Let’s hope this is a non-issue…

But I’m wary. Every time I say that about someone’s personal religious beliefs, they end up becoming an issue. The newest potential cause for drama? The University of Washington (where I go to school) finally decided on it’s new President – Michael K. Young. The thing that set off red flags? He’s a graduate of Brigham Young University and devout Mormon (which is probably redundant to say).

Now, I know it’s entirely possible to be religious and not let your beliefs interfere with your job at a secular university. I don’t expect his first act as university president to be increasing the number of Mormon missionaries that hunt you down on Red Square, or to expand the campus LDS center that’s right by my building.

But when I read stuff like the following, I get a little worried:

In order to understand genuinely the world and all the things that we learn from secular sources, we should start the inquiry first from the perspective of the gospel and its basic truths. The rest of the world then begins to make much more sense. It isn’t so much that secular learning necessarily confirms the truth of the gospel in every instance, though I am frequently surprised with just how often it does exactly that, but rather that we much better understand the world and everything in it when we put the secular learning in a gospel context. In other words, if one first seeks the light of Christ and inspiration from the Lord, then inquiries about matters of science, politics, economics, history, indeed, society in general, are not only entirely acceptable, but likely to lead to a better understanding of the gospel and a stronger, not weaker, testimony. If we seek first the kingdom of God, then indeed all things will be added unto it.

Ah yes…the world makes so much more sense when you start with Mormon!Jesus. I’m sure all the non-Mormon researchers certainly appreciate that sentiment.

Please let the next 4 years be perfectly boring and free of blog fodder.


  1. KKS says

    That’s a little weird. I go to Ohio State; our President, E. Gordon Gee, is a devout Mormon, but he’s about the best college president on planet Earth, and I don’t think he’s ever brought his religion up first, especially not when talking about University governance.

  2. @jkmiami89 says

    I am so glad that here at Miami we have Donna Shalala. Visible and liberal. much love.

  3. Bob says

    I’m more worried about how mealy-mouthed the speech is in general, to be honest. It’s probably of little consolation that it’s not necessarily Mormon!Jesus; I could imagine the speech as baptist or catholic, word for word.Either way, actions speak louder than words. My concern is not just how the secular areas are treated, but also LGBT groups.

  4. Kris Preusker says

    Great. Now I’ve got MC Hammer stuck in my head, which always makes me think of the Utah Saints song “Something Good”. Utah Saints leads me straight back to Mormon!Jesus and the vicious cycle continues…

  5. says

    Um, I think I have extremely bad news for you. Unless there are lots of BYU graduates named Michael K. Young who work in university administration, this is the same guy who has been president of the University of Utah.And that Michael K. Young is very bad news for secularism. I even wrote about some recent very stupid things he said on my blog about how freedom of religion is being eroded and is in terrible danger.

  6. Mike1325 says

    You could have a big problem here. Hope you don’t meet the President until you have your degree. It not really in your genes to be diplomatic.

  7. says

    I’m pretty sure I have very, very bad news for you. Unless there are lots of Michael K. Youngs who work in university administration, this is the same guy who has been president of the University of Utah. And he’s bad news for secular institutions.I recently wrote up my thoughts on some very stupid things he has said about how religious freedoms are threatened by the separation of church and state. I was disappointed in him as president of my university and I’m sorry to hear he’s moving to yours now.

  8. dagfin says

    I read his statement as profoundly inappropriate for one in his position at a secular institution.

  9. Mark says

    Fortunately, the President’s job is mostly to schmooze the legislature and big donors. I’d be more worried (as a UW student as well) if we discovered that the Provosts were devout followers of whatever. As long as Young spends most of his time in Olympia chasing legislators around, he’ll be fine…

  10. PDX_Greg says

    I just hope you don’t have to to wear a white shirt and black tie to get into the missionary position …

  11. says

    This sounds awful, but I’m glad he’s leaving the U of U, even though it means unleashing him on other public universities. Ideally, he’d just go back to BYU where he’s free to endorse crazy impositions of religious ideology. People who don’t believe in separation of church & state have no place in public institutions.

  12. Bryan Moyers says

    HOW did this person become the President of University of Washington? Even if his major job is to booze and schmooze, I’d be more than a little worried about the image he’s portraying!

  13. dreamwaffles says

    ….damn it, and this only a week after I register for summer classes at the UW.BUGGER.(this means I’ll be able to make it to atheist meetings though! Maybe!)

  14. Kali says

    It doesn’t help his case any when he ends that statement with a direct quote from the bible Matthew 6:33 (KJV). I hope everything turns out well and he doesn’t entirely screw everything up.

  15. mcbender says

    Jen, I’m convinced comments like that make him unfit for the position: he sounds like an idiot. Good luck weathering the storm; hopefully it blows over before causing too much irreversible damage.I’ve found the best rule of thumb when dealing with Mormons generally is to assume they misspoke and added a second ‘m’ to the word.

  16. says

    I’m more worried about the implication that “inquiries about matters of science, politics, economics, history, indeed, society in general” are potentially not “entirely acceptable,” or are only acceptable if you are religious. He’s a university president!

  17. says

    What April said. In my experience, Mormons in academia are well-practiced at the cognitive dissonance required to (for instance) teach evolution M-F at BYU and then teach a lesson on the Creation and Noah’s Ark in Sunday School, but that doesn’t look like what he’s doing. He seems to be advocating (as an “expert on religious liberties”) something quite a bit more hands-on and interventionist. How did he end up at UW, I wonder?

  18. says

    I am not familiar with Michael K. Young (sans the link) but he could potentially just say silly things like this that don’t interfere with his job very much (i.e. Francis Collins). Here is hoping anyway.

  19. says

    It’s unlikely that your research will be directly affected–but those kinds of comments do bode ill for other important kinds of things–like support for LGBT and perhaps pushes by him to give more funding to religious groups on campus and similar kinds of things… Annoying.

  20. JoeDickinson says

    When I first came to the University of Utah (1972) we had a pretty decent president (David Gardner). Then the UC system stole him as system-wide president, a significant loss. In this case, welcome to Michael K. Young.

  21. says

    Since many folks are likely to just read your quotation of President Young, rather than clicking thru the link, I think it would have been helpful to clarify the context for it by including the fact that it is part of a statement he made for BYU’s Religious Studies Center, not (as one might imagine in this context) something having to do with his new role @ UW. And what exactly do you find troubling? His statement makes it perfectly clear that by having a throughly solid spiritual foundation he finds absolutely no need to use his secular activities to promote religion because they are actually working in the other direction. Isn’t that what an atheist wants in their secular relationships with theists? Most interesting to me though was the bit about him being on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1988. I didn’t even know there was an International Religious Freedom Act of 1988. Whatever else one might think about that, it surely avers well for his ecumenical rather than parochial chops. Which is to say that it has to count as rather specious to impute him with proselytizing tendencies in the absence of any supporting evidence. And besides, being a good Mormon means he already went on a mission and got that out of his system.

  22. says

    I would personally reserve judgement until he does something offensive. Those comments were made for a specific occasion and I doubt would apply generally. Seattle is also not Salt Lake City (which is a completely different culture than the rest of the U.S.) so I think he’ll adjust accordingly.

  23. JM says

    That bit was published in 2001, if I read it correctly, when he was dean of a law school. Still, what were the faculty senate and board of trustees thinking?

  24. JM says

    Probably quite a few, unless you’re unwilling to grant them the title “atheist” without their coming out in public.

  25. Amii says

    I’d be at def-con 2 with that. I think you might be under-reacting if you’re merely wary. Also, about the everything-makes-sense-in-a-biblical-context crowd, I have never been able to fathom that response. What sense can the bible make of anything that doesn’t have to do with killing, slavery and the occasional forgiveness? Oh, are they talking about where to plant my crops? What to eat on a Sunday? Madness!

  26. biblebeltatheist says

    we had a mormon who chaired the Oklahoma State U. board of regents back in the 1980’s. If what I saw is any guide, get ready for this guy to suppress free speech from gays and nonbelievers and anyone else the mormons don’t like.You can reserve judgment until he does something offensive, but my money sez it’s only a matter of time.

  27. says

    Perhaps it was a grand plan to bring him up to Seattle for some liberal hazing? One can only hope that there’s a master plan instead of a gross affront to education.

  28. says

    The quoted bit sounds like he might have been trying to explain how religion and science aren’t inherently incompatible (a point I agree with, provided religion sticks to its own turf, as it were), particularly “inquiries about matters of science, politics, economics, history … are not only entirely acceptable, but likely to lead to a better understanding of the gospel“… but if that was the sole aim, it’s missed quite badly, and instead seems to claim that rightly-done secular acedemia somehow depends on having not just religious belief, but the right religious belief.But then, reading a few other bits linked to, it mostly seems like half (or more) of his writings about the interface of the secular and religious are more than a little incoherent.

  29. says

    That statement strikes me as quite odd for the president of a public university. I got two degrees from a public university deep in the bible belt under two different administrators, and neither ever made statements that were more religious in nature than the occasional perfunctory reference to prayer or praying after something bad happened.However, Mr. Young may soon learn that UW won’t put up with his non-secular shenanigans the same way that UofU did. Utah’s public institutions seem to be much more willing to overlook things like that.

  30. says

    Where is the reference to what President Young actually said? You write an article about someone else’s article about what Young supposedly said? I’m still looking for actual evidence that supports the conclusion that Young has said or done something to even begin to get concerned about. All I see so far are anti-theist atheists (which aren’t the only kind ya know) hyping imagined religious-secular conflict. Looks like I will get to find out whether Jen is blowing smoke or a whistle on this since I am heading to UW for graduate school in the fall.

  31. says

    If you’re looking for a published transcript of the speech at the conference of the LDS International Society, I have no idea if that was made available to the general public. However, the second link in my post to KSL is to one of the main news organizations in the state, one owned by the LDS church. They often allow messages about their religious views to be filtered out through news media of this type.It is a fully vetted news article while my post on my blog is just my deconstruction of what was apparently presented as a threat to religious freedom. Given that there is a clip of an interview with Mr. Young at the top of the news article, I have no doubt they faithfully reported his opinions.

  32. Rollingforest says

    Yeah, the vast majority of BYU students are conservative Mormons. However, some Mormon kids are forced to go there by their parents and often come to hate it (and sometimes Mormonism itself) because of it. Also there is a very very small population of non-Mormons there. For one example of an Evangelical (who also sees herself as a feminist) who went to BYU, see http://www.clobberblog.com

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