That's one reason Clark said he believes in the university's model for athletics "we have no intercollegiate athletics, for which I'm very grateful." That has eliminated programs that took all the money and focused on a few select athletes. Instead, the school has a "much more powerful and useful program of activities that involves thousands of students, not just a few."
The intramural sports, outdoor recreation, social activities and service projects that are a part of the school's activities program add diversity and breadth to a student's education in ways that can't be duplicated by intercollegiate competition, he said.
Rolled together, the continuing innovations have started a wave change that has already begun to reconfigure the futures and fortunes of students and residents, many of whom remember the flood that wreaked havoc here nearly 30 years ago when the Teton Dam failed upstream.
But instead of destruction, they see new waves coming through town now, not with uprooted trees and homes but bringing jobs, growth and unprecedented renown to a place Clark's former Harvard colleagues had never heard of when they learned earlier this year that he was leaving the nation's most prestigious business school for Rexburg.
Described by some Eastern publications as a "rural backwater" better known for the quality of its spuds than its students, few along the Beltway in Boston understood Clark's motive for moving to Idaho, though he was famed for his faith in the LDS Church. But when he said the decision was spirit-driven, the skeptics scattered.
It's hard to argue with something you can't see.
No one knows that better now than Clark, who left behind all the trappings of Ivy League higher education: tenure, prestige, high-profile research and cutting-edge business applications. He traded it all for a place where "there is no faculty rank, the concept of tenure doesn't exist."
During the school's transition phase from junior college to university, Clark said former BYU-Idaho President David Bednar who left the school after he was called by top LDS leaders as an apostle for the church built on a legacy of faith and perseverance that laid the foundation he now inherits for a "new model in education."
Before he arrived, there was already a drive to educate more students through a three-track system that maximizes use of the school's facilities, with students admitted to either a summer/fall, fall/winter or winter/summer track. Students remain on the selected schedule through graduation, allowing about 11,000 students to attend the school year-round.
In the past five years, the school has accomplished what most in academia believed was impossible garnering accreditation for some 50 different bachelor's degree programs and bolstering the academic credentials required of new students, Clark said. Those degrees weren't simply based on a model of what others were already doing.
"Our students have different options, with integrated degrees and learning clusters that challenge the notion of a minor" in a particular subject, Clark said. Designed to become the backbone of the school's curriculum, integrated degrees require a maximum of 45 credit hours in the major area of study, with the remainder of credits tailored from clusters of classes that fit the student's specific postgraduate interests.
"We allow students to do some creative work on their own," in conjunction with faculty and fellow students.
The school was in good hands when Clark arrived, he said, and had been rapidly working through "innovation and change and growth, and doing it at a breathtaking pace," he said. "However, we're not done. It's time to move on to new challenges and new opportunities."
Much of the school's guiding educational philosophy in the foreseeable future may well have to do with "modularity," a term most residents here or anywhere can't readily define. But the concept seems destined to shape their collective future in significant ways.
Modularity in design was one of Clark's specialties at Harvard and is most easily illustrated by a bookcase whose individual books (modules) can be configured in a variety of different ways and still function as a whole system.
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