Author Archives: presidentblog

Third Year Questions: Focus for Year Three

For the past two years we’ve focused on leadership structure, finances, and enrollment.  What will be our focus for year three and beyond?

Year three is all about giving concrete definition and action to our shared vision of greatness as a Christian university.

After two years of working on “nuts and bolts,” I’m energized by the challenge of making Indiana Wesleyan University a truly great Christian university.  When I say this, I don’t mean to imply that IWU isn’t already a great university.  But I’m intrigued with the prospect of being faithful to the opportunities of this moment in our history.

Here are five areas of focus that capture my imagination and energize my work.
IWU - Third Year Questions


A truly great Christian university will be a faithful, gracious, engaged Christian academic community.  A university is, at heart, a community of scholars.  The uniqueness of our university lies in the kind of community we create with each other.  In a day when so many would like us to be “issue-oriented” I’m convinced a great Christian university will be Christ-centered.  The issues we engage, and the way we do it, must be defined by the One who gives us our identity.  Nothing less will see us through these turbulent times that threaten the core of our academic community.  In a day when the purpose of the academic enterprise is so often pared down to the barest notion of “learning for earning,” we must daily reaffirm our belief that the rich pursuit of learning ultimately finds it meaning and purpose in the imago dei.  In a day when the scholarly pursuit is fragmented and cynical, we must reaffirm our conviction that any pursuit of truth that is not founded on the enduring principles of God’s Word will ultimately come to emptiness.


A truly great Christian university cultivates a pervasive culture of transformational learning, scholarship, and holistic personal development.  At the heart of the university is the sacred task of the discovery and application of knowledge, conducted by and presided over by our faculty.  Personally, I am inspired when I listen to Phoenix-Park Kim play a carefully researched, coherently assembled, and brilliantly performed recital, knowing that her ability to do this enriches our understanding of the arts, and provides transformational learning opportunities for her students.  This is but one example.  I could give examples from the School of Nursing, School of Educational Leadership, School of Physical and Applied Sciences, the School of Health Sciences.  These are not, or at least should not be, sterile bureaucratic structures.  Instead they are living communities in which deeply committed, brilliant faculty and students shape and are shaped by the disciplined pursuit of learning.  Our university will never be greater than the excellence we enable in these pursuits.


A truly great Christian university cultivates and sustains a community culture that values, challenges and supports all of its members.  The work of becoming a community that reflects and promotes the diversity of God’s Kingdom is personally rewarding and enriching.  More importantly, a truly great Christian university will not be diverse as a matter of duty, or simply as a happenstance of changing demographics.  Instead, a great Christian university will recognize that diversity of experience, thought, and culture are the sin qua non of transformational learning.


A truly great Christian university is a community of engaged scholars and alumni learning and serving in the world’s most strategic places.  At a conference I attended in Washington DC last week, one of the speakers observed that our world is both more networked and more fragmented than ever before.  Today, I believe that no one can claim to be well educated who does not have a personal understanding of how their national life, culture, art, technology, financial systems, political structures, and religion impact and are impacted by the rest of the world.  A truly great Christian university will be a global Christian learning community.


A truly great Christian university will be accessible and affordable to the widest range of scholars and students who seek to work and learn in a Christ-centered academic community.  By virtue of our nature as a Christian community we cannot price ourselves out of reach of the people God calls.

The Roman philosopher Seneca once observed, “To the person who does not know where he wants to go there is no favorable wind.”

These are often confusing and turbulent times.  It seems our lives are filled with news of contrary winds, difficult terrain, threatening conditions, evil conspiracies.

Sometimes I wonder if we find no favorable winds because we have no clear conviction of where we are headed.

Even contrary winds can blow us to some desired destination.  It all depends on the set of our sails.

Being President does not give me the right to solely determine where IWU should go.  But it does give me the responsibility to ask about the dreams and aspirations of our community, to listen for the Holy Spirit’s still small voice, and then to set our sails accordingly.


Third Year Questions: The Stuff Presidents Watch

You are now beginning your third year as President of IWU.  How would you characterize the first two years of your presidency and what would you say will be your focus in this tN1308C 057hird year?

Well, after two years Helen and I can now find our way around the President’s House without GPS, so there’s that.

The members of the Executive Council have stopped bringing their business cards to meetings to remind me of their names and position titles.

Seriously, here are seven top priorities I have pursued during my first two years as President – Leadership Structure, Enrollment, Financial Health, Kingdom Diversity, Religious Freedom Issues, Community Relationships, and Global Christian Learning Community.

Today, I’ll talk about three things for which every president has to be responsible. If we get these wrong, no matter what else we do, the institution can’t flourish. They only get exciting when things go wrong.

Next I’ll talk about diversity, religious freedom, and community relationships.  Then I’ll touch on my focus for the next couple of years.


I’ve been in leadership positions at IWU since 1994. I have had a ringside seat for our exceptional growth in size and complexity.  In recent years I became convinced that our leadership structure had not evolved along with our institution.  There are markedly different knowledge and experience bases needed to effectively lead the different parts of our university.  But leadership was concentrated in a small group of senior administrators who, no matter how brilliant they may be, just didn’t reach far enough out into the university.

I wanted to create a leadership structure that would push decision-making farther out into the university.  In looking for models to follow, I settled on a modified multi-campus university structure in which there is a system head (me), “chancellors” (our CEOs) and cabinets for each major administrative unit.  We now have what might be considered three “campuses” – Residential Education, Non-Residential Education, and Wesley Seminary.  Eventually we may find it advantageous to add a fourth – Global Education.  These last two years we have focused on installing, understanding, and implementing this leadership structure.


Since about 2011 our enrollment patterns had become alarming.  Residential enrollment was shrinking.  Non-Residential enrollment growth was unpredictable and much more difficult to achieve.  Enrollment matters to us for two primary reasons.  First, our mission is to make the world a better place by developing students.  Without students, our mission falters.  Second, very pragmatically, our operations are funded almost exclusively through the tuition our students pay us.  Simply put, without students we go out of business.  I think this is entirely appropriate.  We don’t exist to take care of a bunch of nice buildings in Marion and across the Midwest.  Personally, I aspire for us to be more of a research university, but even so, we wouldn’t exist just for the creation and application of knowledge.  We exist for students.

We have spent these last two years pouring great energy and thought into turning around our enrollment trajectories.  The College of Arts and Sciences staff, faculty, and administrators have done stellar work in increasing retention and working together to recruit a larger incoming class.  Wesley Seminary just hit the 500 mark in enrollment, and is now a top-20 seminary in the nation.  Non-Residential Education had a very healthy year last fiscal year, but has faced some new challenges in the last few months.  I have every confidence that they will work through those challenges.  So, while enrollment will always be an interesting challenge, after two years of hard work I am beginning to gain some comfort that we have turned the corner on this challenge.


Two things happened in 2008 that amounted to a perfect storm for our financial health.  First, we admitted the largest residential class in our history that fall – 100 more than any previous class.  Those who were here in the 2000s will remember just how lean we were.  In the mid-2000s we added more staff to ease the burden.  We ramped up even more after that huge class in 2008.  Second, the financial crisis of 2008 hit us.  Enrollment in both Residential and Non-Residential units started to decline and Residential financial aid costs started to climb.  We could not make up for stagnant revenue by increasing our tuition.  People were already deeply concerned about the cost of college attendance.  Meanwhile our bills were climbing.  Left unchecked, this pattern (stagnant or decreasing revenue vs. increasing costs) would soon become perilous.

For the past two years we have worked very hard to reverse this pattern.  No president likes to take things away.  It is a lot more fun to add benefits, raise salaries, and add personnel.  But for the last two years, I knew that we had to do the hard work that would lead to longer term financial health.  I am deeply grateful for the cooperation of our university community for helping us in this work.  We are now on our way to a much healthier future.

Whew!  Congratulations if you’ve stuck with me through those three.  Next, I’ll write about our diversity work, religious freedom issues, and our community relationships.

Third Year Questions

When I was the Provost at IWU the most common question people asked was, “What is a provost?”

IWU - Third Year QuestionsMy favorite response was, “A marginally useful academic bureaucrat.”  I used that answer sparingly, of course.

Heading into my third year as President the most common question I get is, “Why did you do THAT!?”  Well, they don’t usually ask me this question.  They ask each other, and occasionally an old friend will pass along the question to me.

Seriously, the most common questions I get are, “Are you enjoying the job?” or “What do you like most about the job?”

Being President is a consuming pursuit.  I do enjoy it and am enormously privileged to serve the IWU community in this way.  But this position is different from any other I’ve held in at least one interesting way.  On the one hand, I meet and interact with many, many fascinating people. On the other hand, the depth of those interactions can tend to be superficial.  The Presidency can become an isolating experience.

The other day I talked about this with Dr. Ken Schenck, a friend and colleague I’ve known since graduate school days.  At my invitation, here’s his guest blog post about being president.

“I get the impression that being a college President can sometimes be an isolating situation. You spend a lot of time dealing with external constituencies, and you can sometimes seem distant to those of us who are “land locked” on a campus. So the idea emerged to ask you some questions here on the blog, perhaps even to give people a forum to let you know what questions are on their minds. Here are a few starter questions that came to mind.

1. You are now beginning your third year as President of IWU. How would you characterize the first two years of your presidency and what would you say will be your focus in this third year?

2. You have been at IWU for over twenty years. How would you say that IWU has changed from what it was in the past?

3. IWU has undergone some structural changes and financial tightening in the last couple years. Do you see many additional changes still to come? Are we still in transition or is the current structure more or less what it will be for some time, as best as you can foresee?

4. Academic institutions can develop strong “us-them” tensions between faculty and administration. What words of hope and trust would you offer the faculty of IWU that the administration is their partner and not their adversary?

5. How has being President of IWU changed you personally? How do you maintain balance in your life?

Now it’s your turn. What are the kinds of questions on your mind for President Wright? I suspect he would like to know, even if he can’t answer all of them.”

Bill Clinton once said that being president is like running a cemetery.  You have a lot of people under you and nobody is listening.

Fortunately, that hasn’t been my experience so far.  I work with a stellar team of faculty, administrators, and staff.  In case anyone is interested, I’ll tackle these questions in the next few days.

Season of loss. Season of blessing.

100_0610The seasons of life have an endless capacity to surprise, challenge, inspire.  Unlike the seasons of the sun, life’s seasons are not so predictable.  They bring mysterious gifts that look like losses, then load us with unexpected blessing.

Fifteen months ago my parents moved back to Marion from their beloved Florida retirement community.  Their health had been increasingly fragile so it seemed wise to bring them closer to us.  We had no idea.

Mom was in the hospital 12 times in 12 months.  She was such a fighter, loving life, loving my Dad, loving her children and grandchildren, unwilling to see the golden thread slip from the spool.  Almost every day I was in Marion I sat with her and Dad in the evenings.  They told me their latest news – who had called or visited last, what doctor they were going to see next, medications, prayer requests, ministries they cared about, IWU.  I listened, tried to get them to laugh, marveled at the lives they had lived.  We often said goodnight with a prayer – their lifelong habit.

Mom fought hard, but about six weeks ago just after midnight, almost on the stroke of a new day, she slipped quietly out of our hands, a little smile on her lips for my Dad, the love of her life.

A season of loss.

We made our way through the surreal landscape of death.  Dad did his best.  Then two weeks later we found him on the floor of his apartment.  He had suffered a massive cranial bleed.  Should have died then.  He fought as best he could for three weeks.  But his heart just wasn’t in it.

A week ago Saturday morning he was back in the hospital.  I called to see how he was doing.  Told him I’d be busy all day welcoming new students to IWU.  Told him who would be coming to sit with him.

He said, “I need for the Lord to take me to heaven, or make me so I can live, because I just can’t do this much longer.”  I said, “I know Dad.  I’m sorry it is hard.”  Told him I loved him and I would check on him a little later.  He said, “Okay.”

Helen and I got ready and headed to the Barnes Student Center to welcome our new students and their parents – one of our favorite days of the year.  On the way over I flipped on the ringer of my phone, something I almost never do.

Just as Helen and I were preparing to greet our first students the phone rang.  It was the doctor.  Dad was gone.

Season of loss.

At the very same moment, our spirits were lifted by the faces and stories of almost 800 new IWU College of Arts and Sciences students – the class of 2019 – who began moving into residence halls over the weekend.  I love seeing the pictures and encouraging words on the IWU Parents’ Facebook page about how well they were served by students, staff and faculty on move-in day.  There’s nothing quite like the fire and life of the amazing young people God brings to IWU every year.

“My son or daughter is in good hands,” was a common theme in those Facebook posts. We are humbled by those words, and we are committed to doing our very best every day to be worthy of the trust that parents have placed in us.

Our personal vulnerability and loss helped us experience anew the beauty of the IWU community.  We have been sustained by the many expressions of love, prayer, and provision.  We have been encouraged, fed, and comforted by the wonderful people of this community.

We are in good hands here.

As always, many parents told us that they sensed the presence of God simply by setting foot on our campus. And, predictably, parents raved about the appearance of our campus – the pristine landscaping and the well-maintained facilities.

And each year IWU’s global footprint expands. This fall we have students from Australia (where IWU now has a sister college), Germany, China and the Philippines. My parents would be especially proud of those international students.

Season of blessing.

One of my favorite authors, Rachel Naomi Remen, captured the mystery of life’s seasons.

“A human life has seasons much as the earth has seasons, each time with its own particular beauty and power.  And gift.  Life is neither linear nor stagnant.  It is movement from mystery to mystery.  Just as a year includes autumn and winter, life includes death, not as an opposite but as an integral part of the way life is made.”

This year we’ve been through winter and spring.  We have felt sorrow but no regret, pain but no despair.  We’ve been given the gifts of love and prayer.  We are sustained by the love of our colleagues and friends, and the presence of God’s Spirit.

Perhaps best of all, we’ve been reminded of who we are and what matters most in this life.

Sometimes we see life’s blessings better through the seasons of loss.  This seems to be the way life is made.


IWU is Becoming a Global Christian University

Ten flights in fifteen days – Over 70 hours of airline time.

Four captivating world cities – Sydney, Jakarta, Adelaide and Perth.

Four fascinating Christian education ministries – Excelsia College, IPEKA Christian Schools, Tabor College and St. Stephen’s Christian Schools.

Dozens of conversations with inspiring international Christian educators.

My whirlwind tour of Australia and Indonesia in June gave me yet another front-row seat to observe the growing demand for high quality, Christ-centered education in the world’s most populous region.

“The Indian Ocean Rim has 2/3 of the world’s population in ¼ of the world’s circumference” (St. Stephen’s School). In the next decade Indian Ocean Rim countries will be home to 2.6 billion new members of the middle class.

In one of those countries, Indonesia, IPEKA is an amazingly effective Christian school organization with ten thousand K-12 students. A highlight of my trip was getting to have lunch with 12 of their faculty members who are taking our IWU Master of Education by distance education through the College of Adult and Professional Studies. One hundred percent of the graduates from this flagship high school attend college. Many of them come to the United States to enroll in secular colleges and universities. Only one Christian university has made any effort to recruit their students. Pak Petroes, the head of IPEKA, asked me if we might open our IWU doors to their graduates.

This is but one example of the way IWU is becoming a global player in meeting the great hunger for Christian higher education. The more that I interact with global Christians the more I see brilliant Christian young people who will emerge as leaders within their nations. I meet dedicated faculty members with the passion to provide Christ-centered universities that offer an education that can hold its own with the major secular universities.

The needs are great. The opportunities are boundless. The work is costly. The successes are priceless.

Great Christ-centered universities like IWU are not just “higher education institutions.”  We are purveyors of dreams, sentinels of light, growers of hope and explorers for truth.

Now, more than ever, IWU has the opportunity to enable dreams, throw light, grow hope and teach truth all across the globe.

(Posted from IWU Triangle)

John Bray comes full circle from IWU student to campus chaplain

IWU - Interim Dean of the ChapelJohn Bray’s life has come full circle, and that is very good news for Indiana Wesleyan University, especially for our students.

Universities are, above all, communities of people dedicated to the common pursuit of truth.  The greatness of our IWU community rests directly on the greatness of our faculty, staff and students.  As alumni, as ministers, and now as IWU colleagues, John and Patty Bray embody that greatness.

John graduated in 1972 from what was then Marion College and, on September 4, he will return to what is now Indiana Wesleyan University to serve his alma mater as Interim Dean of the Chapel.

During most of the years between those two milestones, John was pastor of Heritage Wesleyan Church in Rock Island, Illinois. When he became pastor in 1973, the church had 24 members. When he transitioned out of his leadership role in 2014, and was named senior pastor emeritus, membership stood at 3,000-plus.

Since leaving Heritage Wesleyan, John already has answered a call from The Wesleyan Church to serve as interim pastor of a church in Michigan for a year. While he is serving as Interim Dean of the Chapel at IWU, his wife and ministry partner for 43 years, Patty Bray, will be serving as interim pastor of an Indianapolis church.

John and Patty Bray, truly a remarkable ministry team, will be living on the IWU campus for the next year. As they enter this new phase of their lives, we pray that the witness of their lives will have a powerful impact on our students.

The Dean of the Chapel at IWU provides spiritual leadership to the residential campus. Through chapel programming and discipleship initiatives, the Dean of the Chapel is responsible for planning, promoting and administering spiritual and educational leadership.

In addition to his undergraduate degree, John also has a Master of Arts Degree in Ministry from the IWU College of Graduate Studies. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree at IWU’s April graduation in recognition of his long service to the local church, his example of servant leadership and his consistent dedication to God.

It is a great personal pleasure for me to welcome John and Patty to our campus.  They have already blessed us through their faithful service to IWU, their fun-loving people-first personalities, their deep commitment to the Christian life and their heart to serve people.

IWU Well Represented at Oxford University Forum

IWU - Oxford Forum

Brian Clark gives a chapel address for scholars gathered at St. Hughs College, Oxford University, England.

The twists and turns of life occasionally bring us to moments of unforeseen and deeply heart-warming satisfaction.

Indiana Wesleyan University was well represented this week at a gathering of scholars at Oxford University in England.

Dr. Jerry Pattengale and Mr. Brian Clark, both of them alumni and current professors at IWU, spoke to groups of scholars gathered from several countries for a Green Scholars’ meeting.  Dr. Christian Askeland, a research professor of Christian Origins at IWU, also spoke several times.

When we were students together at Marion College in the 1970s, neither Jerry nor I ever foresaw the opportunities God would give us. It’s safe to say that running a program that would take IWU students, colleagues and alumni to Oxford for high-level Biblical research was never on Jerry’s horizon at the time.

But God has a wonderful way of threading one path onto another until we arrive at places of service only God could design.

Jerry Pattengale, the first person to hold the University Professor title at IWU, is the founder of the Green Scholars Initiative. The Initiative provides hands-on access for researchers to the 40,000 items in the Green Collection, which includes some of the world’s most significant biblical texts and artifacts.

The Green family, founders of the national retail chain Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., has been the key force behind the orchestration of the Green Collection. The Green family currently is developing a Museum of the Bible that is scheduled to open in late 2017 in Washington, D.C. Pattengale serves as Executive Director of Education for the museum and was one of its first two scholars who began developing the museum programs five years ago.

Brian Clark, who graduated from IWU in 2009, also holds a Master of Divinity Degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an adjunct professor for IWU’s John Wesley Honors College and for Wesley Seminary at IWU.

An impromptu gathering of scholars questions Dr. Christian Askeland about a papyrus pictured on his laptop.

An impromptu gathering of scholars questions Dr. Christian Askeland about a papyrus pictured on his laptop.

This is Brian’s third summer facilitating this intensive Oxford program for 35-award recipients and their mentors from the Green Scholars Initiative held in conjunction with Wycliffe Hall. He is an ordained pastor of the Nazarene Church and heads the pastoral care ministry at First Nazarene Church in Marion.

Christian Askeland is a distinguished scholar of Coptic manuscripts with the Initiative. His research broadly engages the task of reconstructing the earliest attainable text of the Greek New Testament. His work received world acclaim last year when he showed the “Jesus Wife Fragment” to be a fraud.

Some moments are especially heartwarming.  Today was one of those moments for me.

IWU Wants to Be a Good Citizen of Marion

Indiana Wesleyan University feels appreciated by the Marion community. We truly do.

Occasionally, someone reminds us that not everyone in Marion likes IWU.  But hardly a day passes when we don’t hear someone, or several people, say thanks for the role the University plays in this community. “Marion would be a lot different place to live without IWU,” is a common remark.

We want to be good neighbors.  So, notwithstanding those compliments, I wanted to gain a better perspective on the concern that IWU is a non-profit organization that doesn’t pay property tax on our campus.

IWU - Marion

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • IWU’s Marion campus consists of 384 parcels of land, of which 300 are tax-exempt. Those 300 parcels represent just 1.6 percent of the 18,882 parcels in the City of Marion.
  • IWU pays $128,000 in Grant County property taxes on the other 84 parcels, most of which are rental properties that were purchased for future campus growth.
  • Footnote: IWU is currently working with the county assessor’s office to consolidate 294 of those parcels into 37 parcels to reduce paperwork for the county.
  • IWU pays $232,000 annually to Marion Utilities for water ($65,000), sewers ($101,000) and storm water ($41,000).
  • Footnote: When Marion Utilities made major upgrades to water and sewer utilities a decade ago in South Marion, IWU paid a share of the cost that far exceeded the benefit to the University. And IWU also picked up the tab for a Washington-based consulting firm that helped to secure federal funding for those projects.
  • Although other utilities are not city-owned, IWU also pays $1.1 million annually to American Electric Power and $216,000 annually to Vectren for natural gas.

As a new president I found this information helpful to understand IWU’s relationship with the tax base and utility structure of our city.

What STEM Means for IWU – and for Grant County

The National Science Foundation (NSF) coined the acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in an effort to call attention to the need for more college graduates to be trained in those four academic disciplines.

Having sounded the call, NSF has been putting its money where its mouth is since Congress created the independent federal agency in 1950. In case you missed the announcement a few weeks ago, Indiana Wesleyan University is a recent beneficiary of NSF – and in a major way!

The NSF mission is, among other things, to promote the progress of science and to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare.  The agency has an annual budget of $7.3 billion and funds 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.

IWU received a $623,337 grant from NSF for a project titled “Scholarships for Boosting the Scientific Workforce in Rural Central Indiana.” The title itself does not do the project justice.


Here’s how the owner of a high-tech business, located just a few blocks from the IWU campus, reacted to the announcement of the grant: “This means that someday I may be able to hire the kind of people I need just down the street and keep more Grant County students in Grant County.”

Exactly. The money will be used over the next four years to provide scholarships and various support programs for 18 academically talented and financially needy IWU students to study one of the STEM-related sciences.

(IWU does not currently offer engineering degrees, but recently completed a major study that is being reviewed by our Board of Trustees. If approved, IWU could be offering degrees in electrical, mechanical and biomedical engineering as early as the fall of 2018.)

The STEM scholarships will be open to all IWU students but special effort will be made to recruit minorities, women and under-represented groups in the greater Grant County area.

Almost as important as the NSF grant money alone, is the fact that IWU has joined the ranks of some of America’s top research universities. The NSF funded only 100 of 420 proposals, and IWU is the rare exception on the list of recipients as a small, private university.

It is not the first NSF grant our University has received, but it is the largest. I have the confidence in our faculty and administration to believe there will be more.

STEM – By the Numbers

science226 million: Number of STEM-related jobs in America.
20: Percent of all jobs in America that are STEM-related.
21st: Ranking of American 15-year-olds in science test scores among 34 developed nations.
30: Percent of 12th graders who took the ACT test and are ready for college-level work in science.
2.6: Average hours per week that elementary students spend on science, down from 2.9 hours a decade ago.
4.1: Percent unemployment rate for STEM occupations.
11: Number of states that allow students to count computer science courses toward graduation requirements. (Indiana is one of them.)
90: Percent of engineering jobs that will require at least a bachelor’s degree by 2022.
$79,000: Annual mean wage for engineers.
$45,900: Annual mean wage for all occupations.

Source: STEM Education Coalition

Easter Greeting 2015: Because He Lives

“In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24:5-6

This Easter weekend, as you take time to reflect on why we celebrate, our prayer for you is that the empty tomb reminds you afresh of the risen Savior’s love for you. We have hope, because He is risen! Blessings to you and your family.

– David and Helen Wright