The Mormon Church has always placed an emphasis on education: the Kirtland School of the Elders, the School of the Prophets, the Hebrew School, etc. This idea continued into Nauvoo, where, as part of the Nauvoo Charter, they founded the University of the City of Nauvoo. This institution was fairly functional until the Saints migrated West, whereupon it obviously became dormant.
While the history of this early University deserves attention, this post focuses on this University’s future. I was made aware this morning of a proposed Nauvoo University currently in the process of organization. On its welcome page, it gives the following information:
This university is being reorganized and reincorporated as a non-profit corporation under the laws of the State of Illinois. It has been known as the “University of the City of Nauvoo”, the “University of Nauvoo”, but will be incorporated as ‘Nauvoo University’. The University is also applying for 501(c)3 status from the federal government.
Joseph Smith stated that the purpose of the University of Nauvoo is to “enable us to teach our children wisdom — to instruct them in all knowledge, and learning, in the Arts, Sciences and Learned Professions. We hope to make this institution one of the great lights of the world, and by and through it, to diffuse that kind of knowledge which will be of practical utility, and for the public good, and also for private and individual happiness.” The reorganized Nauvoo University will use this prophetic pronouncement as its mission statement.
The governing body of Nauvoo University will be a Board of Trustees. This Board is being reorganized and has started a campaign to raise funds for, and solicit support of, the University. Donations of real estate, endowment funds for buildings and scholarships, and assistance in the organization and establishment of the university are needed.
We plan to have a freshmen class of 50 students here by the fall of 2009 along with 20 faculty, administrative, and staff people. We are looking for faculty and students who have a pioneering spirit and who will leave an lasting imprint on this new institution.
As one who has studied in Nauvoo (I had the privilege of taking part in the “Semester in Nauvoo” program that BYU used to offer), I was at once excited about this prospect. Dr. Evan Ivie, the brain behind this University project, was the director of the program, so I know him well and have great respect for him. It seems that since BYU ended the program in Winter 2006, he has been working feverishly to get some type of replacement. While his top priority seemed to do something in conjuction with a Church-sponsored school, he recently became aware that that would not be possible in the near future. So, he has turned his attention to this new endeavor which he had been working on as another possibility.
There are several things about their early development that impress me, as well as several things that give me pause. What gives me the most hope is that I thoroughly trust and respect the man behind the movement. Dr. Ivie is an outstanding scholar and gentleman with no shortage of experience (his bio is found here), and I can assure you he has done his homework for this. What also gives me hope is my recent trip out to Southern Virginia University for a conference which gave me the exposure to another Mormon liberal-arts school, which I was much impressed in. I know that Ivie has been in touch with SVU, so I hope some of their early success will be enjoyed by Nauvoo University as well.
Several things, however, have me worried. First is the obvious concern of bringing in faculty and students. Is there enough interest for this vision to see the light of day? Will respectable professors or young graduates have the courage to invest in this adventurous experiment? Also, what will they do about physical facilities? SVU was able to inherit an already-existing campus to grow with. Nauvoo currently has nothing; they used to have the Joseph Smith Acadamy, but that is now torn down. Their website says that they will use “existing facilities” while aiming to “start a building program as soon as possible,” but I have no idea what these “existing facilities” are.
Frankly, I am excited and intrigued about this project and I hope to see it succeed in a respectable way. While my co-blogger Jared and I were discussing it this morning, he commented that it appears quite “audacious,” and I heartily agree. I hope this will succeed in fulfilling Joseph Smith’s dream of having a University in Nauvoo.
What say ye?
 Possibly one of the most alarming things to me, as well as I imagine for you, is the meager list of current faculty which includes the name of one professor who shall not be named but who doesn’t have the best reputation among historians and scholars. I hope her inclusion is just a result of a “taking what we can get” attitude at the moment, and that other qualified professors will soon be added. As far as I know, this thing has only gone public in the last week, so it will be interesting to see how it develops and whether they will be able to attract good professors. Since I know Dr. Ivie, I trust that he will bring in scholarly members to his faculty. You could say I have a “cautious optomism” about its prospects.