A Community of Communities

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Universities are complex places—the largest can be like cities, with multiple communities and agendas, some of which have no contact with those outside of their own area of teaching or study. Smaller and mid-sized universities like FPU have the benefit of being one community, with a common mission, ideals and understandings. Our stated ideal and past experience has been that of a small tightly-knit community. It has great advantages, we think, for learning, and it is a deeply held theological and spiritual commitment of many of us here at FPU.

We have become more and more aware that we are, in reality, working with very different groups of students, in different formats, with distinct needs and desires for their education, and in distinct regions.

As we have grown from a small liberal arts college to a mid-sized regional university, we have slowly come to understand that we are more than we once were. While we have sometimes lost the feeling of that tightly-knit community, all working together toward a single educational ideal, we have gained an understanding of ourselves as overlapping communities with multiple related ideals and goals, multiple related student populations, an expanded Christian educational purpose and broader influence in the region. A good development!

On the one hand we do not want to stop being a “Community of Learners,” as the FPU Idea says, thinking together how to apply knowledge to the needs of our time and balance the wisdom of the past with the hopes of the future. On the other hand our complex and growing university has not remained a single community. We have students, faculty and staff in five locations, and online. Students, staff and faculty in the regional centers often know those centers, not the main campus, as Fresno Pacific University.

Our students have distinct needs. They come from multiple Christian and religious traditions; they represent the ethnic diversity of the Central Valley and other parts of the world; they bring different levels of educational attainment, and seek different goals for their education. How we work with the traditional students is not how we work with degree completion students who are older, most often have families and are working in a variety of occupations and professions. Our graduate students are different still. Their experiences are different, but the goal of an FPU education for each is the same.

We as professors are almost as different from one another as our students. We come from research universities, traditional liberal arts colleges, church-related colleges and universities, international universities, and seminaries. We have served in Asia, South America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and inner-city Fresno. We are specialists in different fields; we are researchers and practitioners. We teach the liberal arts and sciences, performance disciplines, and in professional fields. As we guide our students we connect with churches, with schools, with health care organizations, with businesses, government agencies, and community groups. We sometimes we do not understand each other’s professional language. Amongst ourselves we have become a community of communities. We strive to share a common vision.

We represent every form of Christian tradition—Anabaptist, evangelical, high church, low church, orthodox, independent, internationally organized institutions, and home churches. Our traditions emphasize active service, evangelistic witness, philosophical theology, liturgical worship and spirit-filled assemblies. Our staff and administration represent this same breadth of Christian experience. Anabaptist and evangelical experience is predominant, but we want to hear the voices of all of these Christian traditions, and listen for them among our students as well. We learn to exercise a “gracious Christianity” as our Dean of the Seminary, Dr. Terry Brensinger says. We describe ourselves as “Anabaptist, Evangelical and Ecumenical.”

Our Board of Trustees is comprised of women and men from many churches, professions and ethnic communities. Our staff bring specialized skill in finance, facilities, career services, information technology, institutional research, human resources, website development, student success and advising and much more. Our administration has specialists in finance, fundraising, higher education, athletics, libraries, student development, traditional and continuing education and industry, among other fields. We listen to and seek the insights of each with special knowledge and gifts.

Our alumni, a very important part of our community, serve in the broadest range of professions, in California and around the world—from South America, to Africa, and to India. They work in professions, serve in churches and missions agencies, and have attended prestigious graduate institutions. They encourage us, represent us, support the university, send their friends and family to FPU, and know themselves as part of our extended university. It is our privilege here on our campuses to send them out for faithful and wise service, to represent and labor to see the in-breaking of the reign of God.

If your head is spinning, you know my world. This complexity can be daunting, challenging, and energizing. It allows many groups to flourish, many needs to be met, and a rich experience for all who become a part of our community of communities. It requires effort and the ability to see the unity amidst the diversity, and the talents of those with differing skills, goals and theoretical positions.

When we encourage both the common center and the distinguishing characteristics we allow our distinct communities to flourish, and our common purpose to keep us together. Our central constituencies, as well as our extended partners in bureaus, accrediting agencies, professional and academic societies, and national and international partnerships all find a welcome place and are all a part Fresno Pacific University. It is our commitment at FPU to pull all together in a common purpose and vision as expressed in the FPU Idea and in other places; it is our common responsibility to encourage each who has become a part of us; and it is our joy to celebrate each other’s successes.

An extra note for the end of the semester.

Performance is an essential part of a university education—whether we ourselves perform or share in the audience. Now is a good time to celebrate the performances of our students.

If you have not gotten a chance to hear one of the FPU musical performances, there is still time to catch one. The Lessons and Carols service over the past weekend was deeply moving. The Brass Choir and Symphonic Bands have been exceptional. Next week there are more scheduled: the University String Quartet, Musica Pacifica Orchestra, Crosswind, Handbell Choir, the Women’s Chorale and Men’s Chorus, and the San Joaquin Chorale Christmas Concert.  Congratulations to our music faculty, students, and faculty. And a special congratulations to Dr. Walter Saul whose “Death be Not Proud“ was premiered by the Symphonic Band. Details on upcoming concerts can be found at the FPU events page.

This last weekend also saw the end of the two-week run of the drama department’s production of Truth and Reconciliation. This complex play brought the opportunity for discussion throughout the main campus, and perhaps to our other centers, on immigration and political refugees, and how efforts toward reconciliation can heal in places torn by violence. Well done!

The season is over for our fall athletic teams, all which represented FPU with excellence.  And Men’s and Women’s Basketball has begun. You can keep up with the teams on the FPU Athletics Website. To check out the academic accomplishments of FPU athletes, see the PacWest Website under “classroom.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may God continue to bless you richly,

Steve Varvis
Provost/Senior Vice President

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