Jon R. Wallace, DBA, President
Good morning. That Saving Private Ryan clip draws its inspiration from a famous and historically true story that occurred during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln even wrote to Mrs. Bixby, who lost all of her sons except one in that bitter conflict. In this adaptation, Mrs. Ryan loses three of her four sons. The lead character, played by Tom Hanks, is Captain Miller. And just before the scene you saw, the movie reaches a critical ending point, when Captain Miller lay dying on a bridge. The Ranger Battalion commissioned to go and find Private Ryan, played by Matt Damon, completed their mission, but many in that dedicated group sacrificed their own lives to bring home Mrs. Ryan’s last living son. And in that pivotal scene, Captain Miller says to private Ryan with his last breath, “Earn this.”
Our University Passage this year, Ephesians 4, challenges us similarly. I love the way Paul begins that gearshift in the book of Ephesians to explain and describe the community of faith. He says, “As a prisoner of Jesus Christ, I, therefore, urge you to live a life worthy of your calling.”
Following those important words, the scene changes, and now an older Private Ryan returns for the first time to the graveyard in Normandy. He stands in front of the cross, the marker for Captain Miller, and he wants to know, did he do it? Did he earn it? Did his life matter? He asks his wife, “Am I a good man?”
So what I want to talk about today is us—this community of disciples and scholars equipping a generation of difference makers to embrace God’s call. Because honestly, I think the qualifications of how we understand work and our calling are really important. You see, I think that whole shift happens for the Christfollower who understands that our worth is defined by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—His death, His resurrection, and His promised return. We stand looking at our calling, a calling to live a life worthy. And a life worthy is one that reflects the value that God placed in us—the value of His only Son. To live a life worthy is to live in community in such a way that others see Jesus in us or to roughly quote Dallas Willard, “to live in the skin as if Jesus were living in our bodies to others.” How would Jesus live in this community? That’s living a worthy life. So we’re going to drill down on that a bit. But as is our Kickoff tradition, we’re also going to talk about where we’re headed this year.
When Laura Palusso pulled this day together, she said, “Hey, let’s have people come up the steps this morning and let’s see that quote from Dr. Haggard.” I love those inspirational words from Dr. Haggard who served as president from 1939−75. That’s 36 years! He said every year, “Welcome to the greatest year in the history of Azusa Pacific. I am convinced that this year will be more exciting, more challenging, more rewarding than we can even imagine at this point, because we who participate in it, will be making history.” And I think that’s true today. I absolutely believe that we are aligned in a way that positions us to experience the greatest year in the history of the university because we will do it for the glory and honor of Jesus, for our Christ-centered mission, and for the purpose of higher Christian education.
When you came in, we gave you a journal. And that was really intentional because I think you can use it in powerful ways throughout the year. Speaking of journals, did you know My Utmost for His Highest is actually not written by Oswald Chambers? His wife penned it. As a matter of fact, on the inside cover you’ll find the initials “B.C.,” which stand for Biddy Chambers, Oswald’s nickname for his wife. During his years of teaching and preaching, Biddy sat in the front row, and as a former court recorder, she took shorthand notes of everything he said. Then she captured them in a journal. There are 30 books with him listed as author. He wrote one of them. Biddy wrote 29, all after his death, all from her journals, because she was attuned to the fact that there was some really good stuff going on and she needed to capture those important reflections. As a result, we have arguably one of the greatest devotionals ever written. I suspect many of us have even created a screensaver with wise words from that book. It’s also on our bookshelves, highlighted and marked.
Many of you are familiar as well with Ann Voskamp and her One Thousand Gifts. Ann journals on gratitude for 1,000 days, and then writes about it, accompanied by some great Bible studies. In our family, this book has significantly impacted how we view the world.
I know many in this room journal as a part of your discipline, whether daily or weekly. Our board chair, Peggy Campbell, actually has a 10-year journal, with a line or two entered every day, accumulated over those years. Think about that! She can pull up March 3 within that decade and see what happened on that exact day for each of those 10 consecutive years. It’s a pretty powerful deal. As you may know, she team teaches a business ethics senior seminar class with me. At the end of the semester, she gives each student a journal to encourage them to capture their thoughts.
Mother Teresa, whose death in 1997 was a significant milestone for the faith community, used her journal to wrestle with big questions and concerns. August 26 marked the 103 we know about this dedicated Christ-follower who struggled with doubt and uncertainty, yet in obedience set her trajectory toward making a difference and meeting her calling, is found in the pages of her journals available to us after her death. Take Susanna Wesley—the mother of John and Charles—as another example. In her journals, we get this amazing picture of someone whom many call the Mother of Methodism. She really redefined how we understand who we are within the community. And it’s really from her journals that we glean some pretty significant understanding.
So this is my journal. I don’t know if like Biddy Chambers, you’ll use your journal to capture compelling thoughts. I don’t know if like Ann Voskamp you will be encouraged to write comments of gratitude because I really think that that defines a community. There are two kinds of people in the world—those that are thankful and those that aren’t. Maybe like Mother Teresa, your journal is a place to write down questions around your faith or your doubts about your journey. I love that quote from Martin Luther that says, “God honors honest doubt more than all the praises of all the angels.” I think he understood that doubt is a part of our journey. Maybe like Susanna Wesley, your journal will become a prayer record. Her journals are an account of countless hours spent in prayer with meticulous details about those she was praying for and what she asked of God.
I am asking that the journal become a tool for this year and your work at APU. Perhaps you see something that could be improved, or maybe there’s a reflection around how you do your job or, in all grace, how somebody else does their job. I’m asking that you reserve part of this journal for your thoughts and ideas about how the university could be better and that you record them. For some, by virtue of your position, this may be easier to accomplish than for others. But I want everyone to figure it out because everyone’s insights matter. I would love for this to be a community of people interested in opportunities for growth and searching for meaning and purpose. And often these arise in the act of reflection.
We also are honored to have a very special guest with us: Jeffrey Selingo. Jeff is editor-at-large at the Chronicle for Higher Education and author of College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. He’s a top authority on education worldwide and will lead us in an important conversation after our Kickoff. Jeff, I am so glad you are here.
Let’s talk about some summer highlights. Summer Commencement took place July 26. Almost 600 graduates walked across the stage, culminating their academic journey at APU. Steve Mays, one of our respected and recognized graduates from the School of Theology, spoke at both the undergraduate and graduate.
There were some really impressive campus improvements. I actually sent a note to Jim Christl, who led the Kresge Plaza renovation, asking for before-and-after descriptions. Here are his “before” words: Stark. Concrete. Hot. Glare. Dead. I thought “dead” was a bit harsh myself. Here are his “after” words: Oasis. Quiet. Inviting. Alive. Restful.
And I think he’s right and want to thank Jim and those who accomplished that significant upgrade. As a university that values community having such vital space for people to connect is a big deal. I think it’s also a great example of donor-funded projects that help move us forward. So my thanks, too, to David Bixby and the Advancement team for raising money.
Adams Hall, built in the early ’70s, now boasts three floors of new bathrooms. I know our students will be pleased. When you drive by Bowles, look at the color. Smart people did not ask my opinion on those colors, but it sure looks good.
I attended the dedication of the Murrieta Regional Center. What an amazing improvement—17 smart classrooms, conference rooms, faculty and staff offices, student lounges with wireless Internet access. You know we are committed to providing opportunities for access and growth beyond the Azusa campus and our regional centers are really strategic to that. The Murrieta upgrade reflects that objective, accomplished for a great price in a fantastic area.
We also acquired a lease on a building in Monrovia that is being used primarily for nursing. Aja Lesh, our dean of the School of Nursing, is running at about 110 miles an hour and has already filled that site to capacity. What a great example of how we might use real estate assets and lease arrangements in a way that extends the Christ-centered mission of the campus!
I want to talk a little bit about summer missions, too. I love that in the year-in-review video we identified two mission projects related to graduate students, faculty, and scholarship. We also sent 39 undergraduate teams, consisting of more than 270 students. Among those was a team of seven students who traveled to an East Asian country. Pull Matt Browning aside and he will tell you that probably that team defined summer missions for us in a brand-new way. Their assignment was to be on major university campuses and jump into lifestyle evangelism. God showed up in powerful ways—our undergraduates earned the right to talk about seminal questions that point to the trajectory of their faith. And they came back with amazing stories and I expect that next summer will produce more. The second one involved a feeding team in Tanzania. A group of our students worked with an organization that one of the parents connected us to. Our students put together feeding kits and then travelled to remote villages, places that others typically don’t make it to, to distribute them. They brought critical food supplies to the abject poor and the experience was absolutely transformational. These two ventures exemplify our rich summer mission experience, one that defines the mission of the university.
As you know, our fiscal year ended on June 30. We had a strong push to end the year positive. To Bob Johansen, John Reynolds, their teams, and community members who helped us achieve that goal, big thanks. I believe this was the strongest financial year in the last five. We have finally come out of that place where we were chasing our tail because of the significant financial strain of the whole country. Here are just a few financial highlights: swap liability down $7.9 million; net assets increased almost $10.2 million; $2.5 million in debt reduction; and $6.5 million in reserves. This was one of our most significant goals and we got there. Thank you very much for accomplishing this.
Two years ago the Board of Trustees asked me to think about the future of higher education and its influence on the mission of Azusa Pacific. In other words, where would the university be a decade from now? What are those things that we would want define us? What would move us forward? What would be our initiatives that advance our mission? Our Shared Vision 2022 emerged as the result, with four areas of focus, four “doors.” In 2011, we declared that the Christ-centered mission of this university would remain strong and intact, so we claimed Mission as a critical piece. We said the Academic Reputation of this university must be strong and resilient because that standing places value on the diplomas of our alumni and attracts world-class faculty and students to our institution.
We also said we also wanted to be a community where People are valued, employees and neighbors alike, and that our organization would model Financial Excellence. Our goals will be under each one of those four doors.
Let’s begin with the door of Mission. Looking through that lens, there is a goal around two aspects of senior leadership. Please pray for three open board positions. The men and women who comprise our board and lead this university are absolutely strategic to us. Our board structure requires, however, that individuals serve for a set number of years and then step away for at least a year. Consequently, board rotation produced three openings this year. We want to add at least one board member who has expertise in Christian higher I want to talk a little bit about summer missions, too. I love that in the year-in-review video we education. We think we need a voice that helps us have a meaningful and robust conversation around that critical topic. Dr. Bixby and I would love to have recommendations from members of our academy on people who might serve in this capacity. We seek Christ-centered women and men to join our board, committed to their purpose, who can speak into our academic areas.
In addition, we have two dean openings, one in the School of Business and Management and the other in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I want to give Dr. Mark Stanton, our provost, significant kudos on this. His team is strong and resilient and prepared to advance these important searches this fall. David Weeks, who spent 17 years as CLAS dean, transitions to our new Honors College, a critical undertaking for our academy. Pray we find, identify, and select the right senior leaders for our board and academic units.
Second, the board will focus on two important conversations at our next meeting on September 26 and 27. The first involves how we consider the delivery of the APU mission to nontraditional students. Not that typical 18- to 21-year-old, but that student who is at a different life place: the adult student, the graduate student, the student that looks for education delivered in a nontraditional method. This significant conversation comes closely on the heels of the success we are seeing in Azusa Pacific Online University. But the board needs to have a considerable dialogue around what that will look like organizationally moving forward. I am really encouraged by this. There’s also a conservative goal to increase all nontraditional enrollments by five percent this year.
The second conversation responds to and supports what Jeff Selingo will address later today. At the January meeting, the board said to me, “Jon, we are really concerned about what we see in higher education and we would like you and your team to look at the opportunities and threats and come back with a plan.” They challenged me to answer the following: What are the academic programs that traditional undergraduate students want? What are they willing to pay for that?
Let’s look at the last 10 years. The consumer price index increased 24 percent. The APU undergraduate tuition increased 63 percent. The 2003 tuition was $19, 244. This year, it is $31,416. That’s a significant increase. Now consider the discount rate. In other words, the amount we planned to intentionally reduce so we can continue to competitively recruit students and make that undergraduate experience affordable. This discount rate went from 21.1 percent to 33.4 percent over the last decade. The average student loan debt—the amount of money they leave owing—went from $14,500 to $23,000. I think the national average for private institutions our size is $26,000.
In 2007, we moved the discount rate to make ourselves more affordable. This decision exemplified three goals. We sought to enhance the academic standing, academic quality, and academic qualifications of the incoming class. We aimed to expand the applicant pool and maintain healthy enrollments, even grow them. And we wanted to broaden and deepen our diversity. We want Azusa Pacific to reflect the church of Los Angeles, of the greater Los Angeles area, replete with 130 cultures and 130 languages. Since 2007, SAT scores rose by 27 points. Undergraduate enrollments have increased by 1,700, primarily through moderate growth in the freshman class and significant growth in transfer students. The real gain occurred in retention, which is great news for us. And that third goal, the percent of non-white students who comprised the incoming class in 2007 was 35 percent—by the way about seven years before that it was roughly 19 percent. This semester, for the first time in university history, the traditional undergraduate incoming class is more than 50 percent diverse. In fact, it is just over 51 percent.
Now let me just pause here a minute. I’m a student of the church. I love the church. But what church is not already wrestling with this reality? What church isn’t trying to figure out how embrace the neighborhood God placed them in, with major demographic shifts, and lean into their mission while meeting the needs of cross-cultural communities? I am so encouraged that APU’s Christ-centered mission remains strong and firm and we are becoming a recognized place for cultures and communities that previously weren’t a part of who we are. Together, we will move forward missionally on the back of excellence in Christian higher education because we exist in East Los Angeles. That is a big deal for us, largely made possible through the discount rate.
People also want to know about loan default rates. We assessed APU’s rate compared to the national average in 2003 and 2013. That snapshot revealed slight improvement for APU since 2003. But look at the national average. When people talk about the bubble in student loans, here’s the reality: more and more students and their families are taking on debt, and because of the weakness in our economy, less and less are able to repay it. This poses a significant issue as we think about advancing our mission with more and more financing their APU journey through student loans.
Just this week, President Obama shared his perspective about the future of higher education. I happen to agree with almost everything he said, as do many college presidents across the country as list-serve discussions I’m part of confirm. We may not necessarily agree with the President’s solutions for each challenge, but we do absolutely agree that he is reading the landscape. The President proposed a new rating system. This system will include Azusa Pacific and any other institution that receives federal funds. The new approach brings tougher standards and requirements for student aid based on a rating system that measures outcomes. The President spoke about incentives to innovate in areas of cost and quality. It is probably about time. I think you would agree with me higher education is probably the last bastion of disruptive innovation in our country today—probably in the world. Students and families are asking, “What is it I’m going to learn and how do those specific skills and knowledge bases help me move into the future?” And that is that competency-based conversation the board is going to have around, centered around that very question. What are the programs that students and families want and what are they willing to pay for it?
Moving on to Academic Reputation goals: Provost Mark Stanton commissioned almost a dozen task forces to bring back recommendations. With those recommendations in hand, we move to implementation. I’m thrilled with the progress thus far. We’re also going to look at the new curriculum and recruitment strategy for the Honors College. David Weeks is literally buzzing with strategy and innovative ideas. I don’t think we could have a better dean for this endeavor. Some have remarked, “You talk about all this nontraditional stuff, about innovation. Then why are we doing an honors college? That seems terribly traditional.” Well, let me tell you why—we need to. The journey of a gifted student through the traditional undergraduate program demands that kind of focus. We have the leadership in place. We have the opportunity to do something that will significantly increase our academic reputation and to do so without infringing on our ability to innovate in other areas. I’m deeply grateful for David’s leadership.
Our goals under People include beta testing a leadership development program for employees. This step emerges from our discussions last year about developing a curriculum. Since then, a group of has been meeting to explore how to bring this objective to fruition. Now we are ready to test the concept. We embarked on this project because we are interested in your journey. We’re interested in developing men and women who move into the leadership God called them to express.
The second goal involving the door of People centers around our alumni. I am deeply grateful to Craig Wallace, executive director of alumni and parent relations, and his staff, and believe we have made remarkable progress. Now as we think about the future of higher education, discussion about meeting the needs of our alumni related to internships and job placement and on-going dialogue of how we stay connected over a lifetime intensifies. To expand this robust conversation, I’m going to pull together a task force to grapple with how our value for alumni moves to a strategic consideration central to most of what we do. I want to get this university to a place where we can make a promise to a student who enters that stays with them for the rest of their life. To do that effectively, we have to begin to think about the journey of students beyond their time and consider their experience as alumni as well. Why wouldn’t we do that?
Today when you leave, as an expression of our appreciation for this community, you’re going to get one of these: a season pass worth $50. This family pass gives you a chance to come and visit our athletic events. Our athletic director, Gary Pine, and his team will follow this up with an email that describes a few ground related to use of this card. We need to follow NCAA rules about how you invite potential athletes on to campus and know you want to be aware so you can help us adhere to the policy. Please come and take advantage of the fact that we have one of the finest athletic programs anywhere with outstanding coaches and students athletes.
Under Financial Excellence, this year we intend to establish a zero-based budget for 2014−15. Let me explain what a zero-based budget entails. This approach mirrors what you do at home when you look at where all your checks are going and make sure that spending aligns with where you want to spend your money. A zero-based budget means we will revisit all income and expenditure lines and make sure that we are lined up missionally. It’s an act of stewardship. This year, those who manage budgets will go through a process of revisiting how we spend dollars in every category, so that next year, when we implement a budget it is dialed in tightly to the goals and objectives we have agreed to as a community, we’re ready. This is a really big deal.
In addition, we’re going to have the same goal as last year for a $9 million debt reduction and reserves. In 2016, we have an opportunity to take a bunch of debt off the table and we have been saving towards that. So far, we have set aside $24 million toward this goal of reducing $52 million in debt. Over the next three years, we want to set aside another $28 million. Our budget calls for $9 million annually, which means we will need to consider a $1 million of additional savings. So this is an act of great stewardship and budgeting. That’s why we’re doing the $9 million each year. We want to get to 2016 and really improve the university’s financial condition.
Alright, let’s land this plane. We want to be a city on a hill. We want to be that place that reflects excellence because we serve an excellent God. And we looked at the words of Jesus when He points to that city and He said, “You’re that light. You’re the city on a hill.” Hearing Ephesians 4:1 this morning got me thinking about the fact that everybody in this room, each one of us, went through an interview process to be hired at APU. Do you remember that? I was in a bunch of them with you if you were part of the faculty or senior leadership. I remember the questions we asked. In fact, Mark Stanton and I did an interview for a great faculty member in the School of Nursing yesterday. One of those questions we posed was why APU? Why do you want to work here? I remember collective answers. I remember people coming to APU from other institutions who said APU’s mission matches their mission, because God called them. You see, I think this is a great picture of who we want to be and we are ideally situated because God brought people with bright lights into our city.
I love that the video we showed today included a clip of the candela held for new students, freshman and transfer, where we ask everyone to raise their candle. I love that image. That’s us. But what does it mean to revisit your commitment, your call to APU? I was out in the physical plant the other day looking at a real cool project we’re going to introduce on Friday evening to the new students. And I was thanking one of the blue shirts. It was a hot day, perhaps 100 degrees, and I said “Man, thank you for working in the heat all day today.” And this fellow turned around, looked at me, and he said, “Hey, thank you for giving me a job.” I know it’s been a tough job market, and I don’t know about you, but I for one am actually thankful for that paycheck that comes. But let’s not get this junked up. If that check is the primary reason that you’re sitting in this room today, you’re in the wrong room. If that’s my primary reason, I’m in the wrong room. See, we are called. We are called to be part of something absolutely transformational. It’s different. It’s Christ-centered. And unlike Saving Private Ryan, it’s not something we earned. It was something given to us by the grace of God. And our obedience springs from a response to that grace.
Faculty, please stand. And I want to talk to the people who are sitting. Look at those standing. You know what I love about our traditions here—we aren’t a hierarchical place. And we work pretty hard to maintain value of and appreciation for all in our community. But our faculty is why students and parents choose APU—because we’re an academic place. Every day I come to work I think about how I can serve this faculty, this remarkable world-class group of men and women who accomplish in their scholarship and in the classroom faith integration in the delivery of their discipline. If that doesn’t happen, we don’t need to be here. Agreed? So to those of you sitting down, I ask you to find a way to serve this faculty, even if it’s simply to write a note of thanks or offer a greeting in the parking lot. Have you seen faculty members with the wheelie carting heavy boxes? I’ve always wondered if they do that for every class. You know what? Some do. And some park on the other side of the drive-in just to get to their class. I want us as staff to find a God-honoring way to show preference to this faculty. I’m asking that of you as your president. If we can do that, we will bring definition to what makes this community special. Faculty, please sit down.
Staff, would you stand? It’s interesting that across higher education in bricks and mortar institutions, staff outnumber faculty. The delivery of this unique form of higher education accomplished with our Christian mission requires a lot of people. Once again, I want to talk to the people sitting down. I want to talk to the faculty. Would you look at this staff standing around you? They recruit students and retain students. They talk to angry parents and broken-hearted parents who don’t know where the next payment is coming from. They type our syllabi, they sweep the parking lots, they mow the lawns, they prepare the meals, they build and serve the infrastructure that has helped us be on the cutting edge technologically. They deliver the chapel programs that are second to none. They organize and maintain discipleship programs that in their unique contribution, makes a difference in the same way faith integration in the classroom makes a difference. Faculty, I’m asking that in the next 12 months you find a way to appreciate this staff. I’m asking that you thank them and express a heart of gratitude because if we can do that as faculty to staff we will be different than almost every college or university out there today. Agreed? Okay, sit down.
This is my vision for community at APU. What would it mean to live a life worthy of your call? It would first show up in how we treat each other. And it would show up so our students would see it.
University Choir and Orchestra, thank you for giving up your morning. I know it has been a crazy week with choir camp and rehearsal. Thank you for giving us this gift. Please stay until we’re done, because in a few minutes, our board chair, Peggy Campbell, is going to commission us and dedicate this faculty and staff for the year. I want you guys to be here, see it, and be a part of it.
Thank you for your service. Thank you for your commitment. Thank you for your calling. Shalom. Go with God.