What A Ride!

What A Ride!

In about a week I will move back from my role as provost/senior vice president into the faculty to teach a variety of history classes and business ethics, a topic that caught my attention a number of years ago and to which many of us need to pay attention. I hope to dabble in a couple of other subjects as I have over the past years, to write more seriously than I have recently, to represent FPU as might be helpful and to continue to work in various higher education capacities (with WASC, our accrediting agency, and perhaps in some way with the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities).

As I return to a familiar role, I am reminded of the many constituencies that make up the university—alumni; the businesses, schools and other organizations where our alumni serve and that hire our graduates; supporting churches; the broader community that looks to us as a partner in city and regional efforts; supporters and donors who share our passion for Christian higher education; the larger higher education profession, from educational associations to accrediting agencies; governmental departments on several levels; the staff and administration who work to make it all keep going; professors, both full time and adjunct, who teach select courses in their areas of specialty; and our students in undergraduate, graduate and professional development programs. I am sure I have missed some. I hope the illustration is clear.

Each constituency provides a unique perspective into the university and its mission, and I have had the great opportunity to gain insights from all of them. As business manager, way back when, I began to learn how staff and administration helped facilitate our central purpose of teaching and learning. And I gained an understanding of the varieties of special knowledge required for administration, from financial aid and finance, to information technology, to HR practices and law and the needs of employees, to architectural and strategic planning.

As professor I became acutely aware of our students—the places they came from, the futures they faced or anticipated, their struggles, abilities and dreams. I learned that I would be able to connect with a small part of our student body, and that I was a part of a larger academic and co-curricular whole that served students’ overlapping and differing needs. I was reminded, often by the questions posed by students that I could not answer, of the necessity to keep developing as a scholar and the dedication it takes to teach well. Being at Fresno Pacific has allowed me to explore the intersection of faith and learning, and how our Christian commitments can deepen our understanding.

When I served in advancement, I felt privileged to work with generous donors who planned and worked to make their giving possible, and who prayed often not just for the university, but for me personally and all of us working at FPU. As enrollment vice president, the needs and desires of students, and the hopes and fears of parents, became a central concern. I learned about the relationship between student aspirations and academic programs and the necessity of bringing them together into a workable partnership. I experienced in a new way the ethnic, economic, and cultural diversity of our students, which enlivens discussion and help makes for a vibrant learning experience. As an academic administrator, I learned and relearned about the passions that make professors creative and successful, and the interrelationships between a simple policy in a single office and its effect on a host of individuals. I learned too that keeping it simple provided the most sure way to continue the educational process so both students and professors could exercise their gifts.

In the midst of these efforts, I also gained some insight into the struggles of students, their spiritual growth, their desire to live as faithful followers of Christ, the ways in which they learn and the gifts they possess—for athletics, music, theater, leadership. I had to draw on the knowledge of others in our co-curricular areas who were happy to teach me how to understand and work with students.

I experienced institutional culture, sometimes more like institutional stubbornness, and its importance for guiding the mission of a university. I also learned what happens when institutions and cultures collide (like when the federal Department of Education forces accrediting agencies to force proudly independent institutions and professors to act in certain ways, or when the needs of students change and institutions choose not to notice). I also learned (it was a difficult lesson) that most of us see the institution from a singular point of view, and at some point we all fall into a particular angle of view that we find difficult to get out of. When that happens we are in trouble. We begin to act in ways that hamper the abilities of others to exercise their unique gifts as needed in such a complex and beautiful enterprise. It takes a long time, or it took me a long time, to see how the many, many parts of the university fit together, and how they intersect with our very diverse society.

I have often been reminded that not many have the opportunity to work in higher education, and rarely across so many parts of a single institution. And I have had the rare good fortune, so they say, to serve in a time of rapid change in a profession that resists change and clings to tradition. It has been a wild ride at times. A few years ago The Chronicle of Higher Education, the major weekly news journal for universities, did a story on people with unique career paths. Our university editor, Wayne Steffen (who makes the Connecting Points series work, edits Pacific magazine and turns into English most of what I write—thank you Wayne!) gave them my name. It was really a story about odd ways of participating in higher education. I will repeat what I said at that time: I have always been grateful for the chance to serve in the many ways I have been able over the last 30-plus years, and I cannot think of a more meaningful place to serve than at Fresno Pacific.

I want to thank my colleagues in the administration, on the faculty, among the staff and on the board of trustees for the opportunity to work with them to fulfill the mission of FPU. I look forward to the next few years of teaching, working with students and my faculty colleagues and cheering on the university from an old familiar chair.

Steve Varvis

Steve Varvis

2 responses to “What A Ride!”

  1. Steve, you will be missed as the go-to guy of our administration. You led with forthrightness and courage, to say nothing of your wisdom and skill. Thank you for leading with conviction. You have invariably treated us with respect–even in times when we would have understood a different reaction. Thank you. Godspeed