I am amazed how often the Scriptures encourage us or sometimes command us to “serve the Lord with gladness,” or rejoice in him continually. These exhortations provide a framework for our attitudes while doing our work together. Sometimes we can be so focused on our plans of action that we lose the reason for the actions themselves. We have developed strategic priorities not as a burden to push us, but as a guide to free us in our work together.
I am reminded of the words God gave Israel in the wilderness as they struggled to follow the priorities God had set for them: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity… He will put an iron yoke on your neck…” (Deuteronomy 28:47, 48). Is there a principle here that we can learn about serving God and our work? During some of his most difficult times, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord always. As we plan our work together, let’s encourage one another in the Scriptures, so that we can “serve the Lord with gladness as we work together to bring glory to his name.”
Over the last two Connections we have attempted to map out the Strategic Priorities for the university through this academic year. Our last communique addressed the importance of giving attention to issues of efficiency and effectiveness, as well as mapping a clear path towards institutional financial stability. In this Connections we briefly review four additional areas that need to be addressed:
- Develop a university-wide academic plan.
- Strengthen the links between the main and regional campuses.
- Identify costs and plans for institutional-wide deferred maintenance.
- Design and initiate a comprehensive capital campaign that is more inclusive.
Develop a University-wide Academic Plan
The vision of the university is “to be known for academic excellence, innovative programming, and spiritual vitality.” Our academic program is central to what we do and why students attend Fresno Pacific University. There are few weeks that have passed since my arrival when I have not met someone who comments on the quality of our graduates or the significant contributions of our alumni. I even hear enthusiastic comments from our first-year students who communicate very positive experiences in their first months at FPU. There is no question that we are doing a good job. The real question is whether we can corporately identify or define academic excellence, innovative programming and spiritual vitality. These features should be the drivers of our curricular and co-curricular learning experiences.
Various departments have made plans to launch new programs or revise existing ones. With the support of market research and assessment of regional need, we need to devise a plan to identify, support and launch appropriate programs. The academic plan pushes our community to think corporately about the future: how we teach, what we teach and the outcomes we expect. This includes assessing where we are and mapping out where we need to go based on research, market data and the university’s vision. As a community, we all should be able to clearly articulate what “academic excellence” means for this community. We should all be able to identify innovative programming across the curriculum, and without question understand the integration of faith and learning as part of the student’s experience.
We may be doing much of this, but we do not have a map that guides our direction over the next five years in planning for educational technology, undergraduate research and service learning and innovative delivery systems. Even our professional development efforts should support this direction. Our strength is in clarity. Our definition of excellence cannot be framed merely by accreditation standards, or by best practices. Those standards should only become the baselines for what we would term innovative programming.
Strengthening Links Between Main and Regional Campuses
We have centralized our thinking, our energies and our resources around our main campus, not intentionally, but as the adage states: “out of sight, out of mind.” At least what we have been hearing from our regional campuses is that they are a secondary thought.
Our regional campuses help support initiatives on the main campus with traditional students, while primarily serving non-traditional and graduate students. I suspect that we have been so focused on our work with traditional students that we have not given equal energy to thinking about how we care for the other three-quarters of our students. We have an equal responsibility for all our students. Our planning process should include assessing the needs of those communities in which we have established presence: Merced, North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield.
We have been blessed with great staff, committed faculty and students who appreciate the quality of their education. We do need to work more strategically to connect them with the broader university, our mission, vision and values. These individuals will graduate to become alumni. We want to make sure that they have the support that is characteristic of our community.
Identify Costs and Plans to Address Deferred Maintenance
There has been much talk about new facilities, which are desperately needed. Much of our urgency has been attributed to depreciation of older facilities. We appreciate the generous donors who have responded to our urgencies. We have discussed master plans, acquisition of additional properties and use of land already purchased. These are all important, but as we think about the future of the university, we need to be cognizant of and plan for the renewal and renovation of our physical plant. This means evaluating where we are before we get too far along a road where we do not want to be. This strategy is just common sense, but time consuming, and will be delayed unless we make it a priority.
Design and Initiate a Comprehensive Capital Campaign
Currently the university has six or seven different arms working in silos to raise funds for various areas. We have worked on a campaign to build a Cultural and Arts Center, also trying to find donors to help us build a concession stand and restroom facility for our sports programs, and have collected funds for various deferred maintenance projects. We also have many committed donors who provide funding for scholarships, various types of equipment, centers and the seminary. We are grateful for the estate and annual gifts that have sustained the university.
We, like most private colleges and universities, are tuition-driven. In California, we are very dependent on the Cal Grant. A drop in that support could handicap a significant number of our students’ ability to continue their education. About 54 percent of our traditional students come from families with incomes of $40,000 or less. Serving these students is consistent with who we are as a Christian university. We are at a place in history that the university should plan for its sustainability. This means working at growing an endowment that buffers the university against economic, political or social pressures, which will certainly come.
In our planning, we must consider a more comprehensive approach to fund development for the university. A shift to a comprehensive capital campaign broadens our perception of the needs that will strengthen the future. This strategy sets us on a trajectory that insures future students will continue to have the opportunity to experience a quality Christian university education.
How do we approach this work? We do so with joy. We serve the Lord with gladness.