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"Being Around Consecrated, Talented People is Rejuvenating"

An interview with BYU President Kevin J Worthen one year into the job

The last year has been a whirlwind for President Kevin J Worthen. Among countless meetings and speeches, he also met with 14 international leaders including ambassadors to the United States, presidents of universities, government officials and religious representatives. He mingled with the cast of BYU Arts' The Count of Monte Cristo. He cheered on the Cougars at 12 of the 13 Football games. (We presume, although he couldn't make it in person to one game, he cheered for the Cougars for that one, too.) And he took 43 trips on the BYU golf carts totaling 16.16 miles. (To meetings, we're told. Not to perfect his swing.)

At the request of BYU News, BYU faculty and staff submitted questions to ask of President Worthen about how the last year went and what he sees coming for the years ahead. Here is what he had to say:

Q: At your inauguration you indicated a desire to focus again on the Aims of a BYU Education and the Mission Statement. Almost one year later, are we where you hoped we would be in implementing this vision? Can you provide some reasons why you feel this way?

President Kevin J Worthen: As I have visited with the colleges and units around campus, I have been pleased at how much focus is being given to the Mission Statement and Aims. It is clear that there are discussions going on about how the values and principles in those documents can be implemented in individual areas of responsibility. I look forward to the benefits that will come as those are put into practice.

May 2014: Posing for a picture with student Sidney Draughon at the Cannon Center.

Q: What do you see from your perspective that you wish we all could see?

KJW: I wish everyone could have the opportunity to see the breadth and depth of the research and creative endeavors that occur at BYU. As I review rank and status [tenure] files, approve leave applications and visit with various faculty on campus, I have been extremely impressed with all the good ideas that are being explored and discovered on this campus. It is a very vibrant community.

With his wife Peggy, above campus.

Q: What are a couple of highlights from your first year as president?

KJW: Seeing students succeed, whether it be in very public settings, such as the amazing U.S. premiere of The Count of Monte Cristo, or the exciting run of the Women's Volleyball team to the national championship game or the less-spotlighted individual achievement of students in their classwork and lives.

September 2014: With President Thomas S. Monson at Inauguration. 

Q: What are you looking forward to as you begin your second year? 

KJW: More interaction with the students, faculty, staff and administrative personnel. Being around consecrated, talented people is rejuvenating.

September 2014: President Henry B. Eyring formally installing President Worthen, with help from his wife Peggy.  

Q: Although well cared for, some buildings on campus are aging and are in need of technical and physical upgrades. How will you prioritize the building and remodeling opportunities in the coming years? 

KJW: As you know right now we are very busy upgrading and adding to the Marriott Center, making Campus Drive more pedestrian friendly, building the new Laundry facility and raising funds for an addition to the Engineering building. 

But more generally, BYU buildings and facilities are routinely examined to evaluate needs. As a general rule, those with the greatest needs are the first in line for required upgrades. Safety for faculty, staff, students and visitors is always the most immediate consideration in assessing priorities.

September 2014: Greeting faculty and staff following Inauguration. 

Q: How do you hope to help BYU become a more environmentally responsible institution in the coming years?

KJW: Faculty, staff and students have access to a number of programs on campus to help reduce vehicle emissions - like Zimride ride sharing and a new shuttle service. The university also offers numerous programs to reduce waste and encourage recycling. 

In the future, we plan to continue promoting those programs and other university initiatives, such as establishing energy audits, zero-waste events, energy-efficient building controllers and water recapture programs.

With four previous BYU Presidents: (left to right) Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Kevin J Worthen, Merrill J. Bateman and Cecil O. Samuelson. 

Q: Are there steps that BYU can take to be more integrated in the Provo community and be a better neighbor?

KJW: Being a good neighbor and community partner should be important to each of us at BYU. In the past year, we have taken several steps toward being a more-integrated part of the Provo community, and we anticipate continuing to build those relationships. 

For example, we recently began participating actively and officially in the city's neighborhood program. Representatives from Student Life, External Relations, Physical Facilities, the General Counsel's Office, University Communications and others meet regularly with personnel in city departments like Community Development and Public Works to coordinate on construction, zoning, parking, transportation and other issues. BYU also interacts directly with chairs of other neighborhoods to discuss concerns. 

In addition, many of our own faculty and staff volunteer as members of Provo City councils, commissions and committees. We anticipate continuing to work closely with Provo City officials to make Provo even better.

October 2014: Chatting with students before hiking to the Y during Homecoming Week. 

Q: What do you think of the status of adjunct faculty in academia in general and at BYU in particular? Does BYU follow the wider academy in this regard and should it? 

KJW: Our adjunct faculty members are an important, valued part of the teaching at BYU. Our philosophy about and use of adjunct faculty is different from other universities. At other universities adjunct faculty are often employed so tenure-track faculty can focus more on research. 

Here at BYU, we encourage departments and colleges to have full-time faculty teach as many classes as possible. We hire full-time faculty with the expectation that teaching is a primary opportunity and responsibility. It has been reported that about 60 percent of undergraduate courses at universities across the country are taught by adjuncts. At BYU that number is less than 20 percent.

October 2014: With his wife Peggy after hiking to the Y during Homecoming Week.

Q: In the past, we've been encouraged to "do less better." Is that a motto you'd like to continue, and how could we do less even better?

KJW: It is helpful to focus our efforts on things that are of most importance. However, just as important is the commitment to excellence in whatever we do - to do better in everything we decide to do.

November 2014: With former Governor Mitt Romney before Romney's Forum address. 

Q: What can we do as faculty and staff to help lighten your load and make BYU better?

KJW: Focus on things you can do in your role to enhance the spiritual, intellectual and character-building experience of our students.

January 2015: Speaking at the first Devotional of the Winter 2015 Semester.

Q: Why is it that members of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak at Devotionals much less often than they have in the past? Since there are fewer visits from these General Authorities, it seems like fewer people make Devotionals and Forums a priority. What else could be done to encourage attendance?

KJW: Speaking assignments in this worldwide church are a balancing act, to be sure. General Authority speaking assignments come from the Church, and the Church leadership takes every opportunity to meet with the BYU community while also attending to the needs of the millions of others who are not privileged to be here.

There are many other opportunities for students to hear from members of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve outside of Devotionals. President Eyring spoke at Inauguration last September, and Elder Nelson spoke and gave the dedicatory prayer for the Life Sciences Building just last month. President Uchtdorf spoke at April 2014 Commencement, and Elder Nelson spoke at August 2014 Commencement. A few days later, Elder Bednar delivered the Education Week Devotional address in the Marriott Center.

Devotionals and Forums remain a wonderful opportunity for students, faculty and staff to come together to be edified, enlightened and uplifted. I hope that everyone on campus makes Devotional and Forum attendance a priority and then shares their experiences with others. Here are just a few ways you can help:

  • Make Devotional and Forum attendance a habit. Here's the schedule for Spring and Summer terms.
  • Encourage attendance by your peers, those you supervise and students.
  • Share what you learned and felt at Devotionals and Forums. Offer your insights to others or contribute to the online conversation at #BYUDevo.

January 2015: Meeting with Assistant to the President and University Spokesperson Carri Jenkins.

Q: In addition to preparing students to be successful in their area of study, what could be done across all colleges to help prepare students to have the practical tools to create a successful career?

KJW: Give students an opportunity to work with our great faculty and staff, whether in academic or other pursuits. They learn so much by interacting with good women and men who provide examples of how to live a faithful, fulfilling life amidst all the challenges they face.

April 2015: Finger painting with BYU's youngest students at the McKay School preschool. 

Q: Utah has the lowest college completion rate for women in the country. What is BYU doing to help increase completion rates among the women who come to this campus?

KJW: The good news for BYU is that women are earning their degrees in comparable rates to men.

For example, the enrollment profile of men to women at BYU is about 55 percent to 45 percent. The male/female composition of the December 2014/April 2015 graduating class was virtually identical at 56 percent to 44 percent. 

Additionally, when looking at students who began as new freshman from 2001-2008, the average completion rate for undergraduate degrees was near 76 percent. During this time period, the female students averaged more than a 79 percent completion rate for undergraduate degrees. 

While those numbers are significantly higher than the rest of the state, we can each make a contribution in our classes and with the students we mentor. We should also make sure they are aware of the many resources on campus that can help them work toward completion of their degrees.

March 2015: Sharing a lunch with Provo Mayor John Curtis before making several Meals on Wheels deliveries. 

Q: What is being done at BYU to explore online teaching and online classes?

KJW: For the last three years, we have been experimenting with semester online courses.

This is a new format of online classes, different from the online courses offered by BYU Independent Study. In the semester online format, the student has more contact with the faculty or teacher's assistant and the course begins and ends with the traditional semester timeline.

This experiment is going very well, and we expect to continue to explore ways to enhance online learning. 

April 2015: Speaking at the dedication of the Life Sciences Building. 

Q: What is your favorite BYU Creamery ice cream flavor?

KJW: Peanut Butter Trails

April 2015: At the Unforum, eating a favorite snack: pickles and peanut butter. 

Q: If you took a class on campus, what would it be?

KJW: That might have been an easier question a year ago before I had a more accurate (but still incomplete) view of the large number of really interesting classes on campus.

But, the "Unexpected Connections" courses taught this past year caught my attention. These were interdisciplinary courses taught by faculty from very different departments. One examined the question of "happiness" from the perspectives of biological science and various genres of literature. Another explored the question of "agency" from the perspectives of physical science and culture. What a great way to broaden one's perspective on life.

April 2015: Taking a selfie with several graduates of the Class of 2015.

Q: You have a very busy job and many time commitments, what do you do to stay as balanced and healthy as possible? How do you relax and not feel overwhelmed?

KJW: Peggy is very good to make sure I eat healthy, and she sets a good example of daily exercise that I try to keep up with.

I love spending time with my family (especially our two granddaughters), reading something that I don't have to read and watching sports.

May 2015: Checking up on the Marriott Center Renovations.

President Kevin J Worthe

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