Ernest L. Wilkinson

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Ernest L. Wilkinson
Ernest Leroy Wilkinson.jpg
Wilkinson pictured in The Banyan 1952, BYU yearbook
President of
Brigham Young University
In office
February 1951 – July 1971[1]
Preceded by Howard S. McDonald
Succeeded by Dallin H. Oaks
Personal details
Born (1899-05-04)May 4, 1899
Ogden, Utah
Died April 6, 1978(1978-04-06) (aged 78)
Salt Lake City, Utah
Alma mater George Washington University

Ernest Leroy Wilkinson (May 4, 1899 – April 6, 1978) was an American academic administrator and prominent figure in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). He was president of Brigham Young University (BYU) from 1951 to 1971 and also oversaw the entire LDS Church Educational System. Prior to this, Wilkinson was a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and New York City.


Wilkinson was born in Ogden, Utah. He graduated from Weber Academy in Ogden in 1917. He was then a student at Weber College, which was the same school now having expanded to offer collegiate level courses. After a year at Weber College Wilkinson became a member of the Student Army Training Corps unit located at BYU.[2] After the war, he became a regular student at BYU and among other things served as the editor of the weekly newspaper. He earned his bachelor of arts degree at BYU in 1921.[3]

At graduation, Wilkinson began teaching at Weber College. He married Alice Valera Ludlow, a native of Spanish Fork who he had met while they were both students at BYU. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on 16 August 1923. The ceremony was performed by James E. Talmage.[4] Ernest and Alice would have five children. Among other subjects, Alice had studied drama at BYU, which led to T. Earl Pardoe stating she was his most talented student up to that time.[4]

A hallway in the Wilkinson Center at BYU, named after President Ernest L. Wilkinson.

Also in 1923 Wilkinson was involved with the campaign of William H. King for United States Senate. He then earned a law degree from George Washington University and a doctorate from Harvard Law School in 1927.[5][6]

While in law school Wilkinson taught high school in Washington, D.C. He also was for a time on the faculty of the New Jersey Law School.

After working for future Supreme Court chief justice Charles Evans Hughes,[5] Wilkinson served as attorney for the Ute Indian Tribes in their suit to be compensated for land never paid for by the U.S. government as part of the Treaty of 1880. In 1950 this suit was upheld by the United States Court of Claims and as a result, the Ute tribes were awarded $32 million.[7][8] Wilkinson's share of the settlement as the plaintiff's attorney made him independently wealthy, and allowed him to give up his law practice to pursue his interests in education.

Wilkinson lobbied LDS Church leaders to be appointed as president of BYU and was offered the position in July 1950.[9] When Wilkinson came to BYU he replaced the interim administration of Christen Jensen. Under Wilkinson's administration, BYU expanded in all ways. The number of students increased from 5,000 to 25,000.[10] He instituted aggressive recruiting methods where faculty would accompany general authorities on visits to stake conferences and tours of missions. This changed BYU from having a student body mainly from Utah to having a student body from virtually every state in the nation. Under his administration the number of buildings on campus grew tremendously. BYU also for the first time granted Ph.D.s. Wilkinson considered the most important accomplishment of his term as president to have been the organization of student wards and stakes.

Wilkinson was the ninth Commissioner of Church Education of the LDS Church. During his tenure, he also bore the title "Administrator–Chancellor of the Unified Church Schools System".

Wilkinson was heavily interested in politics. As the president of an LDS Church university, he was careful not be too overt in his support of the Republican party.

Several times during the 1950s and 1960s Wilkinson approached church president David O. McKay for his permission to run for public office. He was advised not to run until 1964 when he was given a one-year leave of absence to run for the senate. [11] In 1964, Wilkinson won the Republican Party nomination for the United States Senate, defeating Sherman P. Lloyd. Wilkinson lost in the general election to incumbent Senator Frank Moss.

On April 21, 1966, Wilkinson gave an address to the student body of BYU, entitled "The Changing Nature of American Government from a Constitutional Republic to a Welfare State." This was published in booklet form by Deseret Book Company.


  1. ^ Bergera & Priddis 1985
  2. ^ Ernest L. Wilkinson, ed., Brigham Young University: The First 100 years (Provo: BYU Press, 1975) Vol. 2, p. 510-511
  3. ^ Wilkinson. BYU 1st 100, Vol. 2, p. 514
  4. ^ a b Wilkinson. BYU 1st 100. Vol. 2, p. 515
  5. ^ a b Richard E. Bennett. "Ernest L. Wilkinson" in Arnold K. Garr, et al, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000) p. 1344-1346
  6. ^ BYU Magazine Fall 1999
  7. ^ Wilson Rockwell (1956). The Utes, a Forgotten People, p. 252
  8. ^ The case was "Confederated Bands of Ute Indians v. United States, 117 Ct.Cl. 433 (1950)". "402 US 159 United States v. Southern Ute Tribe or Band of Indians". Open Jurist. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  9. ^ Bergera, Gary James. "A Strange Phenomena: Ernest L. Wilkinson, the Church, and Utah Politics" (PDF). Dialogue. 26. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Bennett, Richard E. "Brigham Young University" in Arnold K. Garr, et. al, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000) p. 136
  11. ^ Bergera, Gary James. "A Strange Phenomena: Ernest L. Wilkinson, the Church, and Utah Politics" (PDF). Dialogue. 26. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 


External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Howard S. McDonald
President of Brigham Young University
February 1951 – July 1971
Succeeded by
Dallin H. Oaks