PROVO — President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has told his wife that when he is gone, she should get a cottage near the Brigham Young University campus "so she can see what God's up to."

"He had a soft hand on this university," President Eyring told the audience gathered Friday at the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni Institute for an Inquiry Conference on Scholarship, Learning and Teaching.

President Eyring said this life on earth is like a university experience. "He gives you a lot of freedom until we take the freedom from others," he said. "He is involved, and he cares."

President Eyring said the university will get better and better and will still be here when the Savior comes. He acknowledged the secular element that exists in the academic world but said there doesn't have to be conflict between religion and learning.

"It doesn't have to exist if you don't see it," he said, referring to his father, who spent his life as a respected, earnest scientist looking for truth.

"Universities have evolved over a long period of time. They are probably as good a way we know of to find truth," said President Eyring, who attended the conference with his wife.

University President Cecil O. Samuelson was scheduled as the concluding speaker for the ethics symposium that dealt exclusively with the nature of academic freedom. President Eyring's visit was a surprise addition to the conference agenda.

President Eyring said when he told LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson where he was going, the president said the university is doing very well.

Samuelson said he's been pleased to find that prayer and religion can successfully coexist with inquiry, scholarship, learning and teaching.

"Virtually all of my life, living and learning has been part of a great whole," he said.

He said faith is neither an alternative to advancing teaching nor an excuse for academic mediocrity.

"Our faith cannot be a crutch, but rather a powerful incentive, a powerful source of humility," he said.

God invites and encourages learning and insight, he said, with the greatest difference between BYU and other places of learning being that there is a precious space for faith.

He listed a series of questions that he brought with him to BYU when he was asked to serve as the university president, including questions about whether real, serious consequential learning could take place and what would happen to those with their own questions.

He said he's been pleased to find great learners who welcome correction and new ideas.

"What all disciplines have in common is a commitment to rules," he said.

He added that those who are really serious about academic advancement avoid extreme, prideful ideas.

"I have personally found more academic freedom for myself at BYU than at any other institution," Samuelson said. "I'm grateful to be able to acknowledge my faith (here)."

E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com