Brigham Young University

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The process for approving President Obama’s supreme court nominee Elena Kagan has become a significant news item of late. Supreme Court Nominee Elena KaganFor example, today’s civics “Lesson Plan” at the New York Times suggested a methodology for reviewing Ms. Kagan’s nomination in order to help students “determine whether they believe she should be appointed to the bench after learning about her experience, background and stances. They then develop a ‘game plan’ for supporting or opposing the nomination.”

Below is an excerpt of how they suggest teachers approach discussing the nomination with their students:

Ask students to share what they already know about the U.S. Supreme Court using such questions as: What do Supreme Court justices do? What is judicial review? What does it mean to interpret the United States Constitution? How does a person become a Supreme Court Justice? Why are a nominee’s political leanings and judicial ideology a matter of interest and concern, particularly to members of the Senate?

Next ask students to brainstorm the qualities and experience they think a Supreme Court justice should have, given their understanding of the position. List these on the board and discuss them briefly.

Then ask students to share what they have heard or read about Elena Kagan, such as her experience as U.S. Solicitor General or dean of the Harvard Law School. If students do not mention it themselves, tell them that Ms. Kagan has not served as a judge, which is not a requirement. Indeed, though most Justices have had judicial experience prior to their Supreme Court appointments, 40 (out of 111 total) have not, including chief justices William Rehnquist (who immediately preceded Chief Justice Roberts), Earl Warren and John Marshall.1

The article goes on to suggest other ways in which to view Ms. Kagan’s nomination.

In some respects, this lesson contains information that bears some similarities to a talk given by Rex E. Lee, former Solicitor General in the Reagan administration, almost 20 years ago in a devotional address at Brigham Young University. In that talk, he suggested the consequences attendant to interpreting the Constitution and the importance of pending judicial nominees:

One of the most important features of the American Constitution, both in theory and in practice, is the magnificent breadth of its most important provisions–notably the commerce clause, most of the Bill of Rights guarantees, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses. The lack of specificity of these and other provisions has almost certainly been essential to the ability of this document drafted in 1787 to survive over 200 years of the largest and most unanticipated change that any country at any time has ever experienced.

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  1. Doyne, Shannon and Holly Epstein Ojalvo. “On the Bench? Vetting Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan”. 11 May 2010.

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Cleon Skousen

This last week I happened across an article by Brian R. Mecham which contained Thomas S. Monson’s comments at the funeral of W. Cleon Skousen in January 2006.1 At the time of the funeral, Thomas S. Monson served as the First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

W Cleon Skousen So, as I read Mr. Mecham’s article and listened to some audio excerpts from President Monson’s funeral address, I wondered why such a man should be pilloried as Mr. Skousen has been of late in the media.2

Mr. Skousen rose to national prominence with the publication of The Naked Communist which was originally published in 1958 at the request of David O. McKay3, then the President of the LDS Church. The book quickly became a national bestseller despite never being reviewed by the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune or the Saturday Review.

According to Earl Taylor, Jr. the following is an excerpt of how Mr. Skousen came to write this book,

Shortly after we moved to Utah in 1952 and joined the faculty of Brigham Young University, I was asked to give talks on the threat of Communism as I encountered it in the FBI. There were two of us who specialized in this subject and we were the only ones allowed to speak on Communism in case Mr. Hoover could not take the talks himself.

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  1. An Open Letter to Latter-day Saint Detractors of W. Cleon Skousen and His Works“. 22 Oct 2009. Latter-Day Conservative. 15 Nov 2009.
  2. See, for example, Zaitchik, Alexander. “Meet the Man Who Changed Glen Beck’s Life”. 16 Sep 2009. Salon. 15 Nov 2009. See also, Kristine. “Skousen in Dialogue”. 16 Sep 2000. Common Consent. 15 Nov 2009.
  3. Mecham. “W. Cleon Skousen Is Asked to Write the Naked Communist”. Nov 1998. Latter-Day Conservative. 15 Nov 2009.

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Today, Carrie told me of a talk given by Merrill J. Bateman about the history of Brigham Young University.1 Just as Henry B. Eyring spoke about the future of BYU in A Consecrated Place, Elder Bateman spoke of those who were given dreams of its future destiny.

Recently I shared with the faculty and staff some key events from BYU’s history. During the preparation of the material, some insights were gleaned with regard to the special nature of this institution. Today I wish to share a few of them with you.

Lessons from BYU’s History

Karl G Maeser The first lesson one learns in reviewing BYU’s history concerns the extraordinary faith of the early Saints who forged this institution. They founded Brigham Young Academy in a desert with a fragile economic base. However, they understood the importance of education, especially for their children, and were willing to sacrifice every temporal asset they had in order to keep the school alive. This was true of the faculty and staff and also of the citizens throughout the valley. It was not uncommon for Karl G. Maeser and his staff to receive less than one-half pay during the 1880s. Abraham O. Smoot, a highly successful businessman, stake president, mayor of Provo, and chairman of the board of Brigham Young Academy, gave his buildings, his land, and mortgaged his home in order to save the institution. He died penniless, having given everything to the school.

The faith of BYU’s founders was never stronger than during times of crisis. I was particularly impressed with Karl G. Maeser’s conviction as he responded to Reed Smoot, a student, during the 1884 fire that destroyed the academy’s only building. As it became apparent that they could not save the Lewis building, the student said to Maeser, “Oh, Brother Maeser, the Academy is burned!” Maeser responded, “No such thing, it’s only the building.”2 Six years earlier, shortly after the death of Brigham Young, Maeser had a dream in which President Young showed him the design of a new building. At the time Brother Maeser did not understand the purpose of the dream. Six years later, as he looked at the charred ruins of Lewis Hall, he could see in his mind’s eye the building that would take its place.3

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  1. Bateman, Merrill J. “Gathered in the Tops of the Mountains”. 7 Sep 1999. BYU Speeches. 21 Oct 2009. See BYU Broadcasting for a PDF of the talk.
  2. Ernest L. Wilkinson and W. Cleon Skousen, Brigham Young University: A School of Destiny (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1976), 74–75.
  3. See ibid., 118–19.

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A few years ago a friend shared with me Henry B. Eyring’s talk entitled “A Consecrated Place”. In this talk he reiterated what past prophets taught about the Second Coming and what that means to BYU in particular. It reminded me of Joseph Smith’s vision of Nauvoo which encompassed both a temple and a university. Here is what President Eyring said:

Elder Henry B. Eyring Nothing so focuses the attention of those who work in a school as the knowledge that their students are about to arrive. On my first day of teaching in a university, I lost my appetite for breakfast. Heaven only knows what anxiety those who prepared the student housing and the bookstore and the classrooms felt. But this I know, from that first experience and the decades in education that have followed: You are all about to give laserlike attention to your tasks. Tunnel vision for you is not a weakness. At the start of school, it becomes a necessity.

Just before we put our heads down to get a closer view of the grindstone, it is useful to put a picture in our minds and hearts of where we are headed and why we are going there. That is easier to do here because living prophets of God have described our possibilities. To get ready for this year, I have studied two of those pictures of the future. One is from President George Albert Smith. The other is from President Spencer W. Kimball. The two views combine for me to make more clear what we should do and who we must become.

President George Albert Smith ended his remarks at the first dedication of the Eyring Science Center on October 17, 1950, with this prayer and blessing for us:

Oh, Father, bless the men and the women who are on the faculty of this great school that they may teach . . . under the influence of Thy Spirit, that they may be able to inspire the . . . men and women with the desire to be worthy to be called Thy children. Bless them that they may see the fruits of their labors, have joy when they have finished their work as instructors and leaders . . . that they may look back over a field, not of grain, not of vegetable, not of other things that people labor so hard for to keep us going here in mortality, but that they may look over a field of Thy sons and daughters who have been developed to be worthy to live with Thee. [BYU Archives, UA 579]

That picture of our students worthy to live with God might have seemed to be in some distant future, in the world to come, if I had not next read this from President Kimball’s second-century address (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Second Century of Brigham Young University,” Speeches of the Year, 1975 [Provo: BYU Press, 1976], 250–51):

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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.

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