With final exams next week, my hunch as a statistician is that more prayers will be offered up on campus next week than during any other week this semester. Finals may be an opportunity for prayer, but they’re also an opportunity to reflect on what students have learned and what they have become during the length of a semester. In my new role as BYU’s president, I too am reflecting this season on what BYU must become.

BYU is a school of destiny and promise.

Those of us who work here feel both the buoyancy and the burden of what has been hoped, dreamed, and even prophesied about our future.

Since becoming BYU’s 14th president, I’ve repeatedly read and pondered President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1975 address, “The Second Century of Brigham Young University.” As only he could, President Kimball expounded on the “destiny of this unique university” to become an “educational Everest.” 

BYU must provide education for eternity, pursue academic excellence and cultivate spiritual values, he explained. President Kimball challenged BYU to become a great academic university that remained unequivocally loyal to the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I love BYU. 

I love what it has meant to hundreds of thousands of students who have “enter(ed) to learn and go(ne) forth to serve,” including myself. I love my BYU colleagues who strive to provide our students an education “bathed in the light of the restored gospel.”

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BYU President Shane Reese talks with media after being announced as university’s new president on March 21, 2023.
BYU President Shane Reese talks with media after being announced as the university’s new president at the Marriott Center in Provo on March 21, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

And yet, for all that the university has accomplished and all that it has meant to so many, I can’t help but feel BYU can and will become even more and even better. Guided by an inspired mission and directed by an inspired board of trustees, BYU still has much to accomplish as it becomes what it must become: the Christ-centered, prophetically-directed university of destiny and promise.

In my recent inaugural response, “Becoming BYU,” I delineated seven ways BYU will build upon the strong foundation laid by previous presidents and other honored forebears. BYU will only become an “educational Everest” if we as administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the school have the tenacity to put forth the effort required to reach our potential. 

That will require this sevenfold focus.

Strengthen the student experience

Becoming BYU will require enriching the student experience and strengthening our already student-centric approach. Each student’s eternal progression must remain our foremost concern. To this end we strive for every student to have an inspiring learning experience. Bolstered by gospel methodology, we frame these experiences by our conviction that each student is a child of God who can be bound to Christ as a child of the covenant.

Retain a focus on undergraduate teaching

Becoming BYU will also involve increased focus on our primary teaching mission. This focus has been reinforced by recent revisions to our faculty promotion policies. As these refined incentives sharpen our focus on student learning, we will qualify for the inspiration needed to better fulfill our scholarship and mentoring missions. Our primary focus on high-quality teaching gains strength as all faculty work together to enhance our students’ experiences.

Develop BYU’s ‘double heritage’

President Kimball said: “The uniqueness of Brigham Young University lies in its special role — education for eternity. … This means concern … for not only the ‘whole man’ but for the ‘eternal man.’ … This faculty has a double heritage — the preserving of the knowledge of men and the revealed truths sent from heaven.”

The faculty and staff who foster this double heritage must be bilingual: They must speak with authority about their disciplines, and they must speak with power about their Christian discipleship in the language of faith.

Have the courage to be different

Becoming BYU will require at times the courage to stand alone. Like our colleagues at other religious institutions, BYU exerts strength only to the extent that we embrace and articulate our religious identity. 

BYU will be successful as an academic institution of higher education not in spite of our religious mission, but precisely because of our spiritual mission. The spiritual and the secular are not opposing spheres locked in inevitable conflict. Instead, we see them as complements to each other — even as paired aspirations! 

Build a covenant community

Even more crucially, becoming BYU will require us to sharpen our students’ focus on their covenantal relationship with God. By emphasizing their covenantal identity, we will naturally help our students fix their gaze on the holy temple and commit to lives of service and sacrifice for others. For BYU to become the temple of learning foretold by prophets, we must rivet our focus on the house of the Lord. As we build our university foundations on the rock of our Redeemer, and as we point our students toward the house of the Lord, we will qualify for heaven’s help. 

Invest in mission-inspired scholarship 

Becoming BYU will also require investing resources on mission-inspired research initiatives. In the light of our Christ-centered mission, we should also support research that blesses our Heavenly Father’s children directly. This will include investments in areas in which we have natural strengths, furthering recent efforts regarding the family, religion’s role in human flourishing, helping those in poverty and constitutional government — each of which is rooted in church doctrine and is strategically aligned with the church’s global mission to bless God’s children. 

Focus on mission-aligned hiring 

My immediate predecessor, President Kevin J Worthen frequently observed that “The most important decisions that will be made in my tenure as president at BYU are the people we hire.” This starts with our faculty. Faculty hiring decisions are paramount because these are the people to whom our students look for examples and mentors who successfully integrate the life of the mind and the life of faith. As president, I interview prospective faculty to understand their desire to be different. To be successful and happy at BYU, they understand that ideas like belief enhances inquiry, study amplifies faith and revelation leads to deeper understanding are core to the success of our mission. These are faculty who dare to be different.

As the president of BYU, I’ve pledged my whole soul to helping the university. Becoming BYU will require that we have the humility to ask what we need to change and the meekness to ask, “What lack I yet?”

This is a critical time in the history of Brigham Young University. Unfortunately, we work against a societal backdrop in which discussion and dialogue are being replaced by contention and monologue. President Kimball implored us to employ gospel methodology, which will not only distinguish BYU from other universities but also shape how we learn and improve as a community. 

Now is the time for BYU to become. 

President C. Shane Reese is the 14th president of Brigham Young University.