|Anxious students and employees gathered in the Hart Auditorium on the morning of June 21, 2000. All had received a phone call the night before informing them than an important announcement concerning Ricks College was to be made. Classes were cancelled. Suspense, anticipation, and speculation filled the air. The audience strained to hear the press conference being piped by direct audio feed from Salt Lake City to the Hart Auditorium in Rexburg, Idaho. Not long after 8 a.m. President Gordon B. Hinckley read this statement:
The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Board of Trustees of Ricks College announce that Ricks College will change from its present two-year junior college status to a four year institution. The new four-year school will be known as Brigham Young University-Idaho, with the name change designed to give the school immediate national and international recognition. The memory of Thomas E. Ricks will continue to be appropriately honored and perpetuated.
This change of status is consistent with the ongoing tradition of evaluation and progress that has brought Ricks College from infant beginnings to its present position as the largest privately owned two-year institution of higher education in America. With some additions and modifications the physical facilities now in place in Rexburg are adequate to handle the new program. Undoubtedly, some changes to the campus will be necessary. However, they will be modest in nature and scope.
BYU–Idaho’s move to four-year status will be phased in over a period of time and accomplished in such a way as to preserve the school’s autonomy and identity. Adjustments to its mission will be minimal. The school will have a unique role in and be distinctive from the other institutions of higher education within the Church Educational System. For the immediate future, the president of BYU–Idaho will report directly to the Commissioner of the Church Educational System.
BYU–Idaho will continue to be teaching oriented. Effective teaching and advising will be the primary responsibilities of its faculty, who are
committed to academic excellence.
The institution will emphasize undergraduate education and will award baccalaureate degrees; graduate degree programs will not be
offered. Faculty rank will not be a part of the academic structure of the new four-year institution.
BYU–Idaho will operate on an expanded year-round basis, incorporating innovative calendaring and scheduling while also taking advantage of advancements in technology which will enable the four-year institution to serve more students.
In addition, BYU–Idaho will phase out its involvement in intercollegiate athletics and shift its emphasis to a year round activity program designed to involve and meet the needs of a diverse student body.
Of necessity, the new four-year institution will be assessing and restructuring its academic offerings. Predictably, the school will need to change and even eliminate some long-standing and beneficial programs as the school focuses upon key academic disciplines and activities.
Specific programmatic details about and time lines for the change
are presently being worked out. These details, which will be discussed with and approved by the Board of Trustees, will be announced at appropriate times in the future.
Students cheered. The crowd was stunned. Careful perusal of this statement has brought about many questions. Let me share some of the questions and their answers with you.
Why the change?
The time is right. At the press conference following the announcement, Elder Henry B. Eyring, Commissioner of the Church Educational System, said, "We realized there was an opportunity [at Ricks College], largely because of the wonderful strengths that have been developed already to increase the blessing of the young people of the Church and to those who would want to come [to Ricks]."
When will upper division classes be available?
We have no baccalaureate programs in place this fall. We need to remember that this announcement was the initiation of a transition process, not the description of a finished product. We have only one chance to put in place the foundation for BYU–Idaho and will take whatever time is needed on the front end of the process to maximize a most rare and important opportunity. We must do it right.
Academic committees across the campus have been working to develop the curriculum that will move us toward baccalaureate status. If we carry out our assignments well, some programs may be implemented in 2001; some programs definitely will be in place by 2002.
Why no academic rank?
The answer to this question is found in the statement by Elder Eyring when he said at the press conference, "Ricks College has never had the distinctions of assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. [BYU–Idaho] simply will continue that practice. It’s an indication that the character of the school will remain very much the teaching-oriented, student-oriented institution it has always been."
I have said it often, and strongly believe, that every person at Ricks College is a teacher. We teach in the classroom; we teach in the student apartment homes; we teach on the intramural field; we teach doing custodial work at 4:30 in the morning. To be given the charge to continue in this direction is important.
How will you bless more students?
To further enhance year-round operating capabilities, we have been moving toward a three-track admission system that will bless more students. The notion that a student can only attend school from September until April is outdated; it is based on an agrarian model from the past when children had to be home in the summer to work in the fields.
We live in an information age. Today’s young people increasingly will require learning anytime, anywhere. This three-track admission system can help to meet these needs. For example, some students are admitted for the winter and summer semesters, but they cannot attend in the fall. Other students are admitted for the summer and fall semesters but cannot enroll in the winter. Some attend fall and winter.
This track system blesses more students by increasing the number of students who can attend Ricks College. For purposes of illustration, assume an enrollment ceiling of 8,000 students. If 4,000 students are admitted on each of the tracks, then during any given academic year of two semesters 8,000 students are on the campus. However, the total student body enrollment for a calendar year for the three tracks is 12,000 students. Our ultimate goal is to accept and serve as many worthy and academically qualified students as we possibly can.
Why do away with intercollegiate athletics?
President Hinckley articulated the following response: "It takes too much money. It takes a great amount of time and energy. We think that, in this instance (of Ricks becoming a four-year school), we would like to change the emphasis. We would hope that with an intramural program of athletics and sports that the need could be met and that the great emphasis would be on academics."
Athletics will continue to be a vital part of Ricks College. However, intercollegiate athletics will be discontinued. Ricks will honor its commitments to student athletes in terms of scholarships, and our estimates are that the 2000-2001 season of intercollegiate competition will proceed as normal. Most programs will likely be phased out by the end of the 2001-2002 athletic season.
As was outlined in the announcement, we will be moving toward a year round activity-based program designed to involve and meet the needs of a diverse student body. I can envision students involved in activities pertaining not only to athletics, but academics and performing and fine arts as well. The activities will be student initiated, directed, and led.
As an example, we presently have an activity on campus called Guitars Unplugged. The genesis of the idea came from students. Basically, some musically talented students, who were not necessarily members of school sponsored ensemble groups, desired an opportunity to perform. They were students who love to play the guitar and sing. As this idea has evolved, student judges determine, by audition, a slate of 15 to 25 performers who perform in front of an audience. Guitars Unplugged quickly outgrew the capacity of a small ballroom and now packs a 4,500 seat auditorium. It is one of the most popular events on campus. What I like about Guitars Unplugged is that students who perform return to their seats in the audience and cheer for their friends as they perform.
This is the nature of what our future activity will look like. I believe that within a relatively short period of time, representatives from other campus communities will come to the BYU–Idaho campus with this request: Teach us how to create the level of student involvement we see on your campus; we have not seen this degree of student participation anywhere.
When will the name change to BYU–Idaho become effective?
We are presently in the process of developing a prospectus outlining our strategic plan to become a baccalaureate institution. This prospectus should be finished by the end of the calendar year. The proposal will then be forwarded to our accrediting body, the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. The association can take up to 90 days to review our plan. If the Association approves our prospectus, we are granted candidacy status, which means we are a candidate for accreditation. At that point we officially become BYU–Idaho.
What will happen to the "spirit of Ricks?"
The "spirit of Ricks" will not go away or be diminished because of our name change. We will work diligently to preserve this special feeling on our campus. The student/teacher ratio will remain low, as it has in the past. Faculty and campus employees will continue to integrate gospel principles with secular knowledge and to teach one by one. The tradition of friendly smiles that radiate from the students’ faces will be passed on. We will preserve and enhance the "spirit of Ricks."
President, how do you feel about the change?
This is an historic event. I can think of few things that have driven me to my knees more earnestly and frequently than this board-directed decision. One of the faith-promoting experiences of my life has been to see how many things were already in place at Ricks College to effectuate this change. President Hinckley paid Ricks College a great compliment when he said, "If you have not been to Ricks recently, you have a surprise awaiting you. That campus has been renewed--new buildings, modified buildings, remodeled buildings--it is a beautiful campus with wonderful facilities. It is not a little run-down country college. It is a great institution with a wonderful campus, great facilities, a very caring faculty, and everything that we feel is needed now to make a program of this kind succeed."
I suggest that President Hinckley’s vision concerning the future of Ricks College is not really about two-year or four-year status, is not really about academic rank or athletics, and is not really about a name change. This announcement is about faith--faith in the future.
Thank you, President Hinckley, for your prophetic foresight and for your faith and confidence in the students and employees of Ricks College.
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