Welcome Back, College of Humanities

In this year’s annual college meeting, Dean Scott Miller and the associate deans described how the work of the college continues to progress and expand.

JFSB QuadPROVO, Utah (Aug 24, 2016)—”This is a time of celebration,” Dean Scott Miller said, opening up the 2016 college meeting. Many of the assembled faculty and staff were only just returning from semesters abroad, and select few were freshly joining the ranks; but all assembled could feel the excitement for the year about to commence.

Associate dean Frank Christianson spoke first and posed a twofold question to his colleagues: What is a humanities education worth and what can it do? To find the answer, he referred first to the college masthead: “Think clearly. Act well. Appreciate life.”

“Professional development is a central part of what we do for our students,” Christianson said. The college has identified learning outcomes for its students, outcomes that Christianson already sees manifesting among them. “Our students can speak and write effectively. They can shape ideas and experiences persuasively to multiple audiences. Our majors can work with information, finding what is relevant to a particular question or issue and interpreting it to solve problems. They can navigate across cultures, frequently enhanced by multilingualism.”

Despite having these skills, students still need their professors’ help identifying their professional value. The H+ program has already helped students gain experience using their humanities skills in professional spheres. Now, changes to humplus-funding.byu.edu make it even easier for students to access internships, studies abroad and other forms of professional experience to ready them for life beyond the university.

Advancement is likewise being made in the college’s language programs. Associate dean Ray Clifford spoke next, detailing efforts by the Center for Language Studies to accommodate the ever growing student pool.

The return of the latest generation of missionaries has resulted in what Clifford called a “tsunami of enrollment” in the foreign language programs. Last year saw the center’s 1000th language certificate, but as of this past July, that number has grown to 1640, encompassing students from all over campus.

But students need more than opportunities for learning and assessment. “Our students report that forming a meaningful and genuine relationship with their professors matters most to both their intellectual and their spiritual growth,” said associate dean George Handley. “They simply want to know us better.” Then urged his colleagues reach out more to their students, not only by learning more about them, but by sharing personal experience.

“They want to know, desperately, about our intellectual and spiritual journeys,” Handley said. Students, he explained, want to know how professors, who they look up to, have wrestled with questions and found answers. “While they clearly value being challenged to think differently, to use critical judgement and to confront difference, they also hunger to know why it matters as Mormons to be humanities students, and why as humanities students it matters it be Mormon.” Where, if not at BYU, will students answer these questions?

Scott Miller echoed this sentiment of caring for students and encouraged the meeting attendees to think of themselves as guardians of the college. “Do you sit symbolically beside the door of your classroom, keeping out evil, protecting your students?” he asked. “From what, or whom, are you protecting them? How do you see your role in a world that, for them, is becoming increasingly difficult to negotiate?”

In 1966, Gerrit de Jong, Jr. told departing graduates to be “living examples” of “enduring human values.” Miller extended the same invitation, explaining, “How we live, or at least the example of living that our students perceive us projecting, has a deep and abiding power in their lives, as well as in the lives of our colleagues and even peers outside Provo.”

Concluding his remarks and the meeting, Miller urged his colleagues to follow the Spirit in their study, writing, and teaching. “Realize that, for our students and our colleagues, we—in spite of all our flaws and familiarities—can be the source of gracious words that move others to see, to learn, to act, and to translate the whispered, soul-deep feelings into a lifetime of giving, and receiving, grace.”

—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)