Brigham Young University, the flagship school for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, named its 14th president Tuesday — Christopher Shane Reese, BYU’s current academic vice president and former dean of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.
The appointment, which will take place May 1, was announced by apostle Jeffrey R. Holland to students gathered for a morning devotional at the school’s Marriott Center in Provo.
“He is a statistician,” Holland said, then quipped, “I am told a statistician can have his head in an oven and feet on ice and say that on average he feels just right. Over the next several years, Shane, you will have plenty of fires to put out and coldblooded decisions to make, so you should be ecstatic all the time.”
The apostle, a former BYU president himself, said “the smartest thing [Reese] ever did was marry the witty and endearing Wendy Wood.”
They are the parents of three children, all of whom are BYU students or graduates, Holland said. “The second outstanding recommendation Shane has for his new position is that he turned down a front office job with the Philadelphia Eagles in order to stay at BYU. It is one thing to turn down the Los Alamos Laboratory or even the U.S. government but, my goodness, the Philadelphia Eagles. Talk about loyalty.”
He replaces Kevin Worthen, who was named BYU’s president March 11, 2014, as its 13th president. He assumed the post May 1.
Worthen, who had been dean of BYU’s law school and its vice president for advancement, replaced Cecil O. Samuelson.
When his departure as president was announced, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, and an emotional Worthen stood with his wife, Peggy, to accept the applause.
Holland and Worthen hugged at the meeting’s conclusion.
During his nine-year tenure, Worthen approved a major overhaul of the school’s approach to sexual assault and commissioned a groundbreaking survey of racism on campus. He was at the helm during a raucous protest over LGBTQ behavior and, of course, a COVID-19 pandemic.
Under Worthen, Reese was the leader of the 2021 report from the Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging, whose recommendations included more than a dozen specific ways the church-owned school could “root out racism.”
As academic vice president, he also was the author of a letter defending BYU’s decision to cancel gender-affirming voice therapy for transgender students. Reese said the move was “a religious mission-based decision.”
“I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve as the president of Brigham Young University,” he said Tuesday. “Wendy and I express our deep gratitude for the exemplary service of Kevin and Peggy Worthen. We love the mission of BYU and look forward to passionately pursuing that mission with our students, faculty and staff.”
The BYU president-in-waiting pledged that he and his wife will “build on the progress of President and Sister Worthen,” he said. “We feel a deep and abiding spiritual connection to [former church] President [Spencer W.] Kimball’s prophetic vision for BYU as we approach the beginning of the second half of the second century [of the university].”
Speaking to BYU faculty in 2022, Reese summed up his vision of the school’s mission as using “the gospel of Jesus Christ for the insights and concepts” to develop “solutions to help our campus community in particular and also humankind in general.”
In the same address, he stressed the importance of ensuring that new faculty hires and each department’s criteria for promotion (known as “rank and status” documents) align with the school’s mission.
He then clarified what that mission looked like, stating: “We, as a university, announce today that we will make a strategic investment in fortifying the institutions of family, religion and constitutional government. We see these institutions as critical to society and important to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Sarah Coyne, associate director of BYU’s School of Family Life, worked closely with Reese as a member of BYU’s Faculty Advisory Council.
“I’m grateful to have a former BYU faculty member who spent years listening to what faculty were going through,” she wrote in an email, describing Reese as “compassionate and kind.”
“I respect Shane deeply,” she added, “and trust he will do a good job representing our amazing BYU faculty to the board and to the wider church.”
For his part, Worthen mentioned at the devotional four goals he had as president: Not to have the shortest tenure, not to “muff up,” to be calm and confident that “things would work out” in the face of crisis, and to continue the work of apostolic predecessors, Holland and Dallin H. Oaks, now first counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency.
Paraphrasing what Kimball once said, the outgoing president remarked, “We expect that BYU will become a leader among great universities in the world yet will retain its uniqueness.”