By Kent Larsen
Southern Virginia College, 'BYU East' Has Success in Sight
BUENA VISTA, VIRGINIA -- Less than five years after converting a failing
college into a private Mormon school, the team that runs Southern Virginia
College is on the brink of success. The college's student body has
quintupled during that time to 375 students, its endowment has increased to
$600,000, and the school is on track to accreditation. School officials also
say that their success has led to interest in starting other Mormon schools
The 130-year-old Southern Virginia College became a Mormon school in 1996
when a group of Mormon businessmen agreed to take over its debts in exchange
for stewardship by a new board of trustees that would run the school
according to Mormon values. No money was exchanged, and the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints is not involved in running the school.
But since then the school has developed a very Mormon character.
Ninety-eight percent of the students and 75 percent of the 40-member faculty
are LDS Church members. Seventy-eight percent of male students suspend
studies at the college to serve LDS Church missions, while 10 percent of the
female students serve missions, usually after graduation.
To SVC President Curtis Fawson, it is clear that the school was needed,
"There was really a need for this. We have a culture here that provides
academic excellence and a spiritual environment where students can practice
their religion without fear of reprisal or being put down. Campuses have
become very hostile to anything of a religious nature. You hear from
students about having to use co-ed dorms, co-ed bathrooms -- that is not an
environment where parents want their youth to go to."
Currently, the school offers 10 majors, and the average class size is seven
to 10 students. This forces students to participate more in class, says SVC
senior John Chapman, "There's more opportunity to participate in class. When
you're in a class with only four people, the faculty pressure you to give
The local LDS community has also helped the school improve. Two faculty
members are 'shared' with the nearby Virginia Military Institute and one
faculty member is retired constitutional-law lawyer Glen Goodsell. Wealthy
east-coast Mormons have donated to the school, including $2 million from the
Marriott family, $2.5 million from Richmond businessman and SVC board
chairman Glade Knight (CEO of Cornerstone REIT, on the Mormon Stock Index),
$1 million from retired CSX executive Don Davis, and cash and three free
vans from Tony Burns, Ryder Corp. Chairman and before November CEO.
But the school has a ways to go before it can say that it is stable and
successful. Full accreditation is still three years away. The endowment, at
$600,000, is much smaller than the college's goal of $20 million.
Meanwhile, the college's success to date has led others to ask for help in
switching to an LDS curriculum, according to SVC's Academic Vice President
John Peterson. "A lot of eyes are watching us to see if we make it. If we
do, others will try it."
Mormons building 'BYU East'
Washington Times 9Mar01 D4
By Julia Duin: The Washington Times