A Conversation with President Kim B. Clark
At inaugural ceremonies on October 11, 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley charged Kim B. Clark, the fifteenth president of Brigham Young University–Idaho, to elevate the institution to new heights of honor, achievement, and recognition.
President Clark is now leading the university in a vigorous effort to fulfill that charge, and the campus is busy with activity. To familiarize readers with all that is happening at BYU–Idaho, Summit Magazine sat down with President Clark for a one-on-one conversation.
Summit Magazine: How are you and your wife Sue adjusting to your new life in Rexburg?
President Clark: We love Rexburg. We have been well received by the people here. They have been very kind and open, warm and loving. And the university is great. We love this university. The feeling on this campus is unmatched, and it’s a blessing to come to campus every morning.
Summit Magazine: You have now been at Brigham Young University–Idaho for several months and have become well-acquainted with the work under way here. From your perspective, how is the university doing?
President Clark: I believe the university is making great progress. For me, one of the really wonderful things about coming to BYU–Idaho was finding a place that was well run. It was already moving forward in a good way. It’s a tremendous blessing to be able to come in and focus on the future. So, simply put, the school is in good shape.
Summit Magazine: In your inaugural response, you outlined three imperatives on which BYU–Idaho must focus in order to fulfill its mission. Can you explain to our readers what those imperatives are, why they are important, and how the university will reach them?
President Clark: The first imperative is to raise substantially the quality of every aspect of the student experience, whether it be academic, religious, spiritual, social, or personal development. We want to improve every aspect of that experience. The second imperative is to reach more students. We want to make this wonderful experience available to more students. And the third imperative is to lower the relative cost of education.
The imperatives are important because each one reinforces the others. It’s often viewed in the world that of those three, you can pick two, but you can’t have all three. However we are not bound by the traditions of men, nor are we limited to our own understanding. Through the blessings of heaven, we can have all three; and we are on track to do that. It means we will need to be innovative and create new ways of learning and teaching. We will need to find new ways of organizing our work. We will need to find new ways of studying and learning. Doing all of these things together, I believe, will allow us to achieve the imperatives.
Success will come as we implement a learning model here at BYU–Idaho and as we take advantage of the technologies the Lord is making available to us. It will come as we understand more about learning and as we come to understand how to teach one another more effectively. The Lord will bless us with the ability to take what He gives us and apply it.
Summit Magazine: You have also introduced six initiatives to the university which serve as a sort of action plan for this phase of BYU–Idaho’s progress. Could you outline those for our readers, and explain their importance?
President Clark: The six initiatives are all directed at moving the university forward on a steady, upward course. The first has been to take a new look at the academic calendar and modify it to serve more students. By creating three equal semesters, we organize the faculty’s work to make better use of the summer and create a stronger experience during that part of the year.
The second deals specifically with the student experience. We are looking at the whole experience the student has from the beginning until graduation. We’ll ask ourselves how we can do this better. How do we do it now? Are there ways to improve it? What should we do that we’re not doing? How can we make this experience even more powerful and effective?
The third is an initiative focused on online education. We will look at how to develop our technical abilities in a way that will deepen the learning experience on campus and extend the reach of the university off campus.
The fourth initiative is general education. Significant effort was put into adding upper division courses when BYU–Idaho transitioned from a two-year to a four-year school. Now we are going back and looking at our general education program. I hope we will be able to create some distinctive experiences for our students. Students need to learn how to read and write and do the basic things you would expect in foundational courses, but we hope there will be some elements unique to BYU–Idaho.
The fifth initiative focuses on what we call the BYU–Idaho learning model. A significant part of our ability to reach the three imperatives will be in teaching and learning, in discovering new ways to do things. So we’re working on creating what we hope will become an overarching framework for learning that will reach across everything we do. It will allow us to have sufficient continuity across courses and programs, so our students will develop a capacity to learn beyond what they currently have today. And in particular, we will implement learning by faith in a very powerful and compelling way on campus.
The last initiative focuses on the campus itself. It’s a 10- to 15-year look down the road at what we need, where the campus is headed, and how we can make it even more effective than it is today. We have a number of projects under way in that area.
Summit Magazine: Could you tell us how these imperatives and initiatives were formulated? What kind of direction did you receive?
President Clark: When I accepted President Gordon B. Hinckley’s invitation to serve as president of BYU–Idaho, a series of experiences were set into motion. Some were very personal as I was taught by the Lord what He wanted to happen at this university. I had ideas, and I began talking to people about them. I spoke with Elder David A. Bednar extensively during the summer of last year and began to get a feel for where we were and what the issues were.
After I came here, I began meeting with the vice presidents and others in the community; and the three imperatives became very clear. Then we pulled everyone in the senior leadership of the university together to look at where the institution is going. We looked at what we need to work on right now to move us to that next level, and the six initiatives crystallized very quickly. It became very clear where we needed to go.
Summit Magazine: You also receive a great deal of guidance from the Board of Trustees. Could you describe for our readers the relationship that exists between the Board and BYU–Idaho?
President Clark: It’s an interesting relationship. The Board of Trustees is passionate about education and deeply concerned about the direction, focus, and progress of the university. They also have a great deal of experience with the university and are very knowledgeable about it. They care about it.
But they also extend to us a significant degree of responsibility to move the university forward in the way the Lord directs. It’s a combination of intense and passionate engagement coupled with significant delegation of responsibility. We have a clear understanding of the Board’s policies, and we operate within the framework they establish.
Summit Magazine: You have said you can see the Lord’s hand at work here at BYU–Idaho. How do you see that guidance manifesting itself? What do you see happening on campus that tells you the Lord is watching over us?
President Clark: We talk often on this campus about the idea that this is one of the Lord’s universities. Some people may chalk that up to rhetoric; because we’re part of the Lord’s church, it is obvious BYU–Idaho is one of the Lord’s universities.
But this is the Lord’s university in a very personal and specific way. I think the most powerful manifestation is in the lives of the individuals who work here. Virtually all whom I talk with have a story to tell about how they arrived here, and those stories are quite interesting. There are miracles at work as people are led to BYU–Idaho. I think that’s the most compelling manifestation.
There are others. We often find situations in which we are at a bit of a dead end, not knowing how to proceed on an issue. Then we’ll receive very clear understanding and direction about what we should do. It comes like the Spirit always comes—in whispers, impressions, and directions. It often turns out that once we begin down a certain path, we discover the way has already been prepared. There are opportunities available to us we hadn’t anticipated. We see it in our discussion of the BYU–Idaho learning model. We see it in our discussion of the academic calendar. We see it in nearly everything we undertake.
Summit Magazine: Why do you think the Lord is so involved in what’s happening here? Why is He so interested in this place?
President Clark: From the beginning of the Restoration, the Lord has made it clear that education is a very important aspect of the kingdom—a very important part in preparing the laborers in the kingdom. You have only to go to the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants and read the Lord’s words about preparing this generation of laborers for the work He wants to give them. Education has been both practically and doctrinally at the center of the preparation.
Now after many decades of sacrifice and investment, we are blessed with great universities in the kingdom. BYU–Idaho is one of them. It has a distinctive and special mission to prepare what I call “disciple-leaders.” It is the Lord’s plan to have such an institution and to be able to lead and guide literally thousands of choice people to come here. They are prepared to be disciple-leaders so they can go out and be engaged in building the kingdom.
I believe very strongly in Elder Bednar’s prophetic statements about this university over the years and especially in his recent statement that the founding of BYU–Idaho is one of the signal events of the Restoration. It’s true. The Lord has in His plans a very important role for this university to play. It revolves around the young people who come here to go to school and what He has in mind for them.
Summit Magazine: That touches on another important idea you have discussed recently—our mission to prepare the best quality graduates. Tell us more about that. Who is a BYU–Idaho graduate? How should a graduate of this university be different than those of other schools?
President Clark: Our mission is to do two things. One is to prepare young people to be disciples of the Savior. The other is to develop them as leaders—first and foremost in their families so they will be great moms and dads, great husbands and wives. We want them to be leaders in the Church—faithful, active and committed, but also capable of taking on the responsibilities the Lord gives them. We also want them to be leaders in their communities, the world they live in, and in their work—wherever they are.
The kind of leadership we have in mind is leadership with a small “l.” It’s leadership that serves and inspires in every kind of organization at every level. It’s the kind of leadership a bishop loves to have in his Young Men program or in the nursery. It’s the kind of leadership someone running a company wants in their team leaders and department heads. It’s about building and developing
disciple-leaders. It’s that combination that I think sets these young people apart. It’s the combination of skill, ability, and training not only in the classroom but in practical experiences where they really develop their skills in leading and directing. And it happens in an environment where they become disciples of the Savior. Many of our young people will go on to become a significant influence because of what they learn here.
We believe the university should be a living model of the high standards we want to teach and develop in our students. Being at this university should in itself be an education. It’s an organization guided by the principles of the gospel, where the “Spirit of Ricks” prevails. These students will have lived in a place that is a Zion-like community. They will go out knowing what it feels like to build Zion because they’ve lived in Zion here. They’ll take it with them.
Summit Magazine: What would you like the alumni and friends of BYU–Idaho to know and feel about the university? What is their role in helping move this institution forward?
President Clark: I would like them to understand this really is the Lord’s university. We work under the direction of the Lord and the prophet of the Lord. And the course we are on is the course set by the Lord.
Secondly, I hope they understand this is an enormously important and exciting time in the life and the history of this university. This is a relatively young university that has been built around the core of Ricks College. I’d like them to understand BYU–Idaho did not leave Ricks College behind. Ricks College is the core of BYU–Idaho. It has been built around it and upon it. The “Spirit of Ricks” is alive on this campus. I want them to know that and feel that in their hearts.
I hope they all have a desire to support the university in whatever way the Lord directs—whether it be to support us financially, to serve as an ambassador, to counsel with young people who come to them and ask what it’s like to go to school here. I hope they become knowledgeable about what we’re doing, committed to the Lord’s purposes here, and willing and able to serve in whatever capacity the Lord directs. SM