Contributing reporters: Elizabeth Edwards, Hunter Schwarz, Heather Daley, Kelly Bluth and Lok Yi Chan
BYU refers to itself as an undergraduate teaching institution, but the school’s influence spreads to the upper echelons of higher education — especially in Utah.
During the 2010-2011 academic year, the presidents of all six higher education institutions in the Utah public system that grant four-year degrees were graduates of BYU. Five of them — Stan L. Albrecht of Utah State University, Michael K. Young of the University of Utah, Matthew S. Holland of Utah Valley University, Michael T. Benson of Southern Utah University and Stephen D. Nadauld of Dixie State College — received bachelor’s degrees from BYU, and one — F. Ann Millner of Weber State University — holds an Ed.D. from BYU.
Although BYU obviously cannot take credit for all the success of those college and university presidents, some of whom went to school in Provo decades ago, several of the academic administrators interviewed by The Universe said their time at BYU was particularly formative.
Nadauld, for example, who also has served as president of Weber State and as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said BYU helped mold him into the person he is today.
“One of the challenges that young people have is going into a job and trying to sort out the way things are done in the company, which may not be entirely ethical or upfront transparent,” he said. “BYU gives students a really good moral compass and prepares them to go into those situations and stand up for what they know.”
Nadauld received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from BYU, while Albrecht graduated from BYU in sociology and Holland, Young and Benson all studied in BYU’s Department of Political Science. Holland is particularly familiar with BYU, having spent time as a faculty member in Provo and also spending some of his teenage years on campus while his father, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, served as BYU president from 1980 to 1989.
“I absolutely loved my BYU years as both an undergraduate and a professor and just find that the training that both the students and professional training I got there were simply outstanding and have provided some terrific opportunities for me,” Matthew Holland told The Universe.
Holland was named UVU president in 2009 and he has overseen the Orem school’s transition to a university with a growing number of four-year programs and several graduate degrees. He now oversees a university with approximately as many students as BYU. The two schools are literally just five miles apart but the figurative distance from which they have come is greater.
“They’re at different points of history, so to speak,” Holland said. “BYU has been a university for quite a long time. UVU has become a university just a little bit ago so there are a lot of things developing.”
Holland said that BYU “is like no other school” because of its religious mission in connection with The Church of Jesus Christ. But BYU’s graduates have found success in many secular organizations, including colleges and universities.
Besides the college and university presidents in Utah, several BYU graduates have gone on to lead higher education institutions. V. Lane Rawlins, a 1963 BYU graduate, for example, has been president of Washington State University, the University of Memphis and, currently, the University of North Texas. Young served as president of the University of Utah from 2004 to 2011 and then moved on to lead the University of Washington.
Meanwhile, several BYU graduates, including David A. Bednar and Bruce C. Hafen, served as presidents at Ricks College, now BYU-Idaho. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Rex E. Lee, among others, are BYU graduates who later served as presidents of BYU.
Benson, now president of SUU in Cedar City, said he was one of the few students at Salt Lake City’s East High School who wanted to attend BYU. He estimates that 250 of his classmates attended the University of Utah while just three accompanied him to Provo.
Benson, a notably successful fundraiser who previously served as president of Snow College in Ephraim, recalled memorable BYU experiences in Israel as well as completing an internship in Washington, D.C., through the Kennedy Center for International Studies.
“I will always be very grateful for those experiences I had at BYU,” he said. “That was a seminal time in my life. It opened my eyes.”
The only Utah university president to earn a graduate degree at BYU is Millner, who completed a doctorate in educational leadership. She told The Universe her time at BYU “provided an excellent educational environment” to study the history, philosophy and roots of higher education. Meanwhile, Holland and Nadauld cited ethics and communications skills among the most important lessons they learned at BYU.
“When I was at BYU, I was effectively a double major in political science and English,” Holland said. “There’s a fair amount of politics associated with my job (as UVU president). There is a constant need for clearer communication from my office so that training I got in studying those degrees has been a big help to me.”
Nadauld, meanwhile, says BYU graduates have become known for honesty and a positive influence on coworkers and peers.
“In the business world, there is a lot of dishonesty and selfish decisions, and BYU students represent a group that will voice or question something if they think it is not being done the right way or if it is not morally appropriate,” he said. “Through all I’ve done, BYU has definitely prepared me in a sense to be able to stand up for what I believe in and to articulate it.”
Millner has announced she will step down as president of Weber State as soon as a replacement is found, and with Young’s departure last year for Seattle, four of the six four-year public higher ed institutions in Utah will now have one-time BYU undergraduates as their presidents.