Editor’s note: The following essay is part of Deseret Magazine’s issue on the fate of the religious university, with contributions by presidents and scholars from Baylor University, BYU, Catholic University, George Fox University, Wheaton College and Yeshiva University, among others. Read all the essays here.
As a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis, I learned firsthand how devastating Alzheimer’s disease is to patients and their families. I then devoted my scientific career to developing a cure. Over nearly two decades, my research direction and experimental approaches were shaped by many forces. Some were noble influences that kept me aligned with my goal of curing Alzheimer’s disease. Other influences, even those that were simple practical constraints, distracted me from my purpose.
As university president at BYU-Hawaii, I lead strategy and innovation that supports the development and success of our students. Strategy in higher education is motivated by a variety of forces, including finances, institutional prestige, research outcomes and many others. Managing and balancing these forces while maintaining a singular focus on the institutional mission is an ongoing challenge.
In my work I have learned that faith is an important, and often overlooked, motivator of strategy and innovation in higher education. At BYU-Hawaii our mission statement specifies that faith in Jesus Christ is a desired outcome for our students.
Focusing on this mission requires specific strategies and daily decisions, from an institutional commitment to providing financial aid to the careful planning of curriculum. BYU-Hawaii’s affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made it possible to maintain a singular focus on our mission despite these challenges. Work-study programs, conducted in collaboration with the Polynesian Cultural Center, have been developed and refined to provide financial support for students in need. These programs allow students to work 19 hours a week and receive complete support for tuition, fees, and room and board. More than one-third of BYU-Hawaii students are thriving in these innovative work-study programs, and we are working to expand this support to nearly two-thirds of our students. The English as an International Language program uses faculty instructors, recent graduates and current students to provide teaching and mentoring resources for nonnative speakers of English and facilitate success in their university courses.
Affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ has allowed BYU-Hawaii to allocate resources to these and other key efforts, and remain mission-focused despite the unprecedented pressures that institutions of higher education have faced in recent years. This relationship is carefully maintained as the university upholds standards of admissions, hiring, teaching, and student and employee conduct that are aligned with the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Our mission is well beyond worldly standards of education. Our mission is to be and to build people who follow the example of Jesus Christ — people who are an example of unity, appreciation, esteem and love for one another. This mission, we believe, not only gives us a distinct identity, but gives us a unique advantage.
John S.K. Kauwe III is the president of BYU-Hawaii.