“A Conversation with the New President of Ricks College,” Ensign, Mar. 1986, 87
Joe J. Christensen became president of Ricks College 13 August 1986. Formerly president of the Missionary Training Center and Assistant Commissioner of Education for the Church, President Christensen comes to the college with more than thirty years experience in the Church Educational System. The Ensign recently spoke with President Christensen about the goals and emphases of his administration.
Q: When you came to Ricks, did the college measure up to your expectations?
A: Ricks is a much more competent college than I had thought. For example, Ricks has the only all-student symphony orchestra at any two-year institution in the country; a state of the art library; a Rufatti organ that is the second largest instrument of its type in the Church; and the only public radio station in Idaho, KRIC-FM. I don’t know of another two-year college that exceeds what we see here in these, and many other, areas.
Q: What do you consider to be Ricks’ greatest assets?
A: We have a great student body. The enrollment is higher than ever before, with 6,880 students enrolled last semester. We have more than 1,000 returned missionaries on campus who provide a stability and maturity beyond that of most two-year colleges. Also, the faculty has a ratio of doctorate degrees and specialized training that is much higher than the faculties of most two-year colleges. In some other university settings, general education classes are taught by graduate assistants or in very large lecture groups. Here courses are taught by the professors themselves, who have time to be accessible to the students.
In my opinion, a student cannot get a better education anywhere for the first two years of college than here at Ricks. And it is all in the context of the gospel. Besides that, the board of trustees voted last year to decrease the tuition by 20 percent. As far as I know, that is unprecedented in the history of education in the United States.
Q: What do you see as Ricks’ place in the Church educational system?
A: The main element of the school’s mission is to provide a superb education in an open admissions setting within a spiritual framework. This means that for the student who didn’t do as well in high school as he would have liked, the individualized attention and the opportunities for expression and growth make Ricks the perfect place for him to put it all together. The same factors make Ricks equally appropriate for the more gifted student. The depth and range of the offerings here are amazing.
We have a saying, “If a student is fortunate enough to find Ricks, he will probably be fortunate enough to find himself.”
Q: What effect will your administration have on the direction Ricks will take?
A: Although I don’t foresee any major changes in direction, I see the major emphasis being one of refining, strengthening, and improving on the efforts of my predecessors. Perhaps central to all that will be increasing our emphasis on standards. When students leave, they should not only be better educated in their minds, but in their hearts, with a renewed commitment to gospel standards.
I also hope we can strengthen the faculty by being sure that every new addition is academically strong and a spiritually motivational teacher.
Another goal is to increase the awareness among members of the Church about Ricks and what it has to offer. Ricks has been called the “best kept secret in the Church,” and there is a lot of truth in that.
Also, one of the finest things that could happen would be to help attract labor-intensive businesses to Rexburg that could capitalize on the the fine group of capable young people at Ricks. This would allow a larger number of students to find part-time work, which many need.
Q: With Ricks’ centennial celebration coming in 1988, what are some of the planned activities?
A: We are beginning the Centennial Capital Campaign this year to raise money for student scholarships, programs, and grants. The theme of the centennial celebration will be “A Century of Commitment with Summits Yet to Climb, 1888–1988.” We will have numerous activities, as well as a permanent historical display in the Manwaring Center and a commemorating sculpture on campus.
Q: What would you say to a high school graduate considering Ricks college?
A: First, come to know your alternatives. If you become aware of Ricks, you will know what your options are. I frankly think that if people do that, our problem will be to figure out a way to keep an open admissions policy and still limit the student body to the numbers we can handle. In a way, Ricks is like a restaurant: the best advertising is satisfied customers. We have a lot of satisfied customers.