Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Parity in Religious Education at Brigham Young University

One of the oft-touted doctrinal foundations in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the emphasis on equality. Jesus Christ espoused salvation and its temporal implications to all who would listen. Likewise, he commissioned all who would listen to go forth and teach to the world. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ have an injunction to represent their faith to the world in all situations and to do their best to bring the benefits of the gospel to all they meet. With this rhetorical basis I approached the gender representation among the institution of religious education at Brigham Young University.
Statistically speaking, in the fall semester of 2012 there were 385 undergraduate religion classes taught between BYU and the Salt Lake Center (by class, I measured individual sections for each offered course). Of those 385 classes, only 60 were taught by women. This equates roughly to a 15% rate of parity for actual class time. 

Additionally, whether by University policy or practice or, perhaps, by coincidence, there was a significant statistical divergence in the rate in which individual faculty members taught classes. Of the 53 classes taught by an instructor who only taught one class, 43 of those classes were taught by males. The reason I use the single class criteria is because BYU has a relatively large standing faculty within the Religious Education Dept. On the whole, the majority of the instructors teaching religion classes come from the Religious Education Dept.: 80 instructors out of 128 instructors are listed as being either full-time, part-time, or visiting faculty of the Religious Education Dept. Interestingly enough, the total composition of the Religious Education Dept., in terms of gender, is 75 male faculty members and 17 females (92 faculty members total). The composition of the instructors for the fall of 2012 in terms of those representing the Religious Education Dept. is 63 male religion faculty members and 17 female religion faculty members (80 faculty members from Religious Education total). Five of the female religious education faculty members taught only one class. Six of the male religious education faculty members taught only one class. Something additional to notice is that all of the female faculty members of the Religious Education Dept. are represented in the fall 2012 class composition. Of those 17 faculty members, 12 teach more than one class. On the other hand, 69 of the 75 male religion faculty members taught more than one class. The composition of non-Religious Education instructors for males was 42 instructors, versus the six for females. Non-religion male instructors teaching only one class for the semester numbered 37. Non-religion female instructors teaching only one class for the semester numbered five.

With the data presented, I posit that the religious education experience (which includes the Religious Education Dept. and other faculty members) suffers from a significant lack of parity. Besides the sheer statistical difference between female and male instructors, the issue of resource utilization is critical. Those who belong to the Religious Education Dept. and who are male are more likely to teach multiple classes than their female counter-parts. Likewise, the number of non-Religious Education Dept. faculty used for only one class is distinctly male. The majority of these single-class instructors are teaching introduction-level classes for Book of Mormon and New Testament. This indicates that for the courses in which far more classes need to be taught, where the demand on the Religious Education Dept. faculty is too high, the University fills positions by pulling predominantly male faculty members from across the campus, representing a wide-array of departments and disciplines. The female faculty utilized outside of the Religious Education Dept. are predominantly from the Humanities. The current composition indicates that the standard to be considered for a position teaching a religion class at BYU is simply that you are male. If you are female, you are more likely to be utilized if you are in the Religious Education Dept. 

This is an issue because class time is a form of conditioning. The less class time students spend with a female instructor acting as authority on spiritual subject matter, the less students are going to consider women valid instructors on spiritual subject matter. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the number of female role-models leading the entirety of the church is slim, despite doctrinal criteria which does not stipulate that females should not act as role-models. As an organ of the church, BYU reinforces the idea that to be a religious authority, one must be male, regardless of discipline of training or current field of research. Women are few and far between, and the message implicit in a predominantly male-staffed religious education experience is that a course taught by a female is an anomaly or is deviant.

A simple way to rectify this problem would be to evenly distribute the number of one class positions per semester among all of the education departments. Or, perhaps, to limit the number of one class positions to only certain departments. Another very simple way to rectify this problem would be to hire more female instructors. The flip-side of this is to reduce or dismantle the religious education requirement at BYU. Any one of these solutions would be a good start to closing the gender gap in religious education at BYU.

by Alex Christman

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