While discussing the development of Mormon culture at the recent Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference in São Paulo, Brazil, one friend told me that Mormon culture would really develop when there was an LDS University for members in Brazil to attend.His view was that BYU (in all its campuses) and the LDS Business College provide not only a source for much of the cultural material developed and disseminated among Church members, but also provide a place where youth both meet and marry, and make life-long friendships.
I have to admit there is good logic here. But in General Conference in October 1999, President Hinckley said:
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.
At that point it looked as if BYU would expand to a new campus in Nauvoo, Illinois, but that effort closed in 2007.
This morning, as I was catching up in my reading, a link to Nauvoo University caught my eye. According to the website, Nauvoo is like Southern Virginia University, an independent liberal arts institution trying to provide an LDS student audience with an experience founded in LDS values. Essentially, Nauvoo University takes the place that BYU’s Nauvoo program had.
As I surfed further, I discovered yet another institution, Desert Valley Academy, located about an hour north of Las Vegas, which is also trying to reach an LDS student audience. DVA is seeking to raise $75 million to fund its ambitions.
Of course, I discovered, that these are not all. There is also an active post-secondary business program in the Phillippines, called the Academy for Creating Enterprise, and a foundation (the Acorn to Oak Foundation) raising money in an attempt to start an LDS-values University in Argentina.
I’m not sure where this leaves us. The optimist in me looks 50 years in the future and sees an exciting network of colleges and universities, educating a significant portion of LDS youth. But I also see a lot of difficulties getting there, and the realist in me predicts that many of these efforts will fail. If nothing else, it seems like a lot of new institutions quickly — I’m not sure that Mormonism can pull off so much fundraising, since these come at the same time as the fundraising for the perpetual education fund, and fundraising for the relatively new mormon studies programs at USU and Claremont (and others in the works, I hope). Seems like a lot to pull off. [I must say, however, that I'd donate money to an effort in South America before those in the States, that seems like it has the largest potential long-term impact.]
Still, I wonder if this all really makes sense, as much as I wish it would. Will LDS colleges and universities have as much of an impact culturally (and spiritually too) as all this assumes? If so, then wouldn’t expanding BYU also make sense?