"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

Brigham Young University

by Eliot A. Butler and Neal E. Lambert

Brigham Young University (BYU) is a four-year private institution located in Provo, Utah, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of the Church Educational System. The university operates under 11 colleges or schoos, including the J. Reuben Clark Law School and the Marriott School of Management. BYU offers 194 bachelor's degrees, 68 master's degrees, and 25 Ph.D. programs to its 34,000 students. With its close ties to the sponsoring Church, BYU has been committed to providing the best possible postsecondary education for the youth of the Church in an atmosphere that emphasizes both teaching and scholarly research—both reasoned and revealed learning.

BYU functions under the direction of the Church through a board of trustees that includes the First Presidency, the general presidents of the women's auxiliary organizations, and selected General Authorities. The university operates on a budget provided by the Church, one-third of which is derived from student tuition.

STUDENTS. 34,000 stiudents attend BYU, with only about a third of them coming from within the state of Utah. 98% of the studetns who attend BYU are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; members of other faiths who will accept and observe its standards of conduct are welcome. Approximately 49 percent of the students are women, and 51 percent, men. About 25 percent of the students are married. Most students (97% of men and 32% of women) take a leave of absence during their studies to serve as missionaries for the Church. Most students live in apartments or dormitories on or near campus, and many work to support themselves while at school; about one-third of the students are employed part-time by the university.

In 2010, entering freshmen had an average American College Test (ACT) composite score of 28.1 (of a possible 36) and an average high school grade point average (GPA) of 3.80 (of a possible 4.0). At that time BYU was fifth among the nation's private universities in the number of undergraduates who went on to earn doctoral degrees and 26th among all universities in the United States in the number of entering National Merit scholars. BYU outranks every school in the US in percentage of accepted applicants that decide to enroll (Harvard comes in second).

BYU library
The Harold B. Lee Library is consistently ranked among the top ten in the nation, with a #1 ranking in 2004 by The Princeton Review.

FACULTY. The 3,100 faculty members at Brigham Young University have degrees from most of the major universities of the United States, and most are members of the Church. This is the natural result of an expectation that the faculty member should be involved fully in the work of the university and should be able to exert influence on students in the full breadth of the mission of BYU, including teaching of religious education courses. Realizing that students are influenced religiously in all their classes, the university officers have sought to attract the best-qualified members of the Church to faculty positions; however, well-qualified persons of other faiths are also employed on the faculty.

MISSION OF THE UNIVERSITY. The religious focus of BYU is evident in its Bulletin's declaration of purpose: "The mission of Brigham Young University—founded, supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life. That assistance should provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued" (p. 1).

Latter-day Saints believe that the study of all truth is especially important for those who have received the saving truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord has instructed, "Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in…things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; …a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms…. Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; …seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:78-79, 118).

On the occasion of his inauguration, Dallin H. Oaks, eighth president of BYU, said, "Our reason for being is to be a university. But our reason for being a university is to encourage and prepare young men and women to rise to their full spiritual potential as sons and daughters of God" (Inauguration Response of President Dallin H. Oaks, Nov. 1971, p. 18).

HISTORY. By the 1870s the economic state of the Church and its members was tenuous at best as they struggled to establish themselves in the Great Basin. A deep-rooted determination to learn had led them to establish community schools almost as soon as townsites were chosen (see Academies). The vision was higher than the performance, and although attendance was poor in some of the community elementary schools, President Brigham Young and others were planning more consequential and more influential schools, for, as he said, "all science and art belong to the Saints" (JD 10:224). "It is the business of the Elders of this Church," President Young said at another time, "to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, to mechanism[s] of every kind, to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever [they] may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and bring it to Zion" (JD 7:283-84).

Consequently, late in 1875, Brigham Young donated a building and established the Brigham Young Academy in Provo. A preliminary term of instruction was held, beginning in January 1876; and in April of that year, Karl G. Maeser, a young, well-educated German immigrant, was appointed to lead the school. Maeser was instructed that "neither the alphabet nor the multiplication tables were to be taught without the Spirit of God" (Wilkinson and Skousen, p. 67). The school began with twenty-nine pupils in the elementary program and one teacher, Karl Maeser. In the words of Ernest L. Wilkinson, seventh president of BYU,

The school was born in poverty, nurtured in conflict, orphaned by the death of Brigham Young,…left homeless when its uninsured building was completely destroyed by fire, threatened with faculty and administrative resignations because of irregular or missed salary payments, and nearly abandoned on many occasions because of lack of funds…. [At first the academy] was a private school without a sponsor or means of support…. It survived only because of the financial sacrifices made by its faculty and Board of Trustees and voluntary gifts from its friends and from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Finally, after 21 years of struggling existence,] the school was incorporated as an educational subsidiary of the LDS Church, which assumed responsibility for its survival [Wilkinson and Skousen, p. xi].

In 1903 the board of trustees changed the name of the school from Brigham Young Academy to Brigham Young University. Nine years later, the board set enrollment limits at 1,300 for the high school and 250 for the college, with a maximum of fifteen paid teachers for the latter. Forty years after its founding, BYU awarded its first four-year college degree.

The university grew from 1,500 students in 1945 to 25,000 by 1970. Since 1970, by decision of the board of trustees, enrollment has been limited to between 25,000 and 27,000 students. Growth has continued, but in less visible ways, with improving facilities, students, and faculty and with the university taking a respected place among other institutions in the state, region, and nation. It continues to struggle with significant problems of growth. With the continuing expansion of Church membership, BYU feels pressure to admit more students than it can adequately accommodate.

The following men have led the institution for the past 115 years: Brigham Young Academy was directed initially by Warren N. Dusenberry (1875-1876) and then for a longer period by Karl G. Maeser (1876-1892), whose character and high educational standards had a permanent impact on the fledgling institution. The presidents of the university thereafter have been Benjamin Cluff, Jr. (1892-1903), George H. Brimhall (1904-1921), Franklin S. Harris (1921-1945), Howard S. McDonald (1945-1949), Ernest L. Wilkinson (1949-1971), Dallin H. Oaks (1971-1980), Jeffrey R. Holland (1980-1989), and Rex E. Lee (from 1989).

RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS EDUCATION. LDS students at BYU are assigned to student wards, which hold their Sunday services in the academic buildings on campus. About 200 students belong to each ward. In these wards, many of the pastoral functions, including sermons, instruction, friendship, and support, are provided by the students themselves. Weekday social activities for students are organized around Church wards. BYU encourages students of other faiths to be actively associated with wards or with their congregations in the community.

Religious instruction represents the university's commitment to a wide spectrum of learning and is a direct response to such divine declarations as "it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance" (D&C 131:6) and "the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth" (D&C 93:36). Religious Education has fifty full-time and eighty part-time faculty who teach over 400 classes daily to approximately 22,000 students. It offers courses in scripture study (including the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price), Christian history, LDS Church history, family history (genealogy), comparative religion, biblical languages, and other topics.

GENERAL AND HONORS EDUCATION. Honors and general education are emphasized at BYU. General education both underpins and complements fields of major study. The general education curriculum is designed to inform students of how fields of study have come to the present state of knowledge and to enhance their awareness of the methodological and cognitive constraints on the pursuit of truth. In addition, given BYU's concern that the development of individuals be eternal, general education entails continued inquiry into the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for knowledge, society, and truth. General-education courses undergo continuing faculty review and evaluation to consider the integration of material and rigorousness of method for each course.

The university's honors education program links a broad university perspective with the specific concentration of a major. It is open to all students, whether or not they choose to complete all the requirements for the designation "University Honors" at graduation.

COLLEGES AND PROGRAMS (1991). The College of Biology and Agriculture has 100 faculty members and offers degrees in the following areas: agronomy and horticulture, animal science, biology, botany and range science, food science and nutrition, microbiology, and zoology. In addition, the college manages research and student training on an 800-acre farm and a 6,200-acre livestock ranch. The college oversees the Ezra Taft Benson Agriculture and Food Institute, which emphasizes training and research in small-plot agriculture and family nutrition for developing areas of the world. The college also manages a 460-acre wildlife preserve in southern Utah and the M. L. Bean Life Science Museum, which houses the university's extensive botanical and zoological collections.

The McKay School of Education, with ninety-five faculty members, offers degree programs in education leadership, educational psychology, elementary education, and secondary education. In addition to an extensive program in the preparation of public school teachers and administrators on both the elementary and secondary levels, the college offers study in early childhood teaching, special-education teaching (for students who will work with those who have intellectual or emotional handicaps or learning disabilities), and communication sciences and disorders (speech and language pathology and audiology).

The College of Engineering and Technology has ninety-eight faculty in six departments: chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial education, and technology. Research programs include the Advanced Combustion Engineering Research Center, the CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) Software Research Center, the Catalysis Laboratory, the Engineering Computer Graphics Laboratory, and the Digital Signal Processing program.

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences has 200 faculty in fifteen academic departments and centers, including anthropology, clothing and textiles, economics, family sciences, geography, history, home economics, political science, psychology, social work, and sociology. The college supervises several centers and institutes, including the Center for Studies of the Family; the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, which promotes research and publishing regarding the American West and maintains a large oral history program; the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History, which is primarily engaged in research and writing of history about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for both a professional and a general audience; the Center for Family and Community History, which supervises genealogy, family, community, and public history programs; and the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, which sponsors and supervises interdisciplinary programs in American, Asian, Canadian, European, Latin American, and Near Eastern studies.

The College of Fine Arts and Communications, with 135 faculty, offers thirty-seven areas of emphasis in art, communications, design, music, and theatre and film. The college has for its use five speech and drama theaters; two concert halls; two art galleries; a major art museum; and journalism, advertising, and broadcast laboratories, including a campus daily newspaper, and the university radio (KBYU-FM) and television (KBYU-TV) stations. The BYU Motion Picture Studio became part of the Church Audiovisual Department in 1991. In addition, musical ensembles and performing groups from the college tour each summer throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.

The College of Humanities has 230 full-time faculty and offers majors in Asian, Classical, English, French, Germanic, Near Eastern, Portuguese, Slavic, and Spanish languages and literatures; humanities; comparative literature; library and information sciences; linguistics; and philosophy. As a result of their two-year mission experience in a foreign country, many students at BYU elect to continue language study in addition to their major emphasis, resulting in an unusually high number of students speaking foreign languages at BYU. The college also oversees the work of the Humanities Research Center, with a main emphasis on computer-assisted language and literature research; BYU Studies, a quarterly journal for the community of LDS scholars; the Center for the Study of Christian Values in Literature; and almost a dozen different foreign-language houses where students live in residence and carry on daily activities with native teachers.

The College of Nursing has forty faculty. It accepts approximately 120 baccalaureate students and fifteen master's students into its NLN-accredited program annually (National League for Nursing). Its programs offer emphases in family, medical-surgical, child, and psychological nursing.

The College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, with 155 faculty, has departments of chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics, physics and astronomy, and statistics. The college has established a number of special facilities and programs, including four State Centers of Excellence: X-ray imagery, chemical separations, computer-aided education, and supercritical fluid-separation technologies. The college also oversees the Center for Thermodynamics, the Center for Statistical and Computing Research, and research programs and special facilities for solid-state physics, astrophysics and astronomy, calorimetry, environmental chemistry, molecular structure studies, chemical separations, earth sciences, and fission-track dating.

The College of Physical Education has ninety faculty members and offers degrees in health sciences; physical education—dance; physical education—sports; recreation management and youth leadership. In intercollegiate athletics, BYU is a member of the Western Athletic Conference and participates in most intercollegiate sports for both men and women. The college oversees, in addition to its own degree programs, a campuswide intramural program consisting of more than sixty events involving thousands of women and men. The university's athletic facilities include not only large intercollegiate facilities for basketball, football, and track but also indoor and outdoor tracks, pools, courts, and playing fields that accommodate the intramural programs and other recreational exercise for students and faculty members.

The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott School of Management has approximately 110 faculty in its six academic departments, including accountancy, business management, information management, managerial economics, public management, and organizational behavior. The Graduate School of Management offers the master of accountancy, the master of business administration, the executive MBA, the master of organizational behavior, the master of public administration, and the executive MPA programs. In addition, the School of Management coordinates university programs in Air Force and Army ROTC with their sixteen military faculty.

The J. Reuben Clark Law School, with its twenty-eight faculty members, offers a six-semester course of graduate professional study leading to the doctor of jurisprudence degree. The Law School also offers a master of comparative law program.

BYU offers several Study-Abroad Programs, including semesters in several European and Asian countries, Mexico, and Israel (see Brigham Young University: Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies)

The Division of Continuing Education at BYU enrolls more than 390,000 students yearly in evening classes, independent study, conferences and workshops, travel study, study abroad, and other courses at centers in California; Ogden, Utah; Salt Lake City; and Rexburg, Idaho.

ACCREDITATION. BYU is fully accredited by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. In addition, most professional programs of the university are reviewed, evaluated, and accredited by national and state associations and boards.

(See Daily Living home page; Education and Work home page)


This arial view of Brigham Young University from the south shows the Provo, Utah, campus with Mt. Timpanogos to the north (c. 1985). Courtesy Brigham Young University.


As part of the semicentennial anniversary of Brigham Young University, October 15-17, 1925, a parade passes before the Karl G. Maeser Memorial Building (built 1911).


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Brigham Young University Bulletin (annual catalog). Provo, Utah, 1990.

Butterworth, Edwin. Brigham Young University: 1,000 Views of 100 Years. Provo, Utah, 1975.

Clark, Marden J. "On the Mormon Commitment to Education." Dialogue 7 (Winter 1972):11-19.

Holland, Jeffery R. A School in Zion. Provo, Utah, 1988.

Kimball, Spencer W. "Second Century Address." BYU Studies 16 (Summer 1976):445-57.

King, Arthur H. "The Idea of a Mormon University." BYU Studies 13 (Winter 1973):115-25.

Pardoe, T. Earl. The Sons of Brigham. Provo, Utah, 1969.

Poll, Richard Douglas. The Honors Program at Brigham Young University, 1960-1985. Provo, Utah, 1985.

Waterstradt, Jean Anne, ed. They Gladly Taught: Ten BYU Professors. Provo, Utah, 1986.

Wilkinson, Ernest L., et al. Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years, 4 vols. Provo, Utah, 1975-1976.

Wilkinson, Ernest L., and W. Cleon Skousen. Brigham Young University: A School of Destiny. Provo, Utah, 1976.



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Based on Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1, Brigham Young University

Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company