Interview by Todd C. Ream
Evidence of God's Providence
In what ways has Gordon been unique among other non-denominational evangelical institutions, such as Westmont, Taylor, and Wheaton?
We're in a setting that is intensely secular, and over a long span of time we've had to learn how to deal with those folks who don't agree with our core convictions. Religious and cultural pluralism is not some trend that's coming down the pike; it's the air we breathe. I think that Christian institutions will increasingly have to calibrate relative to those larger issues as they spread across the entire country, but Gordon has already demonstrated how it's possible to be faithful to our core evangelical identity while at the same time building bridges of cooperation and friendship with folks who don't always agree with us. My hope is that we will be able to continue doing that in the days ahead.
What role do the liberal arts play in the life of Gordon College? In what ways, if any, do they contribute to the larger effort to integrate faith and learning?
Gordon has a culture that values interdisciplinary conversations. There is a generalist orientation to the education that we provide. We want folks to be conversant with a whole range of issues, and to be fluent on a more limited range. It's a model very different from the European system of higher education, and, if anything, the developments that are occurring in Asia today underscore the value of what we are doing. They are moving away from the three-year British system and embracing the four-year American system, and in large part embracing the liberal arts model because they recognize that creativity, innovation, and leadership emerge more consistently from a liberal arts environment than from specialized programs. Because Gordon is defined by this liberal arts orientation and commitment, we have a common framework in which matters of faith can become part of the warp and woof of the institutional life. We don't relegate faith to classes in New Testament and Old Testament; instead, a Gordon education is informed by a broad understanding of the wideness of the gospel and its implications for all the areas of human inquiry.
Gordon College is one of only a handful of evangelical Christian colleges that has not invested in online and/or degree completion forms of education for undergraduates. What challenges do those decisions pose for Gordon?
I am persuaded—and I think almost all my colleagues are as well—that some dimension of online pedagogy is going to be part and parcel of the undergraduate experience for every institution over the next five to ten years. We've seen this realignment gaining momentum on many fronts. I think that that will become part of who we are. Gordon has been doing some piloted programs in online education for about three years, and I think that the pilot program was the exactly right way to go. It has given us a chance to see what we are doing and how we can make improvements. And for us it's not about expanding the population that we serve, but instead it's figuring out a way to better serve our existing population. We recognize that undergraduates today demand some engagement with multimedia. At the same time, we are committed to our core identity as a liberal arts college. One of the things that I think that Gordon can uniquely do is that we can demonstrate for other Christian colleges how it is that you can be committed to a liberal arts environment while at the same time preparing young people for careers. A liberal arts education prepares you not for a job but for a career. And it prepares you for a career that spans your entire lifetime. One thing that struck me in my own research is that so many of the people that I interviewed—over half of them, in fact—had a liberal arts degree. I asked them, "Why did you not major in business or in finance?" They said they were looking for something that would give a broad enough base so that they could be flexible and respond to the changing dynamics. That's the value of a liberal arts education.