12 Questions for Rodney Smith, part two

August 27, 2004 | 3 comments

Here is the second half of President Smith’s responses to your questions (for part one, click here). We thank him for his participation and extend our best wishes to both him and Southern Virginia University.

7. If the Church offered to take over SVU and turn it into BYU-Virginia, would the trustees go for it? Or does the institution value its independence from the Church and wish to maintain that independence?

Without a commitment to maintain our smaller size and our liberal arts in the LDS tradition mission — a mission of preparing leader servants — I doubt that our board would go along with such an overture.

8. Where do your students come from (geographically and demographically)?

Based on the last report I received, our students come from 48 different states and 12 foreign countries. Our top four states are Virginia, Utah, California and Washington (in this year’s entering class).

9. To what extent does SVU engage with (teach, encourage research in) the fields of Mormon studies and Mormon literature?

We are doing some of this, but should do more. I will be teaching LDS perspectives in law next semester. Given our faculty, and with growth, I think we will move into this area in a more concerted way.

10. How does SVU attempt to harmonize academic freedom and teaching in accordance with Church doctrine?

Our faculty adhere to our honor code, which is like the code at BYU. We have not had any serious issues regarding academic freedom that I am aware of, so it is hard for me to say how a particular issue would be treated. We have a wonderful sense of community here, with 25% of our faculty being non-LDS, so I think we would find a way of mediating a problem if it arose.

11. Is SVU going to try to attract non-Mormon faculty and students? If so, how do you plan to maintain a Mormon culture there?

We will continue to welcome non-LDS faculty and students, but I suspect that we will always be predominantly LDS (95% of our students are LDS and our mission is strongly LDS). I have never been on a campus with a stronger LDS culture (both my wife and I are proud to have graduated from BYU) or a stronger commitment to maintaining that culture. It defines who we are in so many ways.

12. Make your pitch for a prospective student. Why should he or she choose SVU over their local State U., or BYU-Idaho/BYU-Hawaii, or a small liberal arts school?

We are a much different choice. Our mission is to prepare leader-servants (in the workplace and the world, the community and the church, and even the home), and we believe that can best be done in small classes taught by full-time faculty (and not graduate assistants). Our instruction in small classes is designed to stimulate critical thinking (not mere recitation of memorized material). Our students also participate (as opposed to merely observing) in athletics, arts, music, etc. The combined emphasis on critical thinking and participation in a residential liberal arts program is what makes the experience ideally suited to developing leader-servants. According to a recent report, only 3% of the graduates in the United States in a given year graduate from residential liberal arts institutions. Nevertheless, 8% of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies graduated from liberal arts institutions, making graduates from such programs almost three times more likely to be CEO’s. Graduates of residential liberal arts universities are also 6 times more likely to president of the United States, 6 times more likely to win a Pulitzer (in history, drama or poetry), and over 6 times more likely to be a member of the National Academy of Sciences. We believe that the LDS tradition strengthens this mission, because it enables us to enliven this wonderful educational form — liberal arts.

Liberal arts education is more structured and broad-based (our students all take philosophy, science, literature, language, music, etc.) than education at larger state or private universities. We also have a service requirement. Our educational program is designed to develop well-rounded individuals. This educational form runs counter to the trend toward technical education that emphasizes specialized classes. According to the 2004 U.S. News & World report, of the top 20 schools in terms of graduation rates — graduating their students in 4 years of attendance — 12 (60%) were liberal arts, 5 (25%) were ivy league, only two were larger private universities (Notre Dame and Georgetown, both of which have strong undergraduate liberal arts programs), and only one was public (the U.S. Naval Academy). We have a four year graduation guarantee program that is going into effect and a three year graduation program, both of which contribute to make us a great value, when you compare us to larger universities that take 5 1/2 to 6 years for their average student to graduate. Our students should graduate in 3 to 4 years and go on to graduate school (many go to fine graduate, medical, dental and law schools) or enter the workplace and are earning a living, while their counterparts at larger universities are still working toward their bachelors degree.

One of our students who went to one of the other institutions on your list transferred here and recently told me that the difference was in the rigor and attention she received in the classroom. She told me that shortly after she arrived here, a faculty member returned a paper she had written without grading it. When she said there was no grade on the paper, she was told that the professor refused to give her a grade until she gave him her best work. The next week she turned in a much better paper which was then graded. Our education is rigorous, and not for the faint of heart, but it really is designed to provide our students with critical thinking, writing, and even performance skills.

I could go on at length as to our differences, but ultimately I encourage individuals to visit us and prayerfully consider whether we are the right place for them. We are a wonderful choice, even though our LDS culture is not yet familiar with the benefits of a liberal arts education.

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3 Responses to 12 Questions for Rodney Smith, part two

  1. Gordon Smith on August 27, 2004 at 5:09 pm

    Rod: “Our mission is to prepare leader-servants.” That is an interesting combination of words. At first blush, I thought it was an oxymoron, but it is clear from the context that the referents for the two words are different. I like it.

  2. Nathan Tolman on August 27, 2004 at 6:22 pm

    Bro. Smith,

    In looking over your courses offered and your faculty list, I notice that the types of courses you offer are rather, Euro-centric, no instructors in non-European Languages or non-Western History. I can understand this is just right for a school the size of SVU, and my comment is not meant as a criticism. Are you planning in the next few years to expand your faculty to include these types of subjects?

  3. Matt Evans on August 28, 2004 at 12:19 pm


    Why do non-Mormons comprise 25% of the faculty but only 5% of the students? Is this because it’s hard to attract Mormon faculty or to attract non-Mormon students?


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