Church commissioner of education, college presidents speak about the fate of the religious university
Religious schools must differentiate on their unique spiritual purposes, even as they strive to tie into the broader academic community, writes Elder Clark G. Gilbert
Deseret Magazine’s September issue focused on the fate of the religious university, with contributions by presidents and scholars from several universities. The issue was titled “Dare To Be Different: The Fate of the Religious University.”
Below are excerpts from three essays written by the Church commissioner of education and the BYU–Idaho and BYU–Hawaii presidents, with links to their full remarks. Read all the essays here.
Dare to be different
Preserving the distinctive light of religious universities
As a young professor at Harvard University, I had occasion to visit Memorial Chapel for personal prayer and meditation. It seemed like a solemn sanctuary in an otherwise secular learning environment. As I walked out on the steps of the chapel, I stared across the courtyard to the wide, imposing columns creating the bulwark entrance to Widener Library. It was as if i was staring from the temple of faith to the hall of reason. These two ideals seemed to be facing off in a conflict that, at least in this formidable secular environment, would almost certainly end for many with the victory of reason. ...
Today, I find myself serving as the commissioner of education for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a system that includes BYU, as well as BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii, Ensign College and a global online offering called BYU–Pathway Worldwide. Too often I have felt external forces trying to reassert on these institutions that same Hobson’s choice I experienced standing on the steps of Memorial Chapel. I now recognize that these and other religious schools across the country enjoy a huge strategic advantage, but only if they dare to continue with and strengthen their religious identity — only if they dare to be different from their peers.
The innovative university
Why business as usual won’t save the crisis of higher ed
There is nothing new about critiquing American higher education. After all, it was 1908 when Abraham Flexner first published his matter-of-fact titled book “The American College: A Criticism.” Ever since, there’s been a long line of would-be reformers, skeptics and staunch defenders of the academy.
But in recent years the conversation has become more urgent. Rising tuition, student loans and questions about college’s effectiveness have drawn public scrutiny. In this context, Sen. Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, who is also a former university president, recently underscored the paradox that “American higher education is the envy of the world, and it’s also failing our students on a massive scale.” He asks, “How can both be true simultaneously?”
The purpose-driven university
How a unique mission helps expand college access
As a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, I learned firsthand how devastating Alzheimer’s disease is to patients and their families. I then devoted my scientific career to developing a cure. Over nearly two decades, my research direction and experimental approaches were shaped by many forces. Some were noble influences that kept me aligned with my goal of curing Alzheimer’s disease. Other influences, even those that were simple practical constraints, distracted me from my purpose.
As university president at BYU–Hawaii, I lead strategy and innovation that supports the development and success of our students. Strategy in higher education is motivated by a variety of forces, including finances, institutional prestige, research outcomes and many others. Managing and balancing these forces while maintaining a singular focus on the institutional mission is an ongoing challenge.