Thank you for joining me for this live virtual presentation in which I, as your President, offer “A Vision for Trinity’s Future.” I’m joined today by Neil Nyberg, Chairman of Trinity International University’s Board of Regents. Coming from central Michigan, Chairman Nyberg has graciously agreed to join us in person. Whereas the bulk of the remarks you will hear today will be mine, following my prospectus of Trinity’s future, we will hear from Chairman Nyberg directly.
As I reflect back on my first year as your President, I think back to a conference I attended designed for new university presidents. I made it to all the sessions, took thorough notes, and listened carefully to the sage advice of seasoned presidential veterans who had been invited in as mentors. And of course, if you’ve ever been to events like this, it’s more often than not the case that after all the presentations, all the formal and informal discussions; when you boil it all down, you come away with only one or two big takeaways.
Before I share my big takeaway, I forewarn you that it might not strike you as utterly groundbreaking or theologically lofty. Nor is it remotely complex. In fact, you could probably put it on a bumper-sticker, just as it was summed up crisply by a veteran president who encapsulated it in words like this: “When you get right down to it, if you have the right team and the right vision, everything else is just details.” If you have the right team and the right vision, everything else is just details.
The other night my wife Camie and I were talking and she started talking about walnuts and rice, and I had no idea what she was talking about. And then while she was talking in foodie parables, I realized: “Oh, yeah. You’re thinking of that old Sunday School illustration where you take a jar, a handful of rice (enough to fill the jar) and then a handful of walnuts. And if you put the rice in first and then the walnuts, you’ll find that there is not enough room in the jar for both. But if you put the walnuts in the jar first and then the rice, they both fit fine. I get it.”
When I started my role at Trinity I quickly realized that my first job was not to fundraise or to develop new initiatives. My first job, you see, was to distinguish the walnuts from the rice, what goes into the jar first from that which fills in the gaps. What are the walnuts for TIU (TLS, TC/TGS, TEDS, Timber-lee, Trinity Florida)? There are two pieces to this answer: the right team and the right vision. The rice is just the rest of the details.
Along the way there has been no small share of distractions during this past extraordinary year. A year ago, we cut nearly three dozen positions on the Bannockburn campus and asked the Bannockburn faculty to dig deep into their pockets for a joint $100K gift by the end of the calendar year—they gave $167K. Then, this past March we asked all TC/TGS and TEDS students who could go home to do so; Santa Ana, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and East Troy, WI followed suit. Several months after that trauma, the Trinity Community, along with the rest of the world, were made witness to the senseless suffocating of George Floyd. None of this even speaks to other grave concerns outside American borders, touching our students and alumni, in places like Beirut, Belarus, and Hong Kong. Institutional, domestic and international woes have not been hard to come by.
Through it all Trinity has not only experienced financial blessings, but also positioned itself for other sources of revenue. I am grateful for how our Advancement Team has challenged Trinity’s donor base to give generously; and our donors have responded well. As a result of such efforts we are not only on track for exceeding our annual giving goals, but have also received several very sizable designated gifts. Thanks to other members of my Leadership Team, TIU got a good jump out of the starting gate in this spring’s race for PPP funding, allowing us to acquire a multi-million-dollar loan. We are now in the process of submitting a formal request for full loan forgiveness and are hoping that request will be honored. Meanwhile we hope to acquire local approvals for a proposed land sale which could generate funds roughly equal to that of the PPP loan.
Notwithstanding these developments, TIU remains financially hard-pressed. For most of our entities we are projecting mild enrollment downturns in the upcoming year; for our Timber-lee campus the downturn has been more severe, since the camp has been forced to remain shut all summer. Certainty is elusive, for in the midst of the pandemic, higher education as a whole is finding that the business of enrollment projections is a challenging one. Across the board, institutions are reporting that confirmations are historically late. For now, I would simply ask for continuing prayer that accepted students not allow themselves be detained by merely imaginary obstacles. God has provided through this crisis, but we are nevertheless still feeling its effects.
But through it all, I’ve learned something along the way. While I would not claim that my leadership team is perfect or beyond criticism; having witnessed the TIU’s leadership team operate in the midst of crisis, I do believe that God has blessed me and Trinity with a good cabinet. I can only speak to those I work with directly, and I want to tell you that I believe that while no one individual is irreplaceable, including myself, I believe that I have the right team. And if I have the beginnings of the right team on my end of things, we just might be that much closer to getting one of those key walnuts in the jar, as you—the rest of the Trinity team—choose this day whether to embrace the vision I am setting before you.
And that’s the other walnut I want to put in the jar today: the vision. Just to be clear, TIU’s vision is its mission. And this mission, like the core values, remains the same: “Trinity educates men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning.” That’s our mission statement and we’re sticking with it.
But mission statements only tell you so much. Mission statements can tell you what you’re shooting for, but they don’t always tell you how you will get there in the midst of changing contexts. For my part I believe that key opportunities are waiting for us in the market spaces that our campuses now inhabit. But these key opportunities can only be realized as we clarify the “how” of our mission by identifying the necessary strategic priorities. I have identified three. By interpreting our mission through the lens of three different strategic priorities, which are also commitment to certain activities, we can ensure that TIU and each of its institutions remain more relevant and more urgently needed than ever.
The first strategic priority, the first activity, is this: that we worship in faithfulness. Last October, I stood before many of you in a black regalia and reflected on John 3:16, the truth that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever should believe him should not perish but have eternal life.” But John 3:16 only raises the question as to whether this God who gives his Son seeks anything in return for such sacrifice. Well, as it turns out, we discover from the very next chapter that there is one thing that God does seek: worshippers who worship in Spirit and in truth.
The wording of the phrase is important. Notice that Jesus does not say that the Father is looking for worshippers who just worship in Spirit, with truth being optional. No, there must be Spirit and truth. Tragically, while so many historically evangelical seminaries, colleges, camps, and even law schools have drifted from their confessional moorings, Trinity has by God’s grace remained faithful and unswerving in its commitment to scripture. Over the years, we have faithfully resisted the winds of compromising change; over the years, we have swum against the current of fashionable theological trends which, indirectly or directly, have called into question the Word of God. I am well aware that there are many, even in God’s church, who see this unswerving commitment to scripture as backwards and outmoded. But God does not give us permission to make our doctrine of scripture hostage to the latest trends or cultural predilections of the day. God calls us to worship in Spirit and truth.
Notice too that Jesus does not say that the Father is looking for worshippers who just worship in truth, with the Spirit being optional. No, there must be Spirit and truth. Over the years whenever we at Trinity have invoked Paul’s self-designation as one who has been “entrusted with the gospel,” whenever we have asked invited speakers to stand in front of our logo that says “entrusted with the gospel,” we are reminding ourselves that, as heirs of this very same gospel that Paul preached, we must handle it in all faithfulness. But when Paul describes himself and the other apostles as being “entrusted with the gospel” in 1 Thessalonians 2, he is in fact speaking not so much to his doctrinal formulation as to his Spirit-empowered way of life. If we truly have been entrusted with the gospel, then our lives must show it as we are carried along by the Spirit.
As John’s Gospel has it, the same God who loved the world and gave his Son for it is also the one who seeks worshippers who worship in Spirit and truth. When we worship in Spirit and in truth, we are worshipping in faithfulness. And if we are to believe the Gospel of John, then God’s mysterious plan for redeeming the world crucially involves men and women who know something of what it means to worship in such faithfulness. Faithful worship is both the result and the pre-condition of God’s redemptive work. Faithful worship includes singing hymns and songs in church, but it extends to every area of life: faithful worship of the ascended Christ is where it all started, it is also where it is all going.
Now according to our mission statement, our calling at Trinity is to “educate men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work.” That redemptive work not only drives creation along to the day when all the nations will worship the one true God, but also builds on the worship initiated by the Risen Christ through the Spirit. But how is it even possible for us here at Trinity to call our students to engage in that redemptive work as alumni if they do not engage in that redemptive work in their day-to-day student life? And though obviously we are not a church, how is that engagement possible apart from worship?
Here at Trinity, worship is important to who we are. It is important because while other seminaries and colleges tend to draw much of their identify from a certain socio-historical trajectory or thick confessional stance, Trinity’s wide-ranging demographic embrace and unique focus on doctrinal essentials serves to shift comparatively more of its “identity weight”—as opposed to say a certain sacramental stance—onto worship. Worship is a key component of our Free Church heritage. For these reasons, we need to recommit ourselves afresh to worshipping in faithfulness—not just in the predictable chapel space, but in all those countless curricular and extra-curricular spaces.
As to exactly what this means. I will need the help of all of you in thinking that through. But for now, just for discussion starters, let me make a few suggestions. For faculty, worshipping in faithfulness might mean, in the first place, more deliberate exploration as to how adjusting your pedagogical practices might more effectively set the classroom apart as a space where prayer, scripture, and subject matter come together. In the second place, because worshipping in faithfulness means worshipping the incarnate Word, and because this Word was engaged in all aspects of creation, a renewed commitment to worshipping in faithfulness might mean paying renewed attention—through externally funded faculty development projects—to the integration of faith and learning among our faculty.
But worshipping in faithfulness goes well beyond the classroom. What if we revised the whole way we looked at our student common areas, our residence halls and apartments, our financial aid office, our advancement office, our playing fields, the weight room, and even our high ropes courses, our face-to-face and virtual classrooms in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, not as merely functional spaces but as sacred spaces where we expectantly left the door open to encounters with God? But the key in identifying those spaces lies with the right people. Thus, as far as our students are concerned, worshipping in faithfulness means not that only perfected saints need apply to TIU, but that we become more intentional about seeking out prospective students who are interested in worshipping in faithfulness. Given the right set of dreamers, perhaps working in collaboration with the Board’s Spiritual Formation Task Force, other initiatives may easily follow.
That’s the first strategic priority; the second is this: we must mentor in hope. In John 3 we learned that God so loved the world so much that he sent his Son. But in John 17 we learned that just as the Father had sent Jesus into the world, so too now Jesus was sending the disciples into world. When Jesus came to us, he came to share this relationship with the Father. That relationship could only be mediated through Jesus himself as he engaged the disciples, one or at the most two at a time (according to John 1), and called them into a mentoring relationship. As a result, Jesus’ mentoring of the Twelve becomes the model for all subsequent Christian mentoring.
One of the first mentors Jesus calls is Nathaniel. When Nathaniel approaches, Jesus says, ‘Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false’. Of course, while Nathaniel may well have been a you-see-what-you-get kind of individual, Jesus is not talking about not just who Nathaniel is but who the new disciple will become under Jesus’ mentoring. By calling Nathaniel ‘a true Israelite’, in other words, Jesus is speaking not so much about the present but about the future. Jesus had a vision and a hope for Nathaniel.
If there’s one thing that Trinity has done well over the years, it is giving a platform to the up-and-coming Nathaniels of the twentieth and now the twenty-first century. Who does such mentoring but the faculty and staff of Trinity? You have heard the song, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” As true as that song may be, it is also true to say “What a Jesus we have in friends.” More than that, what a Jesus we have in those old and new friends who are further down the road than us on life’s journey.
Why do students choose to come to Trinity—of all the camps, colleges, seminaries, and law schools they can go to? I have a strong suspicion (and in fact recently performed market research has actually borne this out) that one of the key reasons has more than a little to do with one of Trinity’s secret sauces. Trinity might not have all the bells and whistles that its competitors may have. No, sometimes it feels like we could use a few more bells and whistles around here. But how many Christian students around the country (or around the world!) would trade all these perks and amenities in a heartbeat—if only they knew they had the opportunity to be mentored by staff and faculty who care? Judging by recently acquired marketing data, we know that many would—but they need to know. The more intentional we are about mentoring in hope, the stronger the student experience. And the stronger the student experience, the more the word will get out.
What does this mean for us? It means that we need to name all this for what it is and lean into a culture of mentoring. Coaches and coaching staff here at Bannockburn, I want to go on record now as you prepare for this upcoming season, with a very full slate in the spring, that we love to see Trinity Trojans put points on the board, and we love it even more when you win. But far more than putting points on the board or winning games is the win that comes about when you pour your life into the lives of your student athletes.
Faculty and staff, even in your briefest interactions with students, you are mentoring them every week and in some cases every day. Some of our Trinity students have moved from a faraway land, they have given up lucrative jobs in order to study, or they’ve taken a big risk by putting down a lot of money in the form of loans. Some students work hard all day to pay the bills, only to study hard much of the night. Such students are hopeful. And if we are mentoring these students in hope, I know you’re busy, but it means treating them with the highest level of appropriate personal touch, professionalism, and responsiveness. Every student you meet on your campus is there because they dared to hope. We need to honor them accordingly.
We must mentor in hope. This too coheres naturally with our mission statement: if our task is to educate men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work, the most effective way for that engagement with redemption to take hold is by us engaging our students one at a time. I say this not just on the basis of experience, but because this is exactly how Jesus engaged his followers in God’s redemptive work: one disciple at a time. And this, prospective students tell us, is exactly what they want. I suggest we set up a working group devoted to studying how Trinity can be even more intentional about mentoring in hope without undue expenditure of time and resources.
Finally, in order to execute the TIU mission, we must build bridges in love. As you may or may not remember, at my inaugural address in October, I mentioned how John 3:16 (“God so loved the world…”) sets the stage for Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan Woman in John 4 and for his meeting with Pontius Pilate in John 18. Because God so loved the word, John seems to say, Jesus dared to build bridges reaching to a marginalized Samaritan woman by a well. Because God so loved the word, Jesus probes the heart of a procurator and leaves him – if not converted – than at least doing some serious thinking. The Gospel of John is spanned on one side by one of the most socially powerless adults one could think of in the ancient Levant; and on the other side by one of the most powerful figures within the same region. Jesus builds bridges with both, precisely because God so loved the world.
This calling was not unique to Jesus. In the Parable of the Good Shepherd, Jesus says very clearly that he has some other sheep in a different sheep pen and they have to come in order that there might one flock. By telling the disciples this and by tasking them with serving as shepherds over his sheep in John 21, Jesus is asking his disciples to follow his lead in building bridges—and to do so for the same love that animated him.
When the institution today known as Trinity first took root in 1897, it was only because a collection of under-resourced but hard-working Scandinavian immigrants, who felt like they had nowhere to go for their own college and theological education, decided it was time to start their own thing. Over the years, Trinity went from strength to strength, and by the last quarter of the twentieth century made it to their ambition to be the love gift not just to evangelicals in northern Illinois or even in the United States. The Kantzer dream was to make Trinity a love gift to the world.
Today, if we want to be a love gift to the world, our community needs to do the hard work of discerning what it’s going to take to build bridges with the world—not one-way roads but two-way streets with reciprocating traffic. And while we’re at it, many of us will also need to figure out what it is going to take for Trinity students to build bridges with people from cultures very different than their own, but who also live just miles if not blocks away. There was a day when you had to travel extensively to find people not like yourself. That day has come and gone. The American demographic will become increasingly variegated in the years to come, and Trinity will need to respond by becoming what its market population will become. South Florida, we especially look to you as a key laboratory and a vanguard for moving this priority forward.
By the grace of God, today’s Trinity campuses are very diverse—ours are among the most diverse of campuses in the country. And yet diversity is not the same thing as a biblically-rooted inclusion. Just because we have many different people here (students, faculty, and staff), that does not mean that we’ve in any sense arrived as proficient bridge builders, the way Jesus was the master bridge builder. Who we are, how we relate to another, and even the kind of books that we read need to reflect these things. We have a long way to go.
Think now, if you would, about today’s world. Think about the word “divided.” If there’s one word that defines our world today, that one word must be it. While the web has closed the gap caused by geographical distances, it has exacerbated some other much deeper fault lines. Cultural and sub-cultural silos become echo chambers.
Truth is, the world does not have the tools within its grasp for the kind of radical reconciliation that’s needed. This reconciliation begins with worshipping in faithfulness, continues with mentoring in hope, and climaxes with bridge building in love. The greatest of these is what we do in love. For all we know, the answer to the world’s most pressing problems may be found right here at Trinity.
What we need now more than ever are a critical mass of global leaders. By global leaders of course we could mean leaders of missionary organizations, pastors of ethnically complex congregations, or CEOs of multinational companies. But the term could also mean a number of different things. By “global leader” I mean any person, biblically-shaped and theologically-reflective, who knows how to make a transformational impact in any one of various spheres—private, public, and not-for-profit organizations, to name some. Such people may rightly merit the moniker of “global leader” not necessarily because they have been given authority to make decisions across nation-states, but because they have been formed with the right qualities. Having learned practices of humble inquiry, inspirational community building, and the wise implementing of structures and processes, such people have also learned how to work in complex contexts involving cross boundary stakeholders. Jesus was the quintessential global leader. Jesus is the quintessential global leader. Trinity has the resources to shape such leaders—whether they land in a small Midwest rural town or a global metropolis. What if Trinity really were that one place where you can sincerely say, “If you start here, you can go anywhere!”
Is there another reason that this make sense for Trinity? Yes. Our mission statement says that our task is “to educate men and women in God’s redemptive work in the world.” By “in the world,” I assume the framers of the mission statement intended “world in all its beautiful diversity.” If so, ours is to raise up students who can engage in God’s redemptive work “in the world,” a world where all the familiar dividing walls and corresponding ideologies have already been broken down in Christ.
How do I know we have a shot at becoming those who build bridges in love? I know because of our Trinity alumni. I look to those graduates from around the world who are a tangible “artifact” that gives witness to that expertise; their identities and stories play a key role in our message. I also know it because we have the academic, sociological, and spiritual resources available for such bridge building. When various student groups on campus are throwing up barricades against the ideological opposition, what if Trinity were known for producing graduates who can lead across and over all the old barricades?
Very practically for us, this means working harder at achieving a diversity befitting the kingdom, especially within our faculty ranks. Whatever cultural, structural, or procedural obstacles impede our ability to achieve this goal need to be reexamined. Whatever options we have for adding gender and ethnic diversity in the faculty ranks, these need to be seriously considered not as a competing factor working against Trinity’s academic excellence but ultimately as a necessary condition for it.
Yet recruitment without commensurate retention hardly leaves us better off. So as promised, following the lament service of this spring, we will be pursuing courageous conversations in order to achieve better mutual understanding within the community. For those on the Bannockburn campus, this will begin with an initiative to conduct a campus climate survey, with an implementation date of this fall and results coming out as early as December. With a goal of implementing new initiative measures in response to these results in early 2021, we may well be taking strides to realizing the last of these strategic priorities. We will need to operationalize a working group for the third strategic priority, either perhaps by redirecting the Trinity Council for Racial Reconciliation or by creating a new group altogether.
You will notice that up to this point I have concentrated my comments on the larger organization known at TIU. But the concept of TIU needs re-envisioning, not least because over the past 25 years, Trinity’s constituency has experienced confusion on several levels: a confusion of nomenclature and a confusion of brand. At times the label TIU is applied to the college (formerly known simply as Trinity College); at other times the same term refers to the umbrella organization in which the various TIU entities (including the college) are embedded. This schizophrenic application of the TIU nomenclature has the added though unintentional impact of implying that the divinity school and the law school are embedded in the undergraduate institution, even though the divinity school is generally more well-known than either. Today, the persistence of this brand and name confusion is no longer justifiable.
As a result, I have asked our MarCom Division to redesign the TIU landing page with a view to establishing a new landing page entitled TIU with links to the subsidiary entities, including the college and TEDS as discrete entities. As we approach next year, I hope to secure funds that will allow us to rebrand the college, no longer as TIU but simply as Trinity College (despite the confusion with the like-named institution in Palos Heights). As an organization TIU will occupy the background, while its constituent entities will take the foreground. No longer will we attempt to treat Trinity as a unified branded house. Rather it is time to capitulate to the reality that TIU is a house of discrete brands. From here on out, we will encourage Timber-lee to be Timber-lee, Trinity Florida to be Trinity Florida, Trinity Law School to be Trinity Law School, Trinity College and Graduate School to be Trinity College and Graduate School, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to be Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Each institution of TIU will have room to occupy a unique space with nuanced offerings, brand personality, and subtle pivots in messaging. Our language for talking about ourselves will have to change.
At the same time, the forthcoming marketing and branding strategy will need to recognize that every part of the larger Trinity International University family shares a common DNA, and that shared “essence” is at the intersection of the mission statement, the core values, and now the three strategic priorities I have articulated. These are the unifying threads that run through all things Trinity, and all our communication must point back to it. Business efficiencies between the entities will also be realized, wherever possible. The sub-entity remains in the forefront.
When I first stood in front of the Bannockburn faculties in August of 2019, I showed data that reflected a steady decline in enrollment for TEDS and TC/TGS, with faculty numbers changing negligibly for the former and moderately for the latter. The effect of this trend, left largely unmitigated, was a slow and steady spend down of Trinity’s financial cash reserves. As those expendable cash reserves come closer to being exhausted, the urgency for right-sizing the operation becomes all the more tantamount.
One of the unfortunate results of this burn off has been a slow starving of Trinity’s supporting infrastructure which services the Academic Division. Cuts in MarCom, Enrollment, Student Life and other various student services have in the long run served to weaken Trinity’s marketing and recruitment reach, and to undermine the quality of the student user-experience. The cycle of net tuition revenue decline, leading to organizational cuts, leading to under-resourced support offices, leading to weakening retention, leading to further net tuition revenue declines is a predictable one. Concerningly, that cycle has become our own.
Business as usual is no longer an option: we must break the downward cycle through a series of bold interventions requiring courage, innovation, and flexibility. Having pared down the support structures to levels that dangerously weakened, it now falls to me as your President to ask my dear friends in the Academic Division to prepare themselves for collaborating in making necessary changes. Because Bannockburn, both TC/TGS and TEDS, continue to lose money faster than they earn, with insufficient contribution to overhead, the most drastic of changes will be required on that Illinois campus. The nature of this change is a reallocation of resources in order that we might properly actionize TIU’s strategic priorities, along with other discrete priorities appropriate for each campus.
In terms of positive revenue generation, as your President I plan to reallocate my time to fundraising, dedicating 40 percent of my work week to advancement for all of TIU. Over the next five years, I may be going out on a limb in stating this but my aspiration is to raise $30M, with a view to funding one or more of the most strategic projects—per the vision and the now announced strategic priorities—at each of Trinity’s campuses. The precise funding priorities for that campaign are to be determined.
Funds can also be freed up given the right adjustments in the shape of the academic offerings. Some of these adjustments are far-reaching. After a detailed analysis of decreasing enrollments and increasing costs, and receiving input from faculty representatives, I regret to announce that the following programs are slated for closure at the end of the current academic year: all Secondary and Middle Grade Education, Music, Worship and Music Education (K-12). Elementary Education will continue with the current education faculty. Earlier today, we met with the faculty of the Music department to inform them of the department’s anticipated closure at the end of this academic year. We will certainly mourn the absence of these programs as well as, more importantly, the absence of our friends who are the Music department faculty. It is also with sadness that I announce the closing of the South Chicago Regional Center effective August 31, as well as the MA Urban Ministry program. Students and staff have already been informed and program completion plans are being developed for affected students.
On the heels of these announcements, I am also calling on the faculty of both TC/TGS and TEDS to spend this fall working with the Provost and their respective Deans on restructuring underperforming degree programs so as to minimize now-prevalent curricular inefficiencies. While personally I would prefer a world where faculty can teach what they want when they want with as many students as they want, realism demands that faculties at both entities roll up their sleeves to work towards a fiscally sound solution. The goal of sustainability is not wildly out of reach. I do not anticipate any more faculty personnel cuts at this time: we need only to do more to reduce or eliminate redundant classes where the student-faculty ratio has been perennially low, essentially a year-to-year net loss on revenue.
But as you Bannockburn faculty make these cuts, I want to assure you that much of the funds saved through wise re-configuration of the curricular offerings, once these have passed appropriately though the faculty governance system, will be reallocated to new and arguably more strategic investments, including marketing. By investing wisely and with precision, in diverting nourishment from ailing and over-extended branches in order to provide a fertilizing boost to the whole tree, I believe we have a chance of bringing Trinity from its cycle of scarcity to a scenario of newfound enrollment health. The most crucial of these investments will be in marketing, not least digital marketing, where key personnel hires and investing hold promise for returning TEDS and TC/TGS to greater stability. We are already in the process of rebuilding, coordinating, and fortifying the MarCom team. With a sharpened messaging strategy that has been shaped by data-informed market analysis, there is an urgency in this reinvestment. Accordingly, I am asking the faculty governments of TEDS and TC/TGS to collaborate with my administration in this process. My promise to faculty is that this will be a transparent, objective, and data-informed process.
Twenty years ago, Stanley O. Ikenberry, then President American Council on Education, wrote these words: “The crucial challenge facing American higher education today is that of defining a sense of self.” This afternoon I have sought to sharpen TIU’s senses of self, giving added definition to what TIU is—and what it is not. Once we know who we are, both as TIU and all its discrete entities, and as my administration seeks to coordinate the teams on different campuses to maximize synergies and efficiencies between the campuses, I believe we will be well positioned for success.
This afternoon, I have sought to identify the walnuts, those things that go in the jar first. I did so first by identifying your TIU servant leadership team as the strong basis for change and future growth. Of course, the right team cannot be complete apart from the eager and talented individuals on this call. We need you to be part of this right team. Will you help us secure that foundation by embracing this vision not reluctantly, but with everything you’ve got?
Then there’s the walnut of the TIU story, the story which stands to be enacted through three strategic initiatives: (1) worshipping in faithfulness, (2) mentoring in hope, and (3) building bridges in love. Though I’ve just told you that this story takes a backseat to the various stories represented by the individual campuses on this call, it is still a guiding and supporting thread. I am calling on you, faculty and staff at TEDS, at TC/TGS, at Timber-lee, at South Florida, and TLS to pick up this thread, and then weave it into the fabric of your campus. If we gave ourselves five years, until 2025, to execute on these strategic priorities, while maintaining and sharpening the distinctive emphases of each entity, what a difference it could make not for our numbers but for the kingdom of God.
To put this another way, if today we have begun the process of inserting the big pieces first, I am now asking you the community to get on board by saying, “We are the right team,” and then to begin the process of filling in the rice—in and all around the larger pieces. In other words, faculty and staff, I need your help. Right now, I know we probably have as many questions as we do answers. But I am also hoping that you will step up, embrace the vision I have set before you today, and then collaborate with me in exploring what God has for us. More immediately, over the next six weeks, I would like to invite faculty and staff of all campuses to work with my administration in creating a suitable timeline for identifying key questions, key deliverables, and key milestones. I would also ask that we complete and publish that timeline no later than September 30.
We are facing some unprecedented challenges, but we have an unprecedented God who walks before us into future ripe for new possibilities. Please join me in the patient task of converting the most promising of those possibilities into reality, as we “educate men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world.” Thank you.