I have entered into my fourth, you might say my senior year, as President with a great sense of appreciation for the history and tradition of NCU and a deep gratitude for the impact this institution has had on my life.
Almost exactly 118 years ago Eugene Sanderson founded a college that has done much to shape the educational and Christian service landscape of our region. He did so with a profound notion for education that endures today – one he set forth in an advertisement that ran on October 15, 1895 in the local paper, then known as the “Guard”, that described his intention for the NCU experience. “It is desired,” the ad read “that our students shall acquire proficiency, at once scholarly and practical, for immediate service in all departments of Christian work.”
Evident at its very beginning is a powerful core objective for this institution that has long endured; the integration of the intellect with faithful Christian service. This integration, the simultaneous existence of the two goals of academic rigor and practical service, has served the institution well for nearly 12 decades finding semantic variation through time. It is here, at the point of integration, where we realize the value of intellectual inquiry through the lens of the Christian worldview. Where we will discover that true learning is realized best through practice, and that it must both enlighten the mind and improve the human condition.
Our call for today’s NCU experience is to build on this rich tradition that seeks to open students’ minds to the vast riches of human expression and thought: to promote a greater understanding of our world; to enable students to seek and discern what is good and true; and to build on and find new expressions to inspire within students the desire to seek solutions to the challenges we face in society and opportunities for service in our world.
Today, we face the challenge and opportunity to think of what NCU can be at its very best. We have come to use words to describe NCU like wisdom, faith, and service. Meant to communicate to the public our values, to promote and market who we are, but more importantly to remind us of our commitments as a learning community. Wisdom we perceive to be the progression beyond knowledge combining what we know, believe, and do. Knowledge that finds expression and reason within a commitment to our faith in Jesus opens our hearts and minds to the very wisdom of God – as the apostle Paul reminded us in his charge to consider our calling in I Corinthians, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” (I Corinthians 1:30 NIV)
At NCU, faith continues to be central to all we do – to know and make known our Lord and savior. Our efforts within and without the classroom center around an effort to think and act Christianly regardless of major – to consider our relationship with God as central to our pursuit of calling. And that our calling points to a life of service to the church, our communities, and to one another. Confined by our time this evening we are, in short, convinced the transformational experience of the pursuit of wisdom centered on faith will find expression in acts of service.
I’ve been involved directly in higher education for 27 years; as a student, staff, and administrator – but only recently as a parent. Just weeks ago my oldest son, Jamie and I traveled to Nashville, Tenn. to visit at the invitation of the baseball coach at Lipsomb University. While there, Jamie was asked why he wanted to attend a Christian university to pursue his college education. I had one of those moments that lasted in my mind for several seconds. I was nervous. Would the son of a Christian university have an appropriate answer to such a question? To my relief, he did! He responded simply, “I want my life to matter to God, but I’m not sure yet what that really looks like. I want to go somewhere where they are serious about helping me figure that out.”
As a parent I was proud. As a Christian educator I was reminded of the simple but deeply profound aim of our work and the importance of being able to communicate our mission and vision for NCU to others while committing our best efforts to achieve such a lofty goal. May 2013 the Board of Trustees approved new language for NCU’s Mission and Vision as an institution. The new language was the culmination of a process that began as a requirement laid out new requirements regarding our self-study reports to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities – our regional accrediting body. We examined as a campus community the “core themes” of our work and what we believed it meant to us to be an institution of higher learning within a Christ-centered community. I am pleased with the results of our efforts and excited about the clarity of the language, the message that is conveyed, and the inspiration and direction provided.
The mission of NCU is to be a University that fosters wisdom, faith, and service through excellent academic programs within Christ-centered community. And our vision is to aspire to be a University characterized by its commitment to equip students to discover and answer God’s call in their lives. Thus the NCU Idea is simply this: WISDOM inspired by FAITH bearing fruit in lives of SERVICE. For me, such is the heart of this institution. We are committed to creating an educational experience for students that will inspire them to seek [with passion] God’s call for their lives and provide the knowledge, experience, inspiration, skills and character necessary to answer that call successfully.
We are currently blessed with a momentum that has brought us 142 new undergraduate students, compared to 118 last fall. 248 new Adult Degree Completion and Graduate students have joined us, compared to 207 the previous year. Our total enrollment is at 684 students currently and I am told by our admissions teams that we will likely eclipse a total enrollment of 700 during the course of this school year.
We are blessed to serve with a truly talented faculty; 76% of whom hold the highest degrees in their field, coming from such well-known universities as the UO and OSU, Vanderbilt & Drew, UCLA & UC Davis, George Mason & Illinois, George Fox & Baylor, and a little less known but not less prestigious, the “fighting Blue Hens” of Delaware and Eberhard-Karlis Universitat in Germany. Seven of whom hold degrees from NCU and carry out our mission in our schools of arts and sciences, business & management, education & counseling, Christian ministries, and our newly formed School of Professional Studies – housed in the just finished renovations located in the former Sigma Nu House on 12th street.
They are joined by a dedicated full-time staff of 67 professionals committed to ensuring that we provide the best possible collegiate experience for our students. These, the employees of NCU are the reason that the University is consistently recognized in the top tier of comprehensive colleges in the Western United States by publications such as the US News and World Report and the Report on Colleges of Distinction.
In recent years we have added academic majors in biology and exercise science (with new state of the art biology and chemistry labs), a Master of Arts in Theology, and innovative masters degrees on-line in education and business administration. This coming spring we will launch a new on-line undergraduate program in criminal justice.
The Beacon athletic program continues to grow in number in the number of sports in which our students represent the University, but more impressively the spirit in which our student-athletes compete and the success they are enjoying with nationally ranked cross-country teams, impressive additions to our coaching staffs, and near and dear to my heart – a member of our men’s golf team, who just last week posted the lowest tournament score in Cascade Conference History while winning the Cavalier Classic in Portland and who this last summer competed in his second US Amateur Championship.
We recently received an affirmation of our regional accreditation with the Northwest Commission on Colleges & Universities with commendations that included recognition of NCU’s “exemplary dedication and commitment to the institution’s mission”, “unwavering devotion to the welfare of students and student learning”, and “ongoing efforts to ensure greater health and financial stability.”
These wonderful developments present the University with a number of challenges – with record enrollments and a growing faculty and staff we are faced with serious limitations regarding the physical capacities of our small campus. With new academic programs presented in innovative delivery formats we are challenged to ensure our mission continues to drive pedagogy. With the expansion of majors in new academic disciplines also comes the need to relate to a variety of discipline specific accreditation bodies. These challenges and others contribute to a shifting academy in response to an increased scrutiny, and incursion by government related to the value and practice of higher education, the ever growing costs associated, and an ever increasing call for access accompanied with what appears to be a decreasing level of preparation among high school graduates.
The University stands ready to address these challenges while remaining committed to a mission we feel has remained true to our history, even as it finds new expression in a vision cast more widely to address the needs of the church in a constantly changing society. To do so the administration and board of trustees exercises our work organized in strategic initiatives involving a campus wide representation related to our relationship with our heritage churches as well as the wider church in our area, institutional strategic & campus resource planning, institutional identity & program effectiveness, and cultural awareness & unity in Christ-centered community.
With each of these efforts, and in fact, the whole of our endeavors, we seek (as individuals and as a community) to run the race marked before us with eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2 NIV). I believe the need for NCU today is as great as it has ever been, perhaps even greater as we engage a culture seemingly in more and more need of the truth of the gospel and well-educated and purposeful graduates serving in all walks of life.
President Joseph D. Womack, Ed.D.