REXBURG, Idaho — In 1971, the eminent chemist Henry Eyring spoke at the inauguration of his son, Henry B. Eyring, as the 10th president of what then was Ricks College.
On Tuesday, 46 years later, family history repeated itself.
President Henry B. Eyring, now first counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church, installed his son Henry J. Eyring as the 17th president of what today is Brigham Young University-Idaho.
The new university president displayed the most emotion not for his father, but for his mother, who was absent due to health challenges. He also spoke passionately and plainly about what he sees as BYU-Idaho's challenge retaining and graduating its students.
President Eyring said his son is prepared to help each student achieve his or her potential.
"President Henry J. Eyring knows what his grandfather knew: great joy comes from building confidence in others and seeing growth in their ability to think and to do."
He echoed the formal charge he gave the new president when he said optimism comes from an assurance that each student has potential to learn.
"Real builders of universities cannot fully enjoy their accomplishment until they help someone else learn as they have learned," he said.
BYU-Idaho's six-year graduation rate is nearly 60 percent, well above the national average of 42 percent. That's not good enough for Eyring, especially since the school's rapid growth is bringing more unprepared students to campus, he said.
"Our graduation statistics tell us quantitatively what we know intuitively," he said during his speech, "that curriculum designed to meet the needs of the most capable and ambitious students can present problems for some."
"Sixty percent is personally painful," Eyring added during a news conference after his presidential inauguration, saying he realized that by talking about the number he was issuing a "self-indictment."
A year ago, BYU-Idaho had a fall enrollment of 17,980, up 20 percent since fall 2010. It's online enrollment was 26,864, for a total of 44,844. The Board of Trustees, including President Eyring as vice chairman, has charged it to grow larger still.
"A particular hallmark of this institution has been an anxious concern for students who doubt their place here," Eyring said in his speech. "But now our student body growth, along with the more complex and rigorous curricular offerings of a four-year institution, compounds the challenge of ministering one-by-one."
BYU-Idaho's admissions standards are a 2.0 high school GPA and an ACT score of 16. It admits 94 percent of applicants. He listed a number of innovations designed to help all students, especially underprepared freshman, including tutoring that reaches 12,000 students per year and rethinking curriculum to fit students from all backgrounds and levels of college readiness.
"We continue to seek the Spirit’s guidance in shepherding and safeguarding each student," he said.
Eyring called his father "the real President Eyring" during the news conference.
His father gave him a six-part charge during the ceremony, telling him to put Jesus Christ at the heart of his service, treat all at BYU-Idaho as children of God, infuse God's Spirit into the experiences of all students and employees, seek God's direction, demonstrate gratitude for past BYU-I administrators and exemplify "the gospel ideals of Christlike love and perfect fidelity."
President Eyring was not involved in the decision to select his son as the school's president, but he clearly was pleased as he formally installed him.
"These exercises are designed to mark the beginning of a new chapter in the history of BYU-Idaho," he said. "Today on behalf of the board of trustees and the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I install you, Henry Johnson Eyring, as president of BYU-Idaho and confer upon you the authority, the rights, the responsibilities and the challenges associated with this office."
Students, faculty and staff swarmed to the event despite an unseasonably cold, overcast and gusty afternoon. Nearly 15,000 filled the BYU-Idaho Center.
It was the younger Eyring’s 54th birthday.
“Who gets inaugurated on their birthday?” joked Elder Kim B. Clark, a General Authority Seventy and the Commissioner of Church Education and a former BYU-Idaho president.
In fact, Elder Clark was one of eight former BYU-Idaho presidents who attended Tuesday’s event.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles conducted the meeting as the chairman of the executive committee of BYU-Idaho’s Board of Trustees. President Henry B. Eyring presided as vice chairman of the board.
BYU President Kevin Worthen, BYU-Hawaii President John Tanner, BYU-Pathway Worldwide President Clark Gilbert and LDS Business College President Bruce Kusch attended the event.
Several of the past presidents of Ricks College/BYU-Idaho who attended the event had past ties to Eyring.
He used to study in the office of his father after school during his tenure from 1971-77. Elder Bruce C. Hafen (1978-85) was also Eyring's law school dean at BYU. and Elder Joe J. Christensen (1985-89) was the president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, when Eyring trained as an LDS missionary there. Stephen Bennion (1989-97) had Eyring as one of his trustees when he served as president of Southern Utah University. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1997-2004) is one of Eyring's mentors. Interim president Robert Wilkes (2004-05) knew Eyring as a pre-teen in Rexburg. Elder Clark (2005-15) employed Eyring and served as his LDS home teacher. BYU-PW’s Gilbert (2015-17) is a close friend and long-time colleague.
Sister Jean B. Bingham, the church’s Relief Society general president and a member of the board’s executive committee, gave the opening prayer. Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave the closing prayer.