A New President for Ricks

“A New President for Ricks,” Ensign, Jan. 1978, 78–79

A New President for Ricks

The First Presidency recently announced the appointment of Dr. Bruce Clark Hafen as president of Ricks College at Rexburg, Idaho. On 1 May 1978, the thirty-seven-year-old lawyer, teacher, and administrator will assume his new duties at the Church’s 6,000-student junior college.

Dr. Hafen, who replaces Dr. Henry B. Eyring, now deputy commissioner of education for the Church, is a believer in the value of relatively small junior colleges. He began his college career at Dixie College in St. George, Utah—and remembers that most of the good students in his southern Utah home town did the same. “We felt that at a junior college we’d have more opportunities to take part in campus life—and I still feel that way.”

Brother Hafen points out that it is remarkable that Ricks College has kept that close, intimate, small-college feeling despite the growth of the student body to 6,000. “A small college has five hundred students!” he said, and Ricks College’s student body is large enough to support three student stakes, an outstanding honors program, an excellent missionary preparation program, and all this without losing the feeling that every student is an individual.

Dr. Harry J. Maxwell, dean of academic affairs at Ricks, will continue as acting president until Brother Hafen arrives in May. And Brother Hafen will continue until May his duties as director of planning and research for the Correlation Department of the Church.

He was educated to be a lawyer; and switched to teaching only a short time ago, at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, where he is still on leave as an associate professor of law. He originally went to BYU as an assistant to BYU President Dallin Oaks, before joining the law school faculty.

“I hadn’t planned at all for any of this,” Dr. Hafen says; and yet active involvement in both education and Church programs is not unfamiliar to him. His father was a lawyer in southern Utah and served in the state legislature and was an active booster for Dixie College. After Dr. Hafen’s father died in 1964, his mother began to teach French at Dixie.

And both Brother Hafen and his wife, Marie, have pursued education seriously. Not only did he earn a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in law after their marriage—she also earned her master’s degree. “When the children came, my wife got an assistantship, grading papers at home, so she could take care of the children.” And they traded off helping each other. “I typed her thesis,” he remembers. “Whoever had the most pressure, the other one helped out.”

Today their seven children, ranging in age from twelve years to nine months, are following in their parents’ footsteps, not only learning the normal school subjects, but also studying music and learning to appreciate other arts. “To me, ‘back to basics in education’ includes music,” Dr. Hafen says—and he recalls being in the band and playing major roles in college and high school musicals. “Music is a way to teach discipline and self-motivation.” Other ways to teach include hard physical work and sports, he believes, which means that Brother Hafen is right alongside his children in many different activities.

When asked what parents can do to help prepare their children to take advantage of their opportunities, Brother Hafen answered, “All the research I know about indicates that what parents do, what parents care about, will get their children’s attention more than anything else. Nothing compensates for a lack of parental interest in education—teachers can’t teach when the children aren’t getting support at home. The basic responsibility for education is with the parents.

The home, he points out, is one of the few places where normal, happy, moral living gets encouraged. “It’s a concern to me that the weird and bizarre and exceptional get all the attention in the news, while normal, happy, responsible people are largely ignored. Where’s the public reinforcement for living a good life?” In his own family, though, Brother Hafen made the decision to try to follow gospel ideals very early—and he and his wife have found that that kind of life is its own reinforcement.

“A week before our wedding,” Brother Hafen recalled in a recent devotional address at Ricks College, “we talked quietly and tenderly amid fasting and prayer. We wondered when to start our family. We were both in school. We couldn’t see how we could afford to remain in school if children came too soon. We wanted to go to Europe after graduate school. We wanted to travel around and together feel the breeze of freedom in our faces before accepting the confinement and the responsibility of babies, diapers, and dishes.”

But there was another feeling, too, that they both sensed clearly. “To talk of children is to walk on holy ground.” And there was no delay in the start of their family. The expense of the children demanded financial sacrifice and struggle—but they managed. Children took up a lot of time—but they managed. “We didn’t live like kings and queens,” Brother Hafen said. “We lived even better.”

With Church callings that include service as a counselor in a stake presidency, a stake executive secretary, a high councilor, and counselor in a bishopric, Brother Hafen has long shown his commitment to the Church. But he also has a strong commitment to the gospel’s role in intellectual matters. “BYU and Ricks College show that serious education can be a part of the full, rich, abundant gospel life. Seeming conflicts between intellectual and spiritual things are resolved in the persons of many of our Church leaders and leaders in the Church Educational System. Their commitment to education has only enhanced the seriousness of their commitment to the Church.”

You don’t have to choose between the mind and the spirit, says Brother Hafen—in fact, it’s impossible to separate them. “If you go deep enough in either, they reinforce each other. Of course the gospel has priority—the source is more trustworthy. But the gospel expands the mind—it never narrows it.”