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Autumn 2003 | Volume 26, Number 4 | From the President
Is SPU a Waste of Money?

It’s Time for the American University to Define Its Purpose, Value and Influence

This fall, SPU President Eaton introduced a planning process called “A Blueprint for Excellence.” The Blueprint will set out ways in which Seattle Pacific can increase its influence and impact over the next 10 years.

LATELY I HAVE BEEN ASKING what I think is a very intriguing and challenging question: How can Seattle Pacific University achieve even greater influence and impact in the world? I suppose a whole string of questions immediately comes to mind: What or who exactly are we trying to influence? How does a university ever make an impact? Is this really an appropriate charge for a university, and should this be the primary focus of a Christian university?

The place of the university in American society is under severe scrutiny these days. We are challenged on so many fronts to more clearly define our value. What is a college education really worth? What is the value of faculty scholarship to the society in which we live? What economic impact does a university have on the surrounding community where it does its work?

Universities are told that we cost too much. We are often reminded that we teach the wrong things, that we’ve grown somehow self-focused, irresponsive to the pressing needs of our day. We should pay more attention to graduating people with skills in technology or engineering and less interested in what is perceived to be the waning value of the broad liberal arts. We are told that we have lost any kind of moral voice in the public square because we are paralyzed by the agendas of political correctness.

Recently, William Baldwin, editor of Forbes Magazine, published a column asking this question: “Is Yale a Waste of Money?” He makes the astonishing suggestion that just maybe our brightest young people could be better trained on the job. He lifts up Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard to pursue his passions, as the model for our time.

There are two ways we can respond to such suspicion about the value of the university. We can arrogantly turn our backs, continue to do our own thing, circle the wagons, believe that our perceived value will continue indefinitely. Or, we can step back and reexamine our purpose and our value, and seek again to influence and shape a culture and world gone frighteningly astray.

As you might imagine, I choose the second option. I think we live in a moment in time when the American university must reflect intensely about purpose, value and influence. But even more important, indeed my deepest conviction, is that a premier Christian university like Seattle Pacific ought to be at the leading edge of this renewal of purpose.

The purpose of a Christian university ought to begin right at the very heart of the pressing issues of our world. Our public schools are crumbling all around us, weakening one of the pillars of a democratic society. We continue to wrestle with racial tension, an enduring threat to healthy unity within our country. We witness ongoing violence in our cities and complex wars in too many places around the world. We anguish over breaches of integrity in business. We are rightly concerned about economic prosperity and yet need to know more about providing opportunity to those who feel no hope. We worry that strife between world religions will become a permanent source of ongoing bloody conflict. We worry about the consequences of broken families, despair and loneliness, and the loss of civil discourse. We are deeply disturbed about the loss of moral congruence, the sometimes alarming inability we have to sort out the difference between right and wrong.

Here is my point: I believe we should define the very purpose and defend the enduring value of a Christian university right at the heart of these urgent issues. Where else in our society will we engage in the kind of deep thinking these issues require? Where else are the voices that can lead us toward solutions and point us forward with hope? Who else is going to do the training of new leaders for a troubled and uncertain tomorrow? And if we believe, as I most certainly do, that the gospel of Jesus Christ shines its powerful light toward health and wholeness and hope, not only for our own lives, but also for the world in which we live, then who else is going to focus this light, with intellectual sophistication and wise insight, on the big issues with which we so desperately struggle?

This fall, all across the SPU campus, we launched a process we are calling “A Blueprint for Excellence.” This major planning initiative is driven by these questions of influence and impact. We are absolutely flourishing at SPU, and for that I am deeply grateful. I am grateful to our faculty and staff, our trustees, our donors and our alumni. I am grateful for the privilege of welcoming such extraordinary students into our midst and for the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

But the times require that we keep asking the question of influence and impact. This is the task we are tackling in the Blueprint initiative, and the driver behind this effort is our special calling to engage the culture and change the world.

In the months ahead, I want to write further in this column about the question of influence and impact. I would love to hear from readers of Response all around the world: What do you think about excellence, purpose and the value of a university? Specifically, what do you think about the special calling of Seattle Pacific University, this premier Christian university that now seeks to be a place of even greater influence and impact?


Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Board Meeting

July 27, 2003, Frisco, Colorado
President Eaton joined Wheaton College President Duane Litfin and Geneva College President Jack White in delivering a panel presentation on Christ-centered higher education.

Faculty Retreat
September 9, 2003, Casey Conference Center
President Eaton spoke to faculty on “Scholarship of Influence and Impact.” He discussed the call to scholarship produced by the faculty of a premier Christian university that is committed to engaging the culture and changing the world.

UW Chancellor’s Cabinet Retreat
September 16, 2003, University of Washington Bothell Campus
President Eaton was invited by UW Chancellor Warren Buck to speak to the Chancellor’s Cabinet on excellence and leadership in higher education.

State of the University Address
September 24, 2003, SPU Campus
President Eaton introduced faculty, staff and student leaders to a new institutional planning initiative called “A Blueprint for Excellence.” More...

Opening Convocation
September 30, 2003, SPU Campus
President Eaton spoke to the entire campus community, asking the question, “Can Good Manners Really Change the World?” More...

Regional Events
October 6, 2003, Washington, D.C.
October 8, 2003, Boston, Massachusetts
October 30, 2003, Portland, Oregon
President Eaton spoke to alumni, prospective students and their parents, friends and local community leaders about “The Big Choice: The Story of Higher Education Today.” He discussed SPU’s vision and current momentum, as well as the ongoing success of The Campaign for SPU.

Seattle Times Editorial
November 4, 2003
President Eaton took his question, “Can Good Manners Really Change the World?” to the region-wide readership of The Seattle Times. More...

What books does a university president read in his “spare” time? An avid reader, President Eaton’s choices are eclectic. Here are some samples, with Eaton’s comments:

Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. “An outstanding and very popular book on the practice of taking organizations toward greatness. How to have impatience with mediocrity.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, A Discussion of Christian Fellowship. “Bonhoeffer wrote this reflection as he felt the heat of Nazi oppression in Germany. He celebrates the great privilege of living in genuine Christian community and outlines the radical demands for healthy community.”

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Closing the Gap
In the final year of The Campaign for SPU, the University has strong momentum heading into the stretch. [Campaign]

A Record-Setting Autumn
SPU welcomed its largest and most academically prepared freshman class in Autumn Quarter 2003. [Campus]

Fighting for Family
The U.S. Marines asked Les and Leslie Parrott for help to strengthen the home life of soldiers returning from long Iraq deployments. [Faculty]

Creativity Takes Flight
Theatre graduate Sam Vance '96 is a man with the kind of vision needed by the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington. [Alumni]

Basketball Down Under
The men's basketball team took a journey to the other side of the world, and Assistant Coach Dan Barfoot shares his journal of the trip. [Athletics]

My Response
“Dear Time Capsule Openers,” wrote Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Congdon to SPU students, faculty and alumni in 2053. His letter is now in a time capsule in SPU's new Science Building.