VIDEO: BYU President: "This Is the Most IMPORTANT Decision We'll Make" | Pres. Shane Reese E0019

VIDEO: BYU President: “This Is the Most IMPORTANT Decision We’ll Make” | President Shane Reese | Let’s Get Real with Stephen Jones


Brigham Young University’s existence is at stake. Brigham Young University has announced a new president today.

Shane Reese. Christopher Shane Reese.

You have been raised up for such a time as this. We’re becoming increasingly, as a society, more faithless.

How do you help BYU reach his diviny appointed identity?

Prophetically directed means that we won’t budge on our support of modern prophets. There are some things if we have to part ways, we’ll part ways. Is BIO this way or is BIO that? Is BIO woke? Yeah, exactly. We’re not perfect. We When I have worked with you, that’s what I mean by challenges. What I would say is if we’re going to stay unique, if we’re going to actually look like the University of Prophecy, it has to start with this. This might be the most important decision to get made during my tenure as the President of the University. When we talk about becoming BYU, you reference President Kimball’s address, and there’s no question that’s where this all begins for us is to what can we do as a university as employees, as students, to become the Christ-centered, prophetically-directed University of Prophecy and Promise. That’s really what I would say I mean when I talk about becoming BIO. It Starts and ends with our students in mind. I mean, it has to begin with our students in mind. So many of the students, their experience really is a lonely one. Some have We’ve been gone so far.

In fact, researchers are now talking about the epidemic of loneliness. I think a lot of people will say, Oh, yeah, it’s all because of COVID. That was the cause. It turns out it’s not the cause. It started well before COVID. Covid made it worse, for sure. But when you think about this epidemic of loneliness, there’s a lot of causes, and I think it’s important to I think about the causes, but I don’t want to be a typical academic and just admire the problem. What we hope to do is to think about some things we can do to solve it. But look, social media hasn’t helped. Kids self-image being shaped by what happens on social media can’t help this problem. Video games can’t help this problem. And not any single one of those things is a cause, but they contribute to, I think, this epidemic of loneliness. And recent research, some of it even by people who are over at BIO, they’ve talked about this epidemic of loneliness. And so when we think about this idea of starting with how we can improve our students’ experience, we think that they’re entitled to an experience that is removed from that epidemic of loneliness, that has some things built in to give them a sense of connectedness to one another.

And I I think that’s part of the real… Look, when I get excited about something that’s happened at BIO, this course that we just introduced this semester, Winter Semester 2024. Really? The first time we’ve required it of every student on campus. Every student? Every student. Every freshman student. Sorry, I have to say freshman. All the incoming freshman students, which there’s not a ton in the winter. It’s about 2000.

The incoming? Yeah.

In the fall semester, we get about 7,000 to 8,000 new students, and we’re going to require all of those students in their first semester at BIO. It’s set up to give them three things. We want to give them a sense of the mission of BIO, what makes BIO We want to be unique. We want to give them a sense of the resources available for them to succeed, because candidly, we find that we’ve provided a lot of resources, and students don’t use them. The third one is a sense of connectedness. We’ve chosen to teach this class in sections of size 24. How that came about, we could talk about for a long time because it’s amazing. But suffice it to say that we had faculty who said, Look, it’s not going to work to teach it in sections of size 50 or sections of size 30, even. We got to get it down to 24 students per section. Twenty-four? Yeah, which that means the number of sections is huge.

8,000 divided by 24.

Yeah, 284. I mean, if we’re just doing the math. Wow. This fall, 284 sections of this class. That means we got to have 284 professors because we want it taught by faculty because it’s not just the connection that they have with each other. That’s vital, but they have connection with a faculty member. If you walk into BIO, the typical course is huge enrollment for a freshman. 3:50? Yeah.

3:50. Stadium. Yeah.

Nothing makes you feel more alone than being in a room full of 350 other lonely students where you’re not making any connections. We have assignments that are set up that they’re supposed to go to a sporting event together, or they’re supposed to go to a performing arts event, or they’re supposed to go hike the Y together. That’s part of what’s graded in this course.


It’s amazing. That’s amazing. Really, it’s a game changer for us as a campus. I taught it this semester. You did? Yeah. Winter semester, 2024. I taught this course because I thought, look, if I’m going to ask a whole bunch of faculty to do this, I better do it myself. I got pages and pages of stories of how this changed students’ lives. It’s unbelievable. In your class? In our class, within our 24 students. One of the things they do is that 10 times a semester, they sit down and write a digital dialog that just really is, here’s some of my experiences. This is something I’ve been struggling with. First of all, they’re crazy vulnerable in these digital dialogs. They’re not afraid to put themselves out there. It’s partially because we’ve built a sense of community.

Trust. Trust.

Absolutely trust. They’ll talk about that, and then they’ll talk about how, You know what? I went on this hike up the Y, and I talked to two I realized I’m not alone. It’s not because I made these great friends necessarily. It’s I realized someone else is feeling like they don’t belong here either. I got other people I can rely on. It’s unbelievable. I’ll just tell one quick anecdote. That’s great. Just because it was super cool. I had a student in this class. It was near the end of the semester, and they said, You know what? I’ve spent all semester isolating myself. You guys told me all semester we were supposed to be doing things together, and I chose otherwise. It’s only here towards the end of the semester that I realized the error of my ways. It was crazy. He said, You know what? I’m 100% committed to my next semester changing the way I approach my education at BIO. I see what’s happening in the lives of all of my fellow classmates, and I’m going to do some things different as I approach the rest of my education. I thought, Look, it’s too bad he wasted most of the semester to get there, but he got there.

Anyway, that’s beautiful. I go on and on. It’s amazing.

There’s this issue with loneliness, the epidemic of loneliness that a lot of researchers would say. One of the solutions to that, one, just one, there’s probably many, many more, obviously, is to have all of the students, regardless of the amount and the size of the incoming class, to take a class of 24 where they can make natural connections in order to be connected, which I’m sure will last throughout the rest their time together. And a lot of it to be the antidote of this issue that they face of feeling like they don’t belong as in opposition to previously, you have these auditorium seating classes where there’s so many people, which I’m sure still exists, right? It still exists. But now they have more of a connection. It makes me wonder, because I remember hearing a story of you when you got to BIO, right? I want to smell it. I want to hear. I want to feel your experience that it seems contrary to this whole idea of having a class of 24. It almost seems contrary. Could you bring us back to freshman year? We won’t say the year. Thank you. Whenever you arrived to BIO, of why I think this is probably means so much to you.

You touched on the very thing. I think it is my experience as a freshman. I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I grew up in a community that was not predominantly LDS. There were very few members of the church in my high school, and it was one of the biggest high schools in the state of New Mexico. It was a big high school with very few members of the church. I remember getting… By the way, my mom would love for me to go to Utah State, so we I didn’t have deep ties to BIO, but I came to BIO just with the hope that things would be great. I got here, and it was anything but great. I remember going to even my first class, and it was a large enrollment class. I remember going to the bookstore and waiting in a long line and them not asking me for my name, but asking me for my ID number. Am I a number now? Because I thought, I like being called by my name. I hadn’t made a lot of friendships in my first few weeks. I’m sure there was a little bit of homesickness.

I probably wasn’t willing to admit that that was driving some of what I was feeling But suffice it to say that I very much felt like I didn’t belong at BIO. I wasn’t used to being surrounded by all of those members of the church. And candidly, that was weird for a guy who had grown up without being surrounded. The bulk of my friends weren’t members of the church in my high school, and I just felt a little lost. And I remember telling my mom, I’m an only child, and my mom raised me as a single parent, and And I called my mom and I said, Mom, this is not what I was expecting. I’m ready to go home. And my mom’s very understanding. She’s also raised me with tough love. But she said, I knew that she knew that I was really uncomfortable and unhappy when her answer was, okay, look, I’ll roll up there. I’ll come pick you up and we’ll bring you back and you can go to UNM, which was my backup school. So you’re done? I was done. No, I was out. You were out. I was out. She’s coming. She was coming.

She was scheduled to come up. And without asking me, she happened to reach out to my bishop at home, a guy that was my bishop for the whole time I was growing up. You know that one bishop who’s your bishop that you think of when you think of your youth? This was the guy. His name was Clyde. She said, Listen, Bishop, Shane’s struggling up there at BIO. He was an alum and said, Hey, you should have him reach out to my brother. My brother happens to be on the law school faculty at BIO. He’d love to visit with him. Just before you go make this trip up from Albuquerque, which is where my mom lived, to Provo to pick Shane up. Just see if he’d be willing to go talk to my brother. Well, it turns out I said… My mom called me and I thought, Well, it’s a long trip up, so what’s going to hurt? Candidly, I was super intimidated. I had not met any faculty members. I had no connection to any faculty members. Candidly, they scared the bejeebers out of me.Of course.I was like, No way I’m going to go talk to this faculty member.

I really almost talked myself out of it. I remember walking up to the law school, which it looks… I mean, it’s this imposing building. Yeah, it looks like a castle. It does. I almost turned back when I was walking him to his office because I’d reached out to him. This date dates me, but it was before email. So I reached out to him over phone, and he said he could meet with me. So I’m walking up there. I got the courage. I actually walked in the building. I walked into his office, and on the door, his name was Kevin, and it was Kevin Worthen. Say what? Yeah. That’s so crazy. Kevin Worthen, a young law professor. He hadn’t been on the faculty for a long time. He was a fairly new professor, and he welcomed me into his office. And I don’t remember the exact words that he said, but I do remember one thing in particular, one idea, and then he said, Look, I think… It wasn’t profound, but I think it was, I think if you’ll give BIO a chance, you’ll grow to really like it here. And here’s what it meant to me.

This was a faculty member who then knew my name. And when you’re feeling your student ID number rather than your name, you start to feel like you no longer are a person. You’re an entity. But he called me by my name, and I knew he knew my name, and he knew that for a moment there, someone cared about me. And I remember walking out of that office with a new resolve that I was going to stick it out. I called my mom and I said, Why don’t I give it another couple of weeks? Because I think I might be able to do this. It just took someone acknowledging me as a person. Candidly, I think that’s part of why I find so much passion in this class. Then seeing it firsthand, teaching it this semester, It’s a game changer.

That’s so powerful. You can’t make up this type of story. No. And now here you are. I love the idea of divine orbits. He’s your bishop, and that’s elder Warthen’s brother.

Brother. Yeah. Those things don’t happen by chance.

His brother was your bishop. And then he sends you to go talk to him. You talk to him. He’s nervous about it. I’m understanding that it wasn’t this huge, I need to stay. You’re like, You know what? I’ll just try a little bit longer. Then now you follow him as being as present. Fourteenth, right? Yeah, 14th. 14th President. He’s number 13. This is crazy. Yeah, it’s crazy. You can’t make it up. Go ahead.

It was an amazing experience. It really was. Like you said, it wasn’t like there was this profound talk that I went down and wrote down. It was just a kind expression, taking a couple of moments to recognize me. It was amazing.

So connection matters a lot. It matters a lot to me. And this class, it seems as it has fruit to it, that people are making connections. Anything else that you would like to include? Any story of an example?

We had a group of students come and talk to… It was a meeting of some alumni that we had at B And we had four students from our class come and share their experience. And they were remarkable stories. And one of the things that a student told me is, when I came, this was his experience that he shared with these alumni, I chose BIO because tuition was cheap. And I thought, okay, people have different reasons for choosing. And he said, candidly, I expected that it was going to be an educational experience that I would get for a reasonable price. And that was my whole motivation for being here at BIO. I had other opportunities for more prestigious schools, but candidly, my family’s financial situation made it so that this was probably the best thing. And he said, And then I looked around classes this semester has gone along, and I watched the experience that others were having. And I thought to myself, there’s something more here. I got to quit relying on just my cheap tuition, and I have to embrace the opportunity that is mine. And it has changed my life. It’s changed who I am.

It’s changed how I view others who are in this class. I felt myself as maybe a little bit above those in the class, and it’s changed how I view them and my place, not only on this campus, but what I will be able to take from here. I thought, Oh, man, that’s magic. Each one of them will be able to tell these stories. I wish I could bring them all here and sit down with you and you hear their experiences. It would blow you away.

I know you’re big on stats. Are there any specific numbers, any stats, any variables that are worth mentioning?

Yeah. Here’s what I’ll say. Because it’s early in the game, We think that we’re going to start to see metrics that really matter. We think that students are going to report that their education, while rigorous, which I think students that come to BIO certainly feel that they’ve been challenged academically. I I think that we hear common refrain in terms of data. But what we hope that they hear is that in addition to that, simultaneous to that, that their spiritually developed selves is improved, that we’re achieving not only the aim of intellectually enlarging, but that we’re simultaneously adding spiritual strength to that as well. That’s the data that I think we’re going to start I’d like to see, but the returns are early. Yeah, of course. I might be wrong, but that’s my hypothesis.

Okay, I love that. I think that that guides us just to the next question. I mean, this idea of combining the two fields, which you would normally think that they would not connect, right? You have the secular… Most people that are president of a university, they report to the people. They report to whoever they receive funding from, but you also report to the prophets and apostles. These are men that are diviny called. How do you balance that? How do you make sure that… I like the word that you say to be dual-Dual heritage.Dual heritage, right? Yeah. Tell me more about that.

Yeah. Well, higher education today, and for good reasons, they do have legislatures to answer to, or they have donors to answer to, and making sure that you’re providing an education that is strong, that’s going to not only improve the ability of people to get jobs, but improve the ability for the students and your graduates to be responsible citizens. I mean, education does a lot for a human being. That’s what they ultimately, aspirationally should be about. We have the added charge to do that same thing. We can’t abandon our academic mission. The board of trustees who provides, by the way, 70% of our operating budget. When I tell other presidents that, by the way, I’m the envy of the room, that we have the blessing of an incredible financial support for what we do and prophetic guidance for what we do. It’s amazing. But they expect us to provide that academic mission in a strong way, but not at the expense of our spiritual mission. I just believe for far too long in higher education, there has been a false dichotomy presented to us, which is we have to choose between being conversant in our academic disciplines or conversant in things of the spirit.

I just don’t believe that’s true. I think those are mutually reinforcing ideas. I think that our our academics are actually stronger because we’re taught by the spirit. I think our academics are stronger because there is this firm moral and spiritual underpinning to the topics that we’re studying. I actually believe that these things do contribute to one another and that we can reinforce our double heritage, or what we would call, when I say we, I really mean President Kimball. I’m ripping off him, being bilingual. I think that’s the demand we have of our faculty so that they can model and teach it to our students. I just think those things are not competing with one another.

Well, with that in mind, though, I’m curious what you think about the idea that I remember President Kimball mentioning the idea of there’s some things that we don’t budge on when it comes to being… We can do rigorous academic things. We can do things that are also spiritual. But there’s some things that when it comes to being bilingual, we just don’t budge on. Can you think of any examples of what that would be?

Yeah, it’s a great question. President Kimball’s… By the way, that’s a daunting charge. That is. There are some things that if we have to part ways, we’ll part ways. That is for me, first and foremost, when I say we are the Christ-centered, prophetically-directed University of Prophecy, that University of Prophecy is referring to President Kimball’s just amazing address, the Second Century Address and Education for Eternity. Those two things form that University of Prophecy. Prophetically directed means that we won’t budge on our support of modern prophets, seers, and revelators, that that is something where we won’t budge. If we end up having to stand alone, and I think President Kimball refers to that in his address, that those areas where we’ll stand alone if we have to.

I’m not trying to push it further, but can you think of any specific examples where it has been challenging?

Oh, no question. The prominent issue that we would talk about often is the doctrine on the family. There is no question that that’s an area where the academic areas, when they talk about researching the family, it is not based in what we would call traditional families. It is not something that aligns well with the traditional family as we think about it and as is prophesied in the proclamation on the family. That’s an area where I will say that we see where tension is real.

What type of research have there been any research? It almost seems as if the focus would be to generate research that solidifies that doctrine, right? Yeah. Has there been any research performed yet?

I love that question in part because we talk a lot about what are the things that we can do at BIO that are mission-inspired scholarship? How can we reinforce that? When I think of the core institutions in society that need strengthening, that need voices that have academic rigor. We can’t hold our own in the academy if we’re not rigorous and if we don’t have methods that are strong and defensible. But those are The family, we’ve got to have researchers who do this. They are religion and human flourishing. We’re becoming increasingly as a society less so. We’re more faithless and reinforcing the benefits of religion and religiosity and not silencing those voices in the public square, I think is so critical. The last is the Constitution institution, in part because it protects those other two institutions. Those three institutions are areas of strong focus for us as a university, and it’s because they allow us to pursue this academic mission. Those are the core institutions of society that allow us to do the things that we need to do, both as a church and also what we need to do as an educational institution.

So there’s some specific, I would say, pillars, right? That you’re like, We’re not budging on these. These are really the foundation. What’s at stake? I think it appears what you think. What’s at stake if we were to do the opposite, if we were to not withhold?

I love that. Candidly, I really I think, Brigham Young University’s existence is at stake. And not just the university, but I think we could be a good, but middle-of-the-road university that looks like everybody else. I’m not sure that that’s of interest. I think Brigham Young University absolutely has to embrace its uniqueness, and its uniqueness lies in all of these things that I talk. It lies in having a connection to our student experience being something that’s different, being something that strengthened them academically as well as spiritually. It lies in our undergraduate teaching mission. Universities all over the planet lean heavily towards graduate admissions and graduate education because that’s where the research dollars are. I get why we’ve gravitated there, but we’re not going to budge. We’re going to make sure that we anchor on our undergraduate mission. That doesn’t mean we don’t have strong graduate programs of real consequence, but we’re going to anchor on our undergraduate mission. That’s going to make us different most of our peers. We’re going to have this strong emphasis institutionally on these core institutions. Those are the things that are going to make us different and unique. And so what’s at stake is us, right?

And I think we’ve got to make sure that we anchor ourselves in our core mission.

Almost as if we’re like everybody else, then we don’t exist. I live like opposition, not an opposition to it, but I guess it naturally would have to be. It will. And I’ve heard somebody say this. They said, if everything If everything were green, then nothing’s green. Absolutely. If everything’s the same, then nothing’s there. Then nothing’s there. But that’s a big mission to take on.

It is. Good news is we’ve got partners in that endeavor. We’re not all I mean, you talk about… I would just say that there are other faith-based universities who understand this idea of differentiation. We’ve actually found some great partners in that community. One of the things I would say is I recently got something from Baylor University, by the way, the President of Baylor University is a remarkable woman. She’s Linda Livingston. I love working with her through the Big 12. They said, Because of our Christian mission as a university, and then they had this thing they were talking about, but that’s where they led, is that they’re going to be different because of that. I think we can take courage in knowing that there are other people who are trying to do that same thing. We’ve got some unique unique aspects, some peculiar things that we talk about sometimes when we talk about the church, that make us even unique within the sphere of higher education for Christian-based universities. But we love that we’re unique and that we’re different. It is great to have people who actually understand that and can partner with you in that way.

This idea of inter faith, maybe other institutions, too, not necessarily that are a religious base, but just that have high values. That’s a very important people to connect with. How do you balance that connection of wanting to be different, but also being a pacemaker? That’s a really interesting charge.

It is. One of the things is we talk about our focus for what I would call mission-inspired scholarship, this family and the constitution and religion and human flourishing. I’ve often thought, what would be the next things? Those are some things that we’ve fairly recently introduced and put some serious resources and faculty time into reinforcing those institutions. But what are some other initiatives that might be interesting? I’ve often, this is just two guys talking, but I’ve often wondered about whether or not there’s something in peacemaking. In this space of interfaith dialog is one place of peacemaking, and certainly President Nelson’s charge, invitation for all of us to be more peacemaking in our lives. I think there’s a place. One of the things I have found when you talk about inter faith things that makes it easier is with this movement in some spheres away from faith, I find that there’s more connection to faith than people maybe admit. When we have conversations with other faith leaders, we found that they’re remarkably open to this dialog and finding the things that we have more in common than the things we have different. Yeah, of course. I think there is a lot of power in that, and I’ve been so great.

The Baptist doctrine versus the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, there are clear differences on really important issues. But yet we clearly see that there’s way more in common as we face challenges in higher education. That’s been a strength, I think, for both of us. I think it’s a win-win in that case.

So there is a need to go a different direction. And you’re saying that though not exactly the same, there are other universities that you find are doing similar things.

Yeah, we get to walk the path with it. Absolutely. That’s beautiful. That’s great.

I think that is so important, this idea. And to a degree, I think it connects with the epidemic of loneliness. What I want to get into here is if you open up your phone, if you look on the TV, you see so many campuses where there’s demonstrations. You see a lot of division on different ideas. This idea of community has to be pretty important. Can you give me a little bit of background of some of the different decisions that you’ve been currently making to help improve the community, knowing that there is potential to have a lot of division.

Yeah. Oh, boy, you go all around campuses these days, and there’s a whole lot of different issues, and we won’t articulate those today, but a lot of issues where division is found. To me, I think when you look at most of the decisions that have been made, high-level decisions that are made on campus, so many of them are intended to do one of two things. Those things are intended to drive home this idea that we are all children of God. That’s a relative position of strength for us as a campus community, in part because it should shape how we treat one another. It is the fundamental idea that we ought to be better at because we understand those unique identities, that we know how to treat one another. Now, we don’t always execute on that perfectly. We still have work to do, but that is a critical part of a lot of discussions at a high level we’ve had. The second one, candidly, I love this, and this is sometimes missed when we talk about a new standard for ecclesiastical standard for employment at BIO or the new honor code and the questions that are going to be asked of students and from their ecclesiastical leaders in those interviews.

The sole driver behind those questions, the sole driver, is to point our students to the temple. It’s a transformative place. The things that happen there are beautiful. I often will talk to students. They’re like, Well, look, I don’t have a current temple recommend, or I haven’t been endowed. That doesn’t apply to me. I’ve even had this conversation with students who aren’t members of the church. Here’s the deal. I actually think that there’s even some power that comes from even a scroll around the temple grounds. I think proximity to the temple has some power. I hope that when we get into some of the discussions and there There are discussions around, well, were they trying to do this or were they trying to do this? The truth is, trying to understand who you really are and trying to point you to the temple drove 95% of what we were trying to address when we talk about the new dress and grooming standards, and we talked about honor code, or we talked about the ecclesiastical conditions of employment. It was trying to get people pointed to the temple. We talked about Hearing that so recently from those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators, and you see why that emphasis is so strong, those are incredibly unifying things.

Those are incredibly welcoming, belonging things. The hope is that the campus feels that way. I hear anecdotes from students, emails, unsolicited emails from students who talk about having gone on this temple trip or went and walked around the temple with somebody, and this was maybe a roommate when they were quarreling. It’s just small things, but they talk about the difference that it made. I hope that in all of the conversations about details of some of these things, we don’t lose sight of those two things.

Repentance is a real thing. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but the standard has to be set of where we need, where he’d like it used to be. It sounds like those covenants are really founded on how we are interacting with each other. Can you take me to… If I was a fly on the wall, the decision is being made to create these standards that are similar to the ones before, what would that have been like?

Well, first of all, it was interesting. I’ll just take you back through one that was a little while ago about the conditions of Ecclesiastical Employment Standard, which really boiled down to the same as the temple recommend questions. If I were to take a sample of people before that change was made on campus, Most of the faculty, like a super majority of the faculty, thought that was already the conditions. They assumed that was the case. No, that’s true. We were operating as if those were the conditions all along. What it really did boil down to was questions of the belief, the first four questions in the temple recommend questions. It makes sense to me if we’re going to point people to the temple, that we embrace the full set of those, belief and conduct. Those were what drove a lot of those discussions. It was really beautiful to see people saying, Well, Where else would we want our faculty? Where else would we want our students? There may be times, like you said, where they’re not able to use their temple recommend because of whatever. They’re working through a repentance process or whatever the case is.

But are they striving? For our students in particular, that’s an important aspect. It’s this idea of striving, which is a beautiful analogy for me. I love this idea that, Hey, I’m working at it, and I’m making progress. Like you, like me, none of us are perfect, but we’re striving.

Well, I like the connection that it has, and this almost seems like it’s necessary to have the connection of the religious with the secular, because I think that there are some doctrines that are misunderstood that might cause people to have more stress about their current circumstance or situation. When it comes to the new honor code, any insight, any perspective that would be helpful to help create community, how it’s connected to that. Yeah.

Well, it certainly starts with the idea that it’s principle-based. That idea of principle-based. By the way, principle-based is not easy. It’s not easy. I mean, you mean like him? Exactly. It’s like when For the strength of youth came out and there were discussions about, Oh, so what you’re saying is there’s no restriction against me doing this? Yeah. I think That these changes, A, we knew that there was going to be some period of time where we were going to have to learn our way through this. That sense of community by it being principle-based, I think, is really an important one because what it leads to is conversations. We’re supposed to be about education at BIO. That conversation ought to be us learning, Hey, what are you thinking? Where do you see this? Let’s take a student who decides that they’re going to grow their hair out and it’s going to go out down to the middle of their calf, right? That’s a man.


Well, talk to me. Let’s learn where you’re going with this. And then here’s what we hope for. Here was the standard that we’ve opted as a way to represent ourselves, but let’s have a conversation. And it may take a little time. I sometimes hear, Well, I saw this student. I’m like, Well, has anyone had a conversation with him? The answer is sometimes no. I think, Well, then we’ve missed the point of this whole principle-based idea. Let’s have a conversation. And what I find, here’s the amazing thing, is that so often I find, and I found this in conversations I’ve had with students, there’s something more going on in their lives. And no one’s bothered to visit with them about it. And the truth is that this was an outward way of them expressing a need for help and someone to talk to. And then the dress and grooming standard thing was really secondary. And when we were able to have the conversation and I was able to express an interest and a genuine interest in who they were, they were fine, got in their hair. It was a symptom. It wasn’t the cause. I think too often when it’s checklist or when it’s purely this or that, we don’t take the time to have those conversations.

And there’s been some really amazing conversations had on campus, not just between faculty and students, but student to student. I’ve loved that. That really engenders a sense of belonging, a sense of community. I think when we talk about covenants, that binding ourselves to the savior really gives us the responsibility to look out for our brother or our sister. Anyway, I just- That’s very powerful. I think it was great discussions, and they were amazing discussions, uplifting really focused on individuals when we had these discussions around the new honor code and dress and grooming standards that were principle-based.

Well, I like this idea that you started to talk about when it comes to belonging. I know that you’ve had some experience before your tenure as president. Is that the right way to say it? Tenure.

Tenure, yeah, sure.

Tenure as president. You were involved in the research behind the Office of Belonging, right? Yeah. Can you give us a little bit of background with that? What is your involvement with that? And why is that? Is there any specific research that would be helpful that can help us? I went to BIO. Some people of different ethnicities I know of. I had a great experience. I know some people have had some explained experiences that were this way or that way. What have you discovered that could be helpful to give some background, some insight?

It’s a great question. One of the things that That I think is absolutely true is I think that the experiences that people had on campus or are having on campus, they’re varied. I think at times, the narrative is that the experience is all bad for people from certain races or nationalities or cultural backgrounds. No question that you get that narrative. Certainly, some people will have the narrative that it’s all great. The truth is the experiences are all over the map, probably for all of our students, some positive, some negative. My feeling is that we have got to focus. The reason belonging is such an important word to me is if we start with the idea that we’re all children of God, if that’s the foundation and the basis, then it should fundamentally change how we treat everybody.

It should.

Our execution might fall short of that Our aim, and does at times. I think the office of belonging is essentially tasked with, where are we falling short of our aim in that regard, and can we improve that?

Yeah, that’s great. You know that it’s there. I’m not trying to poke a hole in it or anything like that. I just think that the essence of the primary truth transcends the things below. Even with the honor code, with the first questions of a temple recommend. Do you believe in God? Do you believe in a Father in Heaven? Do you believe in the Holy Ghost? That’s It sounds like a simple question, but it’s a very profound question. Believing that will affect the way that I treat other people. Also, do you believe that President Nelson holds the keys to the to the church, and which BIO is directed under their direction? Anything else? Any stats that you would add to any of the belonging data? Anything?

We did some analysis in the statistics of this, I think we’re going to, again, this is one that we’ll monitor. We’ll see how we do. One of the things that we ask regularly is, did you feel a sense of belonging? I mean, that’s a simple question, and the answer is not 100% of our students say yes. So what that tells me is we got work to do, and we’ll continue to track that as we go along. I just want to come back to a point you made because one of the most memorable talks that I’ve seen given at BIO is one that talks about the primary questions. And far too often- Corbridge. Yeah, elder Corbridge. It’s an amazing talk, and we often find ourselves mired in the secondary questions and have completely abandoned the primary questions. So I love that talk because it’s a great reminder of exactly the point you made, is we got to focus on primary questions. Really, I think we’ve asked the Office of Belonging to focus on primary questions, where so often they’re asked to spend a lot of Our time on secondary questions. And look, other corporates talks about this.

It’s not the secondary questions aren’t important, but if we’re spending all our time focused on those and haven’t considered the primary questions, we’ll be spinning our wheels. We won’t be making progress.

This maybe is a side note, but it goes along with what you’re saying. My mom is white. My dad is Black. I had a Filipino stepdad. It just gives me a different lens. But I feel like this new class with the 24, I I feel like a lot of times, and not always the case, that I don’t feel heard. I feel like it opens that door to have more opportunities to be heard, not in any of these, even some of these topics, but just who I am and what I like. You’ll find that all of these different backgrounds that I even have, people, they’re the same. I’m serious. I don’t… Like personalities, I think that there’s even statistics on the idea that most people are It’s similar in personality. If you did personality tests, now, obviously, culture is really about values. It is. But we have more in common than we don’t. No.

And that, boy, if I had to say, what would I hope that our campus community embraces is we have more in common than we don’t. And it starts for me by looking at everybody, whoever you see on campus, whoever you see on campus, no matter how different or similar they appear on the outside, they’re a child of God. That changes how I should behave. Yeah, that’s right. For some people, that’s going to be a shift from how they would typically behave. It is. It might mean for us to shift because we start there. Anyway, I just think that that really goes into the I listened to one of your interviews, and you talked about this book called Morality, and it really outlines this idea of going back to the covenant, right?

When we think more outward, when we think more of the people that are not just ourselves, that it creates more of a community. It creates more a connection. It’s really what I feel like, at least from a spiritual perspective, that’s how we’re designed to be, to live together, to associate with each other.

Yeah, that book, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. The people were so good, written by a Jewish scholar who passed away last year, Jonathan Sacks. Really? Yeah, an amazing guy. He was the chief rabbi for the UK, and he’s an amazing guy. In this book, he has this quote that I just love. He said, It is adopting more of a we mindset over an I mindset, and points out that there are so many things in society that are driving us towards the I mindset, me, me, me, me. And then he has this phrase, and I’ll misquote it, so I feel bad about that. I have a horrible memory for quotes, but he said, When you are part of a Covenant Community. He’s really talking about covenants between people and God. It’s not all that different from our conception of covenants, but he talks about it’s walking arm in arm with another person and talking about the difference that that will make in the world is being able to walk arm and arm with this we mindset. I love it. It’s an amazing book. It changed a lot about the way I think about things.

Oh, that’s powerful. We talked about a lot of different things, and we don’t have to go into every single perspective, specifically. But are there any that you feel that we should discuss? Well, actually, here’s one. I think that I know that President Whurston has mentioned this as well, just the idea of how important hiring is and how to you really make sure. I think it must be so challenging to align the hiring with the mission. Especially with academia, I feel like, if I’m just being real, currently, right now, I’m sure there are faculty and staff that aren’t in alignment. How do you even approach that? Do you want to go there?

Yeah, sure. Look, I think it was a university conference I addressed that I gave to the university employees about mission-aligned hiring. This is part of why this is such an That’s the most important thing to me is, look, we hire lots of people at BIO. One of the things that seems critical is that the people that we put up in front of our students, and that includes faculty and staff, by the way, I was primarily responsible as the academic vice president for faculty, but it applies to both because they’re their supervisors- That’s right. In their student employment. The grounds person or the person that works in dining services, that they interact with students as often as faculty do. It becomes critical if we’re going to accomplish this mission, if we’re going to stay unique, if we’re going to actually look like the University of Prophecy that you and I have spoken about today, it has to start with those people that we put up as role models. I could send my son, who’s a student in BIO, by the way, I could send him to any university around the planet. He thinks he wants to study finance.

He probably will. I feel like I lost him to the dark side because he’s going to finance instead of stats. I could send him to any great university on the planet, Berkeley or Harvard or the University of Utah. These are great institutions. I have great respect for what they do academically. He would be taught finance by someone who might very well be the best in their field at teaching finance, and he’d get a great finance education. Then I could send him across the street to the institute building, and he’d be taught the truth through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ by someone who might very well be the best in CES.


At teaching that subject, but he wouldn’t get it in the same person. He wouldn’t get those things in a statistics classroom or in a finance classroom or in a business classroom. We’re asking that from all of our faculty to be that role model, someone who embraces their faith as much as they embrace their discipline. If that doesn’t happen in every classroom, With every faculty, we’re going to have a hard time achieving our mission. We’re going to have a hard time staying unique in the sphere of higher education. Who we hire might be the most important decisions that get made During my tenure as the President of the University. President Worthing used to say that all the time, and I actually see what he’s talking about, that those are the people that are in front of our students. It’s vital that they want to be part of it. Now, I get that not Everyone’s figured it out. We didn’t get taught that where we went and got our PhDs. That’s right. Texas A&M taught me how to be a good statistician. They didn’t teach me how to bathe my subject in the light and color of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

We realized there’s going to be a season of learning, a season of figuring this out. And we’re willing to allow for that season. We get it. But we want someone who wants to do that. And if you don’t want to do that, it’s okay if you go to other places. I don’t fault anybody for not wanting to do that. They’ll have other opportunities other places, because we want people that are good enough to go to other places.

That’s right.

But we want people who want to be there because that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.

How do you stay? Because the trend that I see is that many in academia bounce around. They’ll be at a school for this long, then they jump to another. Is there anything you put in place that helps them, that would cause them to want to stay? Yeah.

The truth is, if we’re in a bidding battle, they’re going to outbid us. Over the course of someone’s career, we’re going to get outbid.

Well, not just financially.

That’s my point, is that when you talk, if it’s just based on your contract value, we’re going to get outbid, and we know we’re going to get outbid. But we have a crazy high retention rate. And you pointed out that in higher ed, people are very willing to move around. But I think it’s because most people resonate with that mission. I think it’s because they’ve tasted of the fruit and think, Man, this is delicious. I want to stick around. I think I’ve seen so many faculty get jazzed about what we’re trying to accomplish, and they want to be part of it. They see the difference they can make in students’ lives. They like the idea of being bilingual. They can be their full authentic selves.

And maybe that is a lot of a part of it, because I think that the unfulfillment If you’re not getting paid as much as you would like, at least you’re doing something that you love. If neither are the case, it might be easier. I’m talking speculatively, right? It might be easier to jump.

If you’re not doing something you like and you have opportunities to make more money somewhere else, why wouldn’t you jump? But I think at the end of the day, it is because they resonate with the mission.

That’s powerful. With that in mind, how do you align? You got the Big 12, we’re not talking about the Apostles, even though, anyway, they didn’t want to go there. But we’re in the Big 12. And so that staffing, I think that question I think maybe people have is, I don’t think that they question whether or not that it does align with the mission, but what are some unique ways that you’re seeing that obviously does? You just hired a new basketball coach. How do you make that same application to not just faculty and people who teach, but people who are involved in a lot of these high-visibility assignments?

Well, boy, we’re thrilled with our new basketball coach, I’ll just say. He struck me from the very first moment as an incredible family, man. You just heard how he went through the decision, and it was a text from his wife when he was on the road that was the Lynch. People talk about, Well, what moved the needle or what made the biggest difference? And it was a text from his wife, and that revealed to me that this was an incredible First of all, family man. Second of all, during the course of our interview, it became apparent that he was an incredibly humble follower of Jesus Christ. He articulated that in no uncertain terms during my interview with him. I interview all of our head coaches. Really? That’s what I was doing. I inserted myself as part of that interview process because it’s just, as you point out, it’s too important. That’s part of the visible aspects of who we are as a university, especially with our interests in the Big 12. Actually, it turns out he’s pretty good at basketball, too. He knows a lot about basketball. He checks all the boxes. He’s amazing. That’s true of so many of our coaches.

I look at the presser with Kalani Satake. When we first entered the Big 12, I’m like, and I was sitting. I got to tell this story because it was just one of the cool experiences. I was sitting in the press seats, and some people had walked out, but there were still a pretty good group of people. He was one of the last coaches to talk during the press conference. And there was these three or four reporters from Texas and Oklahoma that were sitting behind me. And these were fairly big names in their communities. And as Kalani started talking, they were carrying on a conversation on another topic. As he started talking about his faith in the Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, they got quiet. They stopped talking about whatever they were talking about. As he got done talking about why he was at BIO and how BIO’s mission was unique and how that impacted their football team, these guys were like, I could play for that guy. And I just loved to see that. And those kinds of things, it’s not limited to those two. I see evidence of this across our entire athletic program.

I see it in our athletic director. I see it in his associate athletic director. They’ve got some great things going on. And so I think the Big 12 becomes a great place for us to be able to show this off. Sorry, I’ll just go one more story. That’s good. Our tailgates that happened during this year’s football season were unbelievable. They were really a collaborative effort between our athletics program, our alumni relations, and the church. What we did is instead of going into these communities and doing something good for BYU, we worked with local alumni from the school where we were visiting, really, to find a service project that would benefit a community that they thought was in need. It was typically a local church organization that provided shoes or toys for kids in need. At one of them, it was a local Native American community that needed more books for their educational programs. That was amazing. That’s what they’re doing. That’s what they were doing. Our alumni were showing up to contribute to their project. It was amazing. They combined that with BYU TV, did a story on the good things that their alumni were doing.

Not ours, but we funded it to go talk about the good things in the world that their and I were doing. We call them big stories. These things were game changers. Then you combine that with our football team running out, and there will be people who will be critics and say, Well, you didn’t win any games, though. But look, we started where our football team would run out the flag, the state flag for their state.

Is it like the traditional thing that they always do?

They’ve been doing it this year, and I don’t know if they did in the past, but I received letters from the chair of the faculty senate at West Virginia, and the local community organizer, the chamber of commerce, the chair of the chamber of commerce, reached out and sent me an email saying, You changed hearts in West Virginia. You changed a practice. We have had a long-standing practice to boo the visiting team when they ran in. But when we saw you running in with our flag, we saw the spot you did on our alumni, we can’t boo you guys anymore. How does that not become a peace-making moment? In an atmosphere that is set up to be anything but peace-making. I just love how How our athletic department has embraced this idea of being different and embracing their double heritage. It’s amazing.

That’s really, really powerful. Just naturally, right? It sounds like they’re just being who they are. Yes. That’s what it sounds like. It seems like this is what they normally would do. Coach Sataki is being himself, and I think most coaches would shy away from saying that. You’re like, No, no, because of our mission, we’re going to really embrace it. We’re going to embrace it when we go to these new teams. We’re going to hire people that have these same standards, and it will naturally happen. Yeah.

One of the things that I loved about Kevin Young, we hired him, is that he was worried that we’re going to ask him to be something different than he is.

What do you mean? In what way?

Well, was he going to have to put on airs? We’re hiring you because of who you are. There’s no way we want you to be someone different. That’s why this hiring people who are mission aligned, who want to be part of this mission, because we don’t want them to be inauthentic. That’s right. The Missionary program of the church is asking us to be normal in It’s natural, not inauthentic. And the same thing holds true for our faculty. The same thing holds true for our coaches. Same thing holds true for all the efforts that we do. If this is just for show, then we’re doing it wrong. It better be who we are at our core, who we are authentically, who we are naturally.

I think that’s very important to be able to do that, but it’s not as easy as it looks. For you, as a president, if somebody could go behind the scenes with you, what are some of the things that are good that you wish people knew? And maybe what are some of the challenges, too?

The truth is that you’ll hear stories about, is BIO this way or is BIO leading too much?

Is BIO woke?

Yeah, exactly. And certainly, do we have examples of that? Sure. We’re not perfect. We have work, too. That’s what I mean by challenges. But what I would say is I feel like we’ve done a tremendous progress, and I think we started at a much better place than it might seem from reports. I know too many faculty who are absolutely consecrated. I know too many faculty who, on a daily basis, do exactly what we hope they’re going to do, which is to embrace their double heritage or their bilingual, as President Kimball called it. We have work to do, and we have great people that are willing to dig in and do the work. So I think if I were to say, Where do I see? I see us having work to do, and I see incredible hope and promise for where we can get because of the people that we are hiring and the people we have that are committed to what we’re trying to accomplish. But again- It’s honest. Yeah, not without work to do.

Yeah, I think that’s healthy. If you could… No, so you’ve been there for a year now. You came in with these are the initiatives. What do you think that you would… Now, looking back over this academic year, what What tweaks would you make? Yeah.

I wouldn’t change any of the initiatives, and I wouldn’t change the order. I feel like it starts and ends with our students in mind. I say that often, and I hope our students know how important that is, and unfortunately for higher education, how different that is. I love that we start and end with our students in mind. I love, for different reasons, each of our initiatives. A year in, I’m already starting to ask myself questions about what’s next. We’ve got this course in place. I love that that’s improving our student experience, but it’s not enough. We have things we need to do to further improve our student experience. When I think about improving our student experience, I constantly ask myself the question, is there any way we can get more students into BIO? Because I know that there are students who don’t get in, and that’s heartbreaking. I’d love to find ways to get more students into BIO. We have limitations right now. We have space limitations. We have housing limitations, by the way. That’s the thing I may have heard more often than not this first year is, what are you going to do about housing?

Because those are some limitations. But I want to find ways to improve our student experience to the extent possible. And that includes finding ways to get more students into BIO wherever possible, give if it’s reasonable. It is also true, and I just say this because I think it’s important. We have started to function as a system. Bio, Idaho, Enzyne College, BIO, Hawaii, seminaries and institutes, we work well together, probably better than maybe we’ve ever worked. The elder Gilbert’s leadership as the Commissioner of Church Education on this front has been remarkable. I hope that When we can’t provide a BIO experience for all those who want it, and that we may never get to that point because of space limitations, because of resource limitations, that they’ll consider what a remarkable opportunity at BYU, Idaho is, because candidly, I think it’s remarkable. And BYU, Hawaii, for those who certainly live in that region, it’s an amazing experience. We have so many common elements, and we work well together. I hope that that’s another thing that we’ll look at. But when I think about this next year, it’s thinking about how we can improve the student experience. It’s thinking about what is the next focus scholarship areas where we can invest our limited resource that has the biggest impact not only on our students, but also on the church, because they’re going to be closely aligned with our sponsoring institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints.

Those are some things that I look at when you say tweaks. It’s maybe more expanding.

Yeah, it’s a better word, expanding. Okay, so making it more of a unified system, well, leaning more into that. And also the idea of going further on the student experience, even more deeper, right? Looking at the day, they’re looking at it and making some expansions, I like that. If you could sit down, I’d like to just conclude with this question, right? You sitting down in a chair just like this, one to one. If you could talk to every end of individual student, what would you say to them? What would you hope that they would actually understand and believe? What message would you give to them of advice?

I love this question in part because I have office hours with students. This is something that I’ve tried to institute so that I get some time. I can’t spend it with every student, but I can certainly spend time with those who will make time in their schedule to meet with me. At times, I can do that. And fundamentally, I think so many of our students are so much better than they think they are. I need every student to see themselves for who they are, and they’re so much better than they think they are. And so that idea of their divine potential, that’s a word we throw around, and I’m not sure that it’s ever internalized enough by our students. When I’ve had opportunities and I look for every… By the way, the best part about being President versus Academic Vice President is President, I get to spend more time with students, which is where the magic is. And with every student I talk to, the thing I don’t think they fully understand is what we mean by you have divine potential, and that I can see them as what President Kimball described as a brilliant star that would come from Birgermian University.

And I want them to be able to see that in themselves. And so that’s what I would tell them.

Full circle. I think that that’s the same charge as the university, to be separate, to be different, but a different way. That’s so profound. And I hope that people understand that. I always conclude with this idea that I believe what we said is true. I love this conversation. We’ve talked about a lot of really important things, but the thing I like to emphasize at the end is don’t take our word for it. Find out for yourself. Until next time.


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