BYU-Idaho


The best and worst of one of America's cheapest universities


Posted 18 Feb 2017    Edited 19 Aug 2017


I just think all this. None of what is said here represents the opinion of BYU-Idaho or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or anyone but me.


BYU-Idaho, Rexburg, Idaho

BYU-Idaho actually started as a "stake academy" which was basically a Mormon high school in 1888. For most of its history through the twentieth century, it functioned as the two-year Ricks College; and then transitioned to a four-year university from June 2000 to August 2001. It was renamed Brigham Young University - Idaho, using the "-Idaho" suffix to differentiate from the original BYU in Provo, Utah.

BYU in Provo conducts funded research and has intercollegiate sports [both of which are lacking at BYU-I], and has way higher academic entrance requirements.

Disclaimer


I first want to say that I am really, really grateful that I was able to attend BYU-Idaho. As a whole, I got a great education there. BYU-I provides some amazing benefits that you really will be hard-pressed to find at other universities.

Cost


The tuition is subsidized by the LDS church; without scholarships or financial aid or anything, tuition is less than two thousand dollars per semester. That is insane.

I [and many other students] attended all four years of BYU-I at zero cost. With the FAFSA grant I got, and some part-tuition scholarships from the school [along with a waiver I got because my dad is an employee of the university], I didn't even pay for books.



The integration of the church with the school helped a lot of students with financial needs, too. Every student is assigned to a "ward" which is an organizational unit of the church. The wards at BYU-I provide a meal to all the students on almost a weekly basis in one form or another. Sometimes students are invited into the homes of the ward leaders. Other times, the ward will hold a social where students can get some free grub.

Plus, student-led church leadership provides a good support system to struggling students. I was assigned to offer meals and stuff to other students in my ward sometimes. And I don't think it's uncommon for ward leaders to shell out personal money to students when they encounter needs. My dad was the bishop of a student ward for several years. He and his councilors once paid for some new clothes for an international student who was "saving his money to buy a belt."

Also, students generally spend less time at BYU-Idaho before getting a degree, so they're not losing money with excess semesters like most other undergrads.

Plus, they invent a ton of campus jobs for students to do. And they allow students to do work for the university in positions that are probably reserved for salaried employees in most universities [this is good for students who need jobs - not always great for students who want the wifi to be reliable].

Practicality


When I attended there was a huge push from all the faculty and administration to get real-world experience. There were tons of resources for hooking up internships; like, if you were in the automotive program they would fly you out to Detroit and you'd meet with all the major auto companies and have interviews set up for internship programs and stuff like that.

Also, deans were encouraged to move as many students as possible through their programs. Getting into departments was super streamlined; and courses were designed to maximize their value to students and accreditation boards. I was in engineering, so some classes were really intense [like, six credits worth of coursework crammed into three credit classes], but you really did get more bang for your buck.


A class in the construction management department

Students are encouraged to finish their degrees quickly. This sucked for a lot of people. The university had a credit limit that put pressure on students who either couldn't figure out what to study or who changed their majors more than a couple times.

The culture of efficiency worked really well for me cause I just wanted to hurry to graduation and dip. I set up a grad plan that let me leap frog almost a year of study. There was one time I scheduled two classes at the same time. I reviewed my schedule with my advisor, and he was like, "If you think you can handle it, I'll allow an override" - because everyone's on board with the deans to move students through the system.

Probably not everyone's cup of tea, but great for students who want to avoid debt and get into the job market quicker.

Nice People


The school was also really interested in producing grounded, kind graduates. From my perspective, people were generally very nice. It seemed like it started at the level of faculty and sorta infected the students.

I remember one time, I was studying on campus the day before Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving break had already started, so I was the only student in the building. One of the faculty [who I later found out was the dean of the psychology department] came into his office for some reason [maybe grading papers - idk] and he had two of his kids with him. While he was in his office, the kids were playing in the halls and one of the tables in the commons area. He had two girls: one looked about ten and the other closer to seven or eight.

After about thirty minutes from when the dean guy came in, the two girls approached me and the older one, with some boxes of chicken and mashed potatoes from KFC in hand, asked me, "Hey, would you like this?" I was really surprised and was kinda like, "Uh... Jeez, that's really nice. I'm good, though. Thanks." And the girl was like, "Well, we're just going to throw it away if you don't take it." So I was like, "Okay, yeah. I'll take it."

So I ate the KFC meal, and a few minutes later the dean came out with the kids and I kinda waved to them and said thanks for the meal, and he came over and talked with me for a while. He was like, "What are you still doing on campus?" and then kinda asked me if I had any plans for Thanksgiving. Even though I'd never met this guy, he was unbelievably nice to me and was even going to invite me to have dinner with his family for Thanksgiving [I let him know that I was just on campus to study without distractions and that my family lived nearby and I would be spending the holiday with them].

It wasn't uncommon to have experiences like that. There was another time that I had just got off the phone with a friend and told him about my wife, who at that time was just my girlfriend. I was talking to him about how I was planning on marrying her, and I was just really happy. I was happy to be talking with a good friend, and even happier as I thought about this girl I loved and the idea of getting married and stuff.

I was just leaving the admissions building as I hung up the call with my friend, and this random guy was walking out the same door as me at the same time. He was like, "Sorry to bug you; but, why are you so happy?"

I didn't notice it before he asked me, but I guess I was just kinda wearing it on my sleeve.

I was like, "Uh... A lot of things I guess. I just got off the phone with a good friend, and told him about some important stuff that's going on in my life, and the stuff that's going on in my life right now is really good. And talking to him about it just made me realize it, I guess."

And this random guy was like genuinely interested in who I was and what was happening to me. He said something like, "I really like to share good things with people, so thanks." And just walked away looking glad as hell.

Those are a couple instances that stick out in my mind, but stuff like that isn't uncommon at BYU-Idaho. People are way smiley and carry out niceness on everybody.

Quality


I can't speak for all the departments on campus, but I had an amazing experience with all the macks in mechanical engineering. Almost all the faculty I can think of had pretty amazing qualifications and career histories. The mech. e. Dean was a high-up engineering manager at Honeywell. The guy who taught CFD was a Nasa person. My advisor worked for Ford Motors as a design engineer. He was kinda the classic design engineer.

And outside my major, I got taught by amazing people. I had a world religions professor who wasn't afraid to point out shortcomings of Mormonism in a global religious context. I had a women's history teacher who empowered students to respond to sex-based oppression operating in Mormon culture and offered lots of critical analysis of the church's storied history with oppression toward women and minorities. I think those two were the ballsiest professors I had, considering they were church employees, technically.

I had a stats teacher who worked for HSBC and was a way cool guy. I had another stats professor who worked for the NSA [and was a total douche]. I had really cool computer science professors who worked for HP as R&D project managers and did really innovative stuff with machine learning.

Lots of my professors probably had less prestigious backgrounds, but almost all of them were way committed to helping students. Minus a few rare exceptions, my professors were kind and academically generous and smart.

The fact that BYU-I isn't a research institution means that professors have no excuse for not being committed to helping students. And tenure isn't really a thing at BYU-I. I mean, technically it is, but I heard of weak-ass tenured professors being fired after a new university president took over, and it didn't sound like it was that hard for him to do.

Maybe I lack context, but I don't feel like I sacrificed anything academically to attend free school.

Well Then


Okay.

I have disclaimed.

Now there's some weird BYU-I stuff to talk about.

The Honor Code


I think that most universities have some form or another of a code of conduct that basically is like, "Don't cheat, don't have cars if you're a freshman, don't rape, and don't have any weapons on campus." Some of today's universities might also say things like, "...and don't dress up like an Indian for Halloween, and don't use the word 'retarded,' and precede any sensitive topic with a trigger warning."

BYU-Idaho's honor code has some of the classical clauses about academic honesty and sexual harassment and such, but it takes the game up a notch. According to BYU-I's own site:

The CES Honor Code exists to educate students in an atmosphere consistent with the ideals and principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a condition of admission and employment, students and employees of BYU-Idaho are expected to live by the Honor Code standards approved by the Board of Trustees “at all times… and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). Individuals who are not members of the Church are also expected to maintain the same standards of honor, integrity, morality, and consideration of others.

That sounds okay. Especially to a Mormon. I mean, that quote from "Mosiah" is from the Book of Mormon. And a really good portion of the honor code is normal and benign.

Before attending BYU-I, every student has to go online and take this honor code quiz thing. It gives you information about the honor code and has you agree to follow it the whole time you're at BYU-Idaho. Like, the whole time. Whether you are on campus or taking online courses or even off track or during the summer break [I've never heard of anyone who followed honor code rules in their off track].

The quiz even shows you pictures of students wearing clothing that either is or is not consistent with the university's dress and grooming policy; and it makes you choose between pictures, rejecting the picture of a girl with ripped jeans, and accepting the picture of a tall guy with khakis and a polo.

On the university's honor code page, there's a little colored box that has a summary of the honor code:

  • Be honest.
  • Live a chaste and virtuous life.
  • Obey the law and all campus policies.
  • Use clean language.
  • Respect others.
  • Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee and substance abuse.
  • Participate regularly in church services.
  • Observe dress and grooming standards.
  • Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code.

In my opinion, some aspects of the honor code are completely reasonable. Others are a little culty. Or maybe just Jehova's-Witnessy.

Overnight co-ed activities that are not university sponsored such as spending the night together at the St. Anthony sand dunes, camping, staying in motels or cabins, and similar activities are prohibited. No overnight guests of the opposite sex are permitted at any time in single-student housing. Violations of this policy may result in disciplinary action, including separation from the university.

...
All BYU-Idaho students are to be in their own apartments by midnight every night of the week except Friday, when curfew is one o’clock A.M. When attending university functions that end later than established curfew hours, such as plays and concerts, students should be in within 30 minutes after the event is over.

...
Landlords, managers, and students have a responsibility to filter and block material that is suggestive, vulgar, immoral, violent, illegal, or pornographic in any way. Internet access must specifically be filtered for adult/mature/tasteless content, gambling, nudity, pornography, proxy/anonymizer (used to bypass filters), P2P/file sharing (used for illegal downloading), sexuality and all other inappropriate content categories.

Cable or satellite television must be filtered by R and NC-17 ratings as well as all inappropriate content categories such as language, nudity, violence, and sexual content. Most premium movie channels are considered inappropriate and must be filtered or blocked. Specific channels that often come with basic service and must also be blocked include MTV, VH-1, and Comedy Central...

...
Men and women may visit in apartments of the opposite sex beginning at 10 A.M. All must leave in time to arrive at their own apartment by curfew.

Visitors need to be in compliance with the following guidelines:
  • There should always be at least three people in an apartment being visited by a member of the opposite sex.
  • Blinds/drapes should be left open during the visit.
  • Visitors of the opposite sex are not allowed in bedrooms at any time.
  • Visitors must have the approval of the roommates before being allowed in the apartment.

The above guidelines are just a few snippets from the section of the honor code called "student life." There are more than three times as many policies just under that heading that I didn't include above.

Here's the dress and grooming policy:

Men and Women Campus Attire

Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any manner. Men and women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle and behavior. Pants, slacks or jeans should not be patched, faded, frayed or torn and must be ankle length. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extreme styles and unnatural colors. Caps or hats should not be worn in buildings. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas. Flip-flops and other casual footwear are inappropriate on campus. Shorts are not appropriate campus attire. Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings.

Women

Clothing is immodest when it is sleeveless, does not cover the stomach or is low-cut in the front or back. Dresses and skirts should be knee-length or longer (even with leggings worn). No capris may be worn on campus. Women may wear one pair of earrings.

Men

Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extreme styles or colors, and trimmed above the collar leaving the ear uncovered. Sideburns should not extend below the earlobe or onto the cheek. Men are expected to be clean shaven, mustaches, if worn, should be neatly trimmed and may not extend beyond or below the corners of the mouth. Beards are not appropriate.

We might need to take a break.

Enjoy this picture of a cow.

(__)
oo )__________
|_ / \                   |\
       | |______     |   \
        | |        VV| |
.

I hope you actually appreciate it cause it took me like twenty minutes to draw.

So, anyway, back to the honor code: crazy, right? Also, the run-on sentence typo [starting at the word "mustaches"] is actually present in the university's official online publication of the dress code, as of February 2017. I don't know why I see irony there.

The rules about no camping are kinda the most upsetting part to me, because camping is one of the great experiences you can have in Idaho. Especially as a college student.

I mean, the university expects its graduates to be good, honest Mormons with a strong commitment to do what's right. But it doesn't seem to trust them to be that at all; not without surveillance, at least.

And the dress and grooming standards are a trip.

Not because men can't have beards. I mean, that's real arbitrary. Jesus probably had a beard. Brigham Young [of whom the university is a namesake] super had a beard.


Brigham Young by Charles William Carter

But, in the sixties, church leaders changed their minds about face hairs. This article from the Salt Lake Tribune explains some of the history behind the beard thing.

Throughout its 183-year history, the LDS church has had a shifting, sometimes contradictory standard for facial hair.

Mormon founder Joseph Smith was clean-shaven when he launched the movement in 1830 at age 24 and remained that way until his murder in 1844 at age 38. But subsequent LDS leaders, as they aged, grew beards like their peers as signs of maturity or personal style.

When LDS apostle Heber J. Grant arrived in England in 1903 to oversee the Utah-based faith's evangelizing abroad, his predecessor had required missionaries to grow beards as symbols of their maturity and dignity. A few days into Grant's assignment, a timid missionary inquired as to whether he might be allowed to shave and Grant, a future Mormon prophet, readily agreed.

Then came the handsome - and clean-shaven - David O. Mckay and the rebellious 1960s. Before long, beards took it on the chin.

"In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution and rebellion against authority," [Dallin H.] Oaks said in that 1971 speech, "They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. ... In addition, unkemptness - which is often (though not always) associated with beards and long hair — is a mark of indifference toward the best in life."
.
Today, beards are outlawed in church schools. They're also forbidden on LDS bishops, regional leaders, and temple workers.

Thanks, hippies.

The beard thing really isn't something to get riled up about, though, I don't think. If the school wants me to shave for four years, I'll do it. That's a reasonable irrationality to endure, especially considering the school's benefits.

The real problem I have with the dress and grooming standards of BYU-Idaho is their unfair application to women. If you go back and look at the wording [which I just copied over from the university's site], you'll see that there is a "general" section and then gender-specific sections. The men's section is significantly longer than the women's section.

I believe this structure is intentionally deceptive.

Although the men's section is longer and more detailed, the only thing it's really talking about is their hair. The honor code dictates a lot more about what's appropriate for women. It does so with broader and vaguer language. The effect is that women's clothing and grooming options are severely limited by the honor code and guys just need to shave.

That's an oversimplification [there are some clothing restrictions placed on the men], but in practice women feel the burden of the standards much heavier than do the men. And it's always been that way.

Until well into the eighties, young women weren't even allowed to wear slacks or jeans to class. They had to wear dresses or skirts.

Susan Bednar gave an original address to BYU-I students in 2001 titled "Reverencing Womanhood" that really captures what a lot of Mormons believe about the subject of women's bodies and modesty. I kinda can't believe this is hosted by BYU-I. You can access the full transcript of the speech here.

In the priesthood session of general conference in April 2000, Elder Scott was speaking to the young men about honoring womanhood. He told the young priesthood holders in attendance:

Many [young women] dress and act immodestly because they are told that is what you want. In sensitive ways, communicate how distasteful revealing attire is to you, as a worthy young man, and how it stimulates unwanted emotions from what you see against your will (Elder Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 2000, 36-37).

I'm reminded of an experience our son had when he asked a young woman to attend the senior prom with him. He had dated this young woman once before and felt uncomfortable because of what she wore. But after he mustered the courage to ask her again, he sheepishly added, "And by the way, please wear some clothes!" I don't know that our son was very sensitive in the way he communicated, but this young woman honored his request and wore a modest formal that made him feel at ease on his date with her that evening.

Nearly a year ago a young man on our campus affiliated with the Scroll [campus newspaper] attempted to express his feelings about immodest dress. In quoting selected portions of his article entitled "Epidermis exposure is too common," this young man wrote:

Many young women at Ricks College are showing too much skin. Every day I see at least one girl sitting somewhere with a substantial part of her lower back exposed. It has become way too common of an occurrence. It is thoughtless, inappropriate, and embarrassing. Any time that I see such an occurrence, I cannot help but think how ignorant these young women are. Exposed skin and immodest clothing can introduce thoughts into a person's mind that would have never existed otherwise. Such thoughts can be overpowering and lead to improper and immoral actions. Good people can stumble because of seemingly small situations (John Wilson, Scroll, "Epidermis exposure is too common," November 7, 2000).

The content of this letter caused an outrage on our campus. The Scroll was filled with spirited debate on the issue. Letters from men and women who were angry at this young man for expressing his opinion, as well as letters supporting his point of view, filled the mailbox section of the Scroll for many weeks. I have to admit, ladies, that the wording of this editorial probably wasn't all that smooth and caused some misunderstanding. But I read this piece as a cry for help from the men on this campus for you girls to wear appropriate clothing.

Let me read the thoughts of Emily Eyring Robertson, a former student body officer at Ricks College who is now married and attending BYU. She is looking at the problems of immodesty and pornography from a newfound perspective--as a wife. I have permission to read a portion of a letter she wrote.

Rather than being disappointed or confused by girls who dress immodestly in spite of the Honor Code, I find myself getting angry at them. They subject my husband, other women's husbands, and men in general who are trying to stay clean, to seeing more than they want to of something that is naturally hard for them to avoid. When they do so, they contribute to the breakup of marriages and families. It seems like a drastic conclusion, but that's what it comes down to, not to mention the dreadful effect it has on the girls themselves.

It just makes me sick at heart to think of my brothers, friends, and all the men I interact with having to fight such a terrible temptation. I want to do all I can to fight it, and I think everyone should (Emily Eyring Robertson, used by permission).

This is an issue that goes both ways. Young women, you have a responsibility not to invite unwanted thoughts into the mind of a young man by the way you dress; and, obviously, a young man has the responsibility not to dwell or act on those thoughts. Please, let us magnify the priesthood by reverencing womanhood.

I've thought of my own college-aged sons the past two weeks since school began as I've seen young woman after young woman dressed immodestly. You can't believe all the female students I've walked past who were sitting in a chair, and when I looked down I could see their bikini underpants or even worse. I think you know what I mean. I'm sorry to be so blunt. I'm just telling you what I saw. When I looked into the faces of these girls, I could tell they probably weren't even aware of what they were showing. But young women, for the sake of the priesthood holders on this campus, you cannot continue to be unaware.

Oh boy.

Susan Bednar was an important figure at the university at the time of this address. Her words not only captured the BYU-I modesty zeitgeist, they also fed a narrative: that women are sexually responsible for men.



That's all I have to say about that.

Religion


I love being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think the experience of being in the system is summed up pretty well by this thing Joseph Smith said once.

The church lived as a very well functioning quasi-socialist community from 1839 to 1844. It was in Illinois, and Smith named the place Nauvoo. At its height, Nauvoo had twelve thousand inhabitants, which was about the size of Chicago at the time.

The community was extremely peaceful and well-organized. John Taylor, who was in Nauvoo and was a close associate of Smith, said:

Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. "How?" responded the gentleman; "To us it is very difficult." Mr. Smith replied, "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."

As I've personally witnessed it in the United States and in Europe, the church operates this way today. It's extremely organized and members are motivated to give a lot to the church and kinda give the best of themselves to helping other people in it; but, no one is getting his/her arm twisted to do it. And most positions in the church are unpaid. And no one can lobby or apply for leadership in the church. Every position is filled by "calling" someone to it.

The church isn't some perfect utopian system that is always true to its ideals or anything. There have been major discriminatory issues in the church on the grounds of race and sex [some of which continues today in Mormon culture]. Some of the highest-ranking leaders have acted deceptively and illegally.

But I think the church is mostly good. It helps a lot of people on a lot of levels. It empowers its members to enjoy a high level of well-being. It fights poverty. It cultivates love in people.

The church isn't perfect, but I think expecting perfection [even from a church that claims to be founded by God Himself] is unrealistic. Because it's carried by humans.

Religion at BYU-I


Dialectics is rad.

It's basically the idea that you learn the most truth about a subject by hearing about it from extremely different viewpoints. Like, there's no better way to get to the truth about parenting than by listening to the world's most eloquent laissez-faire parent with super successful, well-rounded kids argue with the world's smartest authoritarian parent who also has super successful, well-rounded children.

I feel like my faith has grown up a lot as I've subjected it to criticism. Like, asking myself, "Why do you believe that Joseph Smith saw God?" or "What kind of deception could you have fed yourself to feel so confident in even the existence of God?" inquiries like this have sometimes made my belief even stronger.

There's this Sam Harris guy I really like. He's a philosopher who basically thinks religion is the dumbest idea ever.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One time he gave this awesome analogy:

An old friend tells you everything changed for him the day he realized he was destined to marry Angelina Jolie.

It might occur to you to ask, "Why does he believe this?" Angelina Jolie is, after all, one of the most beautiful and famous people on the planet. She's not incidentally married to Brad Pitt. They have something like 27 children.

What if your friend, sensing your skepticism, said, "Clearly you don't understand. This belief gives my life meaning. I now know my purpose in life: it's to be Angelina's husband."?

What if your friend said, "This belief has made me a better person. I'm now incredibly kind to children, anticipating having to raise angelina's once brad leaves."?

Or what if your friend said, "You can believe whatever you want, but I wouldn't want to live in a universe where I don't marry Angelina Jolie."?

It should be quite clear that your friend has lost his mind and is probably a dangerous person. Yet this is precisely the type of talk that so often passes for wisdom in religious circles, and may attempt to pass for wisdom here.

Beliefs are not like clothing. Comfort and utility and attractiveness cannot be our conscious criteria for adopting them.

Great point.

I think this is a really healthy test to apply to belief. Any religious person should ask herself/himself, "Do I just accept [insert religious teaching here] because I'm scared of the alternative?" or "Has my desire to believe something overridden a rational look into my belief?"

From my experience, Mormonism provides tons of space for having a meaningful religious experience along with complete freedom to be rational and scientific. Actually, from my understanding of the Mormon canon, we have some of the most liberal and non-dogmatic views of God and the afterlife in the world of organized faith. I believe fully in human evolution, the big bang model of the universe, environmental stewardship, the simulation hypothesis, and lots of other ideas that usually cause friction in religion.

I don't feel like any of these secular "beliefs" diminish my experience in the faith or put me at odds with the church. And I've never encountered a situation where I felt like I needed to give up my rationality to be in good standing in the church. Many Mormons I've met, though, prefer to rely solely on religious language and experience to define their lives and the universe around them.

Enter BYU-Idaho religion department.

I'm not going back on what I said about Mormonism being a positive force in people's lives. But it seems to have a frickin' weird effect on people who teach it for a living.

I know I said that you can't apply or lobby for positions in the church... I guess that is true of, like, the normal church, but there are also church employees. There are church lawyers, church accountants, church custodians, church media specialists, church web designers, etc.

A lot of teaching goes on in Sunday meetings and in other conferences by normal members of the church, but there are also some teaching positions that go to full-time, salaried teachers. And almost all of them that I've ever met have some really weird ideas about how the world works.

Full-time church educators are made up of seminary teachers [for high-school-age kids], institute teachers [for college-age kids], and church school professors [like at BYU-I]. All of them do religious teaching as a job.

See, each church university has a religion department. The curriculum requires something like twelve or so religion credits to graduate [which aren't hard credits, academically].

At BYU-I, the religion classes usually go something like this: you walk in. You sit down. The professor comes in. He [all of mine were a 'he'] shows a couple of funny YouTube videos [that are not funny at all]. He makes jokes about the videos. He says what you're going to be reading that day. You start reading from either the Bible or the Book of Mormon. He tells you what he's written in the margins of his scriptures. He shows you quotes from things church leaders said in the seventies about the topics you're reading. He starts crying.

He cries every class. It doesn't matter if you're talking about the coldest, driest passage of scripture from the Bible. He will have a "powerful" reaction to the subject, and then class will be over.

And you don't really have any homework, but you have to be super engaged and attentive in class. In fact, the religion department is the only department on campus that I know of that has a "tardy limit." If you miss five classes or something, you fail the class.

But all you miss if you don't go is your professor talking.

The religion professors are very intent on their students paying careful attention. I had one professor who said, "If I see your phone after the time for class starts, I'll fail you. Even if you are just pushing the button to turn it off."

He's also the professor who said that evolution was a false concept that came from the devil. Like, not just human evolution, but evolution of any organism.

He's also the professor who, on the first day of class, said, "Please don't tell administrators or a department head about a bad experience you have in my class. Just come talk to me and we'll work it out."

Besides the professors being a little intense, there's also a required course that is quite heavy: Family Foundations.

This course is designed to prepare BYU-I students for family life done right. You learn about the proper roles for husbands and wives, the important differences that exist between the sexes, and ways to successfully date and get married [if you aren't already]. The ideal family ends up looking a little like this:


Leave It to Beaver

Except with a lot more kids.

With the exception of a world religions course that I took [which was one of the best classes I ever had], my religion courses were the probably the least enjoyable and engaging courses of my college experience.

The subject matter was great and I think there was a lot of potential for interesting discussion in all my classes, but the professors were uninterested in dialectics. Even though unchallengeable dogma has never been a striking feature of my experience in the church, it was basically the hallmark of the religion department courses I took at BYU-Idaho.

Marriage Culture


I'm not going to rag on BYU-I marriage culture proper. One of the entities engineered by the church's leaders [in conjunction with the school's administration] to bring young, sexually frustrated Mormons together worked out pretty much as planned for me and my now wife.


Met at BYU-I in September 2013 -> dated on and off for a couple years -> got married 7 May 2016

I'd be a total hypocrite to complain about something that worked out so well for me. But there are some weird things - like, I guess you could call them secondary effects or something - that spring from the hype around marriage; and they should probably be discussed.

Religions that encourage young marriage and big families are genius, and Mormons have been doing it for almost two hundred years. Maybe it goes without explaining, but here's how the perfect Mormon family is supposed to happen:

A boy serves a two-year mission for the church when he's eighteen. He comes home. He goes to a church university. He meets a girl in his singles ward his first semester. She is either a returned missionary herself, or she's a brand new freshman. They go on one date. They go on a second date. They talk about "where the relationship is going" on the third date. They talk about marriage on the fourth date. He proposes two months later and they get married three months after that [actually, the "where is this going?" talk might be a little late by the third date; that's a more common second-date conversation at BYU-I].

So far, perfect.

They get married and don't bother with birth control - or they just suck at using it right - and nature takes its course. They are way poor while both in school having kids. No one bats an eye if she drops out. Lots of Mormon moms take a break from school at this point and many never go back.

They leave school and move to wherever his work [or sometimes grad school] takes him. Their kids are raised in the church, with high levels of exposure to propaganda. For lots of them, the propaganda will stick. For the boys, it's really a matter of keep them reeled in tight enough until high school. If you can keep them in the system to that point, you're almost certain they'll go on missions themselves. And lots of the girls will go, too.

And the great North American Mormon circle of life continues.

Obviously, the more kids each couple produces, the better.

It didn't work exactly this way for my wife and me. Although we met shortly after I returned home from a mission [we were in the same single student ward], we just dated sporadically for a while. She left for eighteen months to serve a mission of her own, and I kept chugging away at school. She got home the day I graduated. And then we hooked up again and got married and now she's back in school.

We didn't follow the BYU-I marriage model precisely, but we're married now. And we're totally gonna indoctrinate our kids, so no harm done.

Even so, I got quite a bit of flak for waiting as long as I did. In my last semester people were like, "Wait, you're not married? You're not even dating anyone? What are you doing?! You realize that you getting married was the whole reason we even built a school here, right?"

A few guys even told me, "Well, your girlfriend shouldn't have gone on a mission. Girls with the option to get married or go on a mission should choose marriage every time."

Now, the church officially and enthusiastically endorses marriage. Church leaders have often cautioned against postponing marriage to pursue other interests. But I didn't really have bad interactions with Mormons being judgy about my status as a single person outside of school. The people who were the most critical were either students, student ward leaders, or people who were parents of kids who went to a church university [like a lot of my friends' parents].

Even for students who want to get married really desperately [whether that's the result of social pressure or loneliness or horniness or whatever], BYU-I can be a harsh dating environment.

The guys are expected to be very aggressive "askers" and the girls are expected to do all sorts of things to "make themselves available." Like, I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a single student ward and heard some bishop say, "Boys, there are lots of fine young ladies at this school who aren't being asked on dates. Go out there and make sure there aren't any girls sitting at home on a Saturday night".

I don't know exactly the speech that girls got in their women-only meetings, but I don't imagine they were any less annoying. Probably more frustrating, because it's all about getting guys to ask you out, and that just doesn't happen for lots of girls at BYU-I for the same reasons it doesn't happen for them in the real world.

Students who buy into these directives and really "get out there" can get frustrated af. Because the dating culture is really aggressive and lots of students are going on lots of dates. It's a totally saturated market.


Image courtesy of Michael Rogers

Like, just based on the few dates I went on while I was there, if you don't really blow a girl's mind with the first date, she's gonna have lots of other people lined up in her head, and you're not likely to get a second chance; and, for the girls, if you don't fit a certain Mormon standard of physical composition, you're unlikely to get asked out much in the first place. Like, you gotta be sexually appealing enough to grab attention, but not sexually forward enough to be rejected.

I guess these are balances that exist outside of Mormon universities, but I promise you it's a totally different thing. The constant and heavy attention that is paid to everyone's dating habits by everybody else is astounding. And the stigma around people who just aren't that interesting in relationships and stuff is weird.

I know for a fact that there are lots of single students at both BYU-I and BYU the original who approach graduation without any serious relationship prospects and end up extending their degrees artificially by a few semesters so they have more time to hunt. Because some students think that if they don't get married there, it'll be to hard to find Mormon people out in the real world and it won't happen for them.

It's a racket.

KIMBC


When you get picked to be the president of a church university, you get a phone call from the president of the church - a prophet - going like, "Hey, wanna quit your prestigious job and move to Rexburg, Idaho and run a school for us?" And because he's the prophet, you go, "Yeah, sure."

Turns out, when Kim B Clark got that call, he was the dean of the Harvard Business College. And was doing pretty well for himself.

In addition to being the freaking dean of the freaking Harvard freaking Business College, he also served as a board member for the companies Black and Decker and JetBlue Airlines. As my upstairs neighbor who turns over appliances said of the summer of 2005 when he flipped more than 300 fridges and washing machines: "That's some mad money."


Image by Michael Lewis

I only had two or three one-on-one interactions with him, but I felt like I was talking to someone who was on a whole different, upper-crusty plane apart from most people I'd met.

He attended Harvard from 1967 to 1978 with a two year break for a mission [plus some extra time where he tried to go to BYU for a while]. After earning a Bachelor's, Master's, and Ph.D. at Harvard, he got hired to work full-time as a faculty. And he served as the dean of the HBC from 1995 to 2005.

Thirty-five damn years.

You can murder a person in cold blood in America and go to prison and get out and not have done as much time as Kim Clark did at Harvard.

Someone made a parody Twitter account of him once. Whoever made it pulled it down, unfortunately. Most of the tweets were about rolling in cash and calling students out on honor code violations. It was exaggerated, but obviously based on real impressions that this student [and probably others] had of Kim B Clark.

Someone also made these KIMBC shirts and sold them on Facebook.


The Facebook page is still there. Don't know if you can buy them anymore, though

I wonder what he'd think of it :)

He was pretty authoritarian in his public statements to students, and used the honor code as the framework for establishing that relationship. He seemed almost exclusively dedicated to the dress and grooming section.

One time the university planted a bunch of flags in the center of campus to celebrate Veteran's Day or Flag Day or a September 11th memorial or something. Shortly after, President Clark posted a Facebook message. There was a short paragraph at the beginning thanking everybody who helped put out the flags and probably saying some patriotic little thing.

The next two paragraphs, however, took on a different tone and were outrageous enough to be commented on by online news outlets, like this one. He said:

While out and about yesterday I noticed that a few of you (and it was a few) may need a refresher or perhaps an introduction to three items in the dress and grooming standards. The three things that caught my eye yesterday were pants that did not make it down to the ankle (some hemmed 4-8 inches above the ankle, some pants rolled up that far); faces of young men not clean-shaven; and shorts on campus (mostly BYU-I shorts - just remember to wear warm-ups).

You may wonder why the President of BYU-Idaho would spend time on these small things. Here is the reason: the dress and grooming standards are one of those small things on which big things depend. Obedience in the small things creates a spirit of obedience in all things. And obedience brings the blessings of heaven, to you individually and to the whole campus community. I hope you will help each other to be obedient in even these small, but important, things. I send my love and hope you will share this message with roommates and friends.

What the.

Clark also came to national media attention when the school released a video using snippets from one of his addresses where he talked about masturbating [basically, he told students to report their roommates to a college ward bishop if they caught them looking at porn]. One of the op-eds written about it showed up on Business Insider. They were probably like, "Isn't this the old Harvard Business College guy? Kim, what have you got yourself into?"

I have a theory about why he was so hard-core about the honor code, though: presidents of church universities are selected by the very highest-ranking leaders in the church. From what I understand, BYU-I presidents work very closely with church headquarters.

Time spent as a church university president is like Daniel-San's wax on/wax off period.



I mean, it's not like an official policy that if you serve as the university prez that you are guaranteed a seat in the church office building in Salt Lake or anything, but that is kinda the trend. With some degree of consistency, church uni presidents go on to be ordained as apostles and presidents of the church. It's like a farm league for the majors.

It's not surprising that Kim Clark was selected to lead the school [he was severely overqualified from a professional standpoint - also [[ and maybe unrelatedly ]], I think it would be very interesting to research the church's tendency to promote rich business and legal professionals to high ranking office in the church and what kind of effect that has on Mormon culture]. It's also not surprising what he chose to focus on during his term.

The church hosts a weekly, university-wide meeting [called devotional] where faculty, administrators, and visiting speakers address the student body on spiritual topics. Sometimes, apostles [of whom there are only fifteen in a church of over fifteen-and-a-half million] will visit campus for these meetings.

Every week, a few of the students would leave the meeting a few minutes before the closing song and prayer to beat the crowds to class or get back home before their roommates or whatever. This never seemed to be a problem to anyone, including President Clark.

I remember one week after a prophet himself came to visit, however, President Clark expressed his disapproval to those students who got up and left before the official close of the meeting. To me, it sounded like, "Thanks for embarrassing me in front of the prophet, guys".

My theory is that the appearance of the students was a factor that Clark believed he could manipulate and show to church authorities as an indicator of his effectiveness as president. I can't understand why else he would care so much about the exact length of your pants or whatever.

He was the president for almost the whole time I went there. He did get promoted, but not to the likes of the apostleship. He now serves as the church commissioner of education.

Compared to his predecessor, the next president of BYU-Idaho Clark Gilbert was basically Jeff Bridges's The Dude.


Image courtesy of Salt Lake Tribune

Tradition


It's hard to tell where BYU-I gets all its quirks. Lots of the policy is handed down from the LDS church headquarters. The implementation of the policy is, I think, mostly in the hands of the university president. And the admin/faculty sorta take his direction but enforce the rules each in his or her own way.

And the interactions had among students themselves go a long way to determine the culture at BYU-Idaho, I think. You've got students who are obsessed with dating and finding "the one." You've got students who are freshly returned from full-time LDS missions [which are quasi-monastic in their nature]. You've got students that are very easily swayed by the school's propaganda campaigns to become deputies of the honor code and who call out or even report their roommates and classmates for violations.

Mostly, I think, you've got students who are pursuing their dreams and trying to find their way in a weird place. Most of my roommates/classmates/friends at BYU-Idaho were basically like me: they appreciated the school, but were faced daily with bizarre conservatism that probably doesn't exist in any other North American university.

I guess it's not surprising that the university is conservative, given that it's run by a church. It is surprising, though, that so many people there are concerned with these specific minutiae of university policy. I mean, in the church, we often talk about the danger of getting wrapped up in dogmatic and appearance-based judgments.

There's a group of people in the New Testament called the Pharisees. They were like the most careful observers of Jewish law at the time of Jesus Christ. They were all about looking at the exact wording of scriptural commands and carrying them out perfectly. Here's what happened one time when they met up with Jesus:

Then came together unto Him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?

He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And He said unto them, full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
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Do you see the difference? Do you see the difference between the excess Christ condemned here and the heavy emphasis on dress and grooming at BYU-Idaho?

I don't.

Jesus: "Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

KIMBC: "...the dress and grooming standards are one of those small things on which big things depend. Obedience in the small things creates a spirit of obedience in all things. And obedience brings the blessings of heaven..."
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I think I'm goin with Jesus on this one, President Clark.

And my hope is that BYU-Idaho will go with Jesus, too. Getting rid of some outdated rules [which the university president or someone above him could do in a day, probably] is not going to destroy BYU-I students' sense of obedience to God. They're not going to devolve into pillaging.

It'll just get easier to see students and faculty more as people; less as shoes, pants, and haircuts.