The creation of Brigham Young University's School of Family Life was called potentially the most important event in the LDS Church-owned university's 120-year history during an announcement banquet Thursday.
"I know of no greater service that this, the Lord's university, can give to his church, than through this School of Family Life," said Pres. Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a member of BYU's Board of Trustees.An impassioned Packer, celebrating his 74th birthday Thursday, added an intense challenge to BYU administrators and faculty in connection with the new school that encompasses the former department of family sciences and aims to coordinate research efforts by faculty across the university.
"Powerful and sinister forces are at work against the family," Packer said. "You must succeed. You must."
The School of Family Life will become part of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences. While the school will have 37 faculty members, its greatest impact will be felt through the coordination of research efforts on the family by faculty in such diverse fields as political science, nursing, psychology, chemistry, religion and law, administrators say.
"A major purpose of the new School of Family Life is to build bridges across the campus," said BYU President Merrill J. Bateman.
He said he and others sought creation of the school because they felt the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences "was buried" when Bateman became BYU president in 1996.
"The goal of this school is to make sure that students who leave here know how to relate to their spouses and how to build a good family," Bateman said Thursday.
In addition, BYU officials believe the school will have an impact on public policy concerning families around the world. Already, BYU law professor Richard G. Wilkins has formed Family Voice, a nongovernmental organization that lobbies for pro-family policies before United Nations conferences.
Packer said the school's charter will be "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," which was issued by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in September 1995. The proclamation - just one of five in the history of the LDS Church, Packer pointed out - warns of dire consequences unless traditional families are strengthened.
"Literally, the safety of humanity hangs in the balance," Packer said. "The principles in the proclamation run counter to the prevailing views of society, but these principles are ours to implement and to share."
Under the auspice of the new school will fall current efforts such as "Fatherwork," an award-winning Web site that publishes tips and inspiring stories aimed at bolstering fathers; BYU's gerontology certificate program; the Center for Studies of the Family; and the Marriage Resource Center.
BYU family science professor James M. Harper has been named director of the new school. During a video presentation at a reception Thursday, Harper said the school will "help students improve their family life and . . . reach out across the world."
In addition to dozens of courses on parenting, human development, home economics, clothing and textiles, family history and household financial management, BYU already has a course and a book project under way centering on "The Family: A Proclamation to the World."
Packer said establishment of the school will return BYU to a direction it started to take decades ago. In the 1950s, then-BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson proposed the creation of a College of Family Living, but lack of vision and dedication on the part of faculty and administrators caused the idea to fail, Packer said.
"I'm not sure whether we meet tonight to celebrate a reformation or a restoration," Packer said. "I hope it is a restoration."