Our Wonderfully Complex Mission

Our Wonderfully Complex Mission

Last week I attended three sessions with Bill George, a business leader and professor at Harvard Business School (along with 300 students, alumni, faculty and community members hosted by the School of Business, which deserves a big thank you!), a meeting of the Board of Trustees Executive Committee, a dinner celebrating 50 years of the Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE) and a Fresno Philharmonic concert featuring the world debut of Professor Walter Saul’s, “Kiev 2014.” On Thursday I joined the staff and administration in a three-hour discussion of the book and idea of Gracious Christianity, led by Seminary President Terry Brensinger and Professor Brian Ross. Last night I visited the North Fresno Campus to speak with students, faculty and staff, and to sit in on (and be inspired by) a couple of classes.

I could have attended several athletic events, and campus discussions on human trafficking and scholarship, for example, but there is only so much time in what was an unusually event-filled week. Maintaining that pace is impossible—I try to keep to two or three activities a week. My wife attended three of the events, and sometimes we joined others. A university is a family and community affair.

Diverse Diversities
We are a complex university. Ideas are discussed, content is learned and methods of understanding and working are developed and practiced. We are salt and light to our society and church. We contribute to the civic and social purpose of education, educating citizens and leaders. We also have a special purpose to our sponsoring denomination, the Mennonite Brethren, and to churches in the region and around the world. We benefit when our society and church challenge us, engage us in discussion and present us with opportunities to contribute.

We are also a diverse Christian community. We call ourselves Evangelical, Anabaptist and Ecumenical. Not many universities try to bring together such a range of faith commitments. Staff, administration, faculty and board strive to model these various Christian traditions living and working together, learning from each other and honoring and appreciating the gifts of each. After all, if God has given us so many different ways of living our faith, perhaps there is a reason. Professors must be able to engage each other and our students, to understand one another’s language of faith in order to teach and to move to deeper understanding, growth and appreciation.

Our diversity is more than religious. Our ethnic variety enriches our community and our faith. A number of FPU employees have received “educator of the year awards” from AMAE and we offer a scholarship match for students receiving AMAE scholarships. Celebrating the achievements of those with whom we share a common purpose inspires us all. We are part of a network of efforts to educate and seek a greater good for and with many groups within our society and closer communities. We strive to welcome, know, understand, appreciate, love and live in one community in our diversity.

We are professors of business, of Bible, of education, of the sciences, social sciences and humanities. We are also composers, artists, performers, writers, scholars, peacemakers, athletes and leaders. Among us are those with special gifts and interests in international understanding, in personal development for college-aged students, in adult learning, in educational policy and in online education. In addition, we are a very complex business existing in a world of financial and social challenges.

Blending Gifts
When we come together, whether in committee, in worship, in class or as a board, we bring our own associations, interests, understandings and viewpoints. Realizing the complexity of the university helps us understand why we need many with different experiences, gifts, passions and understandings—sometimes of the same issue—to help us keep moving together.

I started this reflection with a look at last week’s schedule. Let me close with the schedule of the week to come. We will have another dinner celebration with a community partner, an extended discussion on partnerships with China and Finland (the School of Business has been very creative of late) and a two-day board meeting with a very full agenda ranging from academic programs to financial conditions to general goals and policies. In preparation, incomplete as I write this, I am finishing materials on diversity efforts, legal and theological issues, priorities for and achievement of our strategic plan, ways we are shaping our culture of faith and the accomplishments of our professors and students (the heart of what we do). That preparation is shared by many within the university and supported by much discussion with those who bring differing perspectives, along with a great appreciation for complexity and a bit of ambiguity. It takes much, much more than a village to keep a university going.

It is our challenge as leaders and members of the FPU community—students, staff, alumni, church, board, supporters—to keep it all together, to be inspired by the big picture and greater mission, to balance our response to needs and opportunities, to remember the limitations we work within and to celebrate what each of us brings to our work, and the accomplishments and successes we achieve.

When I look at all we as a university community are called to, I am often overwhelmed with gratitude. I cannot think of a greater opportunity, a more profound mission and a better community to be a part of. Still, some weeks are very busy.

Steve Varvis

Steve Varvis