Last week we celebrated the inauguration of FPU’s eleventh President, Dr. Pete C. Menjares. The festivities began with a prayer time at the cross on the green (about our only piece of religious art on campus—more on this another time) on Monday, continued through a special College Hour on Wednesday and a special dinner for about 600 (by invitation only—donors and others) on Thursday.
Friday was the big event, beginning with an informal breakfast for all of those in the processional—about 100 professors and administrators, 20 on the stage, including political officials board members, VPs and others taking part in the ceremony, 30 delegates from local universities and from around the country (the furthest being Washington, DC), and 20 students representing all of the FPU student populations. Following the hour and forty minute ceremony, was a lunch for all attending, tours of the campus, and a “Scholars Forum” with representatives from around the country and FPU discussing what is up in Christian Higher Education today. It was a big deal all week. Now we are recuperating….
I have been asked a couple of questions several times. Why do we do it? And why make it such a big deal? In an age that has lost its traditions of higher education and sees education often in utilitarian terms, these are natural and good questions. Let me pose a couple of answers.
A university does more than just convey information and provide us with skills to prepare us for jobs and professions. Our studies, the professors we work with, and the courses we take, as well as the general ethos and climate of the university we become a part of shape who we are and what we become. Notice that I did not say the school we “attend.” We never just attend. We become a part of an ongoing discussion, with focus on particular subject matter and questions some of which are common to all or most universities and some of which are particular to an individual university. Our particular focus and questions are outlined in documents like The Fresno Pacific University Idea, and our Mission, Vision and Values statements.
The leader of the university in some measure must embody that particular ethos. When we hire a professor, we look not only at their academic preparation, and their ongoing scholarship. We also look at their Christian commitment and their ability and desire to mentor students. And we ask them about their understanding of their role as an educator and their relation to our Idea, Mission and Vision. We do the same for administrators with a heightened scrutiny. They must lead this community of scholars (both professors and students) and must embody the goals of the institution and be able to articulate it in many different ways and settings. This is doubly or triply true for the President.
The President is the person people look to for direction, guidance, the ability to say “yes, that is who and what we are,” and “no, that is not who and what we are” when a particular opportunity, problem or proposal is presented. A President must be able to speak to all of the goals and ideals of the university—academic, professional, moral and spiritual. He or she must represent the university in everything they do. It is a high calling. The job involves a pastoral function in a Christian university, an administrative function and an academic function.
The form of education that our President represents continues an ancient tradition that has similarities with ancient philosophy understood as a way of life; it shares an understanding articulated in the “wisdom” writings of the Old Testament; it has roots in the Christian education tradition described by Jean Leclercq as “love of learning and the desire for God.” In our contemporary world it is coupled with career preparation. We think this combination is a part of the richness of the kind of educational institution that is Fresno Pacific University.
I was struck once when reading the “Private Prayers” of the seventeenth century English Bishop Lancelot Andrewes by his prayer for his college. He indicated that this was a part of his personal community. It was a place where his character and identity had been shaped. His fellow scholars were a part of his broader family. He illustrates for us what we understand a university to be.
When at the inauguration ceremony the President is “charged” with the task of leading the university, when he responds with his address, when a congressman, mayor and church leader reflect on the role of the university in our city and region, when we pray over him and commit ourselves to his leadership for the coming years, we affirm that expansive role, and our particular mission. We formalize it before our community and before God. There is a solemnity about it, and more than a hint of celebration in anticipation of the good things to come. It takes a week!
Perhaps all of this is summarized in the words the Chair of the FPU Board of Trustees, John Thiesen, spoke as he placed the presidential medallion around Pete’s neck: “President Menjares, I now bestow upon you the Presidential medallion. This medallion symbolizes the authority granted to you as President by the Board of Trustees and the trust in your leadership of the entire University community. Wear it with pride for the university, and humility, as you trust in God to lead us forward.”