« The Gregory Prince Interview | Main | Clearplay, Son of Cleanflicks »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

LDS students may be well represented in some of the finest graduate programs, but a) these students are overwhelmingly male b) many of them are married and c) there aren't that many LDS students in some of the nation's finest undergrad programs,

Why does that matter? Well, IMO, Mormons get a bad rap because we're so insular. We spend a lot of time wrapped up in church and families, which isn't a bad thing, but removes us from other interactions, ones that would dispel some of these myths and stereotypes. So when the only LDS people that professors are interacting with are adult married men, they see that our society is both patriarchal and insular. That’s not a totally assessment on their part, but can we blame people for having this perception?

I am an undergrad at a university on the East Coast, and plenty of my friends have never even met a Mormon before. If it weren’t for me, they might never meet a Mormon. If there actually was an LDS population on campus, instead of a handful of students, it might make a difference. There isn’t though – there are four active undergrads, a few single grad students, and maybe 10-12 or so married grad students. Not nearly enough people for others to really know who we are, and given that the married grad students all have families and church responsibilities and whatnot, they aren’t, as a general rule, as much a presence in the campus environment as someone who didn’t have those responsibilities would be.

The solution, or at least the beginning of one, would be to stop sending kids off to Utah to school, and enroll them in great universities elsewhere (especially reasonable, intelligent, involved LDS students) for undergrad educations. The second step is to have more LDS women in grad schools, to let profs know that we aren’t such a sexist, woman-suppressing culture. Maybe if they saw even one LDS husband supporting his wife through grad school for every five or ten LDS wives supporting their husbands through grad school, it would change the perception.

Oh yeah, and it might help if there wasn’t such a strong anti-intellectual strain of thought among general church members (the kind that thought the PBS documentary was anti-Mormon). We hardly tolerate the intellectuals; can we expect them to tolerate us?

Two points:

1. Do we know how "Mormons" are defined in the survey? Given that the MSM regularly uses the phrase "Mormon fundamentalists," the professors may be reacting to negative feelings towards polygamous-practicing (indeed, law-breaking) splinter groups as much as to the LDS Church.

2. Your rhetorical question comparing Mormons and Muslims strikes me as unfair. You compare our best to their worst. But if we compare our worst to their worst, it is easier to see how these minority percentages might come down against both groups. We should remember that 2/3 do not report unfavorable opinions. That is a high percentage. In the realm of presidential approval ratings or elections results, figures like those would be greeted with overwhleming praise.

It would also be hypocritical of professors to have a negative opinion of Mormons because the majority of Mormon grad students are married men. The majority of professors are married men whose spouses are not academics.

Some of your other observations ring true, though. I'm a grad student at an elite East Coast U and the few Mormon grad students I've known are not particularly involved in campus life. I'm a bit of an exception, as I have worked in various positions in the graduate student council type organizations, but even so, I don't attend any of the social events put on by the group I work for. I have other obligations that take precedence. I don't know if my participation in those sorts of things would change any opinions, but I'm sure it couldn't hurt.

At the fine, upstanding East Coast university I did my grad work at, there were seven or ten LDS undergrads, men and women. In the grad programs, however, there was a much closer split; more men in law school (although there were several women, too), but plenty of LDS women in the social work masters, in various organizational behavior courses, etc.

I think, to some extent, the underrepresentation of LDS students on the East Coast is because, for those students who don't go to BYU, the West often offers better value. (If I hadn't gone to BYU, I would have gone to UCLA which, for an undergrad, has at least as high a profile as most Ivys--I'd never heard of Columbia growing up--and a much higher profile than an East Coast liberal arts college. Plus, had I wanted a small liberal arts college, LA has plenty.)

Which is to say, LDS students will be underrepresented on the East Coast until (a) more members of the church live out here, and (b) the state schools stack up to what the UC system gives (and yes, I recognize that UVA et al. exist, but still--Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Davis? And then Irvine and Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara? Etc.?))

Perhaps part of the negative perception rises from the insufferable persecution complex that so many LDS carry around?

Sure, Nick. It certainly has nothing to do with unfocused belligerance against groups perceived as associating with the right. Of course, you would have no experience with unfocused belligerance.

Interestingly enough, this summary of a survey on professors' religious beliefs was posted today, too. I haven't read the report, but the implication is that the Academy may not be so godless after all.

Tom - You make a good point and one I honestly hadn't considered (I've had almost as many female as male professors and the most influential people at my university seem to be women - our President, Dean of the College, Dean of Admissions, etc). You are certainly correct in saying married men with wives that aren't professors would be hypocritical in making that specific judgment. It wouldn't really be so hypocritical of everyone else though (married male professors who have wives that are incredibly well-educated, female professors, unmarried profs, etc) although it might certainly still be unfair.

And I certainly realize that going somewhere other than BYU by choice is a huge financial decision. For many good students it involves turning down at least some sort of scholarship at BYU, which is already incredibly inexpensive. For students at the most elite schools, they are almost certainly turning down at least full tuition at BYU. The best of them offer fantastic financial aid options, however, which ought to ease the burden.

And I don’t just think it’s the East Coast that needs more LDS students that aren’t at BYU. I realize that schools on the West Coast already have more, and that’s a step in the right direction, I just wish that we could get away from this idea that BYU is automatically where you have to go if you can get in. It isn’t the only option, and I really think that the church would be better off (at least in terms of dispelling myths and stereotypes), if there were more LDS students involved on college campuses everywhere, and not just because of the opinions of professors, but because of the opinions of everyone. Plenty of people I know had LDS friends in high school, but once high school ended, those friends went off to BYU, and then they got involved with new friends, and then they got married, and so on. When these people move back into the non-BYU, non-Utah world, they may once again be in a place where there are plenty of non-Mormons around, but their interactions with non-members is going to be much more limited.


Thanks for highlighting that typo. I just changed it in the original post. PLEASE let me know if you catch stuff like that in the future. It's a horrible mistake and I wish I'd noticed it earlier!

Thank you!


There may well be a degree of what you call "unfocused belligerance." Note that I didn't say that the LDS persecution complex was the whole problem. I suggested that it may be "part of the problem." I think we all have known a number of LDS who are quite defensive, and tend to invent "religious persecution" on a regular basis.

Oddly enough, your sarcastic remark, in which you seem to suggest that my comment is the product of "unfocused belligerance" is in itself an illustration of the kind of persecution complex I referred to.

Mollie, I'm proud to have found a typo on GR -- I'm sure it's a rare event. I would have sent an email but I couldn't find emails listed for the contributors.

Nick, I agree there's some truth to the "persecution complex" response. But in this day and age, if you don't stick up for your rights when treated unfairly, no one will notice. And the survey data offers hard evidence to support the idea that Evangelicals and Mormons are viewed unfairly by faculty. So it looks like objective fact, not a psychological complex. I don't feel persecuted; I'm just ticked off that professors who ought to know better think badly of Mormons.

Obviously, I'm playing it up a bit to make a good post and give us something to talk about based on an interesting post at GR and a nice article at WaPo. I don't feel like I've ever had a problem in my university experience on account of being LDS. But that's part of the problem with managerial or professorial bias: most of the time those who are treated unfairly never know.

Dave, your religion is looked upon by the academic elites as having Christian fundamentalist tendencies. It is Christian fundamentalism (religious absolutes) that the ivory towers hold in contempt and despise.

Dave, what seems to be lacking is a control or comparison group representing American social attitudes as a whole. It would be interesting to compare faculty attitudes with average Americans and see if one is more or less 'enlightened' than the other.

The other information that would make this more meaningful to me is a breakdown of attitudes by discipline. In my religious studies program (at a state school), the faculty seem to *feel* very tolerant (my advisers include a Muslim woman, an agnostic man, a mainline Protestant minister and a Jewish theologian).

One more piece of information is lacking: I noticed that atheists are up there with Muslims (if not quite in the LDS tier). This makes me wonder what the distribution of bias is. It's possible that many who don't like the Mormons come from an evangelical background themselves; much of the conversation here seems to assume that Mormons are being lumped with Evangelicals.

All that aside, it's difficult for me to separate Evangelicalism with its primacy of a strict interpretation of the Bible from its anti-science and anti-skeptical attitudes. They have continually challenged the core values of the academic community. This doesn't mean that individual Evangelicals can't be pro-science / skeptical inquiry, but it doesn't match the public face of Evangelicalism. And just how much are science and skeptical inquiry part of the LDS public image?

Some of this might be the way undergraduates respond in classes to information with which they disagree. I will admit that I have been unhappy to see LDS kids in my classes because in some cases there will be a running battle to challenge everything they find morally questionable and to apply their own moral concepts to all situations. It is something that some of our young people do share with the fundamentalist crowd.

Norbert, I understand how that would be frustrating. Amoral technocrats are likely to get frustrated by individuals within the system who insist on applying a moral dimension to their thinking and decisionmaking. Not that all professors are amoral technocrats: many are not technocrats (which implies a certain level of technical rigor and analytical competence more typical of corporations than universities) and some are not amoral. [Although I agree with your general point that students should perhaps suspend moralizing judgments while they read a few books at college and begin to appreciate how complicated real-life moral issues can be.]

To really critique overly moral students one needs an accepted theory of when one should apply a moral dimension to a topic or issue and what that moral measure should be. I just think there is no socially accepted norm one can apply to objectively apply and conclude that they are being too moral.

There's also a generational effect. Professors are always a generation or two behind their young students.

The reason LDS parents don't try to send their children to the godless eastern universities is not a mystery. My large, extended Mormon family was horrified that one of my daughters went to Boston University to study anthropology. Horror of horrors!
You can give all the reasons you want for why Mormon students are lumped in with evangelicals and why professors might be "uncomfortable" having them in class, but the most obvious reason is because a secular, intellectually rigorous, scientifically trained educator doesn't begin to know what to do with a student who he/she assumes is credulous, un-scientific, anti-rational, dreamy, simplistic, closed-minded and just plain antagonistic to anything that might upset the precepts inculcated in their delicate brains by authority of their parents and the priesthood from the time they were born to the present. Confronted with that kind of mindset, how do you expect educators to react?

I think it's the "he/she assumes" part that is the problem, Duff. To embrace a stereotype, then adopt a bias based on that stereotype, then treat students (or anyone else, for that matter) in line with those biases, is truly regrettable. When a survey shows one-third looking unfavorably on LDS students, I think that's the stereotype that is doing their thinking, not a fair evaluation of their own personal experience.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Now Reading

General Books 09-12

General Books 06-08

General Books 04-05

About This Site

Mormon Books 2015-16

Mormon Books 2013-14

Science Books

Bible Books

Mormon Books 2012

Mormon Books 2009-11

Mormon Books 2008

Mormon Books 2007

Mormon Books 2006

Mormon Books 2005

Religion Books 09-12

Religion Books 2008

Religion Books 2004-07

DMI on Facebook

Blog powered by Typepad