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The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College community at the opening convocation of the 2017-2018 academic year on August 23, 2017.

 

On the face of a massive building in the center of the University of Minnesota, the purpose of that school, my alma mater, is inscribed with the following words:

Founded in the Faith that Men are Enobled by Understanding
Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth
Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State

In these words we note the primary goal of colleges and universities across our land that may be summarized with these words: Teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The core content of this teaching remains constant from one age to the next, but much of the rest of it changes due to advancements in learning in pursuit of truth.

The University of Minnesota was founded in 1851 in Minneapolis by people descended from immigrants harking mostly from the Scandinavian lands of Norway and Sweden. It started as a preparatory school, but stalled until wheat-milling entrepreneur, John Pillsbury, worked to secure the school’s future. And, Pillsbury’s efforts bore fruit as students finally graduated with baccalaureate degrees in 1873, twenty-two years after the school’s founding.

Fourteen years later, in 1887, another group of immigrants, this time from what is now known as Ukraine, had similar aims in establishing a college, Bethel College, one that would provide teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The place? A piece of prairie North of Newton, Kansas on slight rise of land they named Hebron and bordered by a stream they called Kidron, names, like that of the College, reminiscent of biblical locations. The founders likewise were interested in wheat, Mennonites, with names like Goerz, Warkentin, and Krehbiel.

So, here, on this site, the first Mennonite College in North America was started. The founders saw the importance of providing higher education for its youth, but not only Mennonite youth.

The original intent of the Newton College Association was a “nonsectarian, but religious college.” And, the successor to this association, a corporation named The Bethel College of the Mennonite Church of North America aimed to follow this direction. For, the First Annual Report of the Board of Directors, 1887-1888 invited students who were not only Mennonites, but those coming from other religions or cultures as well. By extending this welcome, the College sought to “pay the debt of gratitude to other denominations by opening wide the doors of the institution, so that all may have an opportunity to partake of whatsoever advantages may be offered by it.”

Not only were youth from all faiths invited, but those from across the country as well. Bethel historian, Peter Wedel, writes that Bethel College “was not to be just a local institution.” “Its courses were to be sufficiently comprehensive to attract students from great distances.” An example of this commitment comes from the observation that, according to Wedel, the first board consisted of “five members from Kansas and four from other states as the new institution should serve the largest constituency possible.” Indeed, the residences of those who served on the board over the first decades included people not only from Kansas, but also from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Idaho, and Washington.

Like the University of Minnesota, Bethel, at first was a preparatory school. It eventually, however, graduated six students with baccalaureate degrees in 1912. A very significant event followed four years later, 1916, when the school became accredited by the Kansas state board of education, an event celebrated with the unveiling of a flag bearing the school colors adopted nine years earlier in 1907, maroon and gray. A liberal arts college was born!

What can we learn from this story? (more…)

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The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College Board of Directors on October 8, 2015.

 

This morning I would like to address two questions:

  1. What have I discovered at Bethel College during my first few months of employment?
  2. What are our strategies in moving forward in Academic Affairs?

The proposed strategic plan provides a number of answers to the latter question. I would like to expand somewhat upon that knowledge in the course of answering the first question, what have I discovered?

What I have discovered began before my arrival on the job. It actually started with an unusual question posed by a teacher of mine many years ago: From where did Baptists originate?

Part of my college experience and grad school education took place in Baptist institutions in Minnesota. At these schools I learned the answer to that question, from where did Baptists originate: from Anabaptists, particularly those in the Netherlands. And, from these Anabaptists, Baptists adopted the distinctive positions which distinguished Anabaptists from other Reformation groups.

I became convinced: I adopted these distinctives. I taught them to my students, and I taught them to my children, using the Schleitheim confession as a catechetical instrument. Over the years, I bemoaned the historical drift of my Baptist kin from their Anabaptist roots, especially from positions of pacifism and the separation of church and state.

But, then, I moved to Ohio.

While in Ohio, I became intrigued with the ways of the Amish and the many Mennonites who populated the state. I learned that the Amish originally broke off from the Mennonites, both of which are descendants of Anabaptists, maintaining those distinctives to this day.

Try to imagine my surprise and delight. Modern-day Anabaptists existed all around me.

Long, story short: I visited, joined, and became active in a Mennonite church, became a conference delegate, and learned about Mennonite agencies, including Mennonite colleges.

This knowledge led to my search for employment at a Mennonite college which eventually landed me here.

So, I was and continue to be attracted to Bethel primarily because of my discovery of its vision, mission, and values, all three rooted in Anabaptist beliefs and practice.

Take, for example, the vision statement:

 

At Bethel College we

welcome with open hearts,

stimulate personal and spiritual discovery,

transform through the power of community and

inspire the leaders of tomorrow. (more…)

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One may turn to various sources from which to base a philosophy of leadership. A source that has stood the test of time is the New Testament. Therein, one finds two prominent metaphors for leadership: The shepherd and the servant. For example, Jesus is pictured as a shepherd. The figure of a shepherd also is used to describe the leader of an assembly. Moreover, this picture is filled out through leadership qualifications, which, in turn, imply the leader’s role: An effective leader must be a person of exemplary character, because he or she serves as a model or pattern for others to follow. In addition to a shepherd, Jesus is depicted as a servant. From his teaching and example, we learn that one leads best by serving, not by domineering those one is entrusted with leading.*

Before developing the relationship of the metaphors shepherd and servant to the deanship, one must first summarize the nature of that role. The dean is the manager of the academic affairs of the College in behalf of the President. In other words, the dean supervises the fulfillment of the College’s mission and carries out the President’s directions. The dean’s primary concern, then, is teaching and learning. To this end, through faculty, and academic staff, and in consultation with the President, the dean directs the accomplishment and assessment of this mission. This direction includes the development of a consensus with respect to the College’s mission, goals, and objectives. The dean’s role, then, also involves overseeing the implementation, staffing, maintenance, and regular assessment of academic programs, curricula, student outcomes, and policies and procedures. All of these activities need to be performed in a way consistent with the highest standards of educational practice and excellence.

With this brief synopsis of the function of the dean in hand, one may now apply to the deanship the leadership roles of shepherd and servant. As a shepherd, the dean continually needs to articulate the rationale and implications of the College’s mission, with the goal that it becomes for all a matter of internal conviction. In addition, like a shepherd, the dean must be forward looking, a visionary. Accordingly, the dean must engage in continuous personal education and research, so that he can initiate ideas that will help with the ongoing process of assessing and revising all facets of the academic affairs of the College. These ideas must be considered within a collaborative relationship with the faculty. The dean’s goal, much like that of a coach with a team is to draw out the best results from the faculty for the sake of the College and thus its students. The dean must work closely with the faculty in considering academic matters, particularly through committee work and work with division chairs, providing a model of collaborative deliberation. The dean must also work closely with each individual division head in the management of division responsibilities of planning and assessment, helping the division chairs to utilize a collaborative relationship with those who make up the division. The dean’s aim is the ownership by all faculty members of the mission, goals, and objectives of the College and those of the division in which they serve. The dean’s desire is that everyone in the College identifies his or her success with student success. This identification will be possible largely to the extent that there is available to faculty a meaningful level of participation, a genuine opportunity to contribute.

The dean will not only shepherd, but also serve. The dean serves faculty members by facilitating their involvement in the continuing business of the College. The dean also serves faculty members by (more…)

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Click on the image for an enlarged view of the chart. I produced it to serve as a study guide for the final exam in the course on the book of Revelation which I am teaching this term.

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Basic assumptions about education guide every instructor. These assumptions include the goals of education and the means to achieve these goals. Based on these assumptions, the instructor develops course objectives and chooses instructional methods to accomplish these objectives. This document discloses instructional assumptions for use at a Baptist University.
  • A Baptist University is a type of Christian University.
  • Goal of a Christian University education: The progressive restoration of the image of God that was marred by our first parents’ fall into sin.
  • Means of achieving this goal: A Christian liberal arts education.
  • The liberal arts: Academic disciplines inseparably bound to fundamental questions about reality. Consequently, students of the liberal arts learn specific content, and they learn how to learn. In other words, they develop the ability to think critically, or ask appropriate questions.
  • A liberal arts education stands in contrast with indoctrination.
  • First point of contrast: A liberal arts education requires the fair presentation of all sides of an issue. A fair presentation is one that is made from the point of view of one who holds the position and in a way that is deemed satisfactory by one who holds that position.
  • Second point of contrast: A liberal arts education, particularly a Christian liberal arts education, recognizes (more…)

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This “Vision for Christ-centered Higher Education” is an extended treatment, from a different point of view, of the same subject treated in “A Philosophy of Christian Liberal Arts Education.” “Vision” was first published in 2007, when I was employed as the Academic Vice President at Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio.

Cedarville University is a Christ-centered learning community equipping students for lifelong leadership and service through an education marked by excellence and grounded in biblical truth. This mission affects our philosophy of education, including the way faculty members conduct research, practice collegiality, and carry out instruction.

As a university comprised of multiple schools, containing a variety of academic disciplines and areas of research, Cedarville will carry out its mission through a conversation involving a mutual sharing among the various disciplines, both on Cedarville’s campus and within the academy at large. For example, those engaged in biblical and theological studies will gain hermeneutical insight to exercise more critical discernment for biblical interpretation and theological reflection from conversation with those involved in the study of human communication within and across cultures and social strata, the study of artistic expression, and the study of literary forms and theories. Furthermore, those preparing students for professional careers such as those in nursing, business, and education will seek to educate their students as complete persons through collaboration with colleagues in the humanities and social sciences.

As a Christ-centered university with a commitment to the authority of Christian Scripture, we recognize the following principles: (more…)

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