The Institutes of Religion were and are an outreach by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to LDS college students. To a lesser extent this was and perhaps is true for faculty too. When I’ve been employed by universities outside Utah, I have always enjoyed it when an Institute was nearby because it also served as an island of friendship. For the most part, these were small operations with maybe one full-time CES person as instructor along with a part-time secretary. For me, as a faculty member, they were always an oasis in a somewhat sterile academic environment. Often a few of us would get together for lunch-time discussions with the CES personnel and those discussions were wide-ranging, feeling out the limits of gospel interaction with humanities, education and science. It was nearly always a blast because generally none of us felt threatened in our various faith-worlds during these discussions. Once, three of us constituted the bishopric of one of the local wards. I was a big fan of those experiences and wonder if they are replicated in the current system. I presume they are in many places.
Some of my favorite Institute experiences occurred during my graduate work in mathematics at the University of Utah. At the time the University was throwing a lot of money at the mathematics department and consequently some of the best scholars around the country and internationally were recruited with post docs and instructorships filled by fresh Ph.Ds from the best programs in the US. It was a stimulating time and rather tough on grad students to stay in the program: qualifying exams were murder.
What I really liked about the local Salt Lake Institute of Religion was the classy well-read scholars who taught there. Some of that experience still resonates in me and influences the way I think and feel about Mormonism. I can say with some assurance that their sympathetic ears and scholarly enthusiasm (occasionally cutting edge) made me feel at home and made my faith flourish partly because I felt they understood and embraced rigorous thinking blended with warm fervent belief.
Several of them encouraged my growing interest in early Mormonism, offering a rather crazy grad student with interests in science, history, English and math a chance to get in among the rare documents of the Church. I took a couple of summers off from my school work to bury myself in the Church archives and the rather respectable Mormon collection at the University of Utah. I still have file drawers full of material from those ventures that I have not had time to completely revisit.
I guess what I’m after with this is whether advanced students and junior faculty find the Institutes useful adjuncts to their University life. Perhaps my experience was one of a kind. My current assignment, and perhaps my current disposition puts me out of any sort of loop like that. A related question is whether post-university folk who didn’t go into academics maintain ties with the local Institute. In some sense I have the feeling that I may have been lucky in my contact with Institute. But I reject the idea that my experience was unique. I just wonder how things are now.
 A few times there were Saints who got wind of some of the stuff we would banter about and feel we were on the high road to apostasy. One tenacious fellow went to the stake presidency and asked that we be barred from using the Institute building for these episodes. We invited him to join us to see if we were really as bad as his imagination made us. If he had ever come, he may have felt vindicated, I don’t know. All I know is that I relished them.
 I didn’t know any female Institute people and I never encountered female LDS faculty in those years. I’m old enough that I ran into folk like Ed Lyon (Nauvoo Restoration), Max Parkin (who is now with the JSPP I think), Reed Durham (an early pres. of MHA) and others. There were two Institute buildings just off campus, one on the lower end and one on the upper south side. It was great to take an hour once in a while and sit in a stimulating gospel atmosphere. I think those guys tried hard to draw us in because some of them had experienced some alienation in their own church/academic interactions. I say, bravo to them. Checking the current line up there, I don’t see the same cool factor but I could be wrong. Am I?