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Ferguson: ‘A time to pray for the healing of our land’

Ferguson - A Time to PrayIt is one of our nation’s most endearing qualities that when disaster strikes, we reach out to help.  We pray.  We go.  We provide shelter, food and care.  We rebuild.  Then we construct safeguards as best we can to protect against future damage.

Ferguson has become a hurricane of the heart, battering the soul of our nation, calling into question the best that we believe about ourselves.  I have asked myself if there is anything more to say.  So much has already poured from our national psyche about this cataclysm of our collective spirit.

In these reflections I cannot hope to speak on behalf of our entire university community.  Indiana Wesleyan University is made up of almost 18,000 students, staff and faculty.  It would be presumptuous of me to try to speak for all of us.

But I do want to publicly acknowledge the tragedy that has befallen us.  I want to try to point to some of what I believe are our community’s best sentiments.

Ferguson has reminded us that racism is an evil that continues to tear apart the tapestry of our national life.  The sins of racial suspicion and animosity are not behind us.  They are beside us.  They are within us.  We can redeem this moment by submitting ourselves anew to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to seek the healing of our confused, broken, angry hearts.  We reaffirm our hope for redemption and reconciliation even in the moment when this hope seems most elusive.

Grief is an appropriate response to the tragedy played out in the heartland of our nation.  We will never fully know exactly what happened.  We may differ on what the facts mean.  But it seems to me that a Gospel-shaped heart starts with the one incontrovertible fact in this case – in a few fateful moments an 18-year-old man lost his life in a needless, senseless, brutal way, and the life of a public servant was forever changed.  How can we not grieve for the family of Michael Brown?  How can we not feel compassion for the thousands of public servants who put their lives in danger each day?

I find myself grieving for our African-American neighbors, for whom this violence is deeply personal, throwing into stark relief an abiding sense of vulnerability and injustice.

I find myself grieving for our nation, that we are still caught so firmly in this seemingly endless web of sin and tragedy.

Perhaps this is a moment for us to seek the hard lessons of grief.

Hope may seem far away in these moments of confusion, grief and anger.  But hope is our legacy in Christ.  Hope is our inheritance, purchased by the blood of Christ for every child of God.

I am reminded of five Gospel-shaped principles that Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson articulate in their book, The Heart of Racial Justice.  I ask their indulgence if I have slightly recast their thoughts in light of today’s challenge.  (Quoted and slightly revised from a review by John Ed Robertson.)

(1) Understanding, justice and reconciliation “are above all the work of God and happen best in the presence and power of God.”
(2) Understanding, justice and reconciliation “with others are based on having a healthy sense of our own identity.”
(3) Understanding, justice and reconciliation are “above all rooted in the work of Christ on the cross.”
(4) Understanding, justice, and reconciliation require us to “realize that there have been destructive forces at work in our common life,” and that some of our neighbors bear the brunt of those forces more than others.
(5) Understanding, justice and reconciliation require us to “individually and corporately embrace [the hope of] becoming a new creation.”

First, healing for Ferguson must come from within, and be lived out, in Ferguson.  Outsiders can help by praying, encouraging and holding each other accountable.  But the people of Ferguson will have to find the wherewithal to begin anew, to admit their faults, to seek forgiveness and then to work together to recreate the fabric of their community.  Our prayers for them, comments about them and contributions to them must be aimed to empower and encourage them for this work.

Second, if we believe that almost any one of our communities could become a Ferguson under the right conditions, we must work in our own communities to name and tear down the strongholds of sin among us.  We must be with each other, truly listening to each other, caring for one another, challenging one another.  We must build the relationships of trust and mutual respect that will not allow either personal sin or systemic injustice to go unchallenged among us.  We must imagine what it means for our community to be a new creation, and then work under the Holy Spirit’s guidance to become that new creation.

Third, as hard as it may be, our various communities must open ourselves to the work of “understanding something of the powers that shape [our] wounded history.” (Russ Parker)  For white communities this will mean truly hearing stories of how our innocent, upstanding, godly neighbors have been subjected to indignities and injustices simply because of their race.  It will mean working together to see that these things stop.  Other communities must also ask God to guide them as they honestly address the expressions of sin in their communities.  We must do this work together, to give each other Gospel-inspired courage for a better future.

Each of us will find ways to respond in hope of a new creation.  Meanwhile we pray for the healing of our land.

Lord, come and heal our land.
Let there be light in our darkened, soulless cities;
Let there be green in our wasted, industrial sites;
Let there be letting go of our wrangled, unhealed memories;
Let there be gardens in the ghettos of our church’s story;
Let there be loving for the soil from which we came;
Let there be a neighbor in me for the nations of the world;
Lord, come and heal our land.  (Russ Parker)

IWU Ranked No. 2 on List Of Best Online Colleges

Student Center Exterior Sunrise Evening - 2771Indiana Wesleyan University had some good company recently when Best Value Schools released a survey that ranked IWU No. 2 on a list of The 30 Best Online Colleges 2014.

The University of Maryland was the top-rated school in the online rankings. Others on the list are the University of North Carolina, Penn State University, the University of Nebraska and the University of Central Florida.

Iris Stone, a freelance writer and researcher, conducted the survey.  To say that Stone’s survey was carefully researched, would be an understatement. She consulted multiple sources, including U.S. News & World Report and Forbes magazines, and she established seven criteria, such as retention rates, graduation rates, student-to-faculty ratio and academic ratings.

“Attending Indiana Wesleyan University Online is a unique experience characterized by significant student collaboration, capped class sizes for an intimate learning experience and customized online curriculum designed specifically for adults,” Stone said. ”IWU insists that online students receive the same treatment and rigor of material as traditional campus students.”

IWU students who completed polls on College Prowler website said “professors care about their students’ success” and are “passionate about the topics they teach.” Students also said, “Classrooms incorporate new technology effectively.”

It is that kind of thinking and initiative, of course, that led IWU to become one of the first universities in the country to offer online education. Today, IWU has 8,000 online students – two-thirds of the enrollment in adult education programs.

When IWU offered its first online class in 1996 for students in our adult education programs, the move was viewed with suspicion in the higher education community. Truth be told the non-traditional adult education format that IWU had begun in 1985 still was not widely accepted.

We were convinced, however, that we could be successful if we kept our focus on the content of our adult programs – both online and onsite – and not on the way our classes were delivered. Quality always was, and still is, the top priority.

Our commitment to that goal was rewarded with the release of The 30 Best Online Colleges 2014.

View the rankings here.

Counter-Evidence on Higher Education’s Supposed Demise

Indiana Wesleyan University Buildings -  (1)Between Facebook, Twitter, and the various “news” outlets I read, these seem to be the days of bad news and questionable behavior.

The day I wrote this, four of the 16 stories on the front page of the USA Today digital site were public apologies of one kind or another.   My newsfeeds are chock full of dire predictions about my country, my world, my health, my industry, my faith – you name it.

I don’t mean to minimize the reality of this world’s evils and tragedies.  Too many of our neighbors face horrors beyond belief.  But here in the land of the free and the brave, I wonder if there has ever been a time when people of such privilege were more routinely offended, angry, worried, and pessimistic about their future.

If there is such a thing as “bad news fatigue” I think I have it.

Let me bring this closer to home.  These days many predict a dire future for American colleges and universities.  An influential friend posted this on his blog recently: “Some educational experts predict loads of universities won’t be around in twenty years. Many four-year institutions will not make it beyond the next four years. Have you looked at the numbers?” (Tim Elmore)

Well, Tim is right.  The picture isn’t pretty at many institutions.  Tim offers his typical brilliant suggestions.

But it’s easy to lose sight of what is right about what we do amid the clamor and the click bait.

I offer some counter-evidence.  The following facts are from a report released by the Council for Independent Colleges (Securing America’s Future: The Power of Liberal Arts Education).

You’ve heard that most college students don’t graduate.  Collectively, we can and should do better at shepherding students to completion.

  • But “59% of graduates of smaller private colleges finish within four years.”  For comparison, “38% of graduates of regional public universities finish within four years.”

You’ve heard there’s no future in a liberal arts education.  Think again.

  • “20% of PhDs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields graduated from smaller private [liberal arts] colleges.”
  • “Graduates who studied the liberal arts have the broad knowledge most employers—80% in a recent survey—say they want.”
  • “The overwhelming majority of employers (93%) believe that a college graduate’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.”

You’ve heard that diverse students aren’t well served at private colleges?  You might be surprised.

  • Private colleges enroll a similar proportion of minority students as public universities—about one third of the student population.  But students of color graduate at higher rates from private colleges and in a shorter average period of time.  For example, the graduation rate for black students at private colleges is 45% (compared with 40% at public universities), while the graduation rate for Hispanic students at private colleges is 62% (compared with 50% at public universities).”

You’ve heard that low-income students are better served at community colleges.  Not so fast.

  • “Low-income students are more likely to graduate from a private four-year college than a public university—a68% graduation rate compared with 61% at public universities.”

You’ve heard that first-generation students don’t succeed at private colleges.  Wrong.

  • 70% of first-generation students graduated from private colleges within six years.

You’ve heard that most college graduates stagger under crushing debt.  Some of us are, indeed, slowly pricing ourselves out of our students’ reach.  We MUST reduce our costs.  But, the national picture may surprise you.

  • “One quarter of students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from an independent four-year college or university did not have any educational debt and nearly half had less than $20,000 in debt.”
  • The median debt of BA recipients in 2011-2012 at independent 4-year colleges was $27,000.
  • “Although the average published tuition and fees at private four-year colleges and universities is $30,090, students pay only $12,460 on average.” (NCES)

No one has guaranteed the future of IWU.  The only guarantee we have is that God will always be with us as our greatest source of guidance, courage, and purpose.  Under God’s care and leading we must change and adapt with the times.  I’m confident we have a future, and I’m confident it will be far brighter than today’s bad news predicts.

IWU Convocation Bestows Honors and Highlights New Details on Partnership

Tony Maidenberg Award Recipient

_JN_5045What a true honor it was this week to present Alex Huskey the 2014 Tony Maidenberg Award for community service in front of IWU faculty and staff during Indiana Wesleyan University’s annual back-to-school convocation.

Pastor Huskey has nearly 25 years of experience in law enforcement, first as a member of the Marion Police Department, and in recent years, as the superintendent of the Indiana Excise Police and the chairman of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission. He also has served as the pastor of New Bethany Church of God in Christ since 2007, and previously served as the associate pastor of the church for 20 years.

Alex has been immersed in the highest forms of community service and he exemplifies all that the Tony Maidenberg award represents. I look forward to our continued association as he begins a new form of service as the President of the Marion campus of Ivy Tech community college.

And congratulations also to the many faculty and staff who were recognized for their outstanding achievements and service to IWU.

Read the full story here.

IWU Formalizes Partnership with Australia Campus

WI-to-ExcelsiaIt was also my distinct pleasure to announce the partnership between IWU and Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia, making their global Christian learning community a reality. Wesley Institute and IWU formalized on August 5, a partnership by which Wesley Institute seeks to become the foundation for the first global Christian university in Australia with plans to develop multiple campuses across the Asia Pacific region.

Wesley Institute is a leading Christian college in Australia – celebrating over 30 years of operation in higher education. Indiana Wesleyan University has 94 years of experience in Christ-centred higher education. Combined, we have the expertise to roll out Christian higher education across a broader range of undergraduate and postgraduate areas. In coming weeks, an application will be lodged with TEQSA for registration of Wesley Institute as a University College.  Subsequently the college plans to apply for registration as an Australian University.

Also, in January 2015, Wesley Institute will change its name to Excelsia College.  Excelsia, ‘a community where people excel’, embodies the institution’s passion for the pursuit of academic, artistic and professional excellence within a Christian environment. It is anticipated that Wesley Institute will relocate to a new campus in 2015. New courses could be offered as early as Semester 1, 2016.

I’m so grateful for Professor Bridget Aitchison, Vice Chancellor for Asia-Pacific and for Wesley Institute Chief Executive, Dr Greg Rough and his team. My prayer is that their diligent efforts reap rewards with God’s abundant blessing. What a privilege it is to co-labor across continents for the furthering of His kingdom.

Read the full story here.

One Remarkable Year

july12013 This summer concludes my first year as President of Indiana Wesleyan University. The opportunity to serve my alma mater and longtime home in this capacity ranks among the greatest honors and privileges of my life.

It has been an eventful year, with many remarkable developments for the University. I owe many of the signal moments of the past year to a very special team of collaborators. I could not possibly mention them all here, but I can think of a few who deserve special mention:

I thank God for the generosity of Ed Bastian, president of Delta Air Lines, who along with his wife Anna recently committed $1.5 million to help us create the Bastian Center for the Study of Human Trafficking. This center, the only one of its kind in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, will rely on the groundbreaking research and experience of Dr. Laura Lederer to bring reliable information to bear on the fight against global human trafficking. The Center will gather together the intellectual heirs of Wesleyan Church founders Orange Scott, Luther Lee and Leroy Sunderland–abolitionists who agreed with John Wesley’s maxim: “liberty is the right of every human creature.”

I thank God for Wayne Schmidt, Ken Schenck, Joanne Solis-Walker, and the rest of the faculty and staff of Wesley Seminary at IWU, who in April celebrated the graduation of the Seminary’s first Spanish-language cohort. This past year, the Seminary’s first international cohort began classes in Bogota, Colombia. Just recently, the Seminary achieved full accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools.

I thank God for all of those involved in designing and launching IWU’s Next Generation Digital Campus. This initiative includes a new learning management system, a new university portal, a new e-textbook system and access to student success diagnostics and new digital learning assets from Pearson publishing company. The world increasingly creates, manipulates, presents, and consumes information digitally. With this project IWU is taking its first steps to provide our students with a learning infrastructure that will prepare them for the cutting-edge organizations in which they will work.

I thank God for Bridget Aitchison, Duane Kilty, Greg Rough and Phil Cave. Through their initiative, dedication, and tenacity we are within weeks of formalizing our partnership with Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia to create an evangelical Christian university in that world-class city. This will be our first major international outreach to make IWU a global Christian learning community. Our global connections extend even further: we have signed an agreement to offer our Master of Education degree to the teachers of one of Indonesia’s largest Christian schools, with over 9000 students.

I thank God for Gary and Connie Ott, who have entrusted us with what will be the largest gift we have ever received from a living donor. Their names now grace the side of the brand-new Ott Hall of Sciences and Nursing.

I thank God for Diane McDaniel, our new vice president for multicultural enrichment and employee development. Her office will focus on the need to increase our multicultural diversity. This year we implemented MLK Day as a university holiday for the first time in our history, and held our first MLK Day Concert and Celebration.  The concert was a major production and a tremendous success.  We completed the first round of diversity conversations with all of our employees, and are in the process of laying the groundwork for a comprehensive diversity mapping exercise that will help celebrate our strengths and identify our opportunities for growth.

I thank God for the magnificent work of those who have created a new paradigm for retention at IWU. We have successfully launched several major retention improvement efforts for the residential and non-residential programs. College of Arts and Sciences retention has improved almost 4 percentage points in the last two years.

I thank God for the Lilly Endowment, who partnered with us to help our students to prepare for and to create and fill new jobs in Indiana. I thank God for our financial aid leaders, who have designed and implemented a plan that will allow good students from financially needy families to complete a four-year degree from IWU with no more than $10,000 in total debt.

I thank God for Audrey Hahn, Brock Reiman, Barbara Ihrke and David Rose, who worked extremely hard to launch the first of a new model of regional education centers in Naperville, Illinois.  Perhaps most importantly, the non-residential team has created and is launching at least seven new academic programs. The College of Adult and Professional Studies has established an international division with administrative offices in Miami, Florida, and now has over 500 students taking degree programs in Spanish and French in the Caribbean as well as in Central and South America.

I thank God for Mark DeMichael and the Athletic Department, who with the help of many others planned and executed the largest mission trip in IWU’s history last summer. The New Zealand Sports Blitz changed countless lives in the city of Auckland and left an indelible impact on the students, coaches and staff who made the incredible journey with them.

These people, and more that I cannot begin to count, are essential partners in our mission to spread the knowledge of Jesus Christ. I am thankful for staff members (housekeepers, groundskeepers and office staff) who have written me heartfelt notes of prayer support and encouragement.  I am thankful for university-wide leaders who lovingly invest far more time and energy in IWU than duty demands.  I am thankful for the senior executive team who have come alongside me to shoulder the responsibilities of caring for IWU.  Thank you to all who have been a part of IWU for this remarkable year.

Above all, I have been reminded of the majesty of God’s calling to a place of meaningful service.  I have been awed by the power of God’s anointing on those who take that calling seriously. Our most sacred trust can be read in the eyes of our students as they look into the future of their calling.

Recently I was privileged to hear Pastor David Bisgrove preach at Redeemer Church in Manhattan.  These words have reverberated through my mind and heart: “Everyone in this room is being converted by our loves.  What converts us is not the rules of our faith.  It is the cross of Christ. It is not morality that converts us, but the blood of our Savior.”

This is our high calling – to shepherd a truly great Christian university, centered on the person of Jesus Christ, captivated by the world that Jesus created and reveals to us in our passionate pursuit of wisdom and truth, fully dedicated to the success of our students.