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Notable events during President Worthen’s tenure at BYU

Since his inauguration in September 2014, BYU has grown and adapted while staying true to its mission

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced a new president for the Church’s Brigham Young University on Tuesday, March 21.

President C. Shane Reese succeeds President Kevin J Worthen. Reese has been serving as the academic vice president of BYU since 2019.

BYU President Kevin J Worthen is emotional as he is released from his position by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a BYU devotional at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The move comes nine years after President Worthen became the successor to Cecil O. Samuelson on May 1, 2014.

During President Worthen’s time as president of the Church’s flagship university, he was involved with many changes and adaptations. Here are some highlights:

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Campus changes and upgrades

BYU’s Life Sciences Building opened the same semester as President Worthen’s inauguration in fall 2014 and became the home of the College of Life Sciences. Other new buildings on campus during President Worthen’s time include the new Heritage Halls, including the Heritage Halls Central Building; a new engineering building and research lab; and the West View Building, home of the Neal A. Maxwell Center for Religious Scholarship. The Harman Building was renovated in 2018.

The Harris Fine Arts Center is undergoing demolition to make way for a new arts facility to open in 2025. In the meantime, students will attend some of their classes in the old Provo High School, which was acquired by BYU during President Worthen’s tenure, as well.

President Kevin J Worthen and his wife, Sister Peggy Worthen, at BYU’s first devotional of winter semester, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. | Savanna Richardson, BYU

Life on campus

In November 2017, BYU created an office of experiential learning, to coordinate and promote internships, volunteer positions and other opportunities to apply students’ learning.

In July 2020, BYU’s newly formed Committee on Race, Equity & Belonging shared its purpose and mission. BYU’s incoming president, Shane Reese, was appointed by President Worthen to lead that committee’s efforts examining issues of race and inequality while providing recommendations to address those issues.

One of the outcomes of this committee’s work was the creation of the school’s Office of Belonging in August 2021. President Worthen said this office will focus on helping campus members achieve the community of belonging on campus.

BYU President Kevin J Worthen speaks to BYU faculty and staff at the BYU Annual University Conference in Provo, Utah, on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. | Deseret News archives

BYU has continued to hold on to the top spot of Princeton Review’s list of schools where alcohol is consumed the least. BYU was long known as the “Stone-Cold Sober School”; the review changed the category name in 2022 to “Cancel the Keg.” Whatever the name, BYU has been atop that list since 1998. In 2019, when the school was No. 1 for the 21st time, the BYU Creamery sold a special edition mint brownie chocolate milk to celebrate 21 years of sobriety in the rankings.

In 2019, the Chronicle of Higher Education said BYU was No. 3 in the nation for graduates with degrees in a foreign language. The school’s students speak more than 100 languages.

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Navigating COVID-19

President Worthen also navigated the university through the shutdowns and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and recognized the need for the institution to be adaptable.

“[W]e have learned that maintaining a digital community while being physically separated — although not without its challenges — can make a difference in the emotional well-being of everyone involved,” he wrote in an opinion piece for Deseret News. “We have been reminded that our students, faculty and staff are extremely resilient and innovative.”

BYU athletics

In 2015, Bronco Mendenhall left BYU as head coach of the football team to take the same role at the University of Virginia. A few weeks later in 2016, Kalani Sitake was announced as the team’s new head coach.

The era of independence for BYU’s football team came to an end when the school announced in September 2021 that it will join the Big 12 Conference following the 2022-23 academic year.

At the time of the announcement, President Worthen said the move was historic for the university, not just the athletic department.

BYU President Kevin J Worthen speaks at a press conference in Provo, Utah, on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, with Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby on videoconference. BYU accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“This is a historic day for BYU athletics — and for the entire university,” President Worthen said in a press release. “The BYU mission statement indicates that BYU is a place where ‘a commitment to excellence is expected.’ We strive to meet that requirement in all we do, including our core academic enterprise. Membership in the Big 12 gives us the opportunity to reinforce that commitment for student-athletes, allowing them to compete at the highest level both on and off the field.”

Life-changing humility

In January 2022, President Worthen opened the year with a devotional for BYU students that focused on a trait he said “will change your life dramatically.”

He indicated this single trait would help students in all their different relationships, work, service and leadership roles.

“Humility is one of the most underappreciated virtues in contemporary society, which devotes so much attention to self-promotion. Yet, over the past two decades, there has been a significant increase in scholarly research about the positive impact humility has on people’s ability to learn, lead and relate to others.”

BYU’s mission is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life. The school aims to provide an education that is spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging and character building, leading to lifelong learning and service, according to BYU.edu.

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