Emphasizing Christ-Centered Education at Brigham Young University
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To the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to the administration of Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University was never meant to be like other universities.
Alfred Kelly, the commencement speaker for BYU’s 1912 class, envisioned “thousands of young people with shining countenances entering “temples of learning” on the then-vacant land between the Maeser Building and Rock Canyon.” At Brigham Young University, we have the sacred experience of learning “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) and “a new kind of education…revealed by the Lord” as Karl Maeser described. And as Ernest Wilkinson said, “To accept the common authorship of God for all spheres of learning is the cornerstone of LDS education,” which places “a constant emphasis upon the basic religious nature of all knowledge.”
While we had many positive experiences with the University, we join with many others in asking that the University consider whether or not they fulfill the mission statement, which is: “to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.” In this letter, we do not wish to call out any particular department or professor or event, regardless of what personal opinions might have been expressed in other fora, instead, we wish to relay important principles about the type of education that the University upholds. Elder Holland in the 2018 Annual Report to the Maxwell Institute reminds the Institute and the greater BYU community, “of course, the missions of the Church and BYU are not identical, but their missions certainly can never be odds at each other” (9-21).
Moreover, even certain official actions taken by BYU have been out of accord with the clearly stated principles of the Gospel, to the point where the Church has had to issue corrections. While we are grateful to our Church leaders for exercising authority to correct BYU where necessary, we do not believe it should ever have to come to that. The fact that it has been necessary even in the last few months suggests the need for some sort of introspection within BYU.
We ask for an assessment of whether or not the University encourages courses, clubs, panels, conferences, events, and activities to align themselves with Latter-day Saint religious values. We write this letter to make the University aware that students and alumni fear that some public and some less-known decisions by the University may have opposed or did not support the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its religious values. The members of the Church deserve to have confidence that they are sending their sons and daughters to BYU to have their faith strengthened, not weakened.
We recognize the faculty’s need for academic freedom, and acknowledge that academic thought does not necessarily constitute personal opinion. At the same time, we recognize the need to, as Wilkinson put it, “place LDS religious values in all of the activities of the institution…to produce students who are fully appreciative of the principles of the Latter-day Saint faith and of their roles in the universe as sacred and independent individuals.”
We do not believe that the University should trade the eternal life of its students for the praise and accolades of modern, secular academia. To do so would be to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage. We are grateful to the University for maintaining the Honor Code, religious education requirements, and other aspects of the University that show commitment to BYU’s mission. However, we ask that the University consider whether correct doctrine is consistently taught in classes, whether the connection to religious knowledge is made clear throughout the entire curriculum and not just within religious education courses, and the University’s commitment to religious standards.
We along with many other students have felt that the University’s commitment to this has wavered on a practical level and would ask for an assessment of whether or not the University encourages courses, clubs, and activities to align themselves with Latter-day Saint religious values. Ultimately, we commit to standing by the University and believe that it is divinely guided. Finally, we reiterate our love and gratitude for the largely outstanding environment and education fostered by dedicated faculty and staff who exemplify the best of what the Church has to offer.
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