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Presidential Inauguration

The President's Inauguration Address

Inauguration Address
November 10, 2013
President Gregg A. Chenoweth, Ph.D.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here. My special gratitude to the platform party — your involvement makes the day special.

My wife, Tammy, and children — Abbey, Allison and Aaron — also deserve attention today. I am not just a president; I am also a partner and parent. The full dimension of my life doesn’t just include that front row crowd; it requires them. But don’t feel too bad for my kids having to move to a new city, school and church. I bribed them. Really. They got some cool stuff out of the deal. Let’s just put that out there.

This investiture humbles me because I respect Bethel College, and learned over the past four months that she is universally held in high esteem across our community. She is ranked in the top 13 percent nationally within our category (source: U.S. News & World Report), and is one of just 100 colleges honored nationally for a stark commitment to character development (source: Templeton Foundation). The median pay for Bethel alumni is among the top 10 of Indiana’s 50 higher education institutions (source: PayScale). Her teams won 33 national championships, all while maintaining an unmistakable Christian identity. Bethel is a miracle off McKinley.

From this little crust of earth, heroes and heroines are shaped in every discipline. Bethel produced both the principal and superintendent of the year for the state of Indiana. The 2013 alumnus of the year is pediatric surgeon David Smith who is in the top 1 percent of his specialty across North America. A national leader in nanotechnology came from Bethel, along with the executive director of the largest Youth for Christ district in the nation, the chaplain of President Obama’s childhood elementary school, major league baseball pitchers Eric Stults and Justin Masterson, the lead in Broadway’s production of “South Pacific” and among others, Lynn Hybels who, with her husband, created one of the nation’s most flourishing ministries at Willow Creek Community Church.

For these reasons and more, I stand in front of a parade that was already moving before I arrived. I owe it to every student, every alumnus, every employee and every Bethel philanthropist to foster newheroes of our modern time.

There is no doubt our nation requires them. Futurists William Strauss and Neil Howe prophesied in their 1997 book “The Fourth Turning” that, “Right now, we have perhaps a dozen years (i.e. a forecast to 2009) to get ready. A sudden spark will catalyze a crisis mood. Political and economic trust will implode.  Somewhere between the mid-2000s and 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War and Great Depression.” Hmm. They’re not far off, are they?

Indeed, this is a time for heroes. I am not one. I am not a Messiah. That job is already filled, thank you, Lord! But I have an eye for heroes. We have some here, at Bethel. They’re the kind of people who aren’t poised for service. They’re coiled. And they’re only sprung by great causes.

Portuguese Conquest

Heroes differentiate between what is and what might be. It’s the difference between looking and seeing. Historian Niall Ferguson illustrates this in his book “Civilization.” Two leaders from two countries of the same era had different eyes.

First, Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty in 15th century China commissioned a crew of 28,000 sailors to “go to barbarian countries and confer presents on them to transform them by displaying our power.” He thought parading China’s inventions might curry favor. In some cases, it worked. The Sultan of Kenya was so impressed that he paid Yongle tribute by giving his delegation a giraffe. When Yongle received it, it confirmed his theory. He believed he was given a gift of surpassing value. He hailed it as the mythical unicorn. So, the international gift exchanged worked! Everybody had cool stuff to look at. “It’s good to be the King!”

Meanwhile, a few thousand miles away, King Manuel of Portugal had a different idea altogether. He put Vasco da Gama in command of four small ships. They weren’t to display inventions. They were to create one — new ports to establish trade where it never existed before. So when da Gama’s little fleet docked at Macau, China, — at that time an out-of-the-way wasteland with nothing to look at — the first thing he did was erect a gate which said, “Dread our greatness! Respect our virtue! The City of God in China.”

While we wouldn’t endorse all of da Gama’s methods — in fact, one historian said he liked to get his retaliation in first! — you have to give it to the guy. He saw something when there was nothing to look at. And it paid off. He would eventually string together trading posts from Lisbon, Africa, Arabia, India and, of course, China. It is not an overstatement: whether you look or see can change the trajectory of a nation, or an institution.

Bethel’s Grand Aspiration

As the new president, I look at all kinds of things. I look at reports, facilities, policies, credentials, all of it. But I am also trying to see. And I know we already have heroes here who also see.

So in August, I called all employees together and put before our community a Grand Aspiration which is not visible if you look for it. You have to see. How can we become a top five most influential Wesleyan college in America by our 75th anniversary in 2022? The question is not “Can we?” You might answer no, and the conversation is over. “How?” presumes we can, but confesses the need for a formula. These nine years pass swiftly, regardless of our attention or intention. While some overestimate what can be accomplished in one year, we don’t want to underestimate what we could do in nine. We should not pass time. We should attract God’s appointed time, His special commission. It was said of an Old Testament people who faced great odds, “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen the hearts of those fully committed to Him” (II Chronicles 16:9). God searches to favor people and institutions who want in on His agenda. I want Bethel to raise our hand. We desire a more prominent role in Christian higher education, and a deeper influence on every constituent God gives us.

So we named a 25-member panel of faculty, staff, students and community members to facilitate a response to this Grand Aspiration. They surveyed hundreds of people, conducted focus groups, met twice per month and suggested some priorities which chase this Grand Aspiration. These ideas were vetted by the cabinet of vice presidents and the board of trustees. In a minute I will share the proposed priorities. They are right for us if they are life-giving, not law-giving; if they inspire adoption rather than are received as announcement; if they possess enough power to get us up morning after morning, on a long, virtuous walk together. The early report is these priorities meet those conditions. But, we’ll see. I think they will because in large part they have been harvested from the hearts of our own people.

The priorities are intentionally phrased so all of us can serve all of them. If it seems strange that academics isn’t listed as a priority for a college, listen a little more closely and you’ll realize how academic concerns are represented in all the priorities.

The key, of course, isn’t to name priorities, but to execute them well. So, today is a pivot point. Next week, our 50 supervisors meet to begin a process of translating these priorities into specific strategies across the entire college, and design scorecards which help us all track progress. We’ll have all that put together by January.

Priorities

Here are the priorities we’ll chase from 2014-2018. We believe they are the best return on our energy:

G - Grow

First, we did some review with the key leadership and actual Bethel staff on the front lines. We think we can Grow by 1,000 students in unduplicated headcount by 2018: 200 traditional students, and 800 adult and graduate students. To be clear, we have 1,800 now. We want 2,800 in fall 2018. Accomplishing that moves Bethel from #18 of the 30 Wesleyan colleges in America to #8 in five years.

The key fact in this priority is higher education is still a growth industry, but is challenged by how it is delivered. The key value in this priority is we can’t influence students we don’t have, so we may need to take them a la carte, in different formats or modes than ever before. Any Bethel influence is good for students.

You could say that we already wanted to grow by that order of magnitude. What is different now? We can start to do some things we’ve neglected which already works for other institutions, and do some things almost nobody does. Part of the way forward is this: don’t compete. Find some things few do.

For example, I am happy to announce today an intercampus partnership called 2CU (two campuses, one focus — you!) to begin with transfer students in January, but operate in full force for fall 2014.This provides a full-time, residential college experience here at Bethel for around $5,000 out-of-pocket for the entire year! The program is reserved for families with the greatest financial challenge, as determined by their FAFSA formula with the federal government. You heard that, right? Bethel is making a bold move to address cost challenges for impoverished families. I suspect this move might unlock additional ideas of magnitude once our supervisors begin meeting.

I am also happy to announce today new degree features by February in our adult programs online: one in health care administration, nonprofit leadership, human resource management, organizational leadership and a new MBA online.

We have another variety of things in play: industry embedded locations, certificates not just degrees, responding to available minority groups and first-generation students, multiplying JV sports which don’t require new facilities and more.

Here is a basic question: When we accomplish this priority, can you say we moved substantially toward the Grand Aspiration of becoming a top five most influential Wesleyan college in America? I believe the unqualified answer is yes. The key is to ask ourselves “How?” not “Can we?”

R – Revival

We perpetuate conditions for a spiritual Revival so authentic it ripples across the region. The key fact of this priority is our revival — one marked by repentance, something beyond an intellectualized awareness of God’s omnipresence and toward His manifest presence, fervent obedience, a fresh corporate zeal — that kind of revival cannot be organized. It is a work of God alone. But the remaining fact is revival is frequent among the young and the expectant.

In his book “The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever,” Elmer Towns says a great tool for revival is just retelling the past works of God to rekindle our expectation that He’ll move upon us again! The pervasive mood of alarm and despair in our culture must be answered by a people truly in touch with and touched by God.  We can’t cause revival, but we can set our sail to catch the wind from heaven when God decides to blow!

The key value in this priority is if we can’t succeed in this area, but succeed in all others, we haven’t really succeeded at all. You can climb a ladder of success, but reach the top to realize it leans on the wrong building. The world doesn’t need another state university. Let’s be an authentic, truth-in-advertising, Christian institution which practices and experiences what others rarely do. Let me put it plainly: We want revival at Bethel College to be glorious, messy and frequent!

Guess what? It happened just 11 days ago! We had a two-and-a-half-hour chapel service. About 150 students bull-rushed the altar in communion with God and each other. The number was so great they had to sit on the floor up every isle, all the way to the back. And just when you thought the service ended, 100 remained for another hour in testimony, singing and encouragement. Now, when was the last time you heard of that happening at a college, even at a Christian college, or even a church?

There are habits in place which produce it. Students already volunteer in the “prayer pit,” the orchestra pit, during chapel. Just this weekend, our faculty, staff and students conducted a “Scripture 66” exercise, reading entirely through the Bible aloud in a couple of days. Every Wednesday we have a fasting and prayer group of faculty and staff meet in the log chapel to call upon God. And get this: every semester, several students from other schools in town call to say they heard about our chapel and ask if they can attend. Of course they can!

Here is a basic question: When we accomplish this priority, can you say we have moved toward the Grand Aspiration? I believe the unqualified answer is yes.

E – Encore

We earn an Encore. We become an encore people, serving constituents and each other with such deep and consistent quality that those affected by it are surprised and want more. The key value of this priority is don’t desire this for self-esteem or even competitive prowess in the marketplace. We prioritize this because we work as unto the Lord in all things!

The key fact of this priority is we have a strong freshman-to-sophomore retention rate: 83 percent. That is the envy of many colleges! But another fact is our people agree at high levels — through a recent, anonymous survey — that while there is high loyalty to Bethel, our performance is quite uneven across the college.

So, the first step in earning an encore is defining what we expect from ourselves. This priority requires a substantial personnel development agenda, a robust annual review and reward system and scorecards on our progress.

We can sustain our valued “Christian family” culture while thinking like a new kind of family, a Ringling Brothers kind of family, which while connected in rich rapport is also obsessed with quality. In fact, Time Magazine once named Bello Nock of the Ringling Brothers “America’s Best Clown.” He is considered “a cross between Evel Knievel and Jackie Chan on the daredevil side, and Harpo Marx and Jim Carrey on the comedian side” (Christian Examiner, July 2011).

The man portraying that clown and his spouse are Christians. Their pastor in Florida says they are “first of all, professional. They are in the Guinness Book of World Records. … (but) they use their platform for ministry and they are a big witness.”

I like our family culture. But I also know you don’t have to sacrifice Guinness World Records for that. We tell ourselves, every day, the curtain comes up at 8 a.m. and the most important people in the world drive on our campus, call our phones, read our literature, attend our events and hear our lectures.

For example, we earn an encore when teaching a laboratory. A student thought they would just work through the lab guide or textbook, but a professor surprises them with a lab guest, a surgeon from across town, or a hands-on field trip, or an experimental technique.

For example, we earn an encore when hosting prospective students on campus. We work in elements to the standard visit which surprises them. What if we said we wanted all our prospective families to rank us among their top two college visits, such that students refuse us only on programs we don’t have — never for other reasons?

Besides benefit to those we serve, a byproduct from earning encores is Bethel attracts and retains high-morale, high-performing employees. Bethel should be credentialed as a “Best Christian Workplace.” We have a method for that.

Here is a basic question: When we accomplish this priority, can you say we have moved toward the Grand Aspiration? I believe the unqualified answer is yes.

A – Aesthetics

Campus Aesthetics reflect our best self. The key fact of this priority is architects Philip Johnson and Adolf Loos say our spaces shelter us, even cuddle us, they exalt and stimulate, and they arouse sentiments in those served by them. Research links these aesthetic concerns with student achievement and employee performance. Look and feel matters! But the other unfortunate fact is that last year, 62 cents on every dollar spent on college facilities across America were on stuff that isn’t very fun, but is necessary — windows, roofs, boilers (Deferred Maintenance Piles Up, Scott Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 6, 2013). This happens now because more square footage was built on American campuses in the 1970s than any other era. Our campuses are in an age cycle. Even with well-funded and diligently-delivered physical plant services, more of America’s energy has to be spent on invisible operations rather than the fun stuff. A walk around Bethel illustrates we are 66 years old.

The key value of this priority is while “spectacular” beauty, style and taste is an elusive standard, we can commit to eliminate every reason under our control which diminishes our influence. We can do better.  Even with more adult programming on the horizon, including online education, we must still fight for our campus through a series of distributive projects. And this is not just a concern for physical plant staff. There is a grace and beauty, an elegance sometimes achieved, sometimes not, in offices, presentations, events, apparel, and all sorts of other moments which reflect our stature.

However, it doesn’t always require the scale of funds you think. We are an urban-situated campus with many resources already under our nose. I am happy to announce that effective last Friday, Bethel entered a facility partnership with the Kroc Center in South Bend. This two-year-old $40 million facility is now available to all students, faculty and staff free of charge, offering a three-lane lap pool, hot tub for 20, a lazy river, recording studio, gaming room, art studio, state-of-the-art fitness equipment, two new basketball courts, a climbing wall and more. How long would it have taken Bethel to raise $40 million to build our own center? No need. Our community already has it. And students are using it today.

As long as we exist, there will always be a constituency for residential education. Our aesthetics matter because people “fire” us on such variables before we even know it.

Here is a basic question: When we accomplish this priority, can you say we have moved toward the Grand Aspiration? I believe the unqualified answer is yes.

T – Testify

Testify to who we are and what we accomplish. The key fact of this priority is Bethel is well-regarded, but not well-known. Many call us a “hidden gem” … which shouldn’t be hidden! The key value of this priority is Christian humility prevents boasting, but Christian witness invites testimony. We cannot extend our influence by hiding it under a bushel, oh no! We want exponentially more people to know what God accomplishes here. As the Apostle Paul said, “They praised God because of me” (Gal. 1:24)! Bethel’s success matters. We are of immense benefit to our community, region and world. We are a solution to the nation’s need. Everyone should know it.

Part of who we are is to be more self-consciously Wesleyan in our thinking. We are a member of a Wesleyan movement which not only emphasizes an ecumenical, optimistic theology about God’s plans for humanity, but happened to also produce some of the largest Christian colleges in the nation. Our theological identity is a good thing — a resource, not a restraint. Also, our affiliation with the Missionary Church deserves some attention. I proposed several forms of service by Bethel to the denomination, which has been received with warm endorsement.

Bethel’s influence cannot extend without a heartier investment in marketing, advertising, public relations, social media, our website and any other tools to convey what God is accomplishing among us. In fact, a great sign of life was four television stations present during our dedication services two weeks ago of Bridges Hall. But a broader testimony also requires a deeper commitment by our own people to share good news when we have it, produce it where we don’t.

Here is a basic question: When we accomplish this priority, can you say we have moved toward the Grand Aspiration? I believe the unqualified answer is yes.

Conclusion

You just heard five priorities. They are compass points, a direction to walk. Beginning next week, our supervisors start charting a map, the strategies, and plug in a GPS, the metrics.

It all comes down to one thought. If anyone asks you on the street or by email or on Twitter what Bethel is up to, tell them this: “They decided to be G.R.E.A.T.!” That’s the big project for 2014-2018. Surely, God already emanated His glory here. But surely we can be greater! As the Jesuits say, “ad majorem dei glorium” — for the greater glory of God.

Of course, you can’t look at this greatness. Not yet. You need a little Vasco da Gama in you. We owe each other a ministry of imagination — hopeful, yet grounded talk which practices the presence of God in our time.

If you have trouble seeing, and want to learn to see, look back. The Proverbs 31 woman of noble character literally laughed at the future. She didn’t fear it. How? Because of her extraordinary confidence in the God who holds the future. Albert and Stanley Taylor’s 19th century log chapel stands on campus as a memorial to the church-college marriage. Remember how Stanley, that preacher’s kid, earned a doctorate then gave a half century to this place. Look also at a photo in my office of Woodrow Goodman, Bethel’s first president, at the time the youngest college president in the country, age 26. He holds architectural plans in his hands in 1947, and gazes back at me. We look at the photo of Marcus Krake in our conference room, Bethel’s first graduate. His diploma might never have been delivered if we hadn’t been “transfer friendly” to a late-20s military man with credits from another school. He may not have started here, but his finish is discussed even today, 66 years later.

What would these figures fairly expect of us during this “crisis mood” pervading our country? Perhaps they would not whisper to us. They might not even shout. For some reason, I think they would sing — sing hymns of purpose and triumph.

Charles Wesley sang it 250 years ago, and it’s still true:

A charge to keep I have, A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save, And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age, My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage To do my Master’s will!

Do you see what I see?