By: Russell Stevenson
While I am the author of this letter, I speak on behalf of numerous students who support the retention of professor Michael Murdock of Brigham Young University’s History department.
We believe that Brigham Young University’s mission is to “assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.” Such goals, while lofty, can indeed be achieved through focused instruction and inspirational tutelage from professors who have the gift to “teach by the word of wisdom,” to act as a tour guide into a world of knowledge unfamiliar to many undergraduates.
Sadly, one source of such enlightenment at BYU faces possible termination from employment at this university. Professor Murdock, after several years of instruction at Brigham Young University, has received notification that he will not receive tenure. This year will be his last. Whatever rationale has been used to justify this decision, we continue to maintain that professor Murdock’s contributions have been immeasurable in the lives of the vast majority of his students.
Professor Murdock’s dismissal has been partly justified as a measure necessary to “protect” the student body. We have organized a coalition of 218 students to directly dispute that claim. Whether listening to professor Murdock’s lectures, discussing mind-expanding ideas with him in his office, or working with him on the nuts and bolts of the publication editorial boards of student publications, we have all seen that professor Murdock has sought only to intellectually enlarge his students through rigorous analysis and thought-provoking debate. As the direct recipients of this university’s teaching resources, we urge the administration to recognize that of the four major educational goals, classroom teaching is central to meeting the requirements of the first three. The student body has received the best kind of intellectual training from professor Murdock – the kind that stretches, probes, expands and edifies.
Some assert that professor Murdock might not have met publication requirements even though he recently published a book with the Cornell East Asia Series on how the Guomindang party created power during the revolution of 1922-29. This publication meets the “continuing faculty status” requirement, thus invalidating dismissal on the “publish or perish” grounds. Indeed, one extremely well-placed (and sympathetic) professor has informed me that the decision did not come from professor Murdock’s failure to meet publication requirements but because he sought to value students as much as he did his publications. In other words, as another professor told me in a tone laced with irony, “his heart was not in the right place” – he valued students as much as he valued research. We maintain that professor Murdock’s balance of publication with pedagogy ought to be the goal of every professor who lays claim to BYU’s heritage of excellent teaching coupled with top-rate scholarship.
We understand that this administration only seeks to uphold the mission statement of this university and to act in its best interests; we respect this duty. Nevertheless, we cannot stand idly by as the carpet of academic excellence is pulled from underneath our feet. Professor Murdock’s students, who have been the direct recipients of his quality teaching, attest to his desire to uphold BYU’s mission. Therefore, in the interests of this university, its students and this university’s reputation for scholarship, we urge that the administration – specifically Vice President Dayley and Dean Magleby – use their power to seriously revisit the decision to refuse professor Murdock continuing faculty status. Furthermore, we call on all students, current and former, to respond to this decision in defense of the professor whose assistance was significant in their education. Please voice your support for professor Murdock by sending an e-mail to or by personally visiting Vice President Dayley and Dean Magleby.
Russell Stevenson is a senior majoring in History.