Ira Fulton Provides Generous Endowment, Supports the Center for Language Studies


Thanks to Ira Fulton and his generosity, for the last 15 years BYU’s Center for Language Studies has provided thousands of students with unique, valuable language experiences.

Upon his arrival at BYU in late 2004, Dr. Ray Clifford, Associate Dean, began as the director of the Center for Language Studies (CLS) with only one part-time staff at his side. Clifford was fresh from his role as the chancellor of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California and clearly saw the potential of the CLS; but, the CLS had no allocated funding.

Clifford and Van C. Gessel, the dean at the time, made a presentation to the President’s Leadership Council, a group of individuals that were willing and financially able to donate to BYU, about the value of language and literature for BYU, its students, and the Church.

Their efforts caught Ira Fulton’s attention. Fulton, an Arizona native and successful businessman, came forward and made a generous offer.

“It was clear from the beginning that Ira Fulton was a good-hearted person who wanted to help students. His efforts for good know no bounds. We are blessed that he has included the college among his philanthropic efforts,” Clifford remarked.

In 2005, Fulton established an endowment for the CLS that was named to honor his wife: the Mary Lou Fulton Chair for World Languages. In academia, a “chair” is typically funding for a single faculty member. In this case, however, the chair was intended to fund an entire program that would benefit a large number of students. Fulton contributed $5 million to that endowment.

A few years after Fulton’s initial donations, the CLS set a goal to teach language classes in all of the languages spoken by returned missionaries at BYU. The proficiency-based language certificate program soon followed, but there was no funding to pay for the written and oral tests that certified students’ proficiency through an external, internationally recognized testing agency. Students had to pay for the tests themselves.

Shortly after the language certificate program began running in 2010, Fulton expressed his thoughts on the value of special certificates when seeking employment and he volunteered to pay for the testing. “If the students are willing to do the work,” he said, “I’m willing to pay for the tests.”

Thanks to the Fultons’ generosity, the CLS grew rapidly in size and vision. To show its appreciation, the CLS has done its best to organize meetings between Fulton and the students who have benefited from the endowment, sent Fulton pictures of CLS events and projects, and tried to ensure that Ira Fulton feels its appreciation on a personal level.

The CLS also provides Fulton with an annual report showing how the endowment is being put to use and how it safeguards the endowment principal to ensure its growth and careful application.

On October 15, 2019, Clifford and Dean Scott Miller flew to Arizona to hold their annual meeting with Ira Fulton and delivered a report on the CLS programs.

“Ira was so pleased with how well we had managed his endowment that he made an additional $1 million donation, bringing the total to over $10 million,“ Clifford reported. “He is a wonderful person whose central objective is to improve BYU, the Center and the lives of students.”

According to the CLS’ calculations, Ira Fulton has affected thousands of students through his donation to the CLS alone.

“With the Mary Lou Fulton endowment, we can be of service to the College of Humanities and to the entire university,” Rebecca Brazzale, assistant director of the CLS, commented.

The endowment pays for all of the language proficiency testing that the CLS does—for senior seminar classes, international internships, study abroad programs, language certificates—and 50% of all of the Foreign Language and Area Studies language proficiency testing through the Kennedy Center.

The endowment also funds faculty research projects done in the college and supports the creation of professionally crafted listening and reading proficiency tests that allow students to document their advanced language skills.

Ultimately, the endowment has blessed the whole university by allowing the CLS to make decisions that have students’ best interest at heart, for example creating and funding courses in less-commonly taught languages that serve small numbers of students.

“Because of the endowment we can really think about the spiritual mandate of ‘enter to learn, go forth to serve.’” Brazzale observed. “Everybody deserves to hear the gospel and be served in their own language, and because of the endowment we can support those efforts.”

Thanks to Ira Fulton’s generosity, thousands of students from over 175 majors have been able to document their foreign-language skills through the CLS and its services. Visit for further information on the services the CLS offers.

—Tori Hamilton (Editing & Publishing, ’20)