I am grateful for the assignment from President Thomas S. Monson to be with you today. I always feel blessed to represent him and to testify of the keys he holds.
I am particularly grateful to return to Rexburg for the dedication of two remarkable facilities, this BYU-Idaho Center and the newly remodeled and greatly expanded Manwaring Center. The dedication of these buildings is an important event for at least two reasons.
First, they represent vast contributions of time, effort, and tithes. Today we honor and express our appreciation to all who have sacrificed to make the construction of these facilities possible. So today we give thanks to more people than we can name for more acts of personal dedication than we can describe or measure. My earnest hope is that they can feel today that their offering is gratefully accepted and will be remembered for generations.
We have an additional opportunity today. These structures, significant in their own right, are also symbolic. They were approved by the Board of Education, which is chaired by the President of the Church, for special reasons. They are central to the mission of a university that has a vital role to play in the Lord’s kingdom.
I am blessed to know personally some of the history of this institution. I first came to Ricks College in the summer of 1971. In the preceding decade, the campus had more than tripled in size. Yet it was still small relative to what we see today. The ground on which this building stands was a baseball field. The Manwaring Center was roughly one-third of its current size. Each morning and evening, I passed between the Manwaring Center and the baseball field as I walked to and from our temporary home in a student trailer court, located at what was then the remote southwest edge of the campus. My office in those days was in the old Spori Building, built seventy years earlier by pioneering Saints in their poverty.
There was then, as now, an unusual feeling here which came from people more than from facilities. It came from students, employees, and citizens of Rexburg and the surrounding towns who wanted something more than secular learning and social experiences here.
When I arrived the college was small enough that the president was privileged to shake the hand of every new student as he or she registered for classes. For three days each Fall, I stood in the Hart Building, immediately north of us, shaking the hands and looking into the eyes of the students. None of them was perfect; some young women needed encouragement to dress more modestly, and I invited some of the young men to visit with a barber we had onsite.
But, in a remarkably large fraction of those eyes, I could see a special light. As never before in my life and rarely since, I felt that I was among covenant-makers who had gathered to a place where covenant-keeping was a collective priority.
During my second year of shaking hands, I noticed that the lines of students were shorter and that we finished sooner. I confirmed that enrollment had in fact dropped and Baby Boom-demographics were likely to produce further declines. For the first time in more than twenty-five years, it appeared that the college would shrink rather than grow.
The lessons about education and the Church I learned in the months that followed have guided my service since. Eager to seek counsel from the Board, I disclosed our projections for a steep drop in tuition income to the Commissioner of Education and to the Board of Trustees.
New as I was to my job, I knew the history of this institution and of the sponsorship of Church colleges by the Boards of Education over generations. Ricks College had faced financial crisis many times. And every time the Board had expected the principal or the president to solve his own problems.
So I was not surprised to be told to develop a plan for reducing the school’s operating budget. Since by far the largest part of the budget was wages and salaries, it was clear that no plan would work without reducing the payroll. And that would mean the asking for terrible sacrifice by those who had given their lives and their hopes to the college and sacrifice for their families.
After several painful weeks of counseling among ourselves, it was my duty to take a plan for salary cuts and staff reductions to the Commissioner and to the Board. To my great relief, which I can still feel today, I was thanked for our efforts and told that no salary cuts or layoffs would be necessary. The next Fall, enrollments inexplicably increased and remained at a level high enough that no further cost cutting became necessary.
You can now see some of the names of the people who might have been let go in that cost cutting plan that was never needed. They are listed in the Manwaring Center alcove where the university honors employees for careers of distinguished service. There are great blessings that come from following prophets in times of uncertainty.
I am often asked if I knew, as the president of Ricks College, what its future held. I did not see that the college would become the university it is today. There were only subtle impressions—feelings that this was a special place that needed to keep its spiritual standards high while staying close to its roots. I particularly felt the need to maintain our pioneer frugality.
Perhaps I felt the need too strongly. Members of the Board would occasionally ask, “Hal, isn’t there something more we could do for you up at Ricks College?” They seemed to be worried that we wouldn’t ask for enough. That was our heritage. We knew that it was the Lord’s school, and that His work didn’t depend on having the finest physical things. In fact, I worried that temporal blessings could distract us from the Lord’s work. My vision and my determination was that Ricks College would continue to be His school.
I was surprised, more than twenty years later when I was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and Commissioner of Education, to be called into President Gordon B. Hinckley’s office to discuss the possibility of Ricks College becoming a four-year university. It was obvious that he had already received revelation about the new university, including details such as a new name and a focus on undergraduate instruction. He had a plan to allow the college to give baccalaureate degrees while staying rooted in its foundation of humility.
One year after President Hinckley’s announcement that Ricks College would become BYU-Idaho, he assigned me to come and speak about the mission of the new university. I worked hard to prepare, feeling a dual burden. I knew both that the errand was from the Lord and that the people here might heed my words. After weeks of labor, I took a draft of my remarks to President Hinckley and gratefully received his suggestions.
Then, one week before the scheduled trip to Rexburg, terrorists attacked the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. You may remember, as I do, feelings of doubt and even fear in those uncertain days after the attacks. Yet I observed none of those emotions among the members of the First Presidency (President Hinckley, President Monson, and President Faust).
There was no postponement of my assignment. They confidently sent me here as planned, with encouragement to testify that change brings opportunities for getting better, for seeking inspiration and being blessed with innovation. That has always been true at this institution, and I was grateful for the Brethren’s reminder that the pace of change in the Lord’s kingdom will increase as His return becomes more imminent.
Four years ago, I was surprised yet again to learn of the Board’s approval of these two buildings that we dedicate today. When, in the summer of 2000, President Hinckley announced the creation of BYU-Idaho, he projected that the school would grow in terms of students served. But he cited year-round operation and innovative instructional technologies as the primary means for enabling that growth. “With some additions and modifications,” he said, “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.”
Because I remembered that statement clearly, I was amazed to learn not only how large this BYU-Idaho Center would be, but also how its size was determined. President Kim Clark and his administrative team, responding to an observation by President Monson in October 2005 that the Hart Auditorium seemed too small to meet the university’s needs, boldly proposed a facility with capacity to seat 12,000, or nearly every student and employee simultaneously. The Board approved the proposal, and the BYU-Idaho team began their work in accordance with the approved project scope and timeline. However, one week later, President Hinckley called President Clark and said, “I have a feeling that you need to make the auditorium bigger.” He also suggested that the work be undertaken sooner than planned.
The past four years have brought many unexpected changes, both on the construction sites of this building and the expanded Manwaring Center, and in the world at large. This BYU-Idaho Center, which seats 15,000 rather than the 12,000 originally proposed, took longer to rise out of the ground and cost more than planned. In addition to having hard winters, Rexburg has hard ground. The early administrators and board members of Ricks College discovered that nearly one hundred years ago when they began to build a gymnasium with a swimming pool in the basement. Digging down only a few feet, they encountered lava rock that resisted their best efforts to excavate. The gym building, on which I looked out from my office in the old Spori, was finished a year later than planned, in 1918. It also cost twice as much as expected—$80,000, instead of the budgeted $40,000. The cost overrun stemmed both from construction difficulties and from wartime inflation of the prices of labor and raw materials.
Similar challenges were encountered in the construction of this BYU-Idaho Center: unforgiving lava rock and rising construction material prices increased the expected investment of time and money.
However, President Hinckley’s suggestion to move quickly proved prophetic. Because his counsel was heeded, the funds for construction were committed before the 2008 drop in the world’s financial markets.
The prophetic inspiration behind these facilities has become apparent in other ways. In 2006, when these two buildings were approved, universities and colleges were enjoying what seemed to be a golden age. Strong student interest and financial markets produced record revenues in higher education. Many institutions expanded their faculties, curricular offerings, and campus facilities, as though student demand and public support for their services was assured.
Today, many traditional universities and colleges face the need to retrench, and most have been forced to raise the prices they charge to students. One result is an increased need for the relatively low-cost, high-quality education that BYU-Idaho offers. As humble, faithful employees of this institution have heeded prophetic counsel and sought and received inspiration, they have discovered ways to serve more students at an affordable cost. Because of its unique design and consecrated employees, BYU-Idaho can grow to meet the needs of would-be students for whom a college education might otherwise be out of reach.
I am not sure of what the Lord has planned for this university. Some future growth seems likely and the university seems to have been prepared to respond. These two facilities we dedicate today may be part of that preparation. I was with President Hinckley when he wrote the announcement that Ricks College would become BYU-Idaho, and I stood next to him as he read it publicly. I do not know whether he foresaw these two buildings. But I know that the Lord spoke through him, as the Lord also speaks through President Monson today. I also know that President Hinckley was as careful about the tithes of the Church and about his choice of words as anyone I have ever met. His description of these facilities as modest changes to the BYU-Idaho campus will, in time, seem perfectly apt. This institution, where frugality will continue to be a guiding spiritual and temporal principle, has been given by the Lord’s prophets just what it needs to perform its divinely appointed role in His kingdom.
We cannot see the future with precision but we can know what the Lord intends to accomplish and what it will take each of us to qualify personally to participate. He has laid plans for preparing the Church for His return. He reveals those plans a line at a time not only to prophets but to all of His worthy servants whose assignments require such revelation. These facilities, along with other buildings on this campus and the temple on the hill above it, have been constructed in accordance with His plans. The university is on a steady, upward course that will allow it to play a remarkable role in the Church and the world.
The institution’s success in playing that role depends on the desires of its individual members. We must come to want what the Lord wants. We must come to want His approval more than that of the world. That is not easy in a world of agencies and people eager to certify, rank, and censure educational institutions. Making the changes the Lord wants will take uncommon courage and more than human wisdom.
Because innovation means, by definition, doing things differently, receiving a steady stream of inspiration will require hearts that welcome change. Everything I have experienced and observed in this place gives me confidence that this institution will rise to the heights to which the Lord has designed it. I leave you with my blessing that your hearts will be filled with faith that the Lord goes before your face and that angels will be by your sides to bear you up as you go forward and upward.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Now, please bow your heads and join me as I dedicate these two buildings, the BYU-Idaho Center and the expanded Manwaring Center.
Prayer of dedication:
O God, our Eternal Father, with thankful hearts we approach Thee in prayer on this day when we dedicate the BYU-Idaho Center and the expanded Manwaring Center. We are grateful for the prophetic vision that has guided the creation of these magnificent buildings. We are thankful for the faculty, administrators, and faithful servants in this university who have created the plans for these buildings. We also give Thee thanks for the architects, the contractors and subcontractors, and all who served in any capacity to construct these facilities.
We thank Thee for the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, which makes this campus unique and valuable in the eyes of the students and the parents who trust their precious children to our care. We thank Thee for Thy Church and kingdom, established through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith. We thank Thee for the many facilities on this campus, including these structures, which will bless those who come to worship, to study, and to serve.
Acting in the authority of the holy priesthood in us vested, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of the Heaven and our Earth, we dedicate these buildings today. We dedicate the footings, the foundations, floors, ceilings, and roofs. We dedicate the walls, that they will remain strong and secure against any tremors or storms which may beat against them. We dedicate all the rooms and the appointments therein for Thy holy purposes, to teach and bless the wonderful young people who shall be privileged to learn the sacred truths of Life Eternal within these precincts. We bless those who will teach, learn, direct, perform, and serve in these buildings. May those who come here do so with gratitude and respect for the sacrifice which made these buildings and this university possible. May they also feel Thy welcome and Thine approval.
We invoke Thy blessing upon these structures and upon all who will enter them. We dedicate these buildings in the name of our Redeemer, whose life and Atonement have done for all of us what no other could do. At this season, we remember the gift of Thy Son and His resurrection, which gives us, and all His children, assurance that we may rise in the resurrection to live with Thee again. We express gratitude to Thee for the restored knowledge of our mortal and eternal possibilities to grow ever closer to Thee and more like Thee and Thy Son.
We thank Thee for all Thy bounteous blessings to this university and to this place. We thank Thee for the temple, which rises on the hill above these structures. We thank Thee for the influence of that holy house and pray that it may always be felt by those who come onto this campus and into these buildings dedicated to Thee and to Thy Son.
Now we recognize Thee as the Almighty God, the Father of all Thy sons and daughter who walk the earth in common brotherhood. We recognize Thee as the one who is above all, who is the greatest of all, and yet who loves us each one. We thank Thee, dear Father, for Thy wondrous blessings. Accept our gratitude and hear our petition we humbly pray as we dedicate these structures and dedicate ourselves to enlarging the tremendous opportunities which have come to us from Thee and which we are pledged to offer to others.
We do all this in the name of Thy Beloved Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.