It's difficult to express how heartbroken I am over BYU's recent decision to shut down the Women's Research Institute and move the women's studies minor to the college of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. I love the social sciences, but I see no way that an interdisciplinary field can be successfully housed within a single discipline. As an alumnus of the women's studies minor who graduated with a BA in English, I am grateful that the minor was interdisciplinary while I took part in it, and I am anxious over the loss of the interdisciplinary collaboration that is so essential to work in the field of women's studies and gender studies.
If you're unfamiliar with the history of this decision, let me explain what I do know. According to a press release BYU put out last week, the WRI will be shut down in just six short weeks, at the end of this very semester. The press release so cheerily glosses over important details that some have compared it to George Orwell's Animal Farm. While the press release refers to the closing of the WRI as a mere reorganiztion of the program and claims that dispersing the 85+ scholars involved with the WRI will "streamline and strengthen" the program, the press release provides no explanation as to how this dispersion will not tear apart a field that is by nature collaborative and interdisciplinary.
A group of faculty affiliated with the WRI have posted an impressively diplomatic eulogy for the WRI on squaretwo.com, detailing its history and some of the spectacular accomplishments it has produced in the 31 years since its birth. I highly recommend clicking on the above link, and I'd particularly like to draw your attention to the post's statement that only about a third of the WRI's funding came directly from BYU, and that the funding from BYU "amounted to the average salary of a full-time professor." What's even sadder, is that BYU's press release proudly claims BYU will increase funding into women's research. How? By putting a mere $25,000 into a fund for faculty grants. But how on earth does such a small fraction of the funds the WRI put towards research increase funding? Whatever the press release says, logic dictates otherwise.
Initially BYU tried to keep this matter hush hush, as evidenced by their delay in announcing this decision. The WRI will close at the end of this very semester, the instant students leave campus in December, and yet the decision was only made public on October 29th. Since the public outcry occasioned by this announcement and through the work of a vibrant facebook group however, the Utah press has begun paying attention, with notable articles published in the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, and BYU's newspaper, The Daily Universe. Online commenting on these articles has gone through the roof, and a facebook group in support of saving the WRI has gained over one thousand members in just a few days.
Hundreds of students are writing letters and emails, and calling and visiting the Academic VP, John Tanner, to ask him how cutting funding and closing this important location for interdisciplinary collaboration will in fact "streamline and strengthen" the program. And how does dispersing the many faculty members affiliated with the WRI streamline the program? Dispersing and complicating a program does anything but simplify it. Today John Tanner emailed a link with his response to the many emails he has received on this subject, but as you can see this response leaves these important questions unanswered and provides no clear reason behind why the WRI is being shut down.
I sought Dr. Tanner out in person today after receiving his email link and told him I still had questions. He told me he had too many appointments to talk to me, but that it was nice to meet me and shook my hand. He seemed like a nice man, and I'm sure he had the best of intentions in approving this decision. But the decision is nevertheless a horrifying and thus far unjustified mistake. When so many people outside the LDS church mistakenly think that the LDS gospel (and Christianity in general) oppresses women, we need organizations like the WRI to demonstrate to the world that that simply is not true.
If you aren't affiliated with BYU, maybe you're wondering what any of this has to do with you. Why should you care? Well, according to the squaretwo article, "Within the last twenty years of record-keeping, no other university in the country has eliminated its center of research concerning women." Just think about that for a moment: this is the first documented case of a university shutting down its center of research concerning women in the last twenty years. Though the BYU press release claims this move does not stem from an effort to conserve university funds, I am terrified that other universities will follow their lead for financial reasons.
Times of economic trouble have a history of further marginalizing and breeding antagonism toward minorities. Already I've heard reports that African American Studies programs are being slashed across the nation. As Erica and I are constantly saying on the blog, we need collaboration and healthy discussion between all groups of people, but especially between minority groups. Though I am positive that BYU decided to close the WRI with good intentions, this decision will shut down discussion of issues that concern women and gender and may perhaps provide a springboard for individuals hoping to derail years of progress in de-marginalizing minority groups in the United States.
My plea to all of you, whether you have any direct connection to BYU or not, is to write letters and make phone calls to the administration at BYU. Respectfully and articulately explain how this decision will negatively impact you and many others. The BYU administration needs to know the truth of how much damage this decision will cause if it runs its course unchecked.
Here are some links to other blogs that express sadness and dismay over the dissolution of the WRI:
A response by a former WRI employee
Feminist Mormon Housewives
"BYU is out to get me" by Sarah, who has been a power house in organizing everything.
"BYU does it again"
the bee in your bonnet: "streamline and strengthen"
Is BYU all about parity?
By Common Consent: "Goodbye Women's Research Institute
Dissenting in Part: "Another BYU snafu"
A wannabe malingerer: The WRI
Schrodinger's Cat: Closing the WRI = Bad Idea