On the frontier: How BYU-Idaho is pushing the boundaries of higher education
"Dear faculty and friends, I am here to announce my retirement as dean of the Harvard Business School," Clark said. There were audible gasps — Clark had been at Harvard for 35 years, and had served as dean of the business school for the last decade. Surely, he was leaving for something even more prestigious and high profile.
"I have accepted a position to become president of BYU-Idaho," he said. The decision baffled his colleagues. The Boston Red Sox season tickets, the tree-lined streets of Cambridge, the cafes and bookstores for what, exactly? BYU-Idaho didn't even crack the top 100 on US News and World Report's annual ranking of colleges and universities. Most of his colleagues had never even heard of it.
"Many of you may be wondering, 'Why this? Why now?'" Clark continued, explaining that for some time he and his wife had felt it was time to do something else. Ricks had a "pioneering spirit" that resonated with them, he said, but most importantly, he and his wife had received a call several weeks before from President Gordon B. Hinckley, the leader of their church, and he extended the invitation. "We have counseled with our students for years to do what matters most to them and have an impact," Clark said. "Our church and our family are the most important things in our life. Thus, it is time for us to 'walk the walk,' and we are going."
When Clark sat down the faculty erupted with applause. Finally, after repeated attempts to get everyone to sit down and stop clapping, Summers took the floor. He had known Clark since graduate school, he explained, and had thought about talking him out of his decision but had then realized, "I was not the president he listened to."
Many of the school's leadership were sad to see him leave. "Kim brought (Harvard's) research to a new level, by aggressively expanding the faculty to infuse new research talent into our ranks," said Teresa Amabile, a classically trained psychologist at the Harvard Business School.
The day Clark left Boston for Rexburg in June of 2005, it was 70 degrees and the trees above the tennis courts near his office were blooming. When he got to Idaho, he was met by 30-mile-per-hour winds and temperatures of 40 degrees. Rexburg had no airport and no mall. These were not the trappings that attracted Clark and others to the Rexburg campus.
And while he and his wife didn't know anyone in Rexburg, they felt like there was something special about the place. Clark could feel it the minute he stepped on to campus. And while Clark's experience was dramatic and more publicly visible, he quickly learned that it paralleled those of so many others who had been drawn to the campus.
Like so many before him, Clark knew immediately upon arrival that BYU-Idaho was a different institution.
"I realized very quickly that things happen really fast here — not typical of traditional academia," he said.
While much had been accomplished during Bednar's tenure in terms of turning Ricks into the vision President Hinckley had for the school, many challenges remained.
In his inaugural speech to faculty and students in 2005, Clark laid out three imperatives: raise the quality of every aspect of the experience students have on campus, make a BYU-Idaho education available to more young people and lower the relative cost of education.
"As we reflect on these three wonderful imperatives, you might imagine that to do them all — to raise quality, to serve more students, and to lower relative costs — would be extremely difficult, if not impossible," Clark said. "Indeed, it is traditional and even natural to see in these three imperatives only dichotomies and trade-offs — higher quality but only with higher, not lower costs; serve more students, but only by raising costs, or reducing quality. But we are not bound by tradition… . In short, this is a very unusual university."
Clark said that teachers understood and respected the three imperatives. It's when he begin to implement them that challenges arose.
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