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BYU's new president hailed as brilliant, kind, compassionate

Published: Monday, May 5 2014 8:45 a.m. MDT

His fellow BYU law students figured it out, Smith said. Their nickname for Worthen, who would graduate first in their class, was Zeus.

"Of course," Smith said, "Zeus was the smartest and strongest of all."

He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White in the mid-1980s. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Chile in the 1990s. In 2010, he held the prestigious position as chair of the membership review committee of the Association of American Law Schools.

"It's an especially significant position in legal education," said James D. (Jim) Gordon, Worthen's colleague on the BYU law faculty and now an assistant to the president for planning and assessment. "It's a tremendous credit to him that he was selected to chair that committee."

Gordon said Worthen "has an exceptionally bright mind" and is a thoughtful, careful analyst with excellent judgment.

Tuition and agency

Soon after he became dean of BYU's law school a decade ago, Worthen proposed a tuition hike for BYU law students.

He revealed that attempt publicly at a BYU-Idaho devotional four years ago. Students at the three BYU campuses and LDS Business College pay considerably less tuition than peers at other private schools because costs are "heavily subsidized by the tithe payers of the church."

"I questioned the fairness," Worthen said, "of using what in some cases is the widow’s mite to finance the education of lawyers, many of whom will have generous incomes over their careers."

His proposal rejected, Worthen pondered why in his BYU-Idaho devotional, which explored the LDS doctrine of agency, the freedom to choose that can be enhanced or limited due to good or bad choices.

One possible reason the LDS board of education, which includes senior church leadership, subsidizes tuition, Worthen said, is to help students graduate with far less debt than they otherwise might, or with no debt at all.

Debt can "enslave," limiting agency or choice dramatically, he said. Without debt, BYU law graduates would be free to choose to work in small towns for relatively little or to stay home to raise young children.

"Thus, the sacrifice of millions of tithe payers who subsidize your education leaves you free to choose to do what you — and the Lord — want you to do."

The lesson isn't that a Worthen administration will lead to tuition hikes beyond the typical annual cost-of-living-style increases. It was that the enhanced agency provided by low tuition comes with accountability.

Worthen told the students they needed to maximize their educational opportunity and live so they could receive inspiration about God's plan for them.

Church role

Two of BYU's previous five presidents — Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland — now serve in the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The last two presidents — Elder Merrill J. Bateman and Elder Cecil O. Samuelson — simultaneously served for most or all of their tenure both as BYU president and as church general authorities in the First Quorum of the Seventy.

Worthen isn't a general authority, but he is Elder Kevin J Worthen, an Area Seventy for the church in central Utah, and part of his new assignment is to be an example for and to minister to more than 30,000 students, 98 percent of whom are Mormon.

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