Before I begin my formal remarks, I would like to briefly address one separate important matter: our Code of Honor and our Dress and Grooming Standards. As an increasingly smaller percentage of Church members get the opportunity to study at BYU, there seems to be ever less justification for students to come here who violate basic principles of honesty or who deliberately break agreements they have made to gain admission. I am pleased with recent reports that serious Honor Code violations by freshmen seem to be diminishing. But casual observation would not make me quite so optimistic about dress standards. I do not wish to equate the two in seriousness, but I am concerned that students willingly sign their names to a document and then casually break their word. Evidence strongly suggests that faculty exercise a very powerful influence in assisting students to recognize their responsibility in these areas. I urge you to make known your support of our policies.
One year ago I talked with you about some of the matters that I considered most important for the continuing development of excellence at BYU. I mentioned, among other things, the increasing challenges we have in admissions, in library development, and in scholarship allocation. I also discussed some of our many advantages—a solid, dependable financial base, an increasingly capable student body, a high level of faculty scholarship and teaching, and a well-kept physical plant. I ended with a list of wishes that I had for the institution.
Today I would like to continue that discussion and give my evaluation of certain aspects of our current situation. I will refer on occasion to last year’s wish list as I try to give you some sense of my perspective on the university.
You have already heard reports on some of our programs. I commend those who are working on the challenges of admissions and the freshman year, and I agree with Dean Fuhriman and Gary Hooper on the importance of excellence in our graduate programs and in our scholarly and creative efforts.
As I begin my remarks, I would like to make one or two general comments about the matter of quality in university education. A number of years ago, while serving as a dean, I wrote a talk that I called “Living Without Models” (by this I meant external models). I argued there that, although we have a great deal to learn from other institutions of higher education, there is no single university that provides us a very good example of what we should be striving to become. I still believe that this is the case. In addition to the obvious, critical, and fundamental relationship that we have with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we differ from other institutions in many other respects. We are very large, we have excellent internal research and library support, we are becoming very selective in our admissions, our faculty have been educated in the finest universities, we have a national (even international) student body, our faculty publication record is very good and in some instances excellent or superior, some of our programs are recognized as leaders in the nation or the world, and we offer education in a vast range of areas. At the same time, unlike most major universities, we have an overwhelmingly undergraduate enrollment—some 28,000 of our 27,000 students are undergraduates—and of our postbaccalaureate students, a large percentage are in professional programs. Our level of external research support (though growing) is modest, and our student-faculty ratio is quite high. What I am saying is that we are unique. If we are going to be excellent, it will have to be in terms that account for what we are striving to be—not necessarily according to measures that apply to all others.
I have been thinking about this issue in relation to the criteria that are listed in the most widely cited published ranking of American colleges and universities—that of U.S. News and World Report. If one looks at this magazine’s criteria for evaluating undergraduate universities, it becomes immediately apparent that there are areas in which BYU will never look particularly good. For example, the financial criteria are so constructed that funding used for supporting programs other than undergraduate studies really gets entered into the mix. And for this rating scheme, the more that is spent per student, the better. Likewise, we are not likely to ever have as low a student-faculty ratio as those institutions that can include large numbers of research specialists in their overall faculty count. On the other hand, our entering student ACT scores and grades look very good, as do other measures. I mention these specific ranking elements only because I wish to show that it is very difficult to find external measurements that are particularly helpful when applied to us in some generic fashion. Even graduation rates, which I do find rather instructive, must be evaluated within that context of our particular situation. We know, for example, that marriage is a much larger factor in our time-to-graduation and graduation rates than at other institutions.
Thus I would like to propose using our own criteria as we think of the excellence that we would try to achieve. These, of course, are partly implicit in our history and our relationship with the Church. If we do not follow our mission statement in bringing our students to stronger testimonies of Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, we are clearly missing an essential aspect of the excellence that we seek. Likewise, if we were to abandon our long-standing commitment to strong general or university education, we would be leaving the firm foundation built by our dedicated predecessors.
But still other criteria of excellence need to be established or reinforced through discussion and mutual understanding. Thus the measures of excellence that I will now propose are incomplete and personal; they are meant primarily to continue our discussion. However, because we need some scales against which to compare our day-to-day actions and activities, they are guides to me as we continue to refine our vision of the BYU of the future.
The first general criterion of excellence that I would propose, but one that is notoriously difficult to measure, is the value that we add to our students’ education. Because we are admitting students with extraordinary abilities, we will no doubt graduate many who will win major fellowships, gain admission to outstanding graduate schools, and eventually make many important contributions. What we need to assure is that we have built significantly upon the natural capacities with which these students are endowed. Our accrediting association is focusing on so-called “outcomes assessment,” and as we prepare for reaccreditation, we will certainly need to learn how to more accurately measure what we have added in knowledge, skills, attitudes, and awareness. But for now I simply propose that for us to become more excellent we need to concentrate many of our efforts on making sure that students bear away profound growth as a result of their time here. As I discuss some of our present initiatives, I will mention several efforts that are focused on increasing the value that we add.
A second general criterion of excellence that I would propose is a faculty who have demonstrable intellectual capacities, who have a profound understanding of the scholarly process, who have strong faith, and who are deeply involved in and committed to the business—especially the academic substance—of the university.
One of our colleagues once used the term “lunch pail” faculty to describe those with a complacent attitude toward the academic enterprise. These are those who think of the university as a job: they come to work, do the minimum in the classroom and office, and leave as soon as the whistle blows. What this criterion of excellence would describe is faculty members who go to the laboratory or library not because that is their assignment, but because they are so intrigued with the matter they are studying that they would find it difficult to stay away. These teachers don’t have to be reminded to keep office hours because they are so concerned about their students’ learning that they would be disappointed if many were not at their doors asking for further insight and guidance. Their committee work is exceptional because they do not question the importance of the matters they have been asked to study or of the problems that they are asked to solve.
A third general criterion by which I would measure our quality is the level of financial and material commitment that the university makes toward enhancing the academic programs and environment of the institution. This criterion would include ongoing support of the libraries and laboratories, travel funding and supplies, upkeep and enhancement of the physical plant, computer and technological support, provision of research time and assistants, development of faculty and administrators, evaluation and support of innovative teaching, funding and development of teaching and lab assistants, etc.
An excellent BYU must be looking for ways to effectively employ its resources in support of superior work in scholarly activity and in the classroom. (As I mentioned a year ago, there are certainly areas in which we need additional resources, but when I see the situation at our fellow institutions, I become increasingly grateful for the careful but substantial way in which we are growing while others are cutting back, sometimes drastically.) What I consider a mark of excellence is how our resources are employed. And because our resources come overwhelmingly from the tithes of the Church, there is another subcriterion that I would mention—that we use the resources dedicated to students to educate as many of them as possible.
Before I discuss a few issues that relate to these three general academic criteria, I would acknowledge that there are many others. Moreover, criteria of excellence exist in the areas of student life, advancement, and administration, and the institution cannot be genuinely good if these are not developed. I am aware that to separate these areas from the academic is very arbitrary. Students who do not receive superior emotional and social support will also struggle in the classroom. Much of our hope for improvement in specific areas, including especially the library, depends on the efforts of our colleagues in development. And housing, building, purchasing, and financial services are absolutely critical to our enterprise. But because our assignments are in the academic area, I will concentrate the remainder of my remarks on our steps toward excellence in the areas I have mentioned.
First to several matters relating to our students and the value we are adding to their lives. As Larry Wimmer has mentioned, early data indicate that fewer new freshmen are getting into academic difficulty than before, but the number is still too high. Moreover, it appears that part of the delay in students’ graduation can be attributed to the fact that much credit earned in the freshman year is either repeated or does not contribute toward filling requirements. Under the direction of Student Life and the college advisement centers, among others, we have been doing an increasingly good job with freshman orientation. As Alan Keele has just reported, we are undertaking serious efforts to improve many aspects of our students’ initial contact with the university. As the committee on the freshman year continues its efforts and as programs like SHINE are developed, we will bring a number of proposals to your deans, the Faculty Advisory Council, and elsewhere for discussion. My first wish last year was that we could find ways to help freshmen and other struggling students. We have a good distance to go, but I think that we have made some fine progress in this area.
I mentioned that the U.S. News ranking criterion on graduation rates cannot be used without qualification at BYU. No other university needs to add in time for missions for most of its men students and an increasingly high number of women students. But even when we account for missionary service, our graduation rates do not compare favorably with those of the universities who are rated high on that list. Among the U.S. News top 25, the average institution graduates 85 percent of its entering freshmen within five years. The rates that we have recently published for student information, even when accounting for missionary service and when extended to six years, reach only 48 percent.
I believe that we must make it a goal to help a much larger number of our excellent students achieve graduation. In order to do this, of course, a number of things must change. Most important will be a clearly articulated understanding between the university and its students that those who enter here come with the intention of graduating from excellent programs.
President Lee has summarized a number of our efforts to increase the speed (and percentage) of graduation. I repeat a few of them. We have confronted both student-and university-caused delays. For the students, we have provided spring and summer scholarships that are aimed specifically at helping students graduate sooner. (We have also offered a richer spring and summer curriculum than has been available in the past.) We have also changed the number of hours required to keep scholarships from 12 to 14. We have adjusted the priority registration system to assure that advanced students are able to get into courses they need to graduate. We have instituted mandatory advisement for students with excessive hours who have not applied for graduation. As President Lee mentioned, we are also considering financial incentives to increase average credit-hour enrollment, including the reinstitution of some kind of advanced-standing tuition. We want to be especially careful not to increase the burdens of those students who have to work while they are in school, but we feel that we can find some way to deal with the tendency of some students to take extremely light loads. We have also provided new pie charts in the BYU General Catalog so that students can more clearly evaluate the majors they are considering.
Many of you have been involved in the reviews undertaken by the curriculum committee of those majors that exceed our university limit by five credit hours or more. A good deal of passion has been aroused by these reviews, so I do not expect that I can persuade the unconverted in a couple of minutes. It is clear that as President Kimball said in his Second Century Address: “We do not want BYU ever to become an educational factory.” Graduating more students from poorer programs would be a travesty. But more is not necessarily better when it comes to requirements in major programs. A random but careful review of many programs at other excellent universities has convinced me that it is not necessary to teach everything to offer a very fine bachelor’s degree.
Dean William Evenson has written what I consider to be a very persuasive memo to his department chairs on this matter. I wish that I could share it with you in its entirety, but I would like to at least list his four main points:
1. The principles upon which we must organize our curricula are coherence, economy, and currency.
2. Our undergraduate degrees must all be honest four-year degrees.
3. Our level of expectation in individual courses and our credit-hour assignments must be honestly consistent with the university guideline: “The expectation for undergraduate courses is three hours of work per week per credit hour for the average student who is appropriately prepared.”
4. It is essential that each department engage in broad discussion of what really matters in the undergraduate curriculum.
To me these points seem convincing. They argue that we strengthen, not weaken, our undergraduate degree programs by making them lean and carefully organized.
We have also asked the Council on the Baccalaureate to look at our limited-enrollment majors. There are, as you know, a number or reasons why enrollment needs to be controlled in certain programs—limited facilities, licensing requirements, etc. But unilateral or arbitrary limitations can cause unplanned shifts of university resources and increase delays in graduation for students.
One of the figures that we look at when we are trying to evaluate resource allocation is the total cost per student credit hour in any department or program. This figure, like all others, is not dependable by itself. It is arrived at by dividing the department’s total budget by the number of student credit hours that are produced by that unit. Because some departments teach lab courses whereas others use student instructors, no one-to-one comparison is entirely helpful. But we are able to make some general comparisons, and one thing is very clear: with extremely few exceptions, those programs with limited enrollments are the most costly in the university.
It is easy to understand why: Limits are often set low enough that the department’s or program’s faculty teach fewer students than the average faculty member at the university. (It is also noteworthy that few of the limited-enrollment programs teach many service or general education courses.) Thus a department keeps a greater portion of university resources than it would earn if they were distributed simply on a per-student-credit-hour basis. Additionally, many students delay graduation for several semesters while they attempt to gain admission into limited-enrollment majors.
As I mentioned, we have no intention of eliminating all such programs. But it is important for us to have a rational basis on which to decide which programs need to be limited, where the limits are best set, and whether the means of limitation—grades, prerequisites, etc.—are the best that we can find. Someone pays when programs limit the number of students they teach, and we want to know that our resources are being used the best way possible.
We are also undertaking several other reviews that relate to time-to-graduation. These include our transfer policies, university and general education requirements, and even the total number of hours that are required for a degree. We hope that at the end of this process more students will receive better degrees in less time. This would result in an increase in quality both in terms of value added for the students and in terms of excellent management of university resources.
Of all the university resources that we have (I’m shifting criteria here), none is remotely as valuable (or as costly) as faculty capacity and faculty time. During the past months we have analyzed faculty effort in teaching and research, and several excellent reports on these matters have been produced. I would like to share a bit of this information with you.
We have made a very careful study of faculty teaching assignments. The data from this study can be compared reasonably accurately with those from other institutions, although reporting of faculty time use is notoriously fanciful. In 1992 the average teaching assignment for BYU teachers was 7.1 credit hours per semester, This figure includes those who have administrative and other assignments and is for that reason somewhat lower than if we didn’t include deans, chairs, etc. Teaching assignment averages vary from department to department; some departments are considerably higher than average, and some are a bit lower. Recently our average assignment has been quite stable, although it has fallen slightly during the past five years. The decline of hours taught is quite dramatic when compared to earlier times.
Our figures show that our assignments are quite similar to those at other institutions. Professors at research universities teach somewhat less than we do, as do those at private doctoral institutions. Public doctoral universities, comprehensive universities, and liberal arts colleges have higher teaching assignments than we do. On average, we think that our teaching assignments are about right. This is especially the case when we consider the fact that because of larger class sizes and other factors, student credit hours produced by the faculty have remained quite consistent over the past two decades.
As mentioned, the figure that I gave is an average. Clearly, some departments and some individuals need to teach less, and some likely need to teach more. But the average faculty member, though clearly busy, should have sufficient time for excellent preparation, good consultation, fine scholarly development, and conscientious participation in university matters.
I would like to repeat one matter about faculty resources: We do have a rather high student-faculty ratio, and we hope to improve this where possible. But teaching assignments, internal research and technology support, facilities, travel funding, and other measures of support are very good. There is no reason that we should not expect excellent performance at all levels. We can support excellent faculty and should expect no less.
It is also important for you to know that the university is working on a set of new methods for controlling and evaluating external research funding, as well as of using indirect cost support. We have worked very hard to think of ways to provide more accurate measures in these matters. We believe that you will be pleased with the results of these efforts. They should help us keep our excellent scholarly work moving forward while helping us to strengthen our teaching.
Before I proceed with other resource matters, I would like to briefly mention one related item. Recently BYU joined with a number of other institutions in a major national study that evaluated the efficiency of a large variety of support functions at these universities. The results of this study are enormously pleasing. We are national leaders in so many areas that it is safe to claim that few, if any, universities are as efficient and effective in their support systems.
I mentioned earlier that in most support resources we are well served. I am pleased that we have been able to increase internal research support each year and that this year we were able to redistribute several hundred thousand dollars to help with additional sections of oversubscribed classes, adding teaching assistants and readers for large general education courses and offering additional spring and summer courses.
One of the areas that has received continuous high-level support during several administrations is our libraries. The support of the Lee Library’s collection development program has brought us to the point of needing to expand the current building. After the Benson Science Building is completed and we have renovated the Eyring Science Center, we hope to break ground for an underground library addition to be located north of the current structure. The new facility will add up to 300,000 square feet to the 430,000 now in service, and we will simultaneously expand the Clark Law Library. The university has committed to make the library additions the top priority in its development plans until all necessary funds are in place.
During the last year the library administration and staff have worked with faculty units across campus to evaluate and rank in order of importance the collection of professional journals and other relevant serials. In every case the faculty has participated willingly and energetically, and we are pleased to announce that the original target of reducing our serials budget by $200,000 has been met. During spring and summer terms the library staff has conducted cross-disciplinary reviews of journals that have been targeted for cancellation to ensure that no faculty member will be deprived of a journal that is essential to her or his research or teaching assignment. Unfortunately, inflation in prices of journals and books far outstrips increases in the Consumer Price Index and in allocated monies for the library. The $200,000 savings will probably be consumed within the next year or two simply because of these increases. This circumstance requires that we think seriously about how to manage our collections, how to share materials with other institutions, and even how we will need to rethink our avenues of scholarly communication in the future.
Although most people recognize that an excellent university relies on an outstanding library, many are not aware of the immense investment required just to maintain current levels of service. This situation is not unique to BYU; all major university libraries across the country are facing severe crises that may affect the way knowledge is being stored and shared in this country. We are proud of the fact that during the last 10 years the BYU libraries have enjoyed general financial support. Increases in appropriated funds have generally kept pace with the Consumer Price Index, and supplemental funding has helped compensate for the escalating costs in serials and monographs. Still, we worry that such a large percentage of the library’s collection development budget must be supported through supplemental funding and are concerned about the impact on the library’s programs should the supplemental funds not be available, even for one year. An ad hoc committee composed of the library director and representatives from the faculty and administration is meeting to find solutions to some of these long-term challenges.
We are excited about the new databases and other technologies now available in our library that help to make student and faculty research more thorough. At the same time, we are aware that many faculty members and students do not understand how to take advantage of these resources, nor do they fully comprehend their relationship to the card catalog. Additionally, a recent survey conducted by the Faculty Library Council showed that most departments on campus feel their majors need instruction in library use and research methodology beyond what they receive in GE courses; yet a few departments have programs in place to provide the necessary instruction. We strongly encourage departments to meet with their library subject specialist to determine ways to make sure that students of every discipline understand how to take advantage of our growing library collection and how to apply those materials to their studies. We encourage all faculty to take advantage of the superb resources our libraries provide them and their students.
As we consider the fact that only a tiny portion of Church members can study here, we have been asking ourselves how we might expand our influence without diminishing the excellence that we seek. During the past two years, a university committee has studied the use of telecommunications to extend the educational reach of BYU by teaching members of the Church who do not have access to the university. The idea is to apply modern communications technology—the satellite, the video disc, audio or videocassettes or CDs, electronic mail, computer and modem, or other media—to teach learners at a distance from our Provo campus.
Within the last few months, the committee issued a report that surveyed technology, considered possible courses, and assessed needs of learners. One of these options, instruction in English as a second language [for nonnative speakers of English] and the teaching of English as a second language [for teachers of English for speakers of other languages], is now under development by the Linguistics Department as a service to Church members who do not speak English. Our hope is to reach out to Church members within and beyond the United States in ways that increase their participation in and sense of community with the Church and to help them build a base for future educational growth.
We approach this and similar projects with great excitement and great caution. We want to expand the university’s reach where such efforts are clearly the university’s business. But because these endeavors are costly and can divert university resources and attention from our central mission, we will engage in them only when we and others will be strengthened by the effort.
Last year I expressed the wish that we would take seriously our responsibility to prepare teachers for the schools. I mentioned that we needed to think of this preparation as a duty that extends far beyond the College of Education. If the efforts of which I have been informed are any indication, we have made real beginnings toward fruitful cooperation during the past months. I have been especially pleased with cooperative efforts in the preparation of science teachers that involve members of several departments in at least three colleges. Such cooperation raises the hope that we will give up some of the territorial claims that sometimes plague us and think about how we can provide the nation with a corps of teachers who master both their subject matter and the methods of conveying it. Such a group of teachers, it seems to me, can extend the strengths of this university as well as anything else we can do. Although the job market for teachers appears to be temporarily depressed, there will never be a time when the need for quality educators will diminish. I hope that we can continue in our efforts to make preparing excellent teachers a task for the whole university.
Another area in which I believe we must continue to develop excellence, one mentioned by President Lee, is in the contributions we make in the international realm. Here our efforts may well be very diverse. In addition to such obvious areas of language study, international relations, development studies, and international business, to name but a few, we can expect that experts in almost all disciplines might participate in international meetings, assist scholars in other nations, consult with governmental officials, etc. Some guidelines for BYU participation in Church international efforts are currently being developed. At least two principles seem evident even at this early point: first, that the contributions that we can make will be directly proportionate to the excellence of our faculty and programs, and second, that the university should be involved only when that involvement strengthens us as an institution. Within these and other guidelines, however, I believe that we will play an increasingly important role in the international arena.
I hope that I have conveyed my strong general sense of optimism about the university becoming a more excellent place. Both in comparison to the criteria with which I would measure excellence and to the wishes that I expressed last year, we have continued to improve. But there is one area that disturbs me considerably, and this is how we treat another. Both President Lee and Provost Hafen have expressed their desire that our women colleagues could have more sensitive response from us and our students, and I agree with them. Too often even those of us whose will is good do not understand when we injure or offend.
But my concern extends even further: I am troubled how far a few of us have drifted from even the most fundamental ideals of comity and civility that were traditionally thought to form the basis of any intellectual community. Too often during the past year we have seen instances where individuals have been the objects of the most personal and malicious attacks. And these attacks have not come from those on only one side of issues. Some of the most judgmental and abusive remarks have come from some who feel that they are defending the university or the Church. But neither have our critics felt any compulsion to stay with issues. Bitter, personal assaults have become too common an occurrence.
Such behavior is particularly painful at this university, where we would hope that shared Christian ideals would help us deal even with difficult topics and impassioned disagreements in an attitude of mutual respect and concern. But this has been too little the case.
I realize that comments such as these usually have very small effect. When I was first dean of humanities I made a similar statement to colleagues there. Later that same day, I received a call that commended me on my appeal for Christian behavior and then went on to attack a number of colleagues for not being true Christians. It was clear that the point was missed entirely. Nonetheless, I repeat my entreaty: Please let our speech be guided by the highest concern for each other.
Another variation of this concern is my hope that we can learn to be disagreed with. We need to comprehend that those who hold contrary opinions not only may be sincere but may actually be right. And even when we continue in the view that our perceptions are correct, we should be able to deal graciously with the views of others. It is always pathetic when losers in elections feel obligated to try to subvert what clearly is the best judgment of the majority. For some reason it has become popular for those whose ideals do not dominate to complain that others are not listening to them. I will readily admit that lack of listening is a problem, but quite often the term listening is substituted for the word agreeing. It seems hard for us to comprehend that someone could actually listen to us without accepting our view. But it does happen. Sometimes bright, honest, caring people just don’t agree with us, and we need to learn to accept that possibility.
I have been troubled about how to communicate in conditions where disagreement is difficult. It is very hard to express any opinion when perceptions distort what has been said. Let me attempt to give an example: During the past year, two graduate students provided us with a very careful study of senior faculty members, produced under the direction of a specialist in organizational culture. It was clear that many of these faculty, most of whom were responsible for building BYU into a major university, feel that we have somehow lost track of the institution they were building—one that placed almost exclusive emphasis on teaching—and that we instead have slipped into the pattern of the research university, a pattern that in the views of many of them has been thoroughly and accurately discredited by innumerable studies and exposés in recent years.
But equally strong are the feelings of others who worry that the present administration is backing away from a vision of greatness that was most clearly summarized in President Kimball’s metaphor of an educational Mount Everest. These highly creative faculty often wonder what is implied when we use the terms undergraduate institution or teaching university.
Both of these groups feel deeply about their perceptions, and among them, many will discuss their views with care. But if the climate of our discourse moves to a point where honest agreement is no longer possible, straightforward discussion is terribly difficult. If we call for excellent faculty learning and scholarship, some hear, “Don’t worry about teaching.” If we talk about more careful measurement of teaching in reviews and evaluations, some hear, “Scholarship is being abandoned.” When we talk of spiritual values, the image of a big seminary is evoked for some, and when we talk of academic excellence, some feel that we’ve forsaken our religious roots.
Such a situation undermines statements of values. Nonetheless, I will hazard some: We should provide our students with excellent teaching and strong programs. To do this, and to fulfill our obligation to the world of ideas, we should expect learning, creativity, and scholarship from all faculty. We need to strengthen our ties to the gospel of Jesus Christ while we improve the university by every legitimate academic measure.
What I am trying to say is this: We need to become better in every area that defines a great Church or university; but to do so we cannot continue to have some who insist that every variation from their own views is a capitulation to the forces of mediocrity, elitism, or the devil. We need to face disagreement with civility and goodwill.
I would like to end by affirming my love for Brigham Young University and for those of you who make it what it is. After wandering the campus for many autumns—starting when I was at BY Training School—I still feel a great deal of excitement when I see these outstanding students return to us. I feel certain now, more than ever, that this university has important missions, some of which are greater than we can possibly imagine. I pray that we can be prepared for them and worthy of the Lord’s care and blessings.
© Brigham Young University. All rights reserved.
Todd A. Britsch was an academic vice president at Brigham Young University when this address was delivered at the Thursday second faculty general session of the BYU Annual University Conference on 26 August 1993.