A handful of state and local officials made an appearance at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ooltewah, Tennessee, Friday evening to recognize Brigham Young University's President Kevin Worthen.
Worthen was in Chattanooga to speak at the church about how BYU melds academic learning with an emphasis on faith.
But before he spoke, Worthen was bestowed a number of honors presented by several elected officials.
The city of Chattanooga declared June 22, 2018, as "Kevin Worthen Day." Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger presented him with a "prestigious service award." Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, on behalf of Gov. Bill Haslam, made Worthen an honorary citizen of Tennessee.
"We have low income tax, we have the lowest debt per capita of any state in the Union, and we want to say, 'You're welcomed,'" Carter said.
And U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann offered a set of Congressional cufflinks.
"I knew there were going to be a lot of proclamations but I said, 'What can I bring this great, distinguished president of BYU from Congress?," Fleischmann said. "Well, as you know, not too many people want something from Congress, right?"
His wife suggested the cufflinks, he said.
"I'm apparently much more popular in Chattanooga than I am in Provo, [Utah]," Worthen said as he took the podium. "That was really wonderful. It's a reflection of the kind of culture that exists here in Chattanooga."
As he began his speech, Worthen noted BYU's high expectations for incoming freshmen. The university's incoming students have an average high school GPA of 3.87 or higher and an average ACT score of 29.4. Additionally, 70 percent of those students were involved in varsity sports and 80 percent in performing groups, he said.
"This is what these kids are like before we have anything to do with them," he said, referring to their high academic achievements. "We have an advantage because of the kind of communities and homes they come from that no other institution in the United States has."
But while many of BYU's students come from already strong communities, allowing them to excel academically in high school and continue to excel in college, the university seemingly lacks racial diversity. Eighty-three percent of its students were white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics' records from fall 2016. Less than 1 percent were black, only 6 percent were Hispanic or Latino and 1.8 percent were Asian.
Regardless, Worthen emphasized what he called BYU's unique standing as a faith-based university that focuses on its students by involving them in research endeavors, something the university calls "student-centered research."
As an example, he pointed to a research project a professor set out on recently. The professor received a grant to explore how to reconcile the conflict between religion and evolution.
"'[It would help] students to understand how they would think about those two subjects, which many people think are at odds with each other," Worthen said. " That's the kind of thinking that we want all of our faculty involved in all truths should be able to come together."
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