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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Kudos to BYU

I spent a couple days this week at BYU on behalf of my employer, and came away more impressed than ever with the quality of that university. (Disclosure: yes, I'm an alumnus, and biased.) After seeing some students and talking with a lot of professors, I brushed off my very positive reaction with the assumption that I was seeing what I wanted to see (though there was no way not to be impressed with some of the technology and research programs I encountered). But then I went to another outstanding school in the West and had a meeting with a professor who had been there for over a decade and who recently taught at BYU as a guest professor. She enthusiastically told me how much better she thought BYU students were - brighter, more motivated, more enjoyable to teach. She is not LDS and had no reason to give any spin to her experiences - she just volunteered that information out of the blue when we talked about her experiences at the two universities. Her perspective jived with what I have been seeing recently.

I offer this not to inflate the egos of BYU people, but to encourage those who are considering BYU (but if you are at BYU and tempted to be overly proud, let me offer just one word to humble you: football). The university has made tremendous progress over the years (especially since the dark days of 1984 when BYU won the National Championship in football, bringing academic and spiritual progress to a standstill - yes, I was there then, and saw the disaster firsthand). In addition to a great student body and outstanding professors, it's also a remarkably safe place to go or to send your kids: so much freer of the grotesque vices of the world that destroy thousands of lives at the lauded "top" universities of our nation, including some universities where it's hard to find students who are consistently sober or free of venereal disease.

Kudos to faculty members, students, and administrators who make Church universities such great places to be. I know there are many flaws, but I'm thrilled that my own kids have been leaning toward undergraduate education there.

16 comments:

Jay Mortensen said...

Nice to hear others affirming my own view of BYU students. (Disclosure: I never attended BYU, but one daughter is an alumnus, the other is a current student.)

CJ said...

Amen, Jeff. And as an alum, I'd like to mention that BYU has just been voted Most Fit College Campus by Men's Health! I knew my hard body was good for something.

Mike Parker said...

Technically, Jay, your daughter is an alumna. :-)

Joshua said...

BYU is a nice place. I currently attend there as an undergrad. I used to be so used to hearing profanities and obscenities everywhere. It's a nice place.

Anonymous said...

im a junior at UCLA and though i agree byu is a healthy environment to go to school, it causes the student ward and institute at ucla to be quite small. people always want to transfer up to utah, rather than "build up the stakes of zion" in ucla. it causes the campus to have little to no LDS student voice, and those few students like me who do attend there don't have the opportunity to meet as many latter day saints who will influence us to have wholesome activities for fun.

moreover i have heard first hand from my sister who is a freshman at byu that many of the students there do not follow the honor code in any way shape or form. there is rampant making out, watching of R-rated movies, profanity, immodesty as female students sunbathe in bikinis in offcampus student housing, and more. many of the students brag about their less-than-admirable pasts, thinking it makes them special and cool. at least one RA joins in the fun and assists his floor in breaking the honor code.

now i know most byu students are MUCH more moral than the average college kid. however, college kids at ucla choose to drink or watch R rated movies because they have never been taught otherwise; they don't know about the gospel and haven't signed an honor code. thus, i find the hypocrisy at byu much more terrible than the acts by nonmembers at ucla, even if a head-to-head comparison makes the stuff at byu seem mild.

i have even heard that many of the professors criticize or mock the Brethren at times. i was appalled when my sister told me all this.

more strong and faithful LDS kids need to attend schools that are not BYU (like UCLAA) and create a larger mormon population on those campuses. it would build awareness and help the saints better support each other. dating would be easier too.

Walker said...

I would have to agree with Anonymous in regards to some of the hypocrisy that takes place at BYU. Before my little rant begins, please note that I would rather be at BYU for undergrad work than anywhere else in the country.

People talk about the "BYU bubble" that protects them from the world. While it is true that the bubble keeps out ucla-esque sinning, all kinds of strange things happen underneath it. What needs to happen is for students to build up the stakes of zion in (hold onto your hats) BYU. Students need to build up a "personal bubble" rather than a communcal crust (basically, people need a testimony at BYU just like anywhere else)

BYU wards face real problems. Just last year, we had a fellow in our elder's quorum who faced a drinking problem. From my conversations with the Bishop, I am certain that others have faced equally serious issues. Granted, we do not have the problems of other universities, but I would say that the differences are of degree rather than kind.

Barbara said...

During my brief stint at BYU DECADES ago, I learned that all the vices and the pitfalls of the world are there, too, but not as the mainstream culture as in some places. You can probably find anything you want, good or bad, but the good is more the norm, the encouraged and the celebrated. I did have roommates who, no longer needing to be an example to their gentile neighbors back home, raised their hemlines and fit in. Standards are in some ways more lax in Utah. Still, most of the people are at BYU because they want to learn in a wholesome, spiritual atmosphere, and generally only the best are admitted. (I probably would not have been accepted with my grades if I were applying today.) Although I would not consider any young person "safe" simply because (s)he was at BYU, overall the atmosphere is wholesome and uplifting.

CJ said...

Anonymous (at UCLA),

Just wanted to say a few things regarding your comments about life at BYU. As a general rule, an argument is usually less than convincing when it follows the "I know so and so who says x--and thus, y" pattern. Conclusions made based on hearsay don't stand with a great amount of credibility, and so to conclude so much about BYU based on the words of another is, I think, a little presumptuous.

I graduated from BYU last year and don't deny that it's an imperfect place made up of imperfect people. That said, I think the picture you paint according to your sister's characterizations of the school are inaccurate. Granted, I too have only one person's experience to base my assessments on, but I very rarely (if ever) saw or heard many of the behaviors you mentioned as being rather common. I for one am so grateful for the wonderful experiences I was blessed with there. And, as I begin law school in a "Gentile city", I feel I've been prepared both academically and spiritually. One of the school's several mottos is "Enter to learn, go forth to serve"; although an argument can be made for increasing LDS enrollment at other schools, I believe the model of going to BYU for strengthening and leaving to other schools or areas after graduation is a marvelous one. Don't misconstrue my remarks to mean I idealize the BYU experience. On the contrary, I've been known to often climb atop a soap box to decry the lack of world awareness in Provo. But, I think to say that BYU is a place where unbecoming behavior is "rampant" would be rather far from the truth.

Anonymous said...

Jeff---you said: including some universities where it's hard to find students who are consistently sober or free of venereal disease.

Excuse me---but that is a little rough and shows contempt. There are many local universities where students are sober and free of venereal disease. In fact, there is one in your home town.

Lets see some facts and figures rather than a blanket condemnation. Also, I sent my children to BYU.

CJ said...

Anonymous:

You cite Jeff for what you call a "blanket condemnation". That's precisely what he avoided by saying, "SOME universities where..." (emphasis added), pointing out BYU's differences with such universities--and only those. He in no way implied that all other universities are that way.

Anonymous said...

I stand corrected. some universities where it's hard to find students who are consistently sober or free of venereal disease.

However I disagree---I need to see some emperical data.

captveg said...

I'd also like to inform our UCLA anonymous individual that the generic act of watching R-rated films is not in any way against the BYU Honor Code. In fact, R-Rated films are often watched in BYU film classes. The breaking of the honor code in regards to media intake is quite ambiguous, other than actual pornography.

Anonymous said...

CJ basically you called my sister a liar by denying the things she has told me she has SEEN with her own eyes at the school. the majority of the school may be doing the right things, for which i am proud of them, but for a university that is 99% LDS, my sister should not have seen the things she DID see. they should not be allowed to continue.

captveg, apparently you are correct w/ regards to the honor code not specifically condemning R-rated movies. instead, it uses the language "pornographic, erotic, or indecent material...offensive materials..." if you were the one who commented a few weeks ago about R-rated movies, i really appreciated what you had to say. i agree that the MPAA rating means little compared to the actual content. however, the types of R-rated movies that RAs watched with their students in the dorms were not what I think the Church would consider acceptable R-rated movies. Just plain trashy films.

One thing I forgot to mention. My sister's roommate actually invited a guy to stay in her room a night my sister was not there. No matter how one spins the rules or gets technical, that is against the honor code. it may not happen frequently, but it seems to occur often enough that i am rather disappointed with how little some of the youth distance themselves from the rest of the world.

byu has less temptation, no doubt about it. how can the youth be missionaries or examples to their peers in such a "safe" environment however? additionally, how can they ever gain the strength to withstand temptation if they never face it? if they are sheltered all their lives, children have a great tendency to imagine that there are things they have been missing out on, and have no experience saying "NO" in any shape or form.

CJ said...

Anon:

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's not misinterpret and jump to false conclusions here. I'm in no way calling your sister a liar. I am not questioning the things she has told you she has seen. I'm merely conveying two points. First, assertions made on the basis of hearsay lack credibility and force--not necessarily b/c someone is lying, but also b/c miscommunications and word choice come into play and accuracy can be lost. We've all played the game where a secret is passed on from one friend to another around the room, with the inevitable result that it's changed by the time it gets through a few people. My point is merely that to say "so and so told me this, and so I conclude this", isn't a very strong way to assess BYU's relative adherence to the honor code. Secondly, while your sister's experiences could be 100% accurate, a single individual's experiences are far from sufficient to throw a blanket of condemnation (i.e., blatant honor code violation) and guilt over a school of 30,000 plus students and faculty. That's why I made sure to point out that my very different experiences were also just those one, single individual.

And as far as the things she has seen not being "allowed to continue", while the faculty and administration do put forth effort to curb honor code violations, they are essentially just that--a matter of honor, and a matter for which each individual is responsible themselves, before the Lord. Free agency is still one's own choice, and those in charge at BYU rightly leave those choices intact while making it clear that the wrong choices will be punished.

Bookslinger said...

CJ and Anon:

I experienced similar things when I actually lived with Mormons for the first time on my misison. There is a minority within the church that blatantly disregards the standards for whatever reasons. Many of those I ran into had taken a year at BYU beforehand. I have no problem with those who repent. I need repentance too. But I didn't know how to take those who bragged about their pre-mission sins as if they scored points by getting away with something.

A sociologist friend helped me see the bigger piciture when he said "Outliers stand out more than the average."

The vast majority (the middle of the bell curve) who fit the norm, go with the flow, and obey the rules, just don't stand out as much as the hell-raisers at one extreme or the super-saints at the other, who are doing things, bad or good, that attact attention.

Okay, so what if 1 out of 10 BYU students thumb their noses at the honor code and standards? They would stand out. But the other 90% are doing an acceptable or better job. By which group should BYU be judged?

I fell into a trap of judging the whole based on a minority. It's also a mistake to misinterpret the patience, mercy, long-suffering and tolerance of those in charge as approval of the misbehavior of their charges.

It's like not pulling out the tares because it might damage the wheat. Expel people left and right for honor code violations, and many good people might leave for fear that they won't be able to live up to the standards. The same balance needs to be weighed by mission presidents. Essentially, that's the only real punishment that schools and missions have, either you give someone "a talking to" or you send them home.

captveg said...

captveg, apparently you are correct w/ regards to the honor code not specifically condemning R-rated movies. instead, it uses the language "pornographic, erotic, or indecent material...offensive materials..." if you were the one who commented a few weeks ago about R-rated movies, i really appreciated what you had to say.

Yeah, that was me, and thanks. :)

i agree that the MPAA rating means little compared to the actual content. however, the types of R-rated movies that RAs watched with their students in the dorms were not what I think the Church would consider acceptable R-rated movies. Just plain trashy films.

90% of R-rated (and PG or higher rated) films have trashy material, and to someone out there any of those films will be considered trashy. Some people simply have more ability to disregard the trash if there's a core value to the film. That's just the way it is. While you are unlikely to see a film with controversy regarding its "trash level" in an actual class, those that wish to discuss those films would be hard pressed to find a professor that hasn't already seen them. And from my experience those that seek out such a conversation will benefit positively from it, though often the more appropriate setting is outside the whole of the class.

Of course, I imagine the scenario of students watching these films in the dorms were very low on the intellectual/studious intake and rather high on the escapist/visceral intake, which is often the actual problem.

One thing I forgot to mention. My sister's roommate actually invited a guy to stay in her room a night my sister was not there. No matter how one spins the rules or gets technical, that is against the honor code. it may not happen frequently, but it seems to occur often enough that i am rather disappointed with how little some of the youth distance themselves from the rest of the world.

One of my roommates my first year had a female friend of his crash in his room for a night while she was driving through town. I was not happy - at all. Of course, this roommate was homosexual, so a lot of my concerns in that regard flew out the window. I was mainly ticked that he may get me in trouble indirectly.