Tuesday, August 17, 2004



When I travelled to Washington State to meet in-laws for the first time eight years ago, I discovered they harbored a general feeling of apathy, perhaps even antipathy, about BYU, this despite the fact that A) they are all active members of the LDS Church, and B) I had met their daughter (now my wife) at BYU. Part of their jibes about BYU were surely in jest, but it seemed to me at the time that, in truth, they really did dislike the school.

Maybe it was a holdover from some of the tension between "Utah" Mormons and the rest of the LDS community. Having grown up in Utah, and then having lived in several other places (Missouri, California, Arizona, Taiwan and Washington State), I can see some reasonable criticisms of Utah LDS culture. Perhaps it all boils down to the subtle, almost unconscious, notion that Utah is "Zion" - or the nearest thing to it - and that everywhere else is the "mission field." This comparison really rankles my mother-in-law.

I tend to think that the Utah-as-Zion idea (which I reject, by the way, at least as far as Utah being held out as more "Zionish" than anywhere else) has its roots in the mass emigrations to Utah of the late 19th century. References to Utah as being the "center stakes of Zion" were accurate back then, but not now. There have long been more Latter-day Saints outside of Utah than in it, and there are now more members of the Church outside the United States than in it.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. I read this morning that BYU performed fairly well on the Princeton Review survey:
Predictably — after all, this is the sixth straight time — the Princeton Review ranked BYU No. 1 on its list of sober colleges and universities. No other school has remained nearly so long atop of any of the 64 lists produced by the annual guide for prospective college students.

The real surprise this year is that BYU finished No. 1 in seven categories, including great library — ahead of Princeton (second) and Harvard (fourth).

Two years ago BYU didn't even make the top 20, then vaulted to third last year.
BYU ranked first in the following categories:

-Great Library

-Stone-cold Sober (least amount of drinking by students)

-Got Milk? (low beer consumption)

-Scotch & Soda, Hold the Scotch (low hard liquor consumption)

-Don't Inhale (low marijuana use)

-Students Pray on a Regular Basis

-Future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution

BYU also ranked second for "Town-Gown Relations are Good" (city and campus get along), fifth for "Students Most Nostalgic for Ronald Reagan" (students lean right politically), sixth for "Best Quality of Life," seventh for "Alternative Lifestyle not an Alternative" (low acceptance of the gay community), seventh for "Happiest Students," twelfth for "Everyone Plays Intramural Sports," and nineteenth for "Jock Schools" (intramural and intercollegiate sports are popular).

I think the recognition for the library and the various "quality of life" categories (happiest students, low alcohol and drug use, sports, etc.) make BYU look really good to students and parents of students who are, with good reason, put off by the raucous lifestyle at other schools.

That said, I would like to see BYU recognized for its academic excellence. Perhaps that's not covered much in the Princeton Review, or perhaps it is and BYU just isn't up to snuff in the overall picture yet. The law school is drawing sharper students every year (this table shows that the median GPA and LSAT scores for incoming BYU students is very, very good). BYU's graduate accounting program consistently ranks near the top in the nation (as does the bachelor's program). BYU's MBA program is ranked 39th in the current U.S. News survey. I think the undergraduate programs at BYU could, with some effort, compete with the best across the nation.

As for my in-laws, they've mellowed a bit about BYU. In fact, one of my brothers-in-law will be sending in his application any day now. I wish him the best.