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Committed to Education for Eternity: Q and A with President Worthen

Although no stranger to the BYU campus, when Kevin J Worthen arrives at work this morning things just might feel a bit different.

Today marks the beginning of his tenure as the 13th president of BYU.

President Worthen (by the way, the J isn’t short for anything, it’s just a J) has come through the ranks at BYU, as they say. He earned his bachelor’s and JD degrees from BYU, taught in and served as dean of the law school and has been the advancement vice president for the last six years.

Plus, he has a distinguished law career, is dedicated to Church service and can’t help but smile when he talks about his family.

Earlier this week, Y News editor Emily Hellewell sat down with President Worthen as he assumes this new role to talk about what inspires him, what his goals are for BYU and what he tries never to miss.

Y News: What do you love most about BYU?

President Kevin J Worthen: The students. It’s the students, far and away. They’re bright. They’re creative. They are committed to the gospel and most of them are better than they think they are.

Y: What’s your favorite part about working at BYU?

KJW: That’s simple, it’s the people. It is the people who are focused on the mission of the university. Working at a place where people are committed to a common goal is pretty exhilarating. They are bright, they are committed and they love the gospel. Almost all of them have chosen to be here when they have other options. They choose to be here because of their commitment to making BYU better.

Y: You’ve taught several classes in the law school, what has that experience taught you?

KJW: Students here are bright and eager to learn. The other thing teaching has taught me is that learning is a spiritually and intellectually enlivening and invigorating experience.

Y: Who taught you the most about education?

KJW: Probably my father, who was a math teacher and then a principal of a junior high (much to my chagrin when I went there). 

Y: What did you learn from him?

KJW: He taught me that learning is a lifelong – I suppose eternal – endeavor. He taught math for many years but wanted to get into education administration, so he went back to school in the summers to get his master’s degree. He also showed me the difference between attending school and obtaining an education. He was always conscientious about pointing out ways to learn outside of the classroom.

Y: What attracted you to teaching?

KJW: I realized that teaching requires a lot of learning, and I thought it would be really enjoyable to have that be my life’s work. A faculty member's primary task is to learn and convey knowledge to others. I was fascinated that the more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know and that there was a lot more to learn.

Y: You’ve been a student, a teacher and an administrator at BYU, from your perspective, what does BYU need most from the faculty?

KJW: Inspiration and excitement. If faculty members are passionate about teaching and learning, then there is inspiration that comes as a result of that enthusiasm.

I think a lot about BYU’s mission statement. Part of the reason I do is because alignment within an organization creates opportunities for individual inspiration. As people focus in on the overall goal – the quest for perfection and eternal life – they can then personally determine the role they can play in furthering that mission. 

Y: What does BYU need most from staff members?

KJW: The mission statement says that all programs and services at BYU should make their own contribution to the goal of assisting individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.

So for staff, we need the same commitment to this mission as we need from the faculty. It’s up to each of us to figure out how to make a contribution toward this mission, to help students have an experience here that is part of their education for eternity.

President Eyring has talked about how much he learned from a supervisor when he was working as a custodian at the University of Utah. He said he learned as much from that supervisor as he did from professors and in his classes. We’re all here to make a contribution to the education of our students.

Y:  Is the mission statement going to be your focus as you step into this new role?

KJW: Yes. That’s what keeps coming to mind, focusing on the mission statement. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the Mission and the Aims of a BYU Education. Those two documents have been approved by the Board of Trustees – which consists of the First Presidency, three members of the Quorum of the Twelve, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy and general auxiliary presidents. This is their vision for what we should accomplish. It seems to me that’s a good place to start.

Y: Will you continue to stress the importance of scholarly research?

KJW: Yes. That will clearly continue to be an area of emphasis. We have on this campus students and faculty doing research together, which may be a little unusual for an institution that is primarily an undergraduate teaching institution. But it’s really prepared our students very well.

I also believe that BYU has much to offer the world in what we can contribute through our research and scholarship.

Y: How would you describe your new job to an incoming freshman?

KJW: To many I think my role will be viewed as a representative for the university. I believe my most important role will be to create an environment in which everyone, from students to faculty and staff, can successfully achieve what they are here to accomplish.

Y: If you had a day free of obligations, how would you spend it?

KJW: I have a granddaughter who’s almost two; I would probably find something to do with her.

Y: What are you reading right now?

KJW: Right now, I’m reading a book called Jerusalem: A Biography. It’s written by a guy named Simon Montefiore and it’s a history of Jerusalem. And I just finished reading a book called The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It’s really pretty interesting and insightful.

Y: What’s one thing you can’t live without?

KJW: ESPN - and BYUtv, of course. 

Y: What’s something that you make it a point never to miss?

KJW: I never miss an opportunity to tell my wife I love her and make it a point to never leave without giving her a kiss.


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President Worthen and his wife Peggy on BYU campus.
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