BYU Annual University Conference
I first want to express my profound gratitude to Stan Albrecht for his recently concluded service as academic vice president. Stan is an honest and competent person who loves the Lord and this university with a passion. I will miss him. With equal intensity, I welcome Todd Britsch, whose personal gifts and lifelong commitment to BYU have prepared him fully for this day.
As I think of the relief Stan must be feeling now, I recall a story allegedly told by a former BYU president. When someone asked him if he missed his job at BYU, he answered with this analogy: At a certain stake conference, the stake president was being released after serving faithfully for 10 years, preceded by 10 more years in a bishopric. Just before the Sunday morning session where the stake presidency would be changed, the visiting General Authority became uneasy in watching from the stand as the crowd filled the hall. He leaned over to the devoted but tired stake president and asked, “Are there enough chairs for all those people coming in the back doors?” The stake president whispered back to the visitor, “Who cares?”
Alma once described Zarahemla in a way that also describes BYU: “We are thus highly favored, for we have these glad tidings [the gospel] declared unto us in all parts of our vineyard.” (Alma 13:23) That blessing would not be possible here without the hundreds of BYU personnel who live lives of conscientious devotion to the Lord, to his Church, and to the well-being of this community. We don’t begin to have the problems other large institutions have with drugs, violence, sexual harassment, dishonesty, and other threats to the workplace that are often associated with personal value systems. Yet our high expectations make it doubly tragic when one of us does disappoint our community interests.
Our aspirations include a commitment to the equal worth of souls in male/female and faculty/staff relationships. To that end, supervisors should go out of their way to listen to women personnel, to see things through their eyes. When supervisors are male, no one should be more sensitive to women’s concerns and perceptions than a holder of the priesthood. Regarding mutual support between staff and faculty, it impresses me that BYU has not followed the recent pattern of other universities, whose costs in support areas have risen faster than their academic costs; indeed, Dee Andersen’s team has not only achieved new efficiencies, they have helped us move saved resources to accommodate needs outside their area. As I consider all the good people who labor in the Cougar vineyard, I think of Karl G. Maeser’s words: “Labor with the hand is as honorable as labor with the head, but labor with the heart, when the heart is pure and true, is the noblest labor” of all.
This semester we will begin some long-term academic planning. Many of our nonacademic areas are already engaged in regular planning cycles and others may wish to do so. We don’t really mean to overrun the campus with day planners—we just want to develop a more coherent idea of what we are doing at BYU. We envision both centralized and decentralized efforts, which the corporate types call “top down” and “bottom up.” I prefer a horizontal image, like building the transcontinental railroad, where the administration and the specific units work together toward a coordinated meeting point.
Our first step will be a dialogue within each department and college under the direction of chairs and deans about the purpose of the university. As Paul Pixton has said, the people who are happiest about being at BYU are those who learn why BYU exists. Each faculty group will then review the current state of its disciplines, its academic majors, and begin preparing for our upcoming accreditation self-study. We have tried to outline a conceptual framework for this process during the last three years, as reflected in our past fall conference talks and in some college meetings. In summary, BYU’s central mission begins with Richard Bushman’s attitude: “I am a believer. I believe in God and Christ and want to know them. My relations with scholarship and scholars have to begin there.”1 And our relations with student activities, support services, and all else we do must also begin there. The first theme flowing from this vision is that we nurture authentic religion. I will return to some thoughts on that subject as my primary topic today. Second, we offer as many spiritually and academically mature students as possible the richest possible learning experience. Third, we support faculty and academic programs that develop our emerging role as a major, national university, positioned in that fruitful middle ground between the comprehensive colleges and the graduate research universities. Fourth, we seek a campus work environment full of professional competence, harmony, and personal nurturing.
Against this background, let us consider the integration of our religious and professional aspirations. When our very able committee on academic long-range planning met last fall, one person suggested that we begin by reading the teachings of the prophets about the university. Another suggested that we come to our next meeting in an attitude of fasting and prayer. In that very personal kind of mood, each group member expressed his or her impressions after reading these foundation documents. To my surprise, every person around that table expressed a variation on a single theme: We have been too reticent about the place of religion in academic life at BYU. In Marilyn Arnold’s words, “The committee could not help wondering why, given the Board’s makeup and concerns and the religious devotion of nearly all members of the campus community, this matter had not been widely and vigorously discussed before. Perhaps BYU is just now reaching the maturity that allows it to move, in its quest for academic legitimacy, beyond defensiveness and imitation of established institutions. Of course, we must not relax our efforts at academic excellence, but it is time for us also to become more fully the institution envisioned by the prophets.” With these thoughts in mind, the committee has recommended the process that will unfold in each department this fall.
The Jewish author Chaim Potok once distinguished between sacred and secular thought systems.2 The scholar in a sacred system “assumes there is a design and purpose to nature,” because God’s spirit “hovers over all creation,” giving divine origins to the premises of the sacred system. Thus, even the most sophisticated scholar in a sacred system faithfully transmits “inherited old and acceptable new scholarship” while respecting the established “boundaries of the system” according to a “predetermined choreography.” By contrast, the scholar in a secular system always probes and challenges the system’s boundaries, believing that all premises originate with man, the exclusive focus of secular systems. In secular systems “It is man who gives, man who takes away.”
Today Potok sees “a boiling cauldron of colliding ideas and worldviews” that makes cultural confrontation between sacred and secular systems unavoidable. He suggests four possible responses for the religious person who faces such confrontation. First—the “lockout” approach: one can simply dodge the conflict by erecting impenetrable barriers between the sacred and the secular and then remaining in just one system. Second—“compartmentalization”: one creates separate categories of thought that coexist in a “tenuous peace.” Third—take down all walls and allow complete “fusion” in which the sacred and secular cultures freely feed each other, perhaps leading to a “radically new seminal culture.” And fourth—“ambiguity”: take down most if not all walls and accept a multitude of questions without intending to resolve them.
BYU’s history, purposes, and its very nature reflect fro every angle what Potok calls a sacred system of thought. How then do we handle the natural confrontations between the sacred and our deep commitment to being a serious university? We reject the “lockout” approach that would shut our eyes to life’s conflicts and realities. We are in—even though not of—the world. Yet we also cannot accept the total “fusion” model. Although the gospel embraces all truth, we must give priority to the truths that lead us to Christ, and we cannot allow our most sacred premises to be altered or even minimized by secularist assumptions. At the same time, we are too open to be rigid “compartmentalists.” So how do we view the “ambiguity” and uncertainty that remain? We don’t fear ambiguity’s questions, partly because, as John Tanner has said, we approach our questions from an attitude of faith.
The Restoration actually provides a fifth alternative for integrating sacred and secular thought systems—the model of eternal perspective. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the most comprehensive explanation of life and the cosmos available to humankind. This idea is illustrated by Terry Warner’s essay on Alma’s teachings to Korihor.3 Terry wrote that the main difference between Alma’s map of the universe and Korihor’s map is that Alma’s map is broader. If Alma’s map is represented by a 10 x 10 square, Korihor’s map is a 4 x 4 square within Alma’s larger square. Alma doesn’t have the answer to every question, but he does see and accept the same scientific evidence that Korhior does. Beyond that, he also recognizes evidence of personal meaning and spiritual reality that Korihor’s map by definition excludes. As William James said of this type of evidence, “the agnostic [expression] ‘thou shalt not believe without coercive, sensible evidence’ is simply an expression of a private, personal appetite for evidence of a certain peculiar kind.” Not that these limits are all bad: we really don’t want science or the government to tell us the ultimate meaning of our lives—we make those choices personally, based on evidence available outside the limited scientific sphere. Thus we can integrate a secular map into the broader sacred map, but our sacred system cannot be made to fit within the smaller secular map.
Similarly, Parker Palmer, who recently conducted a valuable seminar for BYU faculty, believes that Western culture’s vision of learning suffers from “one-eyed education,” teaching the mind but not the heart.4 “There is an illness in our culture [arising] from our rigid separation of the visible world from the powers that undergird and animate it. . . . That separation [diminishes] life, capping off its sources of healing, hope, and wholeness.”5 He urges us to teach with “wholesight,” a complete vision of the world in which mind and heart unite, as Robert Frost put it, “as my two eyes make one in sight.” And “the mind’s vision excludes the heart, but the heart’s vision can include the mind.”6 The aim of wholesighted education, anchored in a heart that guides the mind, is wholeness. In Alan Keele’s words, “great theology and great scholarship are not only compatible but are mutually and limitlessly illuminating.” Yet, because Alma’s vision is the broader one, the gospel should influence our view of our disciplines more than our disciplines influence our view of the gospel.
Many thoughtful LDS people have enjoyed Chaim Potok’s novels because they identify with the conflicts Potok’s characters face between sacred and secular systems. The gospel teaches us to take education seriously, but it also teaches us to put the kingdom of God first in our lives. I am acquainted with the spiritual and intellectual biographies of many in this BYU audience and would like to know them all. Each of us, like characters in a Potok story, could recount our personal confrontations between sacred and secular systems of thought. My struggles were typical. I yearned to know if religious literalism is compatible with a fully breathing, stretching life of the mind. I found that the best resolution of the faith vs. reason dilemmas, better than any book or argument of abstract reasoning, is the example of faithful and competent teachers in my own discipline—one of whom was Dallin Oaks—who have answered my questions with their lives. For a generation of LDS scientists, that role model was Henry Eyring. For many LDS doctors, it is Russell Nelson. To know teachers such as these is to be set free from the burden—sometimes the agony—of wondering whether serious religious belief and serious professional or academic commitments can fill the same heart at the same time.
One of BYU’s highest purposes is to help its students—and to help Church members everywhere—confront such questions in ways that strengthen both their minds and their hearts, that they may be fully engaged as productive citizens of both society and the kingdom of God. President David O. McKay once told the BYU faculty that this is “primarily a religious institution, established for the sole purpose of associating with the facts of science, art, literature, and philosophy the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In this vision of BYU, students of the highest potential in every discipline may model their lives after teachers here who are the Henry Eyrings and Russell Nelsons in their fields. That is far less likely at state institutions, even with an institute of religion, because—obviously with some important exceptions—the teachers there tend to be oriented primarily to either a sacred or a secular system. Thus, the best way to teach young people who are struggling to find the place of a sacred system in a profane world is to offer them not just theories, but teachers and classmates who have found their own wholesightedness. This opportunity is BYU’s unique gift to the youth of Zion.
Spiritual lives really are at stake in resolving the root questions of faith vs. reason. For that reason, the risk of confusing our students on these issues is the ugly mirror image of our unique capacity for good, as searing and destructive as our positive potential is magnificent. A valued BYU colleague who is a gifted teacher and an inspired researcher of impeccable academic achievement recently told me that increasing numbers of his students are “falling into his foxhole” seeking help from their wounded religious faith. I asked why he thought there would be more spiritual casualties now. Is the world more wicked? Do brighter students see more dilemmas? He said some of the deepest wounds are inflicted when a thoughtful student senses, even through subtle hints, that a BYU teacher she respects is cynical about the Church. That kind of wound can cut to the quick, because it implies to students that the fundamental integration of faith and reason doesn’t work, as if in some objective sense it can’t work. A BYU student would never draw that conclusion from the cynicism of an agnostic professor in a state university, because he knows that teacher has long been seeing with only one eye. But when someone who the student believes has spent years looking through both eyes implies that the view is darker with the sacred eye open, the message can be devastating.
Especially perverse is the teacher who conveys cynicism about the Church as evidence of his commitment to liberal education. That stance can put out both eyes at once, because it may offend believing Church members to the point that they attack liberal education as the cause of cynicism. But liberal education is an essential part of the wholesightedness we seek. Indeed, my own liberal education helps me know that cynicism is as intellectually indefensible as dogmatism. In my own student days, the BYU students who troubled me most were the shallow, religious dogmatists. Now I am just as troubled by the shallow, irreligious cynics who delight in poking fun at “Molly Mormon.” The only thing that has changed is the direction of the thoughtless posturing; the superficiality has stayed the same. Neither group has both eyes open. Why would any of us believe we serve the cause of serious education if our primary goal is nothing more than teaching students to “think otherwise” through simplistic posturing and anti-authoritarianism? As Ted Marchese has said, “beware the cynic as well as the huckster.”
Still, one faculty member has urged that we encourage students and each other to engage in public criticism of the Church, because the “courage” involved in “saying unsetting things” will demonstrate that BYU’s commitment to liberal education is “indeed working.” This argument mistakenly assumes that secular systems are broader than sacred systems. Moreover, there is no connection at all between a superior education and such criticism. Both the educated and the uneducated may be troubled by some Church issue. But whether one expresses those troubles publicly is a function of personal judgment more than it is an expressions of integrity or educational depth. It is also a function of how one understands revealed teachings about publicly challenging those we sustain as prophets. Some defend their public criticism on religious grounds, claiming they must protect the Church from its misguided leaders. The irony in that attitude can’t help but convey cynicism about the divine influence in a Church based on prophetic leadership. Conscientious private communication may ultimately be of real help to the Church and its leaders, but public expression by those professing to have both eyes open may simply spray another burst of spiritual shrapnel through the ranks of trusting and vulnerable students.
Of course, the premises of our sacred system—and, obviously, the premises of sound liberal education—make spiritual and intellectual freedom absolutely crucial for the development of wholesighted education. You can lead a child to a book, but you can’t make her read it—much less understand it. Satan’s plan to save us without agency could not have worked. Without free inquiry and voluntary action, no understanding, no real testimony and no personal growth is possible. For example, after Aaron taught him the gospel, the converted Lamanite king wanted his people to embrace the gospel as he had. But instead of imposing his new convictions on his subjects, as did Constantine in the apostate era of early Christianity, the king simply asked that the missionaries be allowed to preach freely. As a result, the Lamanites who “were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.” (Alma 23:6) This did not mean, however, that freedom among the people of Aaron and Alma was unlimited. Korihor was initially free to preach his anti-Christian views because there was “no law against a man’s belief” in Zarahemla. But when his expression moved from pursuing his own beliefs to the point of “destroy[ing] the children of God,” (Alma 30:42) he exceeded the limits of the sacred system.
I know that some BYU students are too trusting, too reliant on authority figures, and they expect the Holy Ghost to do their thinking for them. We must rouse them from their dogmatic slumbers, teaching them to love the Lord with all their heart, might, mind, and strength. They need education that liberates them from ignorance and superstition, developing the tough-minded independence on which self-reliant people and democratic societies utterly depend. Thus Alma counseled his people to “stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free.” and to “trust no man to be a king over you”—and “trust no one to be your teacher.” (Mosiah 23:13–14) In other words, of course Hamlet’s Ophelia should not expect someone else to tell her what she should think. And beyond doing her own intellectual homework, Ophelia must also, as did Alma, “fast and pray many days that I might know these things of myself.” (Alma 5:46).
But Alma’s more complete thought was “trust no man to be your teacher except he be a man of God.” (Mosiah 23:14) It is just as important that Ophelia trust the man or woman of God as it is that she not trust authority figures in general. The advantage of having a liberal education in a free society is that no one will tell us what to do. But the disadvantage is that no one will tell us what to do. The rich young ruler who approached the Savior wanted desperately to know what he should do to inherit eternal life. “Master, what shall I do . . . ?” There are two very different meanings to that word, “Master.” One is the master of a slave. Another is a teacher in a master-apprentice relationship. The young man approached Christ as an apprentice who fervently needed his master’s guidance. As Michael Polanyi wrote, “To learn by example is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you trust his manner of doing things.” The hidden rules of his art can be assimilated only if the apprentice surrenders himself to the extent he uncritically imitates the master.7
But how can Ophelia know what teacher, what master in the best sense, she should trust? The scriptural standard is, except the teacher is a man or woman of God. Alma “consecrated . . . all their teachers,” and “none were consecrated except they were just men [who] did watch over their people, and did nourish them with . . . righteousness.” (Mosiah 23:17–18) What an aspiration for all the consecrated people who work at BYU, we who—in and out of the classrooms—teach some of the purest and brightest young men and women in all the world. They fulfill their dreams by coming to this oasis of learning in a spiritually parched world, yearning to ask the young ruler’s question: What shall I do? And they come believing that the faculty and staff here will tell them what to do—not only to learn to think for themselves, but what to do to inherit eternal life. Wholesighted teaching, with both eyes open. We move them from dogmatism through healthy skepticism toward a balanced maturity that can tolerate ambiguity without losing the capacity for deep commitment. By example as well as precept, we teach how to ask good—even searching—questions, how to trust, how to know of ourselves. This university’s vitality is a continuing witness for the proposition that within the broad gospel framework, robust faith and healthy skepticism are not mutually exclusive. The chosen, consecrated men and women of God who teach and work here live lives that make that clear.
The ultimate purpose of our integrated teaching model is to teach our students how to live. As Parker Palmer put it, “truth is an approach to living, not just an approach to knowing.”8 Or as we have recently described the purpose of the BYU Jerusalem Center, our purpose is not only to orient our students to the Holy Land, but to orient them to the holy life. How can we do that? Each teacher, faculty or staff, must find his or her own way, and some settings are more natural than others for making connections that help students see how secular interests fit within the larger sacred sphere.
Of course we can’t pursue excessive digressions that waste precious time in classrooms, offices, and workplaces. But many students, such as Amy Baird Miner, tell us that BYU students hunger for “life talks” as well as “grade talks” from their teachers. Joseph K. Nicholes used to love “teaching moments,” those unexpected openings when a teacher, a head resident, a job supervisor, or a leader in a student ward senses an opportunity to step back from the subject at hand and open up the bigger picture of life. For example, one student will always remember how a BYU teacher talked soberly about life’s larger purposes after witnessing a fatal accident on the way to class. I know a BYU professor who concluded a rigorous course on logic by telling his students, “Now you know the rules of logical analysis. But if you build your testimonies on these rules alone, rather than upon the spirit of God, you are built upon the sand.”
Our university courses are not Sunday School classes, but our fears about that legitimate concern can inhibit some of us more than they should. As President Kimball once said, “Every [BYU teacher should] keep his subject matter bathed in the light of the restored gospel.”9 We must be cautious about both sentimental emotionalism at one extreme and stale academic neutrality on the other. And of course we should teach students to respect rigorous standards of evidence, but let us not neglect all “anecdotal” evidence. Every personal testimony is in a sense anecdotal, but testimonies of personal experience are among the most powerful forms of data.
Another risk of integrating sacred and secular systems, especially in scholarly work, is that integrationists sometimes devalue in some lopsided way either the religious or the professional dimension. I have learned firsthand about this problem through the process of writing and publishing articles on family law in scholarly journals. In all of that work, my reasoning has implicitly proceeded from the teachings of the scriptures about marriage and family life. But my interaction with skeptical reviewers and demanding editors quickly taught me that I should avoid the ineffective approaches of shrill pro-family writers who have no idea what it means to observe rigorous research methodologies and to master the available literature. I know of no better example of meaningful scholarly integration than the work of BYU’s Allen Bergin, whose work on the place of religious values in psychotherapy recently earned the distinguished service award from the American Psychological Association. He has learned to let his work proceed on a small, empirically based scale that reveals its own conclusions, rather than trumpeting in advance a “moral framework” that implies a preconceived dogmatism. His research speaks for itself when he uses Alma’s large map rather than Korihor’s small one.
Following Allen’s example in selected disciplines, we should, as Clayne Pope has urged, “work within our disciplines with the additional light of the gospel to inform and direct our work.” Our audience for this integrated scholarship is not just BYU or the Church, but also the entire scholarly world—if our work is rigorous enough to satisfy the highest professional standards. Adapting a phrase from James Burtchaell, we can contribute to society in unique and greatly needed ways when our integration is skillful enough to critique the academy from the standpoint of religion, rather than only critiquing religion from the standpoint of the academy.
A faculty group in one of our academic areas would like to bring Parker Palmer back to the campus to share further his ideas on the spiritual dimensions of teaching. Because I have read Professor Palmer’s work, I applaud that interest. It is reassuring to see someone of another faith validate our interest in religious and professional integration. But faculty on our own campus are already doing the nation’s finest teaching of that kind—they just haven’t written about their work as much as Palmer has, and our reward system should encourage them. It isn’t enough just to ask that BYU personnel avoid damaging students’ religious faith in the ways described by our new academic freedom statement. When we go beyond that minimal threshold to ask whether someone has contributed enough in citizenship, teaching, and scholarship to warrant continuing faculty status or other special recognition, we look for extensive fulfillment of BYU’s aspirations, not merely the absence of serious harm. The university’s new policy on advancement and continuing status describes this approach.
It also matters how job applicants see these issues. I remember interviewing two well-trained applicants for the same position one day. When I asked how each one felt about the Church influence here, one said, “Oh, the Church is no problem for me—I’ve learned not to let it get to me.” The other said, “The Church and the gospel are my whole life. That is why coming to work at BYU would fulfill my lifelong dream.” The vast attitudinal difference between these people was, and should be, a major factor in deciding whom to hire. We aren’t looking for people who merely tolerate our environment or who will try not to harm it; we seek believing, thoughtful people for whom this is the freest intellectual and spiritual environment in the world.
Let us consider, finally, the conditions on which our work at BYU may enjoy full access to the revealed truth and prophetic guidance that are the source of our sacred system’s life and breath. One of Parker Palmer’s favorite stories is about Abba Felix, an early Christian “desert teacher.” In this story, “some brothers . . . went to see Abba Felix, and they begged him to say a word to them. But the old man kept silence. After they had asked for a long time, he said, ‘There are no more words nowadays. . . . Since [the brothers now] ask without doing that which they hear, God has withdrawn the grace of the word from the old men, and they do not find anything to say, since there are no longer any who carry their words out.’ Hearing this, the brothers groaned, saying, ‘Pray for us, Abba.’”10 Felix’s point, says Palmer, is that “truth is evoked from the teacher by the obedience of those who listen and learn, and when that quality is lacking in students, the teacher’s words are taken away.”11 Felix’s students had only been curious. They desired not the words of life—they wanted words that created an illusion of life, while letting them avoid the responsibility of living according to truth.
This was the same condition on which Ammon taught King Lamoni: “Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things?” (Alma 18:22) Thus at BYU we must “hearken unto the words” of our all-comprehending system if we are to learn its truths and see all else in its bright light. The highest liberal arts tradition teaches a similar concept: hubris. For the ancient Greeks, no sin was greater than the intellectual pride by which the learned thought themselves wiser than divine sources.
For us, obedience to divine sources first requires that we live a gospel-worthy lifestyle. Further, because ours is a sacred system premised on divinely ordered leadership, each of us must nourish a humble willingness to follow prophetic counsel. The statement by the First Presidency and the Twelve a year ago counseling against any participation in certain kinds of symposia was most unusual, yet very deliberate. Because the statement is for all Church members, it is not primarily a BYU matter—but it clearly speaks to BYU people. It is written in nondirective, nonpunitive terms, but its expectations are clear to those with both eyes open.
Some Church members and leaders have wondered in recent years if BYU’s increasing academic stature would develop at the expense of basic Church loyalties. I don’t believe that has happened, and I don’t believe it will at today’s BYU. I believe with all my heart in Jeffrey Holland’s “consuming vision that we [can] be a truly great university [that is] absolutely faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” But that proposition will constantly be tested, and how we are perceived on an issue as elementary as “follow the Brethren” means more than we might imagine. Tip O’Neill used to say that you find out who your friends are not by seeing who’s with you when they agree with you, but who’s with you when they think you might be wrong. And the religious core of a sacred system just might ask its followers to trust the religious imperative even when it does not square with their own opinions.
The BYU dream will forever elude us if, as Abba Felix said, God withdraws the grace of his words from the elders because the young people no longer carry out the teachings of the elders. And even though I believe our collective religious commitment is stronger now than ever before, if a few among us create enough reason for doubt about the rest of us, that can erode our support among Church members and Church leaders enough to mortally wound our ability to pursue freely the dream of a great university in Zion. Somehow we must sense how much is at stake in how we deal with this issue. Pray for us, Abba, because the dream really is ours to fulfill.
Almost exactly one hundred years ago, when the Church already had several stake academies, including Brigham Young Academy in Provo, the First Presidency released James E. Talmage from heading LDS College in Salt Lake City and assigned him to create the plans for what Talmage’s biographer called “a genuine Church university.” Talmage was stirred to the core at “the prospect of founding an institution that would merit recognition by the established centers of learning throughout the nation and the world. It was a dream he had cherished for many years.”12 The proposed name: Young University.
Think of it: Just months after the Manifesto had been issued, the Church barely rescued from the jaws of utter destruction, Utah not yet a state, already a network of Church academies in place, and those Saints in their poverty wanted to create “a genuine university.” This early plan was shattered by the Panic of 1893, but the dream lived on. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Church withdrew from higher education, creating a system of institutes of religion and offering to state governments all of its academies but our very own Brigham Young Academy, which the First Presidency determined to keep in order to develop one genuine university. The dream was still alive.
Sixty years later, the Lord’s Church of the 21st century is expanding miraculously all across the globe. Never again will we see a Church-wide network of colleges, but there is still one “genuine Church university” that has demonstrated its capacity to bless and be worthy of all the Saints, every one who pays a dollar of tithing. Some voices in today’s winds claim that BYU will never achieve intellectual respectability as long as it is controlled by the Church. But in the 21 years since I joined the faculty, I have watched the faculty, the staff, and the students of this university take an astonishing leap in the quality of their teaching, learning, and scholarship. I can bear firsthand witness that BYU’s recent emergence onto the national and international stage is winning the honest admiration of a society desperate for educational leadership because of that society’s moral decay and intellectual confusion. And this leadership role is being thrust upon the university not in spite of its lifeline to the Church, but precisely because of it.
I pay tribute to the thousands of women and men in the BYU community who match and exceed their rich professional achievements with lives of uncompromising faithfulness to the gospel, “offering in sacrifice all that they have for the truth’s sake, not even withholding their lives,”13 because they seek to know the mind and do the will of God.
The dream of James E. Talmage has become a consuming vision: “a truly great university [that is] absolutely faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Its name is Brigham Young University. Pray for us, Abba, for the dream is ours to fulfill. To this end I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. BYU Commencement, August 1991.
2. “Scholars Real and Imaginary in Culture Confrontation,” Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, Third Annual Tanner Academy Lecture, Utah State University, May 19, 1989.
3. C. Terry Warner, “An Open Letter to Students,” New Era, November 1971, pp. 14–19.
4. Parker J. Palmer, To Know as We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education, Harper, San Francisco, 1983.
5. Ibid., p. 10.
6. Ibid., p. xii.
7. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, Harper and Row, 1964, p. 53.
8. Palmer, p. 65.
9. “Education for Eternity,” September 12, 1967.
10. Palmer, p. 41.
11. Ibid., p. 43.
12. John R. Talmage, The Talmage Story, p. 108 (1972).
13. Sixth Lecture, Lectures on Faith.
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