Many criticisms of the early LDS Church centered on what were perceived as overly liberal views of women’s rights. Nevertheless, in 1870, Brigham Young wanted to make it known that Mormon women weren’t “downtrodden” and Utah became the second territory to allow women’s suffrage. With such a strong foundation of female equality, it came as a surprise to many that BYU announced on October 29th that it will dissolve the Women’s Research Institute (WRI) in January 2010.
The WRI, a resource through which interdisciplinary research can be performed regarding gender issues, has been operating for 31 years. Its research aims include support for: “1) studies designed to prevent gender-related violence and increase peace in individuals, homes, and communities; 2) longitudinal studies to determine effective ways to improve the lives of women in developing countries, especially through education; and 3) studies capitalizing on innovative technologies in order to create repositories of information documenting the conditions in which women live . . . as well as their contributions to society.”
The dissolution of the WRI was a decision made by a single-gendered committee consisting of John Tanner (Vice President over Academics), David Magleby (Dean of the College of Family Home and Social Sciences) and the university’s Board of Trustees. The dissolution was decided under the ill-advised premise that “this reorganization will result in significantly expanded resources for research and creative activities pertaining to women.” The discontinuance of the WRI is in congruence with the university’s goal to, as a BYU press release stated, “streamline and strengthen” its programs.
The new Women Studies minor will be administered by the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences. Most of the faculty and professors of the WRI will be transferred into that college and teach in areas of sociology and psychology. The operating budget for the former WRI will be funneled into the Emmeline B. Wells Grant, which will administer $25,000 a year for women’s research and will be available university-wide.
The faculty of the WRI argue that this grant represents significantly less funding than the the institute currently receives. One of the many concerns of WRI members is that the institute’s abolition dismantles the community of interdisciplinary research regarding women at BYU. Research grants will be harder to get and, as a result, the quality of research will diminish. Collaborative efforts will be disorganized and less effective without the the role of the WRI in seeking to liberate women through education.
While the recession has caused BYU to make many program cutbacks over the past couple of years, many women are troubled that BYU chose to eliminate a program that deals so specifically with gender equality issues. Some also believe the move may send a problematic message to other universities about the academic environment at BYU; most other reputable universities have a program comparable to the WRI, and its dissolution could send the wrong message.
A coalition of people against the dissolution of the WRI has been formed. You can join the Facebook group, entitled “Save BYU’s Women’s Research Institute,” and become involved in the fight to preserve this worthwhile institution.
Kristin Clift is a Rhombus correspondent.
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