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Values and Ethos

by Mark Stanton, Ph.D.

Since its founding 111 years ago, Azusa Pacific University has periodically taken time to examine the university’s core values in substantive ways, and this 2010–11 academic year marks the launch of an important season of reaffirmation. As cultural trends and social values evolve, we must intentionally think about how APU fulfills its mission and maintains its strong position as an evangelical Christian university.

Over time, some institutions of higher education founded on Christian faith have moved away from that identity. Recognizing this potential for “mission drift,” President Jon R. Wallace, DBA, actively works to focus APU on providing quality education from a Christian worldview. This year, we will reaffirm Azusa Pacific’s mission, create a common understanding of university values, and identify means for the university to engage our culture.

Framework for the Process

In recent years, President Wallace asked the community to consider three questions: Who are we? What is our purpose? What difference does it make? These questions provide a frame of reference as we enter each academic year and constitute the first step in our values examination.

Two years ago, Wallace commissioned an APU Values Audit. This survey, conducted by Performa Higher Education, examined the perceptions of community members about the current alignment with university values. Performa reported, “research overwhelmingly validates that APU is ‘walking their talk.’” They found strong support from faculty, staff, and students that “APU is living out its mission.” The report concludes, “At a time when many Christian institutions have moved away from their mission due to increased competition . . . research clearly validated how the university has stayed true to its core mission.”

To maintain this commitment, several research-based recommendations were proposed, including the significance of sharing personal stories about meaningful work at the university, the importance of ongoing dialogue about the complex issues facing Christian higher education, and the value of facilitating an enhanced clarity for all community members about our identity, beliefs, and values.

With this recommendation, the president appointed the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Values and Ethos to determine a process for reaffirmation of our values, chaired by Executive Vice President David Bixby, Ed.D., and myself. President Wallace notes, “The Blue Ribbon Task Force was commissioned after conversation with the Board of Trustees and senior administrators to revisit and affirm the historic and core values of the university.”

In the year ahead, the task force aims to engage the campus in extensive dialogue around key objectives that will result in greater clarity and full ownership of our values. This has strong implications for our academic and cocurricular pursuits. At APU, we expect that every class will incorporate a Christian worldview and integrate Christian faith with the subject matter of the class. The process of reaffirmation will assist faculty in this endeavor. In cocurricular areas, increased clarity around our values will inform student life activities and practices across the campus. While APU remains committed to retaining and enhancing our faith identity, this does not mean isolating the university from the broader intellectual community, but enabling Christian scholars to engage intellectual pursuits from a Christian perspective.

“To keep faith with the mission and vision of the university, it is crucial that this discussion be rooted and grounded in the rich historical and theological narrative of APU,” notes Theresa Tisdale, Ph.D., professor of graduate psychology and task force member. “In almost every decade for the last 111 years, the trustees and/or the president has led the community in an important self-defining process that brings greater clarity to those within and outside the university about the unique place of APU in the academy and culture as an evangelical Christian university.”

Objectives

The process centers on three objectives: (1) clarity regarding our identity as an evangelical Christian university; (2) common understanding regarding behavioral expectations for fulfilling our roles and responsibilities in light of our values; and (3) creating a means for the university to engage a Christian worldview for the 21st century. The objectives focus our attention on the meaning making that occurs as community members interact to pursue common terminology, shared understanding, and unified focus. There is no intent to revise the university’s institutional values documents (available online at www.apu.edu/about/believe/). Rather, the conversation will allow ample opportunity for questions and clarification regarding our documents.

Most importantly, we are committed to pursuing these objectives in a positive manner, one entered with a spirit of calm and a posture of Christian respect and civility. We intend to promote deep engagement in dialogue that engenders trust. APU has a substantial historic Christian identity as a confessional community. T. Scott Daniels, Ph.D., dean of the School of Theology, indicates that we come from a rich tradition that is “committed to the practices necessary to make thoughtful and faithful Christian conversation possible.”

Task force member Don Thorsen, Ph.D., professor in the School of Theology and a historical theologian, comments that APU is “taking advantage of a unique opportunity to understand and appreciate our historic beliefs, values, and practices.” He stresses that the liberal arts core of the university was founded on an integrative framework from the Wesleyan Holiness tradition that combines the confession of truth, the practice of truth, and the development of Christian character.

Daniels suggests that students in the Wesleyan tradition are not afraid to wrestle with non-Christian thinkers and scholars because no person is completely devoid of God’s truth. He observes that one distinction of our Wesleyan tradition is its emphasis on God’s grace and the desire that “all people enter into a redemptive relationship with Him through Christ. This means that God’s grace is at work in, around, and through people, whether they realize it or not, so all truth is God’s truth, and His truth may show up in some strange places.”

Daniels also notes that robust discussion is expected “as we seek the interaction of truth that happens when the four sources of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience) come together harmoniously.” The result is the affirmation of holistic education that aims to promote truth across disciplines and perspectives in higher education.

Discussion Questions

A series of questions have been identified that relate to our objectives. We plan to discuss these questions sequentially over nine months through presentations, panels, and discussion forums. A key part of dialogue is listening to the perspectives of others and the subsequent reflection that may increase empathy and mutual understanding. We expect lively dialogue and debate of ideas.

The first two questions set the frame by asking, “What does it mean to be an evangelical Christian university?” and “What is distinctive about APU vis-à-vis other Christian universities?”

In Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education, David S. Dockery, Ph.D., president of Union University, suggests that Christian universities in the liberal arts tradition are distinct in purpose from other organizations. “Christian colleges and universities represent the academic division of the Kingdom enterprise” (p. 19). He distinguishes the Christian University from the Public College (separates faith from academics), the Bible College (prepares for church-related vocations using only Christian material), and the Private College (pluralistic approach without adherence to any faith heritage), and proceeds to clarify that “Christian universities are not local churches, social agencies, businesses, or missions-sending organizations. While connected to aspects of all of these, we are primarily and distinctively academic institutions” (p. 19). Building on this thought, the first two discussion questions will help us identify how we position Azusa Pacific University as a distinctively Christian academic institution.

The next series of questions considers the behavioral expectations for fulfilling our roles and responsibilities in light of our values. This involves exploring questions such as, “How do we understand faith integration at APU?”, “How do faculty, staff, and administrators maintain an active and growing faith while fulfilling their roles at APU?”, “How do faculty actively demonstrate faith integration in every course taught at APU?”, “How do faculty, staff, and administrators actively demonstrate discipleship outside the classroom?”, and “How do students achieve significant growth in their faith while at APU?”

Spiritual development in the undergraduate years is of particular interest for APU as an evangelical Christian university. Laurie Schreiner, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Doctoral Higher Education, summarizes the research in this area by indicating that students whose faith is most mature after graduation from a Council of Christian Colleges & Universities school had experienced one of three crises while in college: “(1) encountering different perspectives in the classroom, (2) encountering different persons through service-learning experiences, study abroad, or other cross-cultural experiences, or (3) experiencing a personal trauma (most often their parents’ divorce or a broken relationship of their own).” She makes recommendations for APU to consider as we discuss this issue, including the value of explaining our philosophy of faith integration explicitly, explaining classroom approaches to learning around controversial ideas, and providing faculty development regarding ways to appropriately facilitate student faith development. Her input will be part of our dialogue on these important issues.

Intended Outcome

Through this year-long dialogue and reaffirmation process, the board and president intend that faculty, staff, and administrators will find enhanced clarity and embrace full ownership regarding APU’s values and how they are evidenced in the way we fulfill our roles. We believe that open and candid discussion of the questions identified will reaffirm our core identity as an evangelical Christian university.

Looking to the future of Azusa Pacific University, this process will result in clarity of mission, commitment to shared values, and a common understanding of our purpose in the midst of a complex world.

Mark Stanton, Ph.D., ABPP, is acting provost and co-chair of the President’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Ethos and Values. mstanton@apu.edu

“At a time when many Christian institutions have moved away from their mission due to increased competition . . . research clearly validated how the university has stayed true to its core mission.”

Originally published in the Winter '10 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).