“BYU—Hawaii Celebrates Its Silver Jubilee,” Ensign, Jan. 1980, 76–78
University President Dan W. Andersen explains how culture meets culture, how students meet the world at Laie, Hawaii
It’s a cultural experiment of the most successful kind—a small campus where students from more than thirty countries melt into perhaps the most international student body in the country.
Set near a sandy shore on the northward side of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the school is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Hawaii Temple.
And this February it’s twenty-five years old.
Brigham Young University—Hawaii Campus used to be known as the Church College of Hawaii. From its beginning, it was endowed with a prophetic charge. President David O. McKay said at a dedicatory service in 1958, “From this school will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.” Elder Harold B. Lee later commented that the school “will be a beacon light to Asia.”
Both are happening, and as they happen the school grows. Since CCH became a satellite campus of BYU in 1974, enrollment has doubled.
The Laie, Hawaii, campus is a long drive around Oahu from the more populous Honolulu side of the island. But each year more than a million tourists make that drive, mostly to see the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Hawaii Temple. Hundreds of BYU—Hawaii students work at the center, displaying, demonstrating, and explaining native Polynesian cultures.
As the school’s enrollment grows, so do the school’s facilities. A 5,000-seat activities center is being constructed, with completion scheduled in time for the 1980–81 basketball season, the school’s third year of intercollegiate basketball competition.
Much of this growth has come under President Dan W. Andersen, who came to the school in July 1973. His only prior visit to Hawaii was a year before, when the Andersens visited Sister Andersen’s parents, who were directing the Hawaii Temple bureau of information. Her father suggested that Brother Andersen visit with college administrators, since he was in higher education. He did, and then the Andersens returned to Ethiopia, where he was working on a Ford Foundation grant, on leave from the University of Wisconsin. Within a month he was asked to return to the school, this time as an administrator instead of a tourist. When he did come, a year later, he was made dean, and then executive vice-president. That title has since been changed to president. “And that’s how I got to Hawaii,” he quips, “over sixteen thousand miles and thirteen time zones.”
President Andersen shares with the Ensign his perspective on the school’s past and purpose.
Ensign: Do you find that people outside of BYU—Hawaii understand its purposes?
President Andersen: I would hope they do. Of course, the place is an island paradise—but when President McKay dedicated it twenty-five years ago, he said the college had two major purposes. One was to develop testimonies. The other was to build a school that was academically respectable, so that no student there would receive a second-class education.
Since we’re on the shores of the Pacific, with the sand and the sun and so forth, it seems a little incongruous that students would have to struggle to get through an English or history class. It’s true that the geography does permit people to come and enjoy the beauties of nature. But more important is that we meet the requirements as a full-fledged academic institution.
Ensign: And you have quite a diversified student body, too.
President Andersen: We have students from more than thirty countries. We have the reputation of having the highest percentage of foreign students of any four-year institution in the United States. Our students come predominantly from the South Pacific and the Orient, but more and more we’re getting students from Latin America, Africa, and Europe.
Ensign: And from the continental United States?
President Andersen: Yes, though BYU—Hawaii is not designed to be simply an outlet for U.S. mainland students. We have a Semester in BYU—Hawaii program, somewhat similar to the BYU Semester Abroad program in Israel or Austria. The other semester abroad programs take their own professors, but in our case the professors are BYU—Hawaii professors.
The program was approved by the Brethren as a way of providing an experience in Hawaii for more than 250 students, who come mostly from the BYU campus in Provo. Most of them are lower-division students.
Ensign: Your cultural mixture must make it easy to staff the Polynesian Cultural Center near the campus.
President Andersen: We probably have a higher percentage of students employed than any other institution, since many of our students come from economically depressed areas. They sacrificed to come—but once they get here as sponsored students, we assist in many ways. The theory is that a student could receive a four-year education completely paid for by himself in what we call Work for Education. We employ some seven or eight hundred students at the Polynesian Cultural Center, and a smaller number work in various part-time university jobs.
Most of our Polynesian students have an opportunity to work at the center because of the emphasis on the native isles, the villages, the educational, cultural, and entertainment aspects of the village. We offer guided tours in twenty languages.
Ensign: How has the school changed in recent years?
President Andersen: Well, enrollment has doubled! When I assumed administrative responsibility in 1974, we had 917 students, and in 1979 fall semester we had 1,790.
Now, if you look at the enrollment figures of private institutions across the United States, that is remarkable. A number of universities and colleges have had to close. I think it’s a tribute and a credit to the Church because even though the growth makes it possible to utilize our facilities better, there is increased cost. The Church continues to pay the major share of the cost of that education. We’ve had an opportunity of introducing a number of programs which permit growth in the practical arts such as hotel and restaurant management and tourism.
Also, when we became affiliated with BYU, we could draw on more resources. We now have a faculty exchange program with the Provo faculty. It permits our personnel to have exposure to a Church school in a different setting, and it permits us to bring new faculty here. Faculty and students from the mainland can learn things at BYU—Hawaii that they could never learn the same way in Provo. And vice versa.
Because of our setting, we can utilize natural resources geared toward the area that the school serves—in tropical agriculture, marine biology, travel industry, intercultural communication.
Ensign: Speaking of the travel and restaurant industry, don’t you have a big new restaurant at the cultural center?
President Andersen: Yes. It’s probably the largest restaurant now in the South Pacific. It serves more than 2,000 dinners a day and can seat more than 1,000 people at a time. That surpasses anything in Honolulu. We now have this “laboratory” for restaurant management where our students can train.
With the atmosphere in that new restaurant, people claim the food’s improved, even though we’re still serving the same menu.
Ensign: What gives you the greatest satisfaction in your job?
President Andersen: Seeing young people come and, in just four years, go into professions and be successful. Sometimes they come from disadvantaged areas, but through the university’s training they become an important resource as they go back to their countries. It opens opportunities for them.
Also, just a generation or two back, some of these students’ ancestors would have been in conflict with each other. National antagonisms inevitably occur now and then, but the one intervening factor is the gospel. They bring their culture with them, and they have much to offer with it, but the overriding fact is that they have come into the Church culture, which transcends their cultures in brotherhood. We unite on a common basis and take the good from each culture.
Ensign: Are most of your students members of the Church?
President Andersen: About five percent aren’t members—and our conversion rate is good. There’s a lot of active missionary work going on here. We average seventy or eighty nonmembers on the campus, and in the last few years we’ve converted forty or so each year—so that by the end of the year we’ve narrowed it to about two and a half percent from five.
It’s a privilege to attend the baptisms at the beach, usually at six o’clock for a sunrise baptism in the Pacific. Many students will gather around to welcome the new members into the Church as the sun is coming up over the waters.