BYU–Hawaii's unique history combines solid moral roots with legacies of academic excellence and multi-cultural harmony.
On July 2, 1954, David O. McKay, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced that the church would establish a college in Hawaii. This simple declaration marked the fulfillment of what the prophet had envisioned 33 years earlier while serving as an Apostle. He had witnessed a flag raising ceremony by children of the Church sponsored elementary school in La'ie and foresaw an institution of higher learning in this small community. A decorative mosaic above the main entrance of the David O. McKay Building commemorates that historic occasion.
President McKay presided at a groundbreaking ceremony attended by more than 1, 000 Church members and guests on February 12, 1955. That event marked the beginning of what is today Brigham Young University–Hawaii.
Dr. Reuben D. Law, the first president of the college, played a key role in selecting a suitable site for the campus and designing the curriculum. Under his leadership, in August 1955, the Church College of Hawaii opened its doors as a junior college with an enrollment of 153 students. Classes met in temporary war surplus buildings and in the La'ie Ward Chapel near the LDS Temple. At the opening assembly on September 26, 1955, President Law shared with the faculty and students a special message and charge from President McKay. The following two guiding principles in that charge have provided the basis upon which the University has developed:
"Always bear in mind these two things as you proceed with this college: First, the students must be imbued with the fact and be led to feel that the most important thing in the world is the Gospel (of Jesus Christ) and that the observance of its principles in their lives brings happiness and joy in this life and further progress and exaltation in the life hereafter; and, secondly, the college must be fully creditable in all its instruction and activities."
Dr. Law served as President until 1959. During his tenure the first commencement ceremonies were conducted in June, 1956, with 10 students receiving associate degrees. Permanent facilities of the present campus were built by Church labor missionaries called from the Pacific area, under the leadership of Joseph E. Wilson and supervisors from the U.S. mainland. President McKay dedicated the new facilities on December 17, 1958.
Dr. Richard T. Wootton, a member of the original faculty and acting president for the 1958-59 school year, was appointed as the second president of the college in 1959. He was instrumental in getting the school accredited as a four-year liberal arts and teacher training institution on February 23, 1961. Beginning in 1962, a fifth year in education was added to qualify students for the State of Hawaii Professional Certificate in Education.
Dr. Owen J. Cook, executive secretary of the Church's Pacific Board of Education, assumed leadership of the university when Dr. Wootton left in 1964 and was officially named president on August 1, 1965. President Cook increased enrollment to more than 1, 200 students representing every major island group in the Pacific and many Asian-rim countries. He also initiated a work/study sponsorship program in cooperation with the Polynesian Cultural Center to help Pacific and Asian students finance their education.
Dr. Stephen L. Brower, a former professor of sociology at Utah State University, succeeded Dr. Cook as president in July 1971. Less than two years later, the student Aloha Center was completed and dedicated by President Marion G. Romney, a counselor in the Church's First Presidency. Also under President Cook's leadership, the school's mission statement and goals were more clearly defined and formalized. This led to significant changes in the curriculum and an announcement by the Church Board of Education on April 13, 1974, that, beginning September 1, 1974, Church College of Hawaii would become Brigham Young University–Hawaii Campus.
Dr. Dan W. Andersen, academic vice president to President Brower, became the University's first president under its new name. As president of BYU–Hawaii, President Anderson reported to Dallin H. Oaks, President of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. President Andersen helped to refine changes initiated by President Brower. Several major buildings, including a campus library, were planned and completed under his direction. He placed strong emphasis on programs to prepare students for living and working in the Pacific and Asia. Under President Andersen's leadership the University prepared for and, in 1976, received full ten-year accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Dr. J. Elliot Cameron, Vice President for Student Life at Brigham Young University, became the sixth president of the Hawaii campus on August 1, 1980. President Cameron guided the University toward a dramatic facelift and beautification, including completion and dedication of the 4, 500-seat Cannon Activities Center and the Lorenzo Snow Administration Building—both conceptualized during President Andersen's tenure. In cooperation with the Polynesian Cultural Center, the University also extended its outreach to China by establishing internships and a faculty exchange relationship with Jilin University.
Dr. Alton L. Wade became president on May 8, 1986, after J. Elliot Cameron's appointment as Commissioner of Education for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During President Wade's administration, the academic program was reorganized into the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, and the School of Education. Some majors were discontinued or modified, and new majors were introduced in special education, psychology, and computer science. Many campus facilities were renovated. A new 24-office faculty building was also added to the campus in 1994. President Wade left BYU–Hawaii in 1994 to become the vice president of student life at Brigham Young University.
Dr. Eric B. Shumway, vice president for academics to Presidents Cameron and Wade, became the eighth president of BYU–Hawaii on November 18, 1994. President Shumway is a professor of English and was a member of the BYU–Hawaii faculty since 1966. From 1986 to 1989, he served as President of the Tongan Mission for the Church. President Shumway's leadership was significant to the University. Under his direction, BYU–Hawaii launched the Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian Language and Cultural Studies in 1998 and the School of Computing in 2002. His leadership strengthened the School of Business and its Center for Entrepreneurship; programs in Teaching English as a Second Language and English as an International Language; and other academic efforts. He also established formal programs that helped students return to their home countries and make a difference in their careers, communities, the Church, and their families. Perhaps most importantly, he helped the University strengthen its harmonious multicultural learning environment as the percentage of international students increased to almost one-half, one of the highest in the United States. President and Sister Shumway were named as the President and Matron of the Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple upon his retirement in 2007 after serving at the University for over 40 years.
Dr. Steven C. Wheelwright, the Edsel Bryant Ford professor of business administration, emeritus at Harvard Business School, became the ninth president of Brigham Young University–Hawaii on June 23, 2007. He earned his MBA. and Ph.D. degrees from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, taught one year at the European Institute of Management in France, and then joined the business faculty at Harvard for the next nine years. He later taught for several more years at Stanford before returning to Harvard Business School where he served as the senior associate dean responsible for the M.B.A. program. More recently, he interrupted his educational career to serve as president of the London England Mission from 2000-2003.
Returning to Harvard, Dr. Wheelwright was a Baker Foundation professor and senior associate dean and director of the school's publication activities. He also oversaw major on-campus construction projects.
Upon his appointment at BYU–Hawaii, President Wheelwright commented, "We're excited because we believe in the mission of BYU–Hawaii. BYU–Hawaii has as the center part of its mission the combining of an education in secular knowledge with an equally outstanding education in spiritual knowledge. This is an environment that I look forward very much to being a part of."
Dr. John S. Tanner, became president in July 2015 after a thirty-year career as a professor and administrator at Brigham Young University in Provo. Under his tenure, BYU–Hawaii moved from a four-college structure to seven faculty units. BYU–Hawaii also moved to a modular curriculum, called the Holokai, meaning voyage or journey, which requires students to complete a major and two minors or certificates rather than previous general education requirements. Physical improvements that began during his presidency include replacing the General Classroom Building and cafeteria and adding additional dorm rooms, the Hale Courtyard, and the Hale Pavillion. Dr. Tanner is the author of several books and several hymn texts. The university ohana loved his Pacific Ponderings, a series of articles that infused local Hawaii history, secular and spiritual knowledge, with personal experiences to help inform and inspire the university.