Delicious Tension: Understanding Brigham Young University
January 29, 2009
In order to understand Brigham Young University you must first understand the tension that is at the heart of the university’s identity. This tension revolves around the university’s attempts to integrate academic distinction with spiritual excellence and has been present since the university was founded as Brigham Young Academy in 1875 by Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In 1876 Brigham Young chose Karl G. Maeser as the first fulltime principal of the Brigham Young Academy and instructed Maeser that “neither the alphabet nor the multiplication table were to be taught without the Spirit of God.” Maeser took this message to heart and focused his administration on the development of character. He made devotional activities central to the academy experience and established the Domestic Organization to help students live appropriately when they were not at school. Although Maeser was a highly educated man and understood the importance of academic excellence, his administration was marked by a distinct emphasis on the sacred.
In 1892 Maeser handed the reins of the academy over to one of his former students, Benjamin Cluff. Cluff had been educated at Brigham Young Academy and then had pursued further academic training at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While at the University of Michigan Cluff was exposed to the work of several highly influential educational thinkers including Charles W. Eliot, John Dewey, Aaron B. Hinsdale, and James Burrill Angell. He also came to believe firmly that the educational stature of Brigham Young Academy needed to be strengthened. During Cluff’s administration his main priority was to improve the quality of the faculty and the school’s educational offerings. Although Cluff was a staunch defender of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a deeply spiritual man, his administration was marked by a distinct emphasis on academics.
In 1903 Benjamin Cluff successfully convinced the Board of Trustees that Brigham Young Academy should become Brigham Young University and then resigned. His successor was George H. Brimhall. Brimhall had studied under Karl G. Maeser and understood the importance of the sacred to the purpose of Brigham Young University. Brimhall had also worked with Benjamin Cluff and understood the importance of being academically excellent. Brimhall’s administration was marked by his attempts to balance the competing needs of the sacred and the secular. The modernism crisis of 1911 is the first major manifestation of the tension between the sacred and the secular and Brimhall’s handling of the crisis set Brigham Young University on the trajectory that it currently follows—a trajectory that links the university closely to the Church. This tension remains at the heart of Brigham Young University’s identity.
The University Archives is the home of the presidential records of all three of these influential individuals and if you wish to understood how the tension between the sacred and the secular was first defined at Brigham Young University then you will want to take a look at these collections:
· UA 1094 Karl G. Maeser Brigham Young University President’s records, 1876-1892 To access the register of this collection click here.
· UA 1093 Benjamin Cluff, Jr. Brigham Young University President’s records, 1892-1903 To access the register of this collection click here.
· UA 1092 George H. Brimhall Brigham Young University President’s records, 1904-1921 To access the register of this collection click here.
If you would like to gain access to these collections or learn more about the tension between the sacred and the secular at Brigham Young University, please contact the University Archivist at (801) 422-5821 or email@example.com .