PROVO (ABC4 News) – Should religious institutions be allowed to use sexual identity as a determinant for hiring faculty members in the field of science? That’s the debate after two internationally-recognized science nonprofit organizations removed job postings submitted by Brigham Young University. The decision came after its members raised concerns about the school’s LGBTQ policies.
Ellen Alexander said her partner, Peter Martin was the one who originally brought their concerns to the American Geophysical Union (AGU), based in Washington D.C. Alexander is finishing her geology PhD program at UCLA and Martin is finishing his PhD program in geochemistry at Caltech. In a video chat interview with ABC4 News Monday, Alexander said they came across the BYU job listing on AGU’s job board, Pathfinder in September.
“That listing referred to the fact that faculty were required to comply with the BYU honor code. Peter saw that the honor code included a ban or condemnation of what they call ‘homosexual behavior’ i.e. being gay at all,” said Alexander. “For someone to be gay and go into that job, they’re probably not expecting that they have to be single and alone for the rest of their lives in order to comply with the policies and prohibition of the institution.”
Alexander said as a member of the LGBTQ community, she’s faced challenges pursuing a career in the field of science.
“Historically, science has not been accepting or society in general has not been broadly accepting of LGBTQ people,” she said. “Peter and I both took issue with the job posting because AGU proudly proclaims itself to be a model organization on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion within the geosciences.”
In response to critics who said LGBTQ members should just ignore the listing, she said by doing so enables a climate of discrimination.
“It is incumbent on the participants of that society to uphold their values of inclusion. For BYU to want to post a job and get that massive platform that AGU gives them since it is the largest international geoscience organization with about 60,000 members, they can’t have their cake and eat it too,” said Alexander.
Martin said on Facebook that AGU initially declined to remove BYU’s job posting because the ad itself did not contain any ‘discriminatory language.’ But after his and Alexander’s social media posts led to some backlash among its members, the science nonprofit organization announced on Twitter in October it would pull the university’s listing because it was inconsistent with their Scientific Ethics and Integrity Policy.
Alexander said while she was satisfied that the job posting was ultimately removed, she was disappointed in how AGU responded to the situation.
“The public response from them was pretty bland. They initially didn’t even acknowledge directly what the issue was when they were getting a lot of flack on Twitter,” she said. “I wish they had done more to be affirmative in their decision and be more publicly clear that they are affirming their goals to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
The Geological Society of America (GSA) also made the same decision to pull BYU’s ad, but did not provide a statement or comment with details.
Jani Radebaugh, professor of geological science at BYU said she and her colleagues were shocked by AGU and GSA’s decisions.
“We had no indication from the societies that this would happen. No dialogue with them about why, no discussion except what we saw on Twitter from AGU,” she said. “I feel like that was a reactionary way to deal with the problem. We wish they would have just talked to us about what the issues were so we maybe we could have made changes that would’ve helped us be in line with their policies.”
She said while she understands where concerned members are coming from, she believes that in order to have constructive dialogue about different ideologies, everyone should be at the discussion table.
“By withdrawing those groups from discussion, we’re silencing those different ideologies. It’s important to have ideological diversity in science because we want to bring everybody’s voice along,” she said. “These new policies come in and it feels like they’re excluding other groups. We’d like to figure out a way to bring everyone along, so we can move forward and be inclusive of everybody.”
Even though BYU’s posting was removed from AGU’s job board, its journal, Eos published an article from Radebaugh and two of her colleagues, Benjamin Abbott and Jamie Jensen in response to the incident.
“Our point is not to defend BYU’s honor code or hiring policies. There is an active debate surrounding that subject already, in which BYU is frequently censured and celebrated for its interpretations of diversity,” they wrote. “As members of AGU with diverse social views, our goal here is to expand the discussion of inclusivity in this incredible science community that has nurtured and supported us since before we started grad school.”
The professors argued that the science societies’ decisions to remove the university’s post silences ideological diversity. Alexander disagreed.
“Ideologies can change. Identities cannot. Someone who has a minoritized identity, whether that be a racial, gender, or sexual identity or being disabled, they live with that their whole lives. That is a part of who they are. Whereas ideology is something that is forever ever-changing,” she said.
In turn, the Eos article said:
“One of the justifications for ideological discrimination is that many consider ideology to be completely volitional (i.e. a choice), distinguishing it from race, gender, and sexual orientation. From that perspective, excluding people and groups with different viewpoints may seem justifiable because it is more socially acceptable to judge behaviors or attributes that are considered choices.”
Additionally, Alexander said the argument of freedom of religion v. freedom of speech does not apply in this scenario because AGU is not a governmental agency and their policies and objectives are formed by its own administration.
“This is not really about BYU or local politics. This is about the changes that we, as the new generation of scientists, want to see to create a better, more inclusive scientific community,” she said.
No matter where each party stands on the issue, one point they can agree on is there needs to be more dialogue and discussion about the topic of inclusion within the field of science.
Radebaugh told ABC4 News that her department is currently in discussion with AGU and GSA about how to move forward.
“We hope to reach an agreement that would include everyone. But this conversation will get more complex as they figure out where different ideologies fit into society and science,” she said.
Alexander said she and several other members are preparing a response to the BYU professors’ Eos article.
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