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Associated Press
David Petraeus

PROVO — If you're going to talk about changing the world, it makes sense to include the experts in those conversations.

The relatively new Wheatley Institution is doing just that at BYU, bringing a lineup of heavy hitters to campus this semester.

It starts today, when Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, speaks at 7:30 p.m. at BYU's Hinckley Center.

Next month, James Schlesinger, who served as secretary of defense for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, will visit, followed in March by four-star Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command and the leader of the military "surge" in Iraq in 2007.

"The purpose of the Wheatley Institution is to enrich BYU students and faculty with distinguished outside experts coming in and providing ideas and exchanging views," said Amos Jordan, a Wheatley Institution senior fellow and former president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "These are the kinds of people who will, in fact, enrich the student-faculty experience."

Brzezinski, Schlesinger and Petraeus all agreed to come to BYU at the request of Jordan, who has organized the lectures relying on his professional relationships and his Rolodex.

The institution, now in its third year, is named after Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley, who were pivotal in its creation and continued funding. The institution is privately funded but housed in the Hinckley Center.

As a member of the Board of Overseers at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University for nearly 25 years, Jack Wheatley said he wanted to create something similar at BYU.

"The purpose is to bring more scholarly work and research and writing to the campus, not just from church people, but from all walks of life," he said.

Wheatley wants to see the institution become a home base for scholars who will feel comfortable coming to BYU to research and share ideas that will benefit society.

Wheatley had hoped LDS scholar Truman Madsen would be one of the first key contributors and was saddened when Madsen died in May 2009. Rabbi David Rosen, the director of the American Jewish Committee's Department for Interreligious Affairs and a long-time friend of the Madsens, will visit BYU Wednesday, with his speech on religion and peacemaking in the Middle East as the annual Truman G. Madsen Lecture on Eternal Man.

The institution's four main areas of focus are family, education, ethics and international affairs.

"We want to be a place where serious, important conversations take place on these topics," Wheatley Institution director Richard Williams said. "We want to be among those institutions about which people say, 'Those are where good ideas come from.' "

Ethics and leadership professor Brad Agle is already immersed in a massive research project as a fellow of the institution. His team of professors and students is gathering existing ethics research currently scattered across the various disciplines. Then they'll sort, categorize and summarize it, allowing scholars to build on ethics research, not duplicate it.

"That's the kind of project that without financial backing and institutional backing like the Wheatley Institution is not likely to happen," Agle said.

Wheatley said the institution's budget is nowhere near that of the Hoover's, with its 100 scholars and roughly $30 million.

But thinking optimistically, in the next five to six years, Wheatley said he'd love to have 30 resident scholars and a budget of $1 million.

"That's pretty ambitious," he said. "But I'm excited about what can be done."

For more information about the Wheatley Institution and to see a schedule of upcoming speakers, visit wheatley.byu.edu/index.html.

Lectures this week:

Today, 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Hinckley Center conference room

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University, will speak on "Geostrategic Challenges Facing the United States."

Wednesday, 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Hinckley Center conference room

Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee's Department for Interreligious Affairs, will speak on "Religion and Peacemaking in the Middle East."