22 September 2012

CES Firesides

Well, it has been a long time since I've posted anything. Sorry to any regular readers. (I don't expect there are any as I haven't posted in over two years.) A lot has changed in the field of Latter-day Saint (LDS) Education since my last post, but a lot has also stayed the same. This is kind of my relaunch for the blog. I hope to be able to update this blog regularly to discuss some of those changes as well as to post new information as it becomes available.

For today, I want to take a look at what I consider to be an interesting trend. Two weeks ago, on  9 September 2012, Elder Holland gave the CES Fireside from Dixie State College. It was a great talk and worth listening to, but what I want to focus on is not the substance of the talk, but the location from which it was given.

For those who don't know, the CES Firesides (CES = Church Education System) are a series of talks put on by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints several times a year, aimed primarily at young single adults (YSA) aged 18-30, but college students of any age and marital status are also encouraged to attend. The speakers are almost always chosen from the top leadership of the Church. Frequently, the speaker is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but they also include members of the Quorums of the Seventy, or an auxiliary leader such as the General Relief Society President. The specific topics vary, but most talks touch on a similar theme: i.e. that our college years are a pivotal time in our lives in which the decisions we make (especially the decision of who we marry) can set our path for eternity. It's definitely a message that the Church wants every YSA to hear.

The Church used to sponsor six firesides a year, but lowered that number to five in 2003, which is where it has stayed ever since. The firesides are translated into a dozen or so languages and broadcast to Church buildings all over the world. They can also be viewed online, so the location of the speaker when the fireside is actually given doesn't matter that much, but as one can imagine, the Church likes to give as many people as possible the opportunity to see these live. This is especially true when one considers how large the Church is and how rare it is to see one of the top Church leaders in one's lifetime. Even Brigham Young University (BYU) students, who would appear to be spoiled with the frequency with which they have Church leaders visit to give devotional addresses, for the most part leave Utah after they graduate, at which point their opportunities to see Church leaders in person will diminish greatly. So the Church chooses to broadcast these firesides from those locations where the largest number of LDS students can benefit. As the Church's flagship institution, BYU is clearly at the top of that list, but as Elder Holland's address two weeks ago demonstrates, there are several other locations that also have large numbers of LDS students.

Though this blog is primarily concerned with identifying LDS educational institutions, it is interested to note the interplay between the Church and secular institutions. For many years, the Church has run Seminary and Institute programs as a way of supplementing the secular education available at public schools and most private universities. (Seminary is for secondary school students and Institute is for students in higher education.) Seminaries and Institutes definitely constitute an area worth examining in LDS Education. It is partly to supplement the instruction one gets from the Institute programs that the Church sponsors the CES Firesides, so it is only natural that in choosing a location from which to broadcast, the Church has occasionally done so from its own Institute buildings. To see how common this practice is, I went back and looked up the location for every CES Fireside from 2001 to the present. The findings are below.

BYU (Provo, UT) 42 68.85%
BYU-Idaho (including one time as Ricks College; Rexburg, ID) 3 4.92%
LDS Conference Center (Salt Lake City, UT) 3 4.92%
Ogden Institute of Religion (Ogden, UT) 2 3.28%
University of Utah Institute of Religion (Salt Lake City, UT) 2 3.28%
BYU-Hawaii (Laie, HI) 1 1.64%
Dixie State College (St. George, UT) 1 1.64%
Mesa, Arizona 1 1.64%
Moscow, Idaho 1 1.64%
Oakland, California 1 1.64%
Pocatello Institute of Religion (Pocatello, ID) 1 1.64%
Salt Lake Tabernacle (Salt Lake City, UT) 1 1.64%
The Mormon Center (Sacramento, CA) 1 1.64%
Utah State University (Logan, UT) 1 1.64%
Total 61 100.00%

Of the 61 CES firesides examined, it is not surprising that 42 were broadcast from BYU in Provo, UT. If one combines the three Salt Lake locations (University of Utah, the Conference Center, and the Salt Lake Tabernacle) Salt Lake City easily becomes the second most common location with 6 CES firesides. Anyone familiar with LDS demographics would not be surprised by the other locations being spread out through the western United States. Though several firesides do not appear to have been broadcast from specific universities (or Institute buildings associated with specific universities), it appears the most likely target live audience included students at nearby state schools with a large number of LDS students such as Weber State University, Arizona State University, University of Idaho, and Idaho State University. The two California locations have no single university with an obviously large LDS student body, but each location is close to several large schools such as the University of California-Berkeley, University of California-San Francisco, California State University-East BayCalifornia State University-Sacramento, and University of California-Davis. Combined these schools probably boast a respectably sized LDS student body, which may not be on par with the enrollment at state schools inside the Mormon corridor (Utah, Idaho, and Arizona), but which are sizable nonetheless.

The current trend will probably continue for the foreseeable future, with the majority of CES Firesides being broadcast from BYU, with occasional visits to other pockets of LDS students in the western United States. Other cities likely to host a fireside based on the number of LDS students could include Las Vegas, NV; Seattle, WA; or Los Angeles, CA. The East Coast is a less-likely location. Thriving Latter-day Saint YSA communities do exist in New York, NY and Washington, DC, though these consist more of young professionals and graduate students than of the undergraduates that typically make up the target audience for these firesides. As it grows, Southern Virginia University might also be a possible location in the future. With that, I hope everyone looks forward to the next fireside in November, scheduled to be given by Bishop Gérald Caussé. I'll update when I know the location.

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