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Brigham Young University President Rex E. Lee believes the controversy surrounding the LDS Church-owned school's policy of academic freedom will gradually diminish.

Lee anticipates there will be a "self-selection process" among both Mormon and non-Mormon professors as the word spreads about BYU's academic freedom policy. The policy restricts faculty members from using their positions to speak out against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.Eventually, professors who seek to take a stance "harmful to the church" simply won't apply at BYU, Lee said.

"I am convinced that over the coming years the levels of discomfort with our academic freedom policy will gradually, but steadily, diminish to the point of virtual non-exis-tence," he said.

Lee and Provost Bruce C. Hafen spoke Monday to the more than 2,000 students and faculty, who gathered at the school's Marriott Center for BYU's annual University Conference.

It was a farewell address for Lee, who will retire in about four months following several years of poor health. Lee, who announced his retirement in June, has T-cell lymphoma and peripheral neuropathy, a nerve damage to his arms and legs.

"I appreciate more than words can tell the expressions of love and support that I have received from so many of you," Lee said Monday. `I have also sensed, and appreciated, our shared objective that these remaining months not be characterized by waiting, wondering and winding down."

The school, he said, will face many changes over the next several years, especially as between 35 percent to 40 percent of its faculty reaches retirement age this decade. During the same time, there has been a nationwide decrease in the number of professors with doctorate degrees seeking academic employment.

Over the years, Lee anticipates that the school will fill the gap with more non-Mormon professors. Furthering the university's goals of integrating faith and intellect, he said, does not depend solely on religious membership.

"Indeed, I will go further," Lee added. "A religious university can perform both aspects of its mission better if some of its faculty - not a large percentage, but some - are non-members of the sponsoring church, but who understand and support its principles and practices.

"Our board's policy establishes a definite preference for LDS Church members, but it is a preference which can be overcome in specific instances," he said.