The accreditation visit is over. Where do we go from here?
Over the last several years we have become a different kind of institution. To our ongoing and vibrant academic and spiritual discussion about how we are to serve in the modern world, how we practice professions and model the Christian life, we have added an emphasis on information, on data, on analysis and on deeper discussion about what our students accomplish, what the university accomplishes and how we can achieve our purposes and mission at a deeper and truer level.
For some, this added cultural characteristic is deeply satisfying; it is, perhaps, more “academic.” It hypothesizes, gathers data, analyses and draws meaning out of that information. For others, it is either too unphilosophical or untheological. Don’t we know what constitutes education, and Christian education? And haven’t universities proven how their purpose is pursued? Don’t we have a guiding Idea that points us forward?
Perhaps both of these conclusions are correct, or at least each is half correct. We do have a good sense of what education ought to be, and of what we are called to. It is outlined in the FPU Idea and other documents. And we have many personal witnesses—our graduates—to the transforming quality of FPU’s Christian higher education. We are also scholars who ask questions, gather data, interpret or make meaning from that data and act upon it. Each discipline the university teaches has a long tradition of questioning and answering. Could we not bring these together?
Let me make a practical application: for our strategic planning many in the FPU community have gathered deep understandings of the trends in higher education, and in particular those in our region. We have worked to meet the changing needs of our students and the institutions we partner with and serve. We have understood our strengths and weakness (or at least we hope we have—this is more difficult than it seems), the difficulties we face and the possibilities before us. We move forward with deeply held commitments to our faith, to the kind of community that we believe Christ has called us to be and what we hope our students learn. We have used data and interpretation to guide us in the pursuit of our mission and purpose. Without one, we might not succeed. Without the other we would not be who we are.
As we move forward we will clearly translate our understanding, our mission and our purpose into goals and outcomes. We will achieve these goals with the best time-tested methods and newest theories. We will again gather data, analyze and examine what we have accomplished and see how our combination of commitment, mission, method and reflection has served our students. Have we remained or become the community we desire to be? What have our students learned about their future work and service, their personal mission, giftedness and faith? What has shaped them? How might we become more effective? How can we deepen our understanding for the achievement of our mission, purpose and goals?
This can all be frightening. It submits our most cherished commitments to be tested to see if our effort, abilities and creativity have been successful. I, for one, do not always feel that courageous. Sometimes I would rather believe, without the need to demonstrate that what I am doing is successful. What if it is not?
This can all be exciting. We, like our students, become learners. We become scholars of our work, examining what we encourage in the academic, professional, moral, personal and spiritual lives of our students, at every level and in every area. If this is fraught with the unknown, it is also the new and energizing beginning of our exploration of what God has for FPU, to deepen and strengthen our service in the Valley, in the world and in the kingdom.