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Pt. 1, Fostering a Global Vision

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

July–December 1983

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.

Spencer’s Vision of the David M. Kennedy Center of International Studies

We thank Sister Shirley Palmer, widow of Spencer, who provided this historical sketch in his behalf.

The inaugural ceremony of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies represented, for Brigham Young University, a greater opportunity for both faculty and students to participate in international studies, and it was formulated to assist students who desired to be involved in government and Church affairs on an international level. Its mission was to meet the needs of numerous returned missionaries who, after teaching the gospel, came to the university with language skills, cultural awareness, and a real hope of serving mankind in specific ways. The center was designed to be a resource for these students to increase their knowledge and bolster their preparation for their life’s work. The opening of the center was the culmination of years of preparation and hundreds of hours of work on the part of Spencer and other Asian Studies faculty members. It was their desire to assist the university in taking a leading roll in the development of classes that met the need of an ever-increasing international student body.

Center for International and Area Studies was housed in what is now the Faculty Office Building

The need for such a center grew in part from Spencer’s experience while serving as a chaplain in South Korea in the wake of the Korean War. After living in the small provincial community of Thatcher, Arizona, he was thrilled to learn that the world at large was filled with wonderful people. He came to the knowledge that the millions who populate the nations of the earth were each and every one in the image of God and each has an eternal destiny. He desired to educate himself in order to serve wherever the Lord had need. Upon returning to the United States, he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley taking respectively a master’s and PhD in Asian history and world religion.

In 1983, the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies was moved to the Herald R. Clark Building

On the invitation of Ernest Wilkinson, he joined the religion faculty at Brigham Young University in the winter of 1962. His assignment was to teach students world religion. Foreign students were at home in his classes, where he described the major religions in an open and tolerant way. His first campus publication as a faculty member was Mormonism—A Message For All Nations (June 1965). That same year, Spencer returned to Korea where he served as mission president. In 1968, David M. Kennedy, then-Secretary of the Treasury, came to Korea to meet with Pak Chung Hee. He also called at the mission home and introduced himself. This was the beginning of what became a lifelong friendship.

Returning to BYU in the fall of 1968, Spencer became Coordinator of Asian Studies, participated with other faculty in the Religious Studies Center, which published in the ensuing years more than twenty volumes of research by BYU faculty and scholars from other universities. In 1983, the Religious Studies Center published Mormons and Muslims, bringing Muslim scholars on campus. Spencer felt he was driven to open a center on campus for international studies where not only scholars but ambassadors, politicians, and representatives of nations could come and address students and faculty.

Spencer J. Palmer introducing President Gerald R. Ford in 1987

After David M. Kennedy was appointed Ambassador-at-Large for the Church, by President Spencer W. Kimball in 1974, the foundation for the international center was beginning to form. As David Kennedy established friendly relations with heads of state, missionary work moved forward. In 1978, the priesthood was given to all worthy males. President Kimball’s emphasis for missionary work became even more international.

President Jeffrey R. Holland with President Gerald R. Ford in 1987

On campus, Spencer was constantly involved in broadening BYU’s involvement on the world stage through the Religious Studies Center and the Center for International and Area Studies. Under the leadership of then- President Jeffrey R. Holland and with the blessing of President Kimball, the Kennedy family and others generously funded the Kennedy Center. Friendships were established and guest speakers from around the world came to speak and enjoy the campus environment. Political leaders came to lecture, such as Gerald Ford and Caspar Weinberger.

A highlight of Kennedy Center activity was the visit of the Jordanian Ambassador Kamal. In return, he invited the Hollands, Kennedys, Palmers, Hillams, and Petersons to visit Jordan and to meet with King Hussein. For the university, this was a milestone in international relations.

Spencer was very appreciative of the support received from the First Presidency, from President Holland’s administration, and most especially from the Kennedy family. His dream came to fruition with the opening of the center. One of his favorite quotes is from President Kimball, “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, Why Not?”

Stanley A. Taylor


Through a career that spanned the educational and political fields, Stanley A. Taylor was well prepared to become the director of the Kennedy Center. Taylor received a degree in political science from BYU in 1959. He then went on to receive an MA and a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. During his time as a student, Taylor developed an interest and expertise in world politics, international law and organization, and diplomacy.

These specialties would serve him well throughout his professional life. After returning to his alma mater, this time as a professor, Taylor quickly became involved in the international programs that were beginning to blossom at BYU. He became the director of the Center for International and Area Studies in the fall of 1979. In the political realm, Taylor worked as a consultant and a staff member for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for a decade, from 1976 to 1986. Taylor was heavily involved when the Kennedy Center was organized on 17 November 1983. His work during the center’s infant stage ignited BYU interaction with the rest of the world.

Since his time at the Kennedy Center, Taylor has continued to provide his insights to those with international interests. From 1989 to 1992, he chaired the Political Science Department at BYU. He has also been a visiting Fulbright lecturer at the University of Otago in New Zealand and a visiting fellow at the University of Kent in England.

Taylor has five children, now grown, and loves to play the trumpet. He continues to teach at BYU, where he has received numerous citations for excellence in teaching.

What is your favorite memory from your years as director?

My greatest joy was the trip, not the destination. From the Center for International and Area Studies (changed to present greater distance between the CIAS and the CIA) and to the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, I had the pleasure of working with outstanding men and women in the creation of an international center with an international reputation of quality and integrity. When we began the trip, there was no coordination of international activities across the university, no central office to bring together all of the disparate individual, department, and university international interests, and no university-wide source of advice for all international university contacts. International touring groups would travel to countries with no pre-travel training about the cultures into which they would be traveling. We have come a long way since then and may still have some distance to go. It was an honor to be involved in the process.

What was your vision for the center during your tenure as director?

When we created the center, the university had no formal international office. I anticipated that the center would act in that capacity under the direction of the president and the academic vice president. The center gradually began to vet nearly all university international outreach efforts and to make contributions to many of them by reviewing international sisteruniversity proposals, training and accompanying international performing groups, assisting in grant proposals involving international travel, maintaining academic integrity in the study abroad programs, etc.

I did not anticipate that the center would ever develop its own faculty, but I did anticipate that we would coordinate all of the international, interdisciplinary academic programs of the university. My vision was that the center would become one of the very best undergraduate education programs in the U.S. and would become a major feeder of top students to the best graduate programs.

Spencer Palmer, who helped build the center, also supervised what began as a modest research budget. We both anticipated the growth of that effort. I also envisioned a means to keep all Latter-day Saint expatriates and foreign nationals connected through newsletters and conferences.

Who inspired or supported you most while director of the center?

President (now Elder) Jeffrey R. Holland and Provost and Academic Vice President Jae Ballif were extremely supportive. Ray Hillam, Spencer Palmer, and I met with Provost Ballif weekly and tried to correlate all university international affairs. But, of course, Martin Hickman, then-dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences was the primary academic supporter of the center. He chaired the Dean’s Council and was very active, interested in, and supportive of the center. The academic programs of the center would never have developed as well as they did had he not given total support and provided enthusiastic and positive direction to the center.

What do you feel were your greatest accomplishments for the center?

1. Getting the center going, with the help of Ray, Martin, and Spencer.
2. Helping students find careers in which they could make a contribution to international affairs.
3. Placing students in the best graduate schools of international affairs.
4. Raising an endowment to help us prepare and accompany the international performing groups.
5. Raising an endowment to subsidize the cultural experiences of Study Abroad students.

What would you have liked to accomplish but didn’t?

Perhaps my only regret stemmed from my inability to gain campus-wide support for the center, especially from some individuals and departments whose support was critical.

How did your academic/professional background affect or influence your role as director?

My graduate school, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, was excellent preparation. It was perhaps the preeminent PhD school in the United States focused solely on international affairs. I had also been chair of the Government Department at Bentley College, in Waltham, MA, which gave me some administrative experience.

Where do you hope to see the center’s future involvement on campus or in the world?

On campus, I hope the center will find ways to correlate all international aspects of the university and continue to administer rigorous undergraduate academic programs. I would like to see greater cooperation between the center and the departments and colleges, but the Kennedy Center needs to have its own specific missions and tasks. I also hope the center will continue to play some role in monitoring the quality of the myriad study abroad programs.

In the world, I hope the center continues to prepare undergraduate students from many nations to obtain and to be successful in a wide variety of international careers. I continue to believe that the Kennedy Center has a critical role to play in preparing and assisting the university’s superb international performing groups. It would be a great waste of educational opportunities to go back to the old system in which outstanding performers traveled through countries about which they had minimal knowledge and training.

Did your experiences at the center affect your worldview? If so, how?

Probably not. My worldview has been shaped more by my individual studies and international experiences.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while director of the center?

First, I was surprised to see parochial views spring up in several departments on campus who viewed the time their faculty members spent in the center as unproductive, not to be considered in salary and rank advancement deliberations.

Second, I was surprised to see the success in building the center be viewed by some as a threat to their own programs. I have always felt that success in any well founded university program contributes to the success of the university as a whole.

In what way do you feel your time as director fulfilled David M. Kennedy’s vision for the center?

In general, I think Brother Kennedy would be happy with the development of the center. He would find some areas of concern, of course. But on the whole, I think he would be delighted and honored to see his name continuing to grace the Kennedy Center.

See Pt 2 and Pt 3 for more from this article.