Careerism and BYU

The following quote by Dr. Hugh W. Nibley about careerism at Brigham Young University hit close to home when I first read it. In the intervening years, I have come to appreciate the fact that education goes far beyond having a career and can be obtained in many different ways.

BYU_Logo Dr. James R. Kearl, the Dean of Honors and General Education, and Professor of Economics and Law at the BYU, reports the situation in BYU Today: “It’s pretty clear that we have a student body who come here only for job training. They’re bright, they’re capable, but they’re not interested in liberal arts. I visit high schools in an effort to help recruit good students . . . : `Tell me about your dreams and aspirations and hopes.’ It’s always `money and a job.’ None of them dream of becoming educated people. That just never comes up; . . . institutionally, it appears, we are committed to a different model than our new students seem to be.” Just yesterday [May 18, 1987], it was announced on KUTV that Utah has more teenagers working outside of school than any other state. Earlier it was reported that Utah pays less for a child’s education than any other state in the Union. That is great for employers who pay the lowest wages and taxes possible; but, as the report noted, it tends to produce young people who are poorly educated and materialistic–qualities that I have found over many years of teaching large Sunday School classes to be conspicuous among their elders.

Last semester, to find out whether an honors class of remarkably devout students (their unusual final examination papers showed that) made any connection between the gospel and their careers, I asked them, as a midterm assignment, to assume that they had been guaranteed a thousand uninterrupted years of life here on earth, with all their wants and needs adequately funded: How would you plan to spend the rest of your lives here? I explained that this is not a hypothetical proposition, since this is the very situation the gospel puts us in. Whether we want to or not, we are doomed to live forever–even the wicked–for “they cannot die” (Alma 12:18). In accepting the gospel, we are already launched into our eternal program. We can take covenants and receive ordinances for those who are on the other side because they are the identical covenants and ordinances we make on this side. When Elijah announced the establishment of the work among us with the ringing words “The time has fully come!” (D&C 10:14), we no longer ask when, but only what. We are taught to think of ourselves here and now as living in eternity, and how can it be otherwise, since the contracts we make and the rules we live by are expressly “for time and eternity”? So I asked them, How are you going to get started on that thousand-year introduction to a timeless existence? After reading Professor Kearl’s report, I should have known what to expect. Here are some typical answers:

Overwhelmed by the proposition . . . [I] would have to refuse it ["Deny not the gifts of God!" (Moroni 10:8). And the greatest of these gifts is the gift of eternal life (D&C 14:7).]

First I would go crazy, . . . then I would be bored after 100 years. I would be like John and the three Nephites.

I would not want to live here that long. I would make long-term investments in the money markets, . . . would complete my education in business, get an MBA, would find a part-time job and teach my children the value of work. [All this is precluded, of course, by the premise, yet these students have been so brainwashed that they fail completely to see the point.]

It would be a dubious honor to prolong this probationary existence. [And when are we ever to be off probation, if even the angels (fell) "who kept not their first estate" (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Abraham 3:26).]

It’s not a nice question, the pressure would be too great from people who would like money from me. How should I pay tithing on it? How would I use all that money? [For this person the whole question is an economic one.]

I would spend my time in recreation with some serious moments. For a sense of success I might build or write something.

I don’t know if I would want a thousand years. . . .Travel, study, and teach. [You have signed up for the duration and now you want out?]

Could be a blessing or a cursing; I would excel in athletics and general education, would procrastinate a good deal, live in the style of the well-to-do, . . .shopping, camping, dancing.

First I would pay tithing! I would stay out of debt. How to use the funding money is the problem.

I could do nearly everything there was to do several times over. Perform service and drive a Porsche 911.

I can’t imagine changing things much; I am content with the path I am following.

I would turn it down. This life is okay, but I am anxious to get on with my progression in the hereafter. [Doing what? This is your progression into the hereafter!]1


  1. Nibley, Hugh W. “But What Kind of Work?”. Approaching Zion. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989. 256-259.

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  1. L-d Sus’s avatar

    Once while doing sealings at the Seattle Temple, the sealer gave me this advice:

    “The only things you take with you from this life are your family and what you put in you head. That is where you should make an investment.”

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