1 of 3
Deseret News archives
Henry J. Eyring

REXBURG, Idaho — With Tuesday's announcement of a change of presidents and the expansion of its online education program, Brigham Young University found itself in a spotlight of global ramifications Tuesday on what visiting LDS Church leaders repeatedly called “a historic day.”

The day started with a morning news conference at LDS Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, as BYU-Idaho’s signature Pathway online learning program received a new name underscoring a greater global reach.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presented both the BYU Pathway Worldwide and the church’s new commissioner of higher education to oversee the expansion, current BYU-Idaho President Clark G. Gilbert.

Gilbert’s new role meant announcing a new BYU-Idaho president at an afternoon devotional in Rexburg, as Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles introduced Henry J. Eyring as the 17th president of the higher education institution that also has been known previously as Ricks College and Ricks Academy during its nearly 130-year history.

Eyring, 53, currently BYU-Idaho’s academic vice president, will assume his new role April 10, following the conclusion of the current semester. He came to BYU-Idaho in 2006, first as an associate academic vice president over online learning and later as advancement vice president.

“He is ideally suited to be the leader of this great institution, and I urge you to listen to his counsel, benefit from his direction, and give him your wholehearted support as you go forward to new heights of service in the work of the Lord,” said Elder Oaks, who is chairman of the Executive Committee of the Church Board of Education.

During his pre-teen years, Eyring became familiar with the city and the college campus, since his family resided in Rexburg while his father — President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the church’s First Presidency — served as Ricks College president from 1971 to 1977.

Following his introduction to students and faculty at Tuesday’s devotional at the 15,000-seat BYU Idaho Center, Eyring spoke briefly, followed by Gilbert, who became BYU-Idaho’s president in April 2015.

“This campus now for generations has been hallowed ground to my family,” Eyring said. “We look forward to continued service in this richly blessed portion of the Lord’s vineyard.”

Eyring earned degrees in geology, business administration and law from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. While at BYU, he married Kelly Ann Child, his high school sweetheart; they are the parents of five children: Emily, Henry Christian, Sarah, Spence and Matthew. The oldest four have all graduated from BYU-Idaho.

Prior to his work at BYU-Idaho, Eyring worked as a strategy consultant at Monitor Company and as MBA director at BYU. He served as mission president of the church’s Tokyo North Mission from 2003 to 2006.

Elder Oaks, who himself served as a university president at BYU from 1971 to 1980, acknowledged Gilbert’s brief tenure at BYU-Idaho, which will total two years when he finishes at semester's end.

He recalled LDS Church President Harold B. Lee, who took leadership of the church in 1972 at the age of 73. Considering the ages and tenures of preceding president-prophets, President Lee was expected to serve for some 22 years, Elder Oaks said.

However, President Lee passed away suddenly and unexpectedly 18 months later, succeeded by President Spencer W. Kimball. Despite the short tenure, President Kimball was appropriately prepared while President Lee accomplished what he needed to do before being transferred to other assignments “on the other side of the veil,” Elder Oaks said.

“Hopefully, President Gilbert’s transfer is not accomplished in the same way as President Lee,” he said, drawing a hearty laugh from the capacity crowd. “But the principles are the same.”

Elder Kim B. Clark, a General Authority Seventy and the church’s commissioner of education who preceded Gilbert as BYU-I president for a decade, also spoke Tuesday.

He noted Eyring’s youth spent in Rexburg as well as his recent leadership at BYU-Idaho. “The Lord has been preparing him to be president of this great institution,” Elder Clark said. “In the same way, God has been watching you … he has watched over you and brought you here to know of Him.”

Besides the transition of presidency, BYU-Idaho will watch its Pathway program take on an even larger role. In 2009, Gilbert — then BYU’s associate academic vice president — joined Eyring, current Pathway managing director J.D. Griffith and others in investigating online learning opportunities.

Once proposed and developed, the Pathway program first started in three U.S. locations — Nampa, Idaho; Mesa, Arizona; and Manhattan, New York — and has since blossomed to some 500 locations, nearly evenly divided between the United States and international sites.

Pathway has served 58,000 since its inception and has “graduated” more than 27,000 from the one-year, three-semester program during its brief history, with many matriculating to formal online or brick-and-mortar university education systems.

“Pathway is like a mini-university — a university within a university,” said Pathway communication manager Andy Cargal, noting the program has its own administration, courses, support staff, advisors and tech department separate from its online and physical host, BYU-Idaho.

It is expected the Pathway will move to Salt Lake City, with the church's global resources to help both the number of international sites — at LDS institutes of religion and church meetinghouses — and international participants to increase substantially in coming years, Cargal said.

The renaming and relocation “doesn’t change Pathway structure” but will expand from BYU-Idaho to include the online offerings of BYU, BYU-Hawaii and LDS Business College, he said.

In speaking Tuesday to students and faculty, Gilbert emphasized Pathway will maintain — and not depart from — its genesis at and relationship with BYU-Idaho. “We will continue to be connected and intertwined,” he said.

That was welcome news for those like Devon Killian, a sophomore from Ritzville, Washington, a current BYU-Idaho student who was a Pathway product. She didn’t see herself in college after graduating from high school, but in 2011 heard about Pathway and gave it a try, going for two semesters before serving an LDS Church mission in Texas before finishing her third and final semester in the program.

“It’s meant a lot,” said the communications major, sitting in the BYU Idaho Center with sister and fellow student Dalyn Killian long after Tuesday’s devotional. “It helped start my education and appreciate my education, and it got me here meeting people.”

Cargal said Tuesday’s announcement of an expanded Pathway is a bit of a misnomer, since it has always been available outside of North America. But what gives the program the greatest traction was the announcement by a First Presidency member — a “Worldwide” program given a worldwide announcement. Previously, the program primarily circulated on a lower scale, much by word of mouth from local congregational leaders and local LDS service missionaries who helped administrate Pathway.