BYU-Idaho students had to be confused today when Elder Russell M. Nelson (of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) ended his talk earlier than the normal end of devotional. With the lights coming on in the BYU-I Center’s auditorium, Elder Nelson announced the release of current President Kim B. Clark. In his place, Dr. Clark G. Gilbert was called to become the 16th President of BYU-Idaho.
It is impossible to overstate President Clark’s importance to the college. Taking the helm nine years ago, President Clark transformed a fledgling university into a nationally recognized institution dedicated to innovative learning models.
The hallmark of President Clark’s work (and what I believe to be his most long-lasting contribution) was the inauguration of online Pathway education programs. These programs were dedicated to providing students that could not attend the physical university a quality education. Pathway has reached out to students all over the world. In my job tutoring in the campus Communications tutoring center, I have tutored students from Ghana, Russia, Venezuela, and Columbia on-line. This semester, online enrollment was more than on-campus enrollment for the first time in history. President Clark’s Pathway program was innovative and has made BYU-Idaho a unique American college. Among President Clark’s many contributions, this is his crowning achievement.
But BYU-Idaho students have to be wondering. With a new President, what will change around campus?
First, it is important to point out that Gilbert is the perfect choice for this calling. He has administrative skills with experience in the Harvard Business College and as the CEO of Deseret News Digital Media. This last qualification is especially important. It shows that Gilbert has experience with digital media and online programs. Also, by working so closely with a news agency, Gilbert is aware of the current issues facing Latter Day Saints.
Gilbert also has experience on campus. Before being given the job at Deseret News, he served as associated academic vice president of BYU-I, and helped develop the online learning programs that I mentioned above. By bringing in somebody with experience at the college, the Church Board of Education has ensured that BYU-I continues on its steady upward course.
Who knows that changes are coming, but I have four suggestions to things that I would do to improve the college. I love my school, and I want to see it continue to improve.
Now I am not going to be even talking about the Honor Code. The Honor Code is fine. It is effective, but gets so much flak from the student population that you would think that we are living under a dictatorship. No, the Honor Code does not need to change. If it does, fine. But I would not hold my breath. There are more important things that we can do.
1. A more flexible approach to the Learning Model
BYU-I curriculum is driven by the Learning Model, a theory that permeates all academics on campus. The Learning Model consists of three parts: “Prepare, Ponder, and Prove”. The whole idea of the Learning Model is to encourage students to prepare for classes before hand and then prove their knowledge by teaching other students. In practice, this means that students are often forced into group assignments that are not actually beneficial to their learning. This is most often an issue in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) majors. Many university professors realize that an emphasis on group work and before class preparation is not incredibly helpful in classes like Differential Equations or Biochemistry. However, there are still some professors that rigidly stick to this model. Being in a Multivariable Calculus class taught by this model was a nightmare, and many students feel frustrated by the model. I am not advocating completely abandoning the Learning Model. It can be effective. But the academic philosophy needs to realize that all classes (especially STEM classes) may not benefit from this approach and adjust appropriately.
2. Increased student involvement in campus policy
My biggest problem with on campus administration is the lack of student involvement in policy decisions. Everything is in place. Student officers are elected. Most people I know could not tell you who they are though. To compensate for this, the university has a group of students known as the SRC (Student Representative Council). I spent a semester working in Student Support (of which SRC is a part) and was shocked to see how out of touch SRC was with the student population. The theory behind SRC is that they are at the ground level, talking to students and presenting their suggestions to school administration. However, in my five semesters on campus, I have only been approached once by a SRC member, and that was to give me an advertisement for an activity. Nobody I know has ever discussed suggestions with SRC members, or even knows that they exist. And this is the committee in place to be a voice of the students. From what I saw, the SRC was just people who liked to hang out with each other and plan activities that nobody attended. The administration needs to focus more on these committees to get students more involved in campus policy. Expanding the student representation and actually listening to student suggestions will go a long way to getting students more involved on campus. And who knows, they actually might have some good ideas.
3. More time spent with the Rexburg Community
Rexburg is a small town, and half the population is on campus. However, it often feels like there are two Rexburgs. Rexburg the college town, and Rexburg the place where everybody else lives. With the campus growing, that is expected, but now that the campus has the capability to account for increased student attendance, the administration can do more to reach out to the community. That means getting students more involved in the community and getting the community more involved with the school. If this happens, the friction between Rexburg residents and the college will diminish.
4. Keep the online programs going strong
This one is obvious and will definitely happen, but it is worth mentioning. BYU-Idaho has developed the Pathway program into a system that provides unique opportunities to students throughout the world. Students in faraway countries who would otherwise be unable to receive a full college education are now given the opportunity to improve themselves and their community. I do not think that we realize how important this is, and what a blessing it is to our international online students. Gilbert has the background and knowledge to keep these programs going and offer innovative new techniques for online outreach.
I am excited to see what Clark G. Gilbert does. I have absolute confidence in him. President Kim B. Clark will be missed, but he can leave knowing that the school is in good hands.