Dear 100 Hour Board,
Do you think the Church should look into building universities outside of the United States?
I've thought for a long time that members in South/Central America, Europe, or East Asia would really benefit from a place where LDS youth can meet each other, participate in a scholarly community, and get a solid education that will help them go places in life. BYU has a lot of international students, which is great, but there are so many others who will never have the resources or the visa to travel here to study.
However, I'm not the prophet. I have no idea whether this scheme has already been considered or what kinds of difficulties it would present. So, here are my questions:
- What obstacles would there be to the Church owning and running universities in other countries?
- Do you think Church leaders have thought about this? Do you think they're actively working towards it? Why or why not?
- What's your own opinion? Do you think it would work? If you could choose the location, where would you put a BYU—International?
Back in the October 1999 General Conference, President Hinckley gave a talk called "Why We Do Some of the Things We Do," which I consider to be one of the most interesting talks he's given. It's purpose is to address why the Church does some things that don't seem very "churchy," like dealing in real estate and owning businesses. The first part of the talk examined BYU and other church universities. Some excerpts:
People ask why we sponsor such a large and costly institution that is basically concerned with secular education. The question is appropriate. This sponsorship has a doctrinal root...
It is apparent that we are obligated not only to learn of ecclesiastical matters but also of secular matters. There is a tradition in the Church that deals with these things...
How fortunate are those who have the opportunity to attend. I almost become angry when I hear of complaining among the students or the faculty. I am grateful to be able to say that with very few exceptions those who come to learn and those who teach are appreciative and mindful of the great blessing that is theirs...
We shall continue to support BYU and its Hawaii campus. We shall continue to support Ricks College. We are not likely to build other university campuses. We wish that we might build enough to accommodate all who desire to attend. But this is out of the question. They are so terribly expensive. But we shall keep these as flagships testifying to the great and earnest commitment of this Church to education, both ecclesiastical and secular, and while doing so prove to the world that excellent secular learning can be gained in an environment of religious faith.
Backing up these institutions will be our other schools, our institutes of religion, scattered far and wide, and the great seminary system of the Church.
It is hoped that through these our youth, wherever they may be, may experience some of the good to be had at BYU.
So, there's the rub: expenses. Tithing money is incredibly sacred, and so the leadership of the church goes to great lengths to make sure that it's used in the way the Lord intends (which is why I find it incredibly significant that the Church is willing to provide thousands of iPads to missionaries when they only receive a 2% discount on said devices). Though more universities would be wonderful, it seems like right now the tithing money is needed elsewhere.
But, this does show that the topic is on the minds of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. And, it's also important to note that revelation isn't static; if times and needs change, the prophet could very well be inspired to build a new Church school somewhere else.
(I'll also note here that, while it wasn't a university, the Church did have an international school for a long time: El Centro Escolar Benemérito de las Américas in Mexico City. Until it was converted into the Mexico City MTC in 2013, it was a private Church High School, with the Honor Code and everything.)
If they were to make a new international school, I think the Church would want it to serve as many members as possible. That would make Latin America or Europe the most likely choices in my mind, although I don't think it would be too far-fetched to see one in the Philippines or Africa, either.
The times are changing. The work is being hastened. Who knows what we'll see next?