Interview by Todd C. Ream
Evidence of God's Providence
What role does chapel play in the life of Gordon College? In what ways, if any, does it contribute to the larger effort to integrate faith and learning?
Boston is home to more college students per capita than any other city on the planet; it is home to more institutions of higher learning than any other city in the world. Within that environment, Gordon College is the flagship evangelical institution. If there is any community that is going make the gospel compelling, plausible, and attractive to the world of higher education it's the folks who gather in our chapel every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Chapel is a core element of our community. Whenever I am in town on chapel days, I make it a priority to be there. And we have fantastic student participation: we understand chapel to be a place, not just where we enliven students' spirits, but also where we stretch their minds and deepen their faith. That's one of the things that I love about Gordon.
When you are searching for faculty members at Gordon College, what qualities are deemed to be most critical?
I'm blessed to have faculty colleagues who are incredibly faithful, deep intellectuals and accomplished teachers. We want more people like that—above all, people who deeply love students, that love shaping the minds and the souls of young people. If I had to pick one word to sum up what I'm looking for in new faculty, it would be "love." I think that is what's most distinctive about a Christian institution of higher learning. We recognize that education is transformation, and we want that transformation to include not just intellectual development but also the shaping of Christian character—to develop young people who demonstrate love of God and neighbor. I'm looking for folks who know that love is the criterion of spiritual maturity and who demonstrate that in their lives every day.
Shifting gears, what do you perceive to be the greatest challenges facing colleges and universities as a whole? Christian colleges and universities in particular?
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education described most institutions of higher learning as approaching a fiscal cliff. The financial model for higher education, in general, is not sustainable. And institutions that have thrived over the last few years have done so is by growing themselves out of the problems. Enrollment growth. That is not a sustainable model because demographically the pool of the college-bound population is declining in the United States. So, there has to be a real attention to the financial model that sustains, that drives, the engine of higher education. I think that is challenge number one.
Challenge number two in wider higher education, I would say, is the emotional health and well-being of students. Twenty-two percent of Gordon students take advantage of our counseling center on an annual basis, and that's the tip of the iceberg in the number of students who have real emotional challenges. I would venture that Gordon students are much healthier on an emotional basis than the average college student. What we are seeing is that students who are going to college today are more immature, have shorter attention spans, and have a lot more emotional baggage than the previous generation of college students (or at least they are more attuned to these issues that earlier generations of students were), and that requires enormous investment of resources and personnel.
For Christian higher education, I think that we are going to increasingly face challenges of how we respond to cultural pluralism, and that manifests itself in issues of legislation and government action. It also relates to perceived relevance to the big issues of the day and the coarsening of American culture. I think we also have to recognize that there is real intellectual and spiritual rot in our society, and Christian colleges have played a role over the last hundred years in helping to address those issues. But the problems are getting worse, not easier. So those will require a lot more of our time and attention.
When you retire (long into your future), what do you hope people will remember most about your presidency?
I really hope that over the course of my service at Gordon I can help the institution to honor Christ in a largely unchristian context in such a way that we are even more faithful to biblical orthodoxy twenty years from now than we are today—and yet also even more compelling witnesses to our unbelieving neighbors than we are today. That's the big objective: to be open and yet still faithful. On the micro level, I hope every year to be able to invest in two to five students who are really exceptional. Henry Hagen is a Gordon sophomore. I'm investing in him because I think that he will probably lead something significant in his lifetime, and I want to be one of his encouragers. I've benefited greatly from mentors who invested in me, and I feel like I could do that for others. It's incredibly gratifying to play a very small role in helping somebody both discover and then move further down the path of their God-given calling.