The expansion of the Church as a worldwide organization was preceded by decades of administrative adjustments to prepare the way. A similar pattern of early efforts to internationalize academic programs at BYU is evident in the time line constructed on the pages of this issue. As early as 1958, Hispanic (interdisciplinary) studies was established, followed by Asian studies (1961) and international relations and Russian studies (1963). In the 1970s, a center was formed to bring international and area studies together. In 1983, twenty-five years after the first program began, the center was renamed and inaugurated the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. A number of scholars paved the way for this remarkable achievement with their tireless efforts in the intervening years. In celebration of its twentieth anniversary, meet the Kennedy Center directors, some of whom were also involved in the decades of preparation.
Spencer J. Palmer
Spencer Palmer was a driving force in the foundation of the Kennedy Center. Palmer consistently worked throughout his career to build bridges between BYU and the international community.
After earning a BA at BYU, Palmer earned his MA and PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. He published his first book while still a graduate student. Palmer then returned to BYU to teach history and religion.
Palmer’s academic interests primarily focused on comparative world religions, particularly on Korean studies. He authored or edited more than a dozen books on these topics. This interest spanned Palmer’s professional and personal life. He served as chairman of Asian Studies on campus for several years. He also repeatedly served the Church in Asia: as a regional representative in south and southeast Asia, as mission president in Korea, and as Seoul Korea Temple president.
On campus, Palmer was constantly involved in broadening BYU’s involvement on the world stage. He helped found BYU’s Religious Studies Center. In November 1977, he proposed the founding of what was called the World Affairs Center. The name was rejected, but in May 1978, he became the founding director of the Center for International and Area Studies. Palmer’s involvement in the historic re-naming in honor of his friend David Kennedy in 1983 was a capstone in a career of international activity.
Palmer died 27 November 2000 and is survived by his wife, Shirley; three children, Dwight, Jennette, and James; and several grandchildren. His influence will be felt at BYU and at the Kennedy Center for years to come.