Park was removed from the Institute’s website. Screenshot courtesy of @TheGrandScoobah.

Disparecido. But why?

Was it because Park took issue with a speech given two weeks ago by Jeffrey R. Holland, taking to Twitter to point out how the speech was harmful to the LGBTQ+ community (and academic freedom)?

Or was it his recent piece in The Washington Post, in which he noted the deep rifts that now exist between LDS leaders who have actively endorsed mask-wearing and vaccination against the COVID-19 pandemic and some American Mormons who have followed the anti-mask trajectory of right-wing politicians and pundits rather than the prophet’s advice?

Or was it something else? We don’t know, because no one from the church or the university has yet seen fit to explain to Park what he did that triggered his erasure.

“They’re not very transparent when making these decisions,” Park said in a Zoom interview. “And so I have as much information about why or who ordered the removal as anyone who has seen this Twitter thread.”

The action feels vaguely Orwellian, building on the “1984” idea that “the past (is) changeable”. In the novel, when the government suddenly changes course and declares its enemy to be Eastasia, the citizens fall over themselves to not only change their allegiances in the present but to manipulate history so that it seems Eastasia has always been their enemy instead of ally. it used to be. To accomplish this, the ironically named “Ministry of Truth” must modify several years of newspapers, films, books and propaganda so that they all reproduce the current party line. No explanation is ever given for this sudden change. It is simply.

Let me clarify that the Maxwell Institute and any other academic institution or foundation has the right to fund any researcher it pleases. He also has the right to distance himself from a researcher whose work or public figure now appears to him outside the organization’s mission. Perhaps an institution will make a statement about why they are distancing themselves or add an explanatory note to someone’s faculty page or at the very least explain to the researcher in question what he or she did to trigger discipline.

But deception is not the way to do it. I don’t know of any other scholarly institutions that try to make us believe that scholars whose work no longer fits their mission never participated in those institutions in the first place. I have never seen an academic institution simply try to erase a historian from history.

In my own situation, I learned that the blacklisting I experienced at the BYU bookstore extended to a ban on speaking on campus unless it was for a private, unpublished event (I have done a few since) or as a guest speaker in a class.

I don’t know if this ban is still in place, and to this day no one has ever formally told me how or why it came about. It is simply.

*This term is preferred as a racially neutral alternative to “blacklist”.


Read:

Polygamy, Politics, and Border Justice: Why Nauvoo Still Matters (Interview with Historian Benjamin Park)

Elder Holland’s BYU speech is for a university of yesteryear


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