Upbeat Reflections on BYU

I recently spent a day on the BYU campus as part of an informal reunion with several old dorm-floor roommates and family members. It was a nice visit, and made me recognize something that often gets forgotten in online discussions about BYU: It is a great place for LDS kids to go to college.

Remember high school? Unless you grew up in Utah or Idaho, you were one of a handful of LDS kids, probably surrounded by a culture of profanity, drugs, and sex. Then you graduate and have a choice: go to BYU and leave most of this noise behind, or go to another university and be surrounded by a slightly more elevated culture of profanity, alcohol, and sex. At BYU, you are part of a student body of thousands of LDS students; anywhere else, it might be a bigger handful of LDS students, but still a pretty small group.

Yes, I’m exaggerating a bit for effect and for brevity, but just a bit. There are plenty of BYU students who never had an LDS teacher or an LDS friend until their freshman year at college. There are LDS students whose total exposure to the religious and cultural world of Mormonism was a few dozen members they get to know in their branch or ward, Conference twice a year, and the New Era. We often think of missions as a key socializing institution for young Latter-day Saints, but BYU is at least as effective in that function.

I’m sure people will weigh in with their own view of things, but I do want to ward off the usual BYU gripes that come out in such a discussion. I do not see the choice of BYU as one of sacrificing academics in return for a pro-LDS environment or a nice social life. For example, I had a part-time prof at BYU who also taught at the University of Utah. She related her experience writing exams: at the U she had to write them easy enough so most of the students would pass; at BYU she had to write them tough enough so some of the students wouldn’t get A’s. In terms of the academic quality of undergraduates, there is simply no comparison. As part of our visit to campus, my group of old BYU friends had a short and friendly personal visit with President Samuelson. He mentioned in passing that the average GPA of incoming BYU freshmen is 3.8 — a lot of BYU alumni wouldn’t even get admitted now. Asked for advice to pass on to the next generation of BYU students, he said simply, “Study hard.” So academically, going to BYU is not a compromise.

I’m not saying BYU is the right place for every LDS undergraduate. And there is the obvious numbers problem that not every LDS student can go to BYU, even if you add BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii to the list. Students can have both a great college experience and a great LDS experience at most universities if they want to. But at the end of the day, BYU remains a great place for bright LDS students to spend the best four years of their life.

119 comments for “Upbeat Reflections on BYU

  1. Steven
    June 17, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Nice how you get a dig in at Utah while you’re praising BYU. People always seem to have to do that. I wonder why?

  2. June 17, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Amen Dave.

  3. June 17, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    “It is a great place for LDS kids to go to college.”

    Amen, Dave. I wouldn’t trade my experience there for the world. A great place, indeed.

  4. Dan
    June 17, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    I had an overall crappy experience there, but not from the academic learning. I don’t care for some of the rules (the beard rule for example) and the overall distrust that BYU leaders have toward students. I also don’t care for the strangling feeling some have to feel who have dissenting views and how much of a threat one’s views may end up having on one’s status at learning. I think having an environment where one can learn of the world around us with an LDS perspective is great but it should not be under threat of expulsion for rather trivial reasons in the realm of the academic world. (for example the dude who created the calendar of return missionaries).

    It works for some people and it doesn’t work for others. Maybe it will improve in 15 years (when my 3 year old will be going to college). For the time being her choice is Wellesley College. :)

  5. Tim
    June 17, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    A good place, but I’d encourage kids that could get into better schools to go for it. I never attended Stanford, but I did attend the Stanford singles ward for a while, and it was better than any BYU singles ward I attended (although some of those were excellent).
    While at BYU, some BYU roommates and I visited a friend at USU on a Saturday, and were seen in USU student dorms with pen and paper out. Some USU students, thinking we were doing homework, were incredulous that we were studying on a Saturday. At BYU, studying on Saturday was standard. Our USU friend earned much better grades than the rest of us, with less work. He got into graduate school at the U of U; I didn’t.
    My not-so-great GPA at BYU didn’t stop another quality graduate school from accepting me, and I’m currently near the top of my class (especially surprising considering how poorly I did at BYU).
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that, yes, BYU is a great place…but it’s much more demanding than other quality schools, your grades may suffer because of it, and you’ll certainly have less free time. And the lower GPA may make it more difficult to get into the grad school of your choice.
    On a similar note, last I checked, students at BYU Law School spent more time studying than students at any other law school, making BYU the most competitive law school. I’m convinced the competitiveness spreads beyond the law school building.

  6. June 17, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks Dave,
    Growing up in Utah I saw no need to go to BYU, and therefore didn’t, and I’m glad that I didn’t. But now that I live in California I have to agree with you. This realization has become even more pronounced as I’ve been teaching seminary. While I am always amazed by how much my students know about the Gospel I am often surprised by how little they know about LDS culture (either that or my jokes just aren’t very funny). The kids also have a yearning to have more friends that share their values.

    Of course what I would really like to see is a BYU California especially if it is of a high enough quality to compete with the UC schools. But that will probably never happen.

  7. Dan
    June 17, 2009 at 8:18 pm


    Of course what I would really like to see is a BYU California especially if it is of a high enough quality to compete with the UC schools. But that will probably never happen.

    Oh, I don’t know. California is about to go bankrupt. UC schools get most of their funding from the state. But this is just a side issue. Don’t want to get too much into it, just saying that it might actually happen…

  8. CJ Douglass
    June 17, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    I never wanted to attend BYU – and never did. The one thing I think I missed out on? The cost. I can feel superior to BYU grads all day long because of my private-Eastern school chops. But at the end of that day they got a pretty damn good education for dirt cheap. Now that’s something worth bragging about.

  9. Brooke
    June 17, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    “But at the end of that day they got a pretty damn good education for dirt cheap. Now that’s something worth bragging about.”

    Amen. That’s my #1 motivation for attending BYU–the combination of price/quality.
    There are sooooo many annoying cultural underpinnings that I could do without. and I felt fine growing up with only a small cluster of LDS friends from my home stake. I liked the diversity. I miss it.

    But at the end of the day… I will graduate with a top-rate education and be in no debt.

  10. June 17, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    You’re right, there might actually be a silver lining in this terrible mess that my state has made of things. Although I do hate to see the cuts that the UC system is getting right now.

  11. gst
    June 17, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I too look back on my alma mater with much fondness. I’m proud to be a BYU man.
    Tim, the notion that BYU is “the most competitive law school” is new and strange to me. I don’t believe it.

  12. Adam
    June 17, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Oh gimme a break with the “BYU academics are more rigorous than other schools.” Don’t loyal zoobies understand that this prideful presumption is one of the main reasons a lot of people in Utah hate BYU?

    Yes, BYU’s undergraduate graduate admissions numbers are higher than other schools in Utah (due to the simple reason that BYU can be more selective since so many out-of-state Mormon kids, if accepted, will go to BYU), but that doesn’t say anything about the quality of the education or the quality of the professors. It certainly doesn’t say that “the tests are harder at BYU.” The fact remains that BYU is NOT a quality research institution like its sister schools in Utah. The honor-code restrictions will always prevent the school from attracting top-notch academic talent, in the form of professors and graduate students. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, BYU.

    Don’t get me wrong, BYU is a great place for LDS kids, and it provides a quality education for the price, but its research academics don’t hold a candle to the programs at real universities. Just own up to it.

  13. Ben
    June 17, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Adam, no one’s claimed that BYU is a great research or graduate school, and I don’t think BYU aims to do so. (Can you say, strawman?)

    Their goal is to provide a high quality undergraduate education and send students off to high-quality grad schools elsewhere.

  14. Kevin Barney
    June 17, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Coming from Illinois with a very small Mormon population, I absolutely loved going to BYU with its thousands of Mormons. It was a social nirvana to me. By the end of my four years there I was sick of the academic politics and happy to see Provo in my rear view mirror, but those feelings have faded with time, and I look back on my experience mostly through rose colored glasses. I go back for a visit every summer.

  15. June 17, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    I very much enjoyed attending BYU, and every time I visit it somehow feels like home.

    Indeed, following completion of my PhD, I would like to join the physics faculty at BYU.

  16. June 17, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Dave, I didn’t attend BYU or even apply, but most people I know who went there seem to be pretty happy about their experience. Going to university in the early 1980s, my dorm was like “Animal House,” and I have felt many times that I’d like my kids to have a different college experience. I’m glad you are not suffering the opprobrium heaped on me when I said good things about BYU and other Church schools in a post several years ago. Maybe Bloggernaclites are getting more polite?

  17. Sara's Mom
    June 17, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    As a mother of twin girls who are in the process of making the decision of where to go to school, I appreciate this post.

    Though my daughters were all born in Utah, they grew up in Oregon and now we live in Eastern Europe. They have always been in the minority of every school and group they’ve participated in, especially now that they are in a private, international school. The majority of their peers, who aren’t bad kids BTW, are promiscuous, drink, smoke etc. There aren’t a lot of social choices outside of clubbing and partying. Hanging out with drunk people might be novel for a sober person from time to time, but when it is your only option, it gets old, even for teenagers.

    One of my twins had a college preparation meeting with her counselor last week. The counselor is encouraging her to set her sights higher by applying to a cluster of eastern liberal arts schools like Sarah Lawrence and Wellesley instead of BYU and Utah among others. My daughter’s response?

    “I’ve spent my entire life surrounded by people who didn’t share my beliefs and some of them were openly hostile to them. I’m tired of feeling like I’m on my own all the time. I’d like to be able to relax socially and focus on school for a few years before I take on $100,000 in debt for grad school.”

    Her counselor responded with the observation that she’d never really thought of it that way before–that most students leave home and go to college to broaden their horizons, but my daughter’s horizons were already pretty broad for someone 17 years old.

    Every university has its limitations, BYU included. The cultural stuff at BYU drove me crazy and it drives my oldest daughter, a BYU junior, crazy. For my younger daughters, however, it serves a purpose that other more “prestigious” schools can’t: it gives them a place to meet a large number of students who share their values and perhaps, a chance to make some lasting friendships. They will have their rest of their lives to duke it out in the competitive landscapes of Boston, New York or Washington DC or London–wherever their paths take them. They’ve earned the right to spend a few years taking a break from being the only Mormon in the room.

  18. Jana
    June 18, 2009 at 2:12 am

    #4 Dave
    “I also don’t care for the strangling feeling some have to feel who have dissenting views and how much of a threat one’s views may end up having on one’s status at learning. ”

    Heh, try being a free market conservative majoring in political science at a small liberal arts college.

  19. June 18, 2009 at 4:28 am

    Great post Dave — I fully agree. BYU is a great place for LDS kids to do their undergraduate work. The whole environment is uplifting and enlightening. It’s a wonderful feeling — one I am very grateful to have experienced. I loved BYU.

  20. Tim
    June 18, 2009 at 5:39 am

    BYU Law School and competitiveness:
    I’m not saying I believe this 100%, but I do believe it’s more difficult to get good grades at BYU than at other universities in Utah, due to the competitiveness of everything. Of course, a lot of that depends on the course of study.
    As far as research goes, it’s pretty easy for undergrads, at least in biology, to get research assistant jobs and work directly with a professor. I’m not sure how this compares with other universities, but I sense that BYU puts a big focus on it, and I think that can help further long-term career goals. I also know that the biology department has done some excellent research that has made the cover of Nature (or was it Science?)–research on evolution, no less.

  21. plvmetz
    June 18, 2009 at 6:01 am

    I have had work interactions with several BYU faculty over the last several years. In engineering they do an excellent job getting their students research experiences and into the best graduate schools. The institutional support for research is much weaker than at research institutions, but the faculty is doing pretty well all by themselves and some have won major awards.

    In the same way that the students are better than they used to be, the younger faculty members are also much better trained than the previous generation of faculty. This trend will probably continue.

  22. Peter LLC
    June 18, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Students can have both a great college experience and a great LDS experience at most universities


    But at the end of the day, BYU remains a great place for bright LDS students to spend [several] years of their life.

    And yes.

  23. dmt
    June 18, 2009 at 6:55 am

    I grew up overseas and in the Washington, DC area. My experience was very similar to #17’s description of her children. Given my ‘exotic’ background abroad, solid grades and a SAT score that still leaves me wondering what I had for breakfast that morning, I was a poster child for a number of snooty schools on the East Coast. I only applied to BYU, and have never regretted that decision. It was the first place where I felt a profound sense of community with fellow Mormons. That experience has shaped my life more profoundly than any other, including my mission.

    Sure, I did my share of eye rolling at the administration and many cultural foibles, and was plenty ready to leave Happy Valley behind once I graduated. But I recently visited for the first time in years and realized how much I miss it. My heart still flutters when I see a shot Mt. Timp or Y Mountain during a football game. I know that it was absolutely the best place for me to be.

    Oh, and the tuition’s a steal. I came out debt free, and promptly ruined that by going to law school. The downturn in the legal market has me worried that I’ll never escape that debt, but I know that I’m better off than many of my peers who still carry tremendous undergrad debt on top of their law school loans. In terms of education for your dollar, I’m convinced BYU can’t be beat.

  24. Left Field
    June 18, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I guess I can only speak to Biology, and I suppose things may have changed in the >2 decades since I last attended BYU, but I beg to differ that BYU is substandard in research and graduate education. Biology faculty in a variety of fields have always been competitive for research grants, and have maintained excellent research programs. At least into the 1980s, BYU was recognized as one of the two leading graduate programs (the other being Cornell) in raptor biology. I know, that’s a niche market, but when I was there, the Zoology department attracted a good number of top-notch LDS and non-LDS graduate students particularly those interested in raptors. See here for just one example of a prominent graduate of the raptor biology program: http://www.eeb.lsa.umich.edu/eeb/people/mindell/index.html.

    Since the 1980s BYU has also been particularly strong in evolutionary biology. That program was just getting started when I was there, but they have since added quite a number of excellent evolution faculty who have active research programs and who are well-known in the field. It’s a rare publication in systematics that doesn’t cite Kieth Crandall’s work, and other evolution faculty such as Jack Sites (herpetology) and Duke Rogers (mammalogy) have well-recognized research programs and their labs have produced some excellent graduates. I have no doubt that the same can be said for Michael Whiting, Steve Peck, and others, though I don’t encounter their work as much simply because they have research interests are a bit more removed from mine.

    I can’t address any other departments, but at least in Biology, the claim that BYU doesn’t hold a candle to other graduate programs is utter nonsense.

  25. Hunter
    June 18, 2009 at 8:15 am

    I agree that BYU is a good place to attend as an undergrad. And I came out debt-free, too.

    My biggest regret is that my own children may not be able to get in.

  26. Adam Greenwood
    June 18, 2009 at 8:26 am

    You’ve just limned my BYU experience, Dave B. Thanks.

  27. June 18, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Thanks for the nice comments, everyone.

    Dan (#4), sorry you had a sub-par experience at BYU. Hope you feel more welcome at T&S and around the Bloggernacle.

    Brooke (#9) and others: Yes, the cultural side of the Honor Code has its downside. The trick is knowing how much of that could be changed or discarded without changing the culture of BYU (and I’m using the term “culture” rather loosely here). A topic for another post, perhaps.

  28. June 18, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Dave, thanks for this post.

    I obviously agree, otherwise I wouldn’t be back here now. Growing up in Kansas, going to BYU was everything you talked about. And I lucked into the econ department which focuses very heavily at getting students into good phd programs (a self interested kind of altruism).

  29. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 9:17 am

    I’ve always wondered why anybody would bother taking a candle into a well-lit room. Utah has enough Mormons as it is – we need to spread out a bit.

    I grew up in the great midwest, away from so-called ‘Mormon culture’. Frankly, the whole thing puzzles me. I never understood the appeal of losing myself in a crowd. I had a great experience at a small Missouri liberal-arts college with an Institute class of 6-7 people and an area singles branch of 40-50 people. I learned from the first day that the decision to go to Institute, Sacrament meeting, FHE, etc. was entirely up to me. There was no group for me to follow, nobody for me to devolve my resopnsibility onto. I had to learn to stand on my own, and find out what place these things had in my own life, rather than just ‘going along with the crowd’. When I went into the MTC as a 21-year old elder, I was amazed at how few of the Utah-Idaho kids knew anything about taking care of themselves, either spiritually or temporally, when they were on their own.

  30. bbell
    June 18, 2009 at 9:27 am

    As a father of 5 boys 9 and under I can tell you that one of the big attractions of BYU is the cost. Its so cheap for a good quality undergrad education. In addition my boys will be exposed to lots and lots of BYU females which makes marrying inside the church much more likely. I personally went to USU and the U of Illinois but I see the value of BYU. I also really appreciate the new BYU Idaho campus. With 5 boys of probably varying academic prowess its nice to have another campus just in case.

  31. June 18, 2009 at 9:28 am


    I don’t think the goal for most people is to get lost in a crowd. It’s, among other things, a chance to have conversations about religion with more than 6 people…

    For example, I doubt there is any place on earth more amenable to talking about the interactions between academic discipline X and how it relates to our religion than in the hallways and buildings at BYU.

  32. Bruce
    June 18, 2009 at 9:39 am

    As I watch the young people I know choose where they go to college, I have to wonder: how much courage does it take to go to BYU where everyone is of the same faith, all the professors have temple recommends, no one will challenge their beliefs or their Mormon worldview. A few kids in our ward have chosen to go to other schools, both private and public, where they have been confronted with all kinds of things. Not only do I admire these kids for their courage, but I personally believe we need more lds kids going to other schools to contribute to the mix.

  33. steve m
    June 18, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Academically, I can’t complain about my experience at BYU. The foreign language faculty generally do an excellent job. The university’s facilities are top-notch as well.

    Another point is that BYU does an excellent job providing employment opportunities to students, and perhaps more notably, students are great at filling those positions. At the hoity-toity university I’m currently attending for law/grad school, a student wouldn’t be caught dead cleaning toilets.

    Of course, I despised BYU culture and was glad to leave. The paternalistic administration was a frequent source of irritation, as was the culture of narrow-mindedness that seemed to have a strangehold on so much of the student body. If my kids want to go to BYU, I won’t object, but I certainly won’t be pressuring them either.

  34. Dan
    June 18, 2009 at 9:45 am



    Thanks. Yeah, one example, I was debating a friend’s husband on abortion. It was fairly civil, but I was winning and toward the end he called me a Korihor.

  35. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Frank –

    I don’t think ‘getting lost’ in the goal, I think it’s an unintended and very unfortunate consequence of the social and cultural isolation that exists. Granted, every person thrives in a different environment, and for some people ‘Mormon country’ is the perfect fit – but for me, it’s hard to understand the appeal. “Go to BYU, where everybody’s the same!” If all the people you see are Mormons, and all the people you talk to are Mormons, and all the people you learn to love are Mormons, what happens when you go into the outside world? It’s a trade-off, and certain life management skills will be lacking. Again, not for everybody, but I’ve seen too many Utah Mormons who have been sheltered in the walls of the valley all their lives, and have no idea how to relate to non-member culture on any sort of level.

    One more question: Is hiding your candle among thousands of candles any better than hiding it under a bushel? In other words, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves which community we may best serve, rather than which community will best serve us?

  36. bbell
    June 18, 2009 at 10:07 am

    I am of the view that in terms of church activity rates kids are better off going to schools with larger LDS populations. I personally and of course anecdotally have observed that the kids that go to the BYU campuses are more likely to marry inside the church and stay active then kids that do not. I think that the bretheren have recognized this and expanded BYU Idaho. Its about Demographic survival for the institution. There is a lot of tithing money poured into BYU. I feel that this is one of the reasons that such a large investment is being made

    There are other schools like U of U, USU (where I went), Ar State etc that also have large populations of LDS students that seem to work as well.

    its very easy for a 18 year old kid to get lost and go inactive at say Oklahoma or Washington and get sucked into the drinking/sex culture that is so dominate on campus.

  37. Mark B.
    June 18, 2009 at 10:24 am

    If there is an economist around, you’d think he would have commented about the cost of BYU being a great deal. All those faculty salaries, and facilities that make every other university campus I’ve been on look like a poorhouse, don’t come without a cost–one which every tithepaying member of the church contributes to, regardless of whether their children attend school there.

    At to BYU law student “competitiveness” — I couldn’t find a description of what the Princeton Review was measuring, but the list on that website looks like a bunch of second tier schools, where students feel they have to finish at or near the top of their class to have a chance at getting a job after graduation. I’m not sure that’s a measurement to brag about.

  38. Bro. Jones
    June 18, 2009 at 10:40 am

    #36 I hear ya. At one point the entire (6-member) LDS population of my college went inactive, and we all found our own pet sins to nurture. Would definitely have been easier to stay active and make better choices at BYU.

    On the other hand, I repented of my pet sin, married the girl, and later married her in the temple. Not all bad. :)

  39. gst
    June 18, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Correction, Mark B. Those law schools aren’t second tier–they are mostly 3rd and 4th tier. So I gather that the “competitiveness” that is being measured is intramural (jockeying for higher ranking relative to your classmates) rather than extramural (selective admissions and good job placement prospects). That is, students are fighting very hard to position themselves better than their classmates. This is common in schools with not very selective admissions that have difficulty placing students in good jobs. In a school where only the top 5 or 10 percent of a class are likely to land more than minimally remunerative jobs, it can get pretty cut-throat. On the other hand, in schools where everyone, or everyone but the basement-dwellers, gets hired making six figures (and admittedly there are fewer and fewer of these schools in today’s market), competition among students in not particularly intense. So this measurement could also be defined as “cut-throatedness,” and it is not something that law schools brag about.

    However, I think something else must be going on at BYU. BYU Law is not Cooley or Whittier. I suspect that it may be in part due to the relatively high percentage of married law students. When you’ve got a hungry kid or two at home, you’re more than willing to step on your classmate’s neck to gain the advantage, if need be.

    Maybe someone that went to BYU Law can share his or her perspective on this.

  40. gst
    June 18, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Mark B. is making the same point, I think. I agree with him.

  41. Ugly Mahana
    June 18, 2009 at 11:42 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed BYU. Among other things, I learned that the generalizations I had previously made about “Utah Mormons” were generally false. I also loved the friends I made at Institute back home during summers. These friendships made it so that I cannot abide the idea that those who attend BYU are superior to those who do not. Not every person will benefit from attending BYU. Thus, each person must make his or her own decision. By attending BYU, I grew in ways that would not have been possible elsewhere.

  42. ceejay
    June 18, 2009 at 11:58 am

    “kids that go to the BYU campuses are more likely to marry inside the church and stay active then kids that do not.”

    Is this the best indicator of success?

    Summary of points:
    “BYU is bad because everyone is the same!” vs “BYU is great because everyone is unified religiously!”

    “BYU is great because it’s cheap”

    “BYU is great because it makes people who would otherwise think about being non-Mormon stay Mormon.”

    I’m not totally convinced people should “stay Mormon” for the sake of “staying always a Mormon.” Maybe the best thing for a person is to be not a Mormon for a while instead of getting culturally pressured into it.

  43. Adam Greenwood
    June 18, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Is hiding your candle among thousands of candles any better than hiding it under a bushel? In other words, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves which community we may best serve, rather than which community will best serve us?

    This is why it always upsets me when Mormons go to Church on Sunday. If you’re not in a bar or on a beach on the Sabbath, you’re a coward whose hiding his light.

  44. Adam Greenwood
    June 18, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    “kids that go to the BYU campuses are more likely to marry inside the church and stay active then kids that do not.”

    Is this the best indicator of success?

    I’m going to take a bold, counter-intuitive stance here and say yes. Of course it might be a selection effect, but I’m having a hard time seeing why this would be a bad thing.

    -“Oh, Martha, Martha, what am I going to do, Jenn went off to BYU and now she’s getting married in the temple!” [sobs]
    –“Oh, Patty, come here, I’m so sorry. ” [hugs] “Have you thought about telling her fiancee that she has crabs? I did that with our Liz and she’s still single and getting her first abortion!”

    I kid, but still, I have a hard time seeing the tragedy of having my kids stay active in the Church and get married in the temple. May God curse me with this misfortune.

    I’m not totally convinced people should “stay Mormon” for the sake of “staying always a Mormon.” Maybe the best thing for a person is to be not a Mormon for a while instead of getting culturally pressured into it.

    I’m not sure that people only stay Mormon because they’re pressured into it.

  45. Lon
    June 18, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Re: #43

    Exactly! I’m always a little amazed that some people think it is a sigh of courage to risk something precious to them for unnecessary reasons. I don’t think it’s courageous to walk around a poor inner city neighboorhood with a roll of bills sticking out of your pocket.

  46. Adam Greenwood
    June 18, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Sighs of courage are not consistent with Church standards. Gasps of courage were good enough for Brigham Young and they’re good enough for me.


  47. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    June 18, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I am a University of Utah grad (BA and JD), and felt that I got plenty of LDS culture in the massive Institute program.

    I would like to know the view of non-US LDS who attended BYU. I know that, for LDS students from Japan, BYU-Hawaii and the other BYU campuses provide them an escape hatch from the straitjacket of Japanese higher education, which has separate, and very difficult, exams for each university, only tests people once a year, requires you to continue (or at least pay tuition) every year until you graduate or go through the admissions process all over again, and thus makes it difficult for young men to be active in church (while studying for exams) or to serve LDS missions at 19.

    I also note that none of the commenters has referred to experiences with international students or with foreign languages or international studies as part of the BYU experience. It was my understanding that this was one of the strengths of the business school, both BA and MBA.

    As a Utah JD, my impression is that BYU is certainly giving Utah’s law school a run for its money.

    Regardless of the job it does educating its own students, I feel gratitude for the way the BYU faculty contributes to my deeper understanding of the scriptures and their relationship to other academic disciplines, such as the Maxwell Institute. I share my FARMS books and journals with my adult daughter, who has made them part of her self-taught academic curriculum, such that many of here friends have expressed the thought that she seems to have learned as much as they did during a 4 year degree program. BYU disseminates knowledge far beyond those who are formally enrolled.

  48. Vader
    June 18, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I think that one will leave a mark, Adam.

    I had a choice between Caltech, MIT, or BYU when I finished high school. I chose BYU mostly because (a) it was tons cheaper, and (b) it would have broken my mother’s heart to see me turn down a presidential scholarship at BYU, regardless of financial circumstances. But choosing BYU turned out to be the single best decision I have ever made, for reasons having little to do with expense.

    I later attended a very prestigious graduate program at a university with a minuscule LDS student population. My fellow non-LDS students didn’t seem to have a problem with my religious beliefs; I wish I could have said the same of the professors. I found the environment far more stifling than the “orthodoxy” or “paternalistic administration” at BYU. Of course, the research opportunities far exceeded anything I could have got at BYU in my field. But I found that BYU had taught me well, and now I was ready to complete my training.

  49. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    @43 – “This is why it always upsets me when Mormons go to Church on Sunday. If you’re not in a bar or on a beach on the Sabbath, you’re a coward whose hiding his light.”

    I grant your tongue-in-cheek-itude, but in all seriousness, going to college usually doesn’t involve participating in saving ordinances, like those we receive on the Sabbath. That point aside, are you saying that doing missionary work after church services are over is a waste of time? Or that Utah is the only place where faithful saints should go? Are you really comparing the rest of the world to a bar?

    @45 – “Exactly! I’m always a little amazed that some people think it is a sigh of courage to risk something precious to them for unnecessary reasons. I don’t think it’s courageous to walk around a poor inner city neighboorhood with a roll of bills sticking out of your pocket.”

    Granted, but is it any better to sit locked in your house counting your roll of money and talking about all the good you could do with it? Or is it better to step out of the house and spend or donate it wisely? I’d better never find you sharing your testimony with your neighbors. You would be risking something precious for what you obviously deem unnecessary reasons.

    What I see in these two comments is that you both equate sharing our light and testimony with unnecessary, foolish, risky, or sinful behaviours. When Christ called his disciples to go without purse or scrip and preach to the gentiles, would you have told them they were risking themselves without cause?

    See, I can belabour analogies to the point of breaking with the best of em.

    Two slightly off-topic thoughts which you may address or not, as you wish:

    1. It seems that Utah-Mormons and rest-of-the-world Mormons have completely different prejudices about BYU (making generalizations here, but bear with me). As a ROWM, I tend to see BYU-ians as sheltered, naive, and not quite ready to enter the heathen world beyond the Rockies. How do UM’s see those of us that live in the heathen world? (So there’s no confusion, I claim tongue-in-cheek on this whole point.)

    2. When it comes down to it, shouldn’t a college path be considered with due prayer and fasting, like any other major life decision? Short story: I only considered one college, I only applied to one college, and I was only accepted to one college (and it wasn’t the Y, although they did try to recruit me). I had a firm conviction, through personal revelation, that this was where I was supposed to go. I grew more (spiritually and emotionally) than I would have ever dreamed possible, and I learned a lot about maintaining that growth while on my own, so to speak. As a ROWM, I am often given the impression by UM’s that the only way students may be spiritually fed is at a church school, and all I’m trying to do is show that that isn’t necessarily the case.

    Still, I can’t help but wonder what society as a whole would be like if we planted little mini-BYUs around the world, rather than focusing all those LDS students in one place.

  50. dmt
    June 18, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    “Maybe the best thing for a person is to be not a Mormon for a while instead of getting culturally pressured into it.”

    For many of us outside of Utah and the Mormon Corridor, attending a place like BYU (and similarly Utah/USU) lets us finally “get to be a Mormon” after growing up in places where the cultural pressure is trying to pull us *out* of the church. BYU is where my personal identity as a Mormon solidified, where I suddenly felt part of something larger than the handful of us trudging through 6 am seminary. That feeling of inclusion and social cohesion has incredible power for many of us.

  51. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Whoa! Holy wall-of-text Batman! Didn’t realize that reply was so long. :o

  52. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    @50 – Interesting. My experience was almost exactly opposite. Going somewhere where I had to fight for it even more than as a youth helped me solidify my identity. Just goes to show that every person is different, and we must all take different paths through life.

  53. bbell
    June 18, 2009 at 1:49 pm


    That approach you describe works for some but when you play the averages the average LDS 18 year old college kid is better off regarding staying active if they are surrounded by LDS influence.

    Parents and church leaders understand this pretty well hence the expansion of BYUI. You do not need to go to BYU to get this LDS influence. One of my YM who is currently on a mission was inactive at home and was reactivated at USU and is now serving. I suspect is he had gone to say Nebraska the outcome might have been different. This of course is just one anecdote. But the millions of dollars in tithing funds to me is proof that SLC sees things the way I do.

  54. Dan
    June 18, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    funny that, the whole thing about going to BYU to stay active, my sister went inactive and left the church WHILE she was at BYU. and I was fairly close, if it were not for that dogged Eastern European male stubbornness and the fact that God answered my prayer about whether Joseph Smith was His prophet.

  55. June 18, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    (For Mark B.)

    BYU and its fellow travelers probably costs the Church hundreds of millions of dollars. For those who like to take cues from the prophet, a sign that BYU is a good idea for some, though probably not all, of its intended beneficiaries is that the Church is willing to invest that much money into it.

  56. June 18, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Raymond, I can speak to the “experiences with international students or with foreign languages or international studies as part of the BYU experience”, as you put it considering that I was a double major BA in German and European Studies and lived in the foreign language student residence almost the entire time I was there as an undergraduate. In my opinion, BYU is doing a truly excellent job on this front and has resources in this area that are superior to most state universities and many elite private universities — perhaps even leading among the latter as well.

  57. ceejay
    June 18, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    @44: Thanks for reminding me that some Mormons believe all temple-attending Mormons are awesome and non-Mormons are disgusting vermin to be avoided except at the visitor’s centers.

    @52: Agreed. Living outside of BYU culture, I felt I was regularly defining who I was as a Mormon to exterior forces. At BYU “being a Mormon” wasn’t a huge topic with my roommates.

  58. Hunter
    June 18, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    All of this talk about BYU and BYU culture makes me think that we Mormons really do come hard-wired to live in communities with fellow Mormons. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that BYU fills an apparent need in that way.

  59. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Not to sound flippant, but I was under the impression that that was the reason behind Institute – to provide an enducational LDS atmosphere and encourage spiritual development. I’m not trying to say BYU is horrible and should be dissolved, but if (as you say) the “average LDS 18 year old college kid is better off” by isolating themselves within the Mormon enclave of BYU, perhaps we need to reevaluate how we are raising our children. By the time my son is 18, I would hope his testimony is strong enough to not need that sort of reinforcement, and that he could start to make his own way along a path of spiritual development while providing an example for those around him who may not know the Church. After all, at 19 we expect our young men to be mature enough to go on missions, so why molly-coddle them at 18? We should be raising our young adults to be leaders, not followers. We need more young men and women who can be agents of change in society as a whole. Let’s teach them to do so in their youth, so that when they reach college they can set the pace for their fellows, rather than hiding in an ivory tower.

    BTW, I would agree that the millions of dollars in tithes shows that the general authorities place great value on BYU, but disagree that it naturally follows that they have the same perspective on it that you do.

  60. John Mansfield
    June 18, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    For those who were looking for a post-high school environment where they could display courage in the midst of adversity, it’s neat that an American college was able to fit the requirements and a stint in the French Foreign Legion wasn’t necessary.

  61. bbell
    June 18, 2009 at 3:29 pm


    I hope that your 18 year old and my 5 future 18 year old sons are also strong enough to stand on their own and not need BYU. (Or USU or UOFU etc and their institute programs I agree that Institute can retain kids) However I bet that lots of kids are not ready to stand on their own. You have to play the averages with teenagers. I am willing to bet that no matter how good my parenting skills will be that 1 or 3 or all of my kids if sent to a school with a tiny LDS population will go inactive. The data shows that only 30% of LDS kids will stay active their whole lives. Another 40% will go inactive and then return as adults. The final 30% never comes back. I want all my kids to be in the 70% that is active as adults. Playing the odds BYU followed by USU and UofU seems to be the best bet to get them thru the early adult years active.

    For full disclosure I am not from Utah and do not live there now.

  62. June 18, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    “That approach you describe works for some but when you play the averages the average LDS 18 year old college kid is better off regarding staying active if they are surrounded by LDS influence.”

    I probably would have gone to BYU if money hadn’t been a factor (it was cheaper for me live with family and go the California public institutions of higher learning route — community college, then UC, then CSU for grad school).

    My personal (emphasis on personal — I have no desire for Church leaders to come out and say this or anything like that) suggestion is that Mormon parents who live in California should strongly consider advising their kids to stay in-state. If less of the wealthy and/or smart and/or super-active Mormon youth went to BYU, then they could do a lot to help strengthen the Institute programs in California, which are nowhere near as strong as they should be in relation to the strength of, for example, family wards in the same area. I don’t think that this should be a mandate or even a default position. I fully understand that the most rational decision is if you can get in to BYU, you should go.

    But I think that it should be a factor in the decision-making process. The problem with playing the averages is that too many of the best kids* go off to BYU. Save those spots for the kids from other states and those who can’t get in to top-tier UC shools or Stanford or USC or the Claremont Colleges, etc. And even more importantly, it’s amazing how a few high-achieving kids with strong testimonies can leaven a whole Institute program. I now regret that even though I went to Calif. schools, I attended a family ward with my grandparents instead of contributing to the local singles/college ward.

    I think that the averages would be even better if more of the California kids stayed closer to home. According to this page, Californians made up 13% of the fall 2008 enrollment. Not an outrageous percentage by any means, but still close to triple of the next state.

    For members in other states that have less of a concentration of Mormons, I think the BYU route is much more understandable.

    * And I know that’s reflective of perhaps some major stereotypes. But based on the wards I know, I would still say that, yeah, the vast majority of the best kids — the ones that provided the best influence on other youth and were awesome examples for their high schools and community — went to BYU.

  63. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 3:50 pm


    I appreciate the response. I know that individual temperament figures a lot into such discussions as well. I (and my son, I fear) are strong individualists at heart – the less charitable would call me a rebellious heretic (oh wait, that’s how I describe myself). In my case, the more I feel pressure from a group to conform, the less likely I am to do so. If I come to a conclusion on my own, however, I will hold onto it tooth and nail. I have to work a lot on the ‘humble’ and ‘teachable’ aspects.

    I have to wonder, if the youth associated with the stats you quote were given an opportunity to self-identify with certain traits, how they would sort out. I wonder if we could do a better job as parents of identifying the personality traits in our children that would indicate greater or lesser success at a church college vs other colleges, rather than having a horde of doting mothers and fathers blindly pushing their children at BYU.

    On a more practical note, it’s just not feasible for all, or even a majority, of LDS youth to go to a church-sponsored school. In our efforts to raise strong youth, I think we should view it as a luxury to attend one, but continue to do our best to raise our children to stand on their own in another place (as most of them will be called to do).

    BTW, where did you get the stats? I’m interested in the study(ies) that produced the numbers.

  64. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 3:55 pm


    Your post reminds me of a trend we have seen in church history. At first, converts were encouraged to gather in the US – later, they were told to stay in their countries of birth and help build the kingdom there. For a while (in the last few decades), there was a wave of members who would pack up camp and move to Missouri – eventually, Church leaders said to stay where they were and build up the kingdom at home. I wonder if there will come a time when BYU will see a similar change, where the leadership says ‘Go to other colleges, and start building up the kingdom there, rather than moving to Utah’.

  65. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Ooh ooh ooh, another question: Does BYU develop active young adults, or do active young adults gravitate toward BYU? Would keeping the stronger youth closer to home help them change the stats quoted by bbell? That is, if all the active kids go to BYU, who is left to support their friends who stay home or go to other colleges? If the active kids stayed in their local communities, do you suppose they would wind up giving the type of support to the less-active-prone needed to keep them active? Is the fact that active kids go to BYU causing a valuable support structure to dissolve, contributing to the loss of the less-active?

  66. bbell
    June 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I wonder if there will come a time when BYU will see a similar change, where the leadership says ‘Go to other colleges, and start building up the kingdom there, rather than moving to Utah’.

    The Bretheren did this starting about 15 years ago. Then Pres Hinckley decided to massively expand Ricks College all of a sudden. My sources in the church office building tell me that Ricks was expanded because the bretheren were seeing increasing inactivity amongst college aged kids and wanted to provide more opportunity for the BYU exp and the resulting retention that results. BYUI even has a really unique semester schedule that allows a few thousand more students to study full time.

  67. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    So do you suppose that is a permanent change, or is it one of those ‘for the time being, until the members get their act together’ type of things?

  68. bbell
    June 18, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    I have no idea. I think its impossible to provide a BYU exp for every LDS kid. I wish we could but realize we cannot. I simply see BYU as the ideal.

  69. mjp
    June 18, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Approximately 5,000 of BYU’s undergraduates are from California. Most could be accepted to one of the 8 University of California campuses (Berkeley, UCLA, Irvine, Davis, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Riverside, Santa Cruz and Merced) and receive a (more or less) similar quality education for a (more or less) similar price. If divided among the 8 campuses there would be more than 600 Mormon students per campus–enough for a very strong Mormon presence on campus and a very strong institute program.

    Instead, the current number active Mormon undergraduates on these campuses is in the 30 to 60 range (based on my knowledge of Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego and Davis). Most of these students have a great social and religious experience though student wards, LDSSA and institute, but it would certainly be enhanced if they had 10 or 20 times as many Mormon peers.

    I think Mormons (especially those in California), should be as concerned as any other drastically underrepresented miniority group about the social effects of their underrepresentation in the UC system. (My non-Mormon peers are uniformly shocked by how few Mormons are in the UCs (even though they generally have a positive view of BYU).

    Since Mormons are so underrepresented, UC faculty can teach without assuming there will be Mormon students in their classrooms. UC students can participate in four years of classroom discussions without any insightful or surprising contributions by a Mormon student. Both faculty and students can assume Mormons either are far less common in the state than in their high school or just weren’t smart enough to get into a UC. don’t really exist in California Mormons are left out of the lifelong social bonds that are formed among UC students and UC students miss the opportunity to have meaningful social relationships with Mormons–the kind that happen almost uniquely when you are an undergraduate. UC students remember their (immature) Mormon peers from high school who all went off to BYU and miss the opportunity to be exposed those same peers as returned missionaries.

  70. Ugly Mahana
    June 18, 2009 at 5:59 pm


    Your rhetoric is biting. I grew up in Ohio, and now live outside of Washington, D.C. The only time I lived in Utah was while I attended BYU. Like many BYU alumni, I am not a Utah Mormon (Not that there is anything wrong with the Mormons in Utah. Just keep your demography straight.) I did not need or desire insularity to keep me in the Church, but attending BYU improved my life in ways that I could not have foreseen. Among other things, my experience at BYU increased my social skills because I did not have to develop them while simultaneously explaining why I did not care to drink alcohol, and then being ditched. (Note: this says a lot more about me than about the students of any other school that I may have attended. Which is my point. BYU is right for some, even if it was not right for you.) Meeting people from all over the United States and, indeed, the world, also led me to be more sympathetic to others’ ways of thinking.

    Following my mission, I went to BYU only after receiving confirmation that doing so was right for me. As I stated above, I had many good friends who chose otherwise. And I had conversations in which we discussed our choices. Just because BYU was not right for you does not mean that it is not right for others. Why do you feel compelled to decry their choice? Why are you so offended that some of us feel positively about our alma mater?

  71. Tim
    June 18, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Maybe there are a few things almost everyone can agree on. First, rely on personal revelation to make the decision. Second, if from an area with a fairly large number of Mormons (most of the western US), highly consider going to school closer to home, where you can still be surrounded by members. I know I didn’t appreciate my religion as much at BYU as I did in California, where I was usually the only Mormon around at work, etc. but had a strong single’s ward, with a lot of social activities, for religious security. Third, BYU is probably best for students from the south, east, midwest, etc. (as well as international students) who get to experience, many for the first time, a large group of members their own age–and tuition is cheap.
    I enjoyed BYU, but part of me regrets going there. I wish I would’ve gone to a local school instead, where my faith would’ve mattered more to others, and where I still would’ve been able to interact with members on a daily basis. Had I done that, I also would’ve left a spot open for some Mormon kid from Cleveland, or some other place where there’s not much of an LDS singles community.
    Oh, one more point–I think one of the reasons BYU students are more likely to stay active is because they were the type to choose BYU in the first case. A better method of determining if going to BYU helps kids stay active would be to compare activity rates of those who’d gone to BYU with activity rates of those who applied, but got rejected and went elsewhere.

  72. Tim
    June 18, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Sorry. “Choose BYU in the first place.” And “who’d” should be “who’ve.”

  73. Trenden
    June 18, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    My wife and I each went to BYU as undergraduate students and then went to the University of Utah for graduate school. We enjoyed both experiences though we each found BYU much more competitive and academically rigorous. In fact, there was just no comparison. In any case, BYU was just what I needed as a 17 year old kid with a shaky testimony and secret love for alcohol. The friends I made my freshman year at BYU were fantastic kids, helped me get on a mission, and are sill my friends 20 years later! Church schools are not for everyone but I don’t understand the open hostility some church members have for them.

  74. Palad
    June 18, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Ugly Mahana

    I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to come off sounding that way. Most of what I said was in response to a feeling I was getting from other posts that BYU is the only positive option for LDS students — kind of the same way you’re feeling, but from the other side of the fence. What I really want to get at are the underlying assumptions that fall into our (church members) blind spots. I fully support and respect the fact that each person must find their own path in life, and while we may pass some of the same scenic views, every trip is (and must be) unique. I definitely didn’t mean to cause any hard feelings. I don’t feel any hostility toward the church schools, but I sometimes feel the need to defend my own choice not to go to one.

  75. nasty, brutish, three years long
    June 18, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    BYU Law: enter to step on your classmate’s neck, go forth to serve in exalted legal spheres.*

    *Top 5% of each graduating class only.

  76. June 18, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Is BYU the only positive option for LDS students? Of course not. There are many great schools to attend. And I know that BYU isn’t right for everyone.

    I loved every minute of my BYU experience. After growing up in a very small town in Wyoming, dealing with the frustrations of small-town life, desiring for independence in a relatively safe environment, BYU was the haven I had hoped it would be. I grew intellectually and spiritually. I made friends there that have changed my life. BYU has opened many doors for me and my husband as we have traveled the world.

  77. Nate F
    June 18, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    I did my undergraduate at UCSD. At some point during my junior year scientific reason really started to come into conflict with my testimony. By the end of my senior year I was only marginally active at church and had completely given up on institute. I managed to stop attending both with what seemed to me at the time hardly anyone noticing.

    A friend once suggested that she thought BYU would have been good for me because there would have been a lot of smart and devoted students and professors that could have helped me contextualize issues of faith that I was having. Its tough to say whether that would have been the case or not, but I thought it was a valid point. It may not be a bastian of free thought or individuality, but BYU seems to do a good job at helping students through a vulnerable time in life and for that it should be applauded.

  78. June 18, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Meh. It’s a good school, but there are upsides and downsides there just like anywhere else. If a student likes it, and they have a good program for what they want to study (they are the best in the nation for animation, for instance) then it’s a great place. If aspects of Mormon culture rub you the wrong way, then it may not be a good fit, because that culture is amplified in the BYU setting.

  79. June 18, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    (I meant “culture” as distinct from “gospel.” Sometimes the trouble comes when the former is confused with the latter.)

  80. Tim
    June 18, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    77-without knowing the details of your experience, let me say that I think that often when scientific reason starts coming into conflict with testimony, church customs (and not doctrine) are more to blame than anything else.
    Henry Eyring spoke of this when he warned against those in the church who would teach of a young earth. Basically, he said that if the youth learned (falsely) that the church taught that the earth was only a few thousand years old, then went out and got a good science education and learned that the earth is definitely not just a few thousand years old, they might throw the baby out with the bath (or the gospel out with the false science).
    BYU (or at least the science classes at BYU) are great for teaching students that religion and science can be compatible. But really, there’s no reason for everyone to learn that before going to college.
    I am eternally grateful for an intelligent, educated high school science teacher/LDS bishop. Had I not attended BYU, his wise words about how he saw no conflict between science and religion (while teaching evolution) may have saved my testimony; as I did attend BYU, and professors there told me the same thing, that science teacher stood as a great example for me (and changed my perspective a little earlier in life). I’m sure he made a difference in other student’s lives, especially those LDS students who studied science at non-church schools.
    I will say that it’s impossible to learn a lot about science and honestly deny it. The evidence (for the age of the earth as well as for evolution) is just too overwhelming. If I’d been born as a JW or a member of any other anti-science religion, I would have left that religion a long time ago due to the anti-science beliefs.

  81. Tim
    June 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Sorry. Culture, not customs. Although perhaps customs works too…

  82. June 18, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    I do find it somewhat strange that BYU doesn’t offer any religious studies programs apart from CES, ie: studying to be a seminary/institute teacher. I wish that they offered some kind of rigorous program like this. (Ideally, some of that approach would bleed over into up-and-coming seminary teachers.)

  83. sscenter
    June 18, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    When considering a school for my children I will encourage them and myself on their behalf to be very selfish at that moment. If it seems that BYU is the best option, that is where we will go, regardless if they could build up the local area. I live in Indiana where there are very few active youth that stay in the area. Most go to BYU or BYU-I. However, many come back after school, married in the temple and very active and are a great blessing to the area and our ward in particular.

    I have always seen BYU as a breeding ground of sorts for strong LDS families. They meet at BYU and then proliferate throughout the country, building up local areas when they move. I guess my point is that college, while important, is such a limited experience that I think lamenting how these kids don’t stay to build up local areas is shortsighted.

  84. Adam Greenwood
    June 18, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with disgusting vermin. Some of my best friends are disgusting vermin.

  85. Nate F
    June 19, 2009 at 12:47 am

    80 – It was more complicated than just science vs religion, but that is what set the ball in motion. Many things that I saw as being in irreconcilable conflict at the time, no longer seem that way. After taking a sabbatical from church for a while I found that I missed it a lot more than I thought I would. =)

  86. Megan
    June 19, 2009 at 1:59 am

    Regarding the whole BYU (and Utah colleges/universities) vs. others.

    My experience: I spent a summer at BYU as a student (purely for fun). I loved it. It was exactly what I had expected it would be – ridiculous, so cheesy and Mormon, and lots of fun. Tons of fun, actually. Almost too much fun.

    The rest of my college career was spent on the east coast – and I loved that as well (although it was certainly harder and did not involve the constant fun and goofing off I had experienced during summer at BYU). I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I 100 percent made the right decision to not go to BYU, even though the cost was higher, since I would not have had to pay BYU tuition.

    I don’t think there is a cut and dry answer for what other people should do. I do know that there is a reason that the church has chosen to not build new schools – because they want some students branching out and strengthening the institute programs. I think that this is especially true for students who get into exceptionally good schools, where going someplace other than BYU will get them an education that BYU cannot provide (not that BYUs academic standards are low at all – they are actually quite high and I was impressed by the intelligence of most of my peers while I was there).

    In comment 53 bbell says:

    “One of my YM who is currently on a mission was inactive at home and was reactivated at USU and is now serving. I suspect is he had gone to say Nebraska the outcome might have been different.”

    That is certainly true. For this young man, going to school in Utah was probably one of the best things he could ever do (or that his parents could coerce him into doing). Didn’t hurt that he had a full ride, making the decision quite easy.

    However, this young man also got into BYU, a place that would almost certainly have been bad for him, given where he was, spiritually, at that time. Utah State was good for him in a way that BYU wouldn’t have been.

    I’m this kid’s older sister, and like I said, I didn’t go to school in Utah. I didn’t even to school in place where there was a single’s ward. Yet I stayed active, graduated in four years, got a great education, and have plans to serve a mission. I’ve seen the difference that a few strong young people can have on a single institute program. Shoot, I’ve BEEN that difference. For kids who can be that difference, who want to be, and who have the means to be – I say go for it. It will be a tremendous blessing for you and others. For those who aren’t in the same situation, well, BYU is a great place and a great education too.

  87. Dan
    June 19, 2009 at 6:49 am

    My other concern with religious institutions of higher learning comes from the fact that when trying to learn about the world around us, religious institutions tend to be more restrictive of the questions that can be asked, challenging the norm, less likely to allow for thinking outside the box. It is amazing that science has been able to break out of the religiously suffocated box that the Western world has lived through for so many generations, that it is now almost universally accepted in the Western world that Darwin’s theory of natural selection works. If religions had been in charge, Darwin would not have been allowed to think like that.

    This is a problem that faces even a religion like ours, which is far more accommodating to science than many others, but still faces some of the same pitfalls. We have a version of “what happened” in the world that is judged by the culture, history, and doctrine we’ve been given by flawed men. Let’s take a question like “why do some people have a darker pigmentation in their skin?” Church doctrine and philosophy, as instituted by Brigham Young dictates that it has something to do with Cain. If you were at BYU, say in the 1920s, and you thought it had something to do with something completely different, and Cain had absolutely nothing to do with it, how well could you pursue your research? How much of BYU’s resources could you use without threat of expulsion for going against church teachings?

    For our day, let’s say a BYU student wanted to add to the research done at non-religious schools on why same gender attraction is what it is. How far could that student actually go using BYU resources?

    Can a religious institution be at the cutting edge of research that pushes the boundaries into the world that we don’t know yet? Or would the dictates of said university and its religious patron hobble such efforts from the start?

    When the world around us surprises us with something we did not expect previously, which some might take as a sign against the existence of a Supreme Being, Mormons tend to appreciate it as part of the world we don’t understand but we believe God created. What if science proves that homosexuality is a completely natural phenomenon? (Please, I don’t want to get into the issue of homosexuality, but just the educational implications. I only use it as the example, because it has an educational point). Could such research ever emanate from a religious institution?

  88. June 19, 2009 at 8:06 am

    I enjoyed my time at BYU. I dislike the administration, but the professors and students are first rate. I started college at a very highly-rated East Coast liberal arts school, but I didn’t like it there and transferred to BYU, mostly because it was the easiest school to transfer to. I was surprised when I found BYU to be more academically rigorous than the supposedly better school that I’d left behind! Several other experiences led me to figure out that BYU really is a great school if you want to get an education.

    BYU has some weird policies, no doubt, and it has just as much politics and drama amongst the administration and professors as any other university (which is, let’s be honest, obnoxious), but you do get a first-rate education there. When I transferred, I thought I’d regret leaving the higher rated school behind, even though I wasn’t happy there. I’m happy to say, I never have regretted it.

    I also enjoyed the Mormonness of the experience.

  89. Ben
    June 19, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Dan, you’re quite the leftist ;) SEveral of my professors talked about their experiences teaching at schools “unfettered” by religious commitment, but just as narrow as you are suggesting.

    By contrast, one of my religion professors had a background in Psychology. He published an article that argued quite strongly for a biological component in homosexuality. What happened to him? He got called to Salt Lake… to be on the Sunday School Presidency ;)

  90. Aaron
    June 19, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Sorry to say I did not find BYU especially uplifting at all. Confession time: I’ve been inactive twice in my life. One of those times was at BYU. I felt much more alive as a member of the church and as a spiritual person when I attended a small public school and attended institute classes.

  91. Mike
    June 19, 2009 at 10:36 am

    I have been out of college (USU) for so long that the only thing I remember is this little ditty:

    Where the girls are girls,
    And the boys are too.

    Where the boys are boys,
    And the sheep are nervous.

    On a serious note:

    My ward seems to attract freshly minted young couples from BYU who come to Georgia for their first job or graduate school before moving back west or out into the far suburbs. Many of them are the kind of people who would make any parent proud. However, a disturbingly large minority are arrogant and self-righteous beyond reason. (“ridin’ the iron rod” in contrast to just holding onto it.) They are obsesed with enforcing ridiculous rules that they make up and claim are from the top. (“laying it on the prophet.”) And it seems the ward leadership is too often blinded by their zeal and inspired to give them callings in the youth programs.

    The result is that the youth in my word have developed a sour image of BYU and would never consider actually going there. Exceptions include an illegal immigrant and children of alumni who can be reassured that not everyone at BYU is like that. Sometimes the people at BYU who think they are the most steadfast are doing the most damage when they go forth. I think BYU needs to stop churning out so many of these modern Pharisees.

  92. Mike
    June 19, 2009 at 11:09 am

    One other thing:

    I have watched my children and their LDS friends go through high school where they are only a small minority, or in grade school when they were the only LDS family. It seems these youth have taken one of two approaches when it comes to dealing with the uniqueness of their religion. Many LDS kids try to stay hunkered down inside the Mormon fortress as much as possible. Their perspective is that everyone around them is taking drugs or getting drunk and layed night and day. Or doing something else unspeakably evil. They ignore or reject their LDS friends, if they do any of these things. They see the world as made up of a few good LDS people and mostly wicked, dangerous trash outside the LDS church.

    The other group approaches their non-LDS friends from the perspective that many if not most people are basically good. Not every teenager is getting drunk and at least half are still virtuous in high school. They seek out honest decent friends who are not members of the church but who share many of their crucial core values. They don’t confuse a cup of coffee with cocaine, or a tank top with nudity. Even if a friend drank a can of beer last week or committed an immoral act the summer before, it is not grounds for termination of a friendship. Good friends respect each other and allow each other to make their own choices. And what these LDS youth find is that more than half of the teenagers out there are at least as good as their friends in the LDS church.

    Perhaps this will all change in college, we shall see. Now, I am just wondering which approach some of those who made comments above grew up with and if they ever have actually peeked out of Fortress Mormon?

  93. Amy S
    June 19, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Since I am posting waaaay down here at the bottom of the thread it is probably too late for anyone to read it. But here goes…

    I chose to stay in Florida and go to the state university near me. This was about the time Pres. Hinckley began encouraging LDS to build up the institute programs rather than by default going to BYU.

    I have never regretted that decision. I met my husband in our very small institute program. From that small program we started the first singles ward. It was a small branch at the time. Today, it is quite large and after marraige my husband even served as a counselor in the ward. From that ward other singles wards began popping up around the area. Because I married a man from my area, we stayed here. We have worked hard to serve in our stake and build the stake up. Just a month ago we split yet again into another stake. I am only a 2nd generation member and have no pioneer ancestors, but how I feel we are building up the church just as President Hinckley directed. It has been a marvelous thing.

    Tim, I am sure you didn’t mean to be offensive when you wrote, “I think one of the reasons BYU students are more likely to stay active is because they were the type to choose BYU in the first case.” But I did not choose BYU and am active and faithful. I don’t think choosing BYU is measure of your strength in the gospel.

    Dan, I’m sorry that someone labeled you a “Korihor.” I promise though, if you went to college somewhere else you would have been labeled something else just as lovely the first time you didn’t drink, etc.” There are ignorant people everywhere.

    I don’t think going to BYU guarantees your kids will “make it” in the church. Giving them a firm foundation is your best bet, and then the rest is up to them. Satan doesn’t tempt you less depending on your college.

    I got my scholarship in speech and debate and I have been to hell and back when it comes to peer pressure and being on the road. I was questioned often for why an 18-year-old would stay in a church that gives you so many rules and is so oppressive. Guess what? It required me to find an answer, and I did. Have some faith in your kids. GIve them that firm foundation. Whether they choose BYU or not, all can be will.

  94. June 19, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Duh, that would be well not will. Much more eloquent that way.

  95. Taylor
    June 19, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    [with apologies in advance for the novelette…]

    @Mike (92)… I was one of those small-minority Mormons who grew up in Central Illinois. I was also solidly in your second camp (the one where everyone is basically good.) My circle of friends in high school included *the* other LDS guy in my graduating class of 500+, a few Catholics (active and lapsed), several really cool Mennonites, a few Buddhists (including one who has since become a full-fledged orange robe-wearing monk), several outspoken Atheists, Baptists, Evangelicals, and a wide variety of nationalities. (Yeah, it was a college town.) To this day, they are dear friends, great men and women, with solid heads on their shoulders, strong families, and outstanding values. Almost all of us are still in contact (thanks to Facebook) and much of that crowd showed up a few years ago when the other LDS guy got married in the San Diego temple.

    …and yet I absolutely loved BYU. As was mentioned above, I loved getting to know kindred spirits from Portland and D.C. and Del Norte and Clearwater and Spokane and Tokyo and Chiapas and Cape Town and La Paz that I would have been hard pressed to meet had I stayed home to support the local institute (taught by my mother in our living room) at Illinois State.

    And yeah, call me shallow if you must, but after watching the struggles my younger brother endured in finding his eternal companion back in the amazingly shallow dating puddle of the midwest (after “escaping” BYU unmarried) I am also very grateful for the chance to have been in close proximity to 10,000 or so eligible LDS single women for several years. Having grown up in a place where I had already gone out with *the* LDS girl my age in my home ward and the dozen or so others within a two-hour driving radius, the unfathomable diversity of the BYU dating pool was an amazing breath of fresh air. ;-)

    …and just to put a bow on the story, my brother moved to Arizona in his late thirties to further his quest and married a wonderful LDS lady (also in her late thirties) who had stayed home and attended ASU. That plan certainly works for some, too. No argument there.

    With fifteen years of hindsight, I greatly value the exposure that a few short years at BYU gave me to a diverse variety of church leadership styles. Each of my many bishops (from the religion professor to the engineering professor to the local businessman to the retired captain of the Los Angeles SWAT team) were remarkably unique in their leadership styles, and the recognition that church leadership need *not* be a one-trick pony has been invaluable.

    I could go on and on about my perspective on the Engineering program at BYU and the amazing job they do in preparing graduates to be productive contributors and leaders in my field and the cool comments I get from customers and colleagues who observe the outstanding work that the BYU grads do in our industry and ask “What’s in the water in Provo?”

    All in all, I’m grateful for my “Zion’s Camp” years in Provo. I have no desire to live there now, but in my ever-so-humble opinion, the years I spent “inside Fortress Mormon” (your words) were very complementary to the rest of my life outside it — and certainly in no way detrimental.

  96. Dan
    June 19, 2009 at 1:51 pm



    I’m not a leftist. I’m a centrist. Just clearing that up. :)

  97. Mike
    June 19, 2009 at 1:51 pm


    I am not saying never go near the fortress, just that a trip outside it might not be so bad. There may be times when your circumstances require you to be in the Mormon fortress. I agree with you 100% and I think your life experiences support what I am trying to say.

    I have never been to BYU for more than a few hours. I suspect that BYU does not equal fortress except for those who make it so, which might be quite a few of them. Many of the people you describe meeting at BYU do not sound like fortress Mormons to me. I have not defined these terms very clearly but it seems people know what I mean.

  98. Paula
    June 19, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I live in California, and see families in my ward who live in 2 million dollar houses with boats and fancy cars sending off seven or eight kids to BYU. I’d be happier about that if BYU’s tuition subsidy were need-based. That would probably lead to more LDS students going to local universities where they could build up the local institutes. I don’t see why families who barely make enough to survive should be subsidizing the tuition through their tithing dollars for wealthy families.

    My own sons have gone to other universities, and it was a shock to me when we did college tours to see how small the institute programs are even at large UCs or Stanford, where one son goes. I think, as another comment said earlier, that it would do a lot of good to have a larger LDS presence at these schools. How do you let your light so shine, if it’s huddled under the same bushel with everyone else in Provo?

  99. Grimsby
    June 19, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    I went to BYU and Ricks after my mission because I figured I’d better surround myself with folks of like values, to help me stay on the straight and narrow. Dunno if it worked or not. :-P
    I liked the Church schools fine, had some great roommates who are still my best friends, and of course met my sweetheart there.
    And like others here, the presence of faculty/staff/administration/students who assumed BYU policy == Church doctrine drove me crazy.
    After five years, I was glad to get the heck away, but in defense of BYU, I think after five years of jumping through academic hoops, I’d have felt that way no matter where I went to college.
    Three of our kids have gone there, so I guess my experience was positive overall.

  100. Tim
    June 19, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    I’m sorry; I guess my comment sounded wrong. What I was trying to say is that many LDS students choose not to go to BYU because they do not want to remain active in the church; many others choose not to go to BYU because some other choice is a better option, but they still very much want to stay active (and generally succeed).

  101. Tim
    June 19, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    My experience going to Stanford institute was that it was actually a pretty decent size. Having two young singles wards helps (although I guess it’s possible they have two separate institutes now, one for each ward). I’m guessing we had 40 or 50 people show up to institute each week, and when that’s combined with FHE, tutoring, and all the other stuff that goes on at that ward house, it’s a thriving community.

  102. Mark D.
    June 20, 2009 at 2:58 am

    Raise a billion dollars for startup costs, and no doubt BYU California could sustain itself on tithing subsidies after that.

  103. Dan
    June 20, 2009 at 6:31 am


    Please, it doesn’t take a billion dollars to start up a university. Seriously, Harvard University’s budget is $2.7 billion. You could start a college with maybe $100 million. I mean, the Olin Foundation spent $200 million to create Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts (a beautiful campus by the way), which INCLUDED full tuition for all students.


    They started their first year with 30 students. And currently they’re one of the top engineering schools in the nation. Just like that. In just seven years. And Massachusetts is no cheap state, comparable to California. If it can be done there, surely it can be done in California.

  104. Dan
    June 20, 2009 at 8:22 am

    By the way, Mitt Romney has the capability of starting up a university. It might be more lucrative for him than constantly trying to win an election (he won’t). He’ll influence generations upon generations.

  105. It's Not Me
    June 20, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Re #87: The priesthood restriction was a policy, not a doctrine. That seems to get lost on a lot of people.

  106. Dan
    June 20, 2009 at 8:42 am


    Was I talking about the priesthood restriction?

  107. Mark D.
    June 20, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Dan, There would be little point in starting a BYU California without the capacity to serve 5000 students. The Olin College of Engineering enrolls just over 300.

    The Church does not borrow money. If it builds a campus, the Church builds it with money on hand. Either way 1 billion dollars to build a BYU quality campus initially capable of serving 5000 students is a relatively conservative figure. As an example of the costs involved, the Marriott library expansion / remodel at the University of Utah cost ~$54 million dollars.

    The tuition that students at BYU pay is a small fraction of the real cost. LDS undergraduates pay ~$4,000 per year in tuition. The Church subsidizes each full time student at least $10,000 per year on top of that. The subsidies at public institutions are comparable. Needless to say, providing free education for 300 students is a bit more practical than providing free education for 30,000 – although BYU comes close.

  108. Paula
    June 20, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Tim, how long ago were you at Stanford? I had high hopes for the institute there, but there were only about 5 undergrads (our of 11 LDS undergrads) attending when my son started there. There was an older group, but there didn’t seem to be much mixing. I realize that Stanford’s hard to get into, but it was disappointing that there weren’t more LDS kids there. I can’t speak to the situation there now, even though he’s in an MS program there. He hasn’t been active since his freshman year. (And I don’t think that BYU would have made a difference in that decision.)

  109. Dan
    June 20, 2009 at 4:00 pm


    Who says that you need to start with 5000 students?

  110. sscenter
    June 20, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    This idea that BYU is so restrictive while other schools are so open is pure fantasy. My school was a public school and very liberal. You were not allowed to discuss religion in almost any class and my wife received an F on an assignment (her overall GPA was about 3.8 so this was very unusual) where she called Joseph Smith an effective communicator. When she protested the professor stated that Joseph Smith was similar to Adolf Hitler. Most schools have some sort of agenda you are expected to follow. You simply choose one with an agenda that matches your own.

  111. Mark D.
    June 20, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Dan, because the only reason to build a BYU California would be to expand the number of students the BYU system can serve. BYU has nearly 30,000 students, 4200 or so are from California. For the Church, building a small campus would be a waste of money.

    By way of comparison, BYU Idaho currently serves ~13,000 students and that is about double from what they were before the transition.

    In any case, if it were a sufficient priority, coming up with a billion dollars over three or four years of construction would be no object. The recent BYU Idaho expansion could easily have cost half that. The current BYU (all institution) subsidy is probably somewhere in the range of 400 to 500 million (~$10K/student) a year, not counting major capital expenses (like building or doubling the size of a university).

  112. Dan
    June 20, 2009 at 7:14 pm


    When Ricks College first started, how many students did it have?

  113. Mark D.
    June 21, 2009 at 12:47 am

    Dan, you are wasting your time. It is not the year 1888 any more.

  114. Mark D.
    June 21, 2009 at 12:52 am

    By the way, Ricks College still had an enrollment of 200 in 1944. No doubt if the Church starts out that way, BYU California will be a roaring success in the year 2130 or so.

  115. Tim
    June 21, 2009 at 6:29 am

    There was an on-campus institute class during the day, and that may be what you’re talking about. I recall the guy that taught that class telling me the class was small. I wasn’t a student, and had work at that time, so I never attended. I also recall that the younger ward (18 to 24 or 25) was a good mix of Stanford students (probably more grad students than undergrads), locals, young professionals, and nannies. The older ward was primarily professionals. This was maybe four years ago. I have no idea how many Stanford undergrads there were, although the numbers weren’t huge. At that time, there was a weekly institute class, held in the evening, at the ward house (which is very close to campus). That class had much better attendance–maybe 30 to 50 (although I think that both the younger ward and the older ward attended). I also remember weekly unofficial ward ultimate games, weekly tutoring local kids, weekly FHE, and a host of other activities. Great social opportunities (and more structured activities than any BYU ward).
    I have no idea what it’s like right now.
    It is sad that there aren’t more LDS undergrads at Stanford, especially considering the number of locals in the area. BYU takes them (including the multi-millionaires whose kids earn good enough grades to get into Stanford, and who would have no problem paying Stanford tuition). I do think that BYU would be smart to charge students more, on a graded scale, if their parents make over, say, $150,000/year.

  116. Dan
    June 21, 2009 at 11:36 am


    I’m just saying, you don’t need to start with a huge number in order to create a fantastic school. I’m only critiquing your $1 billion comment. You don’t need to start with so much.

  117. Mark D.
    June 21, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Dan, I am saying that the the Church isn’t inclined to half measures, and if it were serious about BYU California as an independent institution it would plan on spending at least one billion dollars and plan on accomodating 5000 students within the first five years.

    You should remember that one billion dollars is only enough to build a relatively small campus. Duplicating the existing BYU campus, for example, would probably cost about four billion.

    Speaking of recent Church expansions in the educational arena, the Church very recently moved LDS Business College into much larger quarters in the Triad Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Considering the purchase of three office towers and two parking structures, that move probably cost about 100 million dollars – for an initial enrollment of 1400.

  118. John Williams
    June 23, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Last I heard, BYU-Provo had a 70% acceptance rate. That’s high.

    I think BYU-Idaho should be re-branded to avoid confusion. Maybe it could be named after Spencer W. Kimball or something.

  119. June 23, 2009 at 10:20 am

    BYU was a great education! Your post however, reminded me of James R. Kearl’s and Hugh W. Nibley’s concerns about Careerism at BYU which have often caused me to reflect upon my own educational pursuits.

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