| 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
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
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
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?
— BY PHILIP W. EATON, PRESIDENT
— PHOTO BY MIKE SIEGEL
Council for Christian Colleges and Universities
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.
September 9, 2003, Casey Conference
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
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,
President Eaton introduced faculty, staff and student
leaders to a new institutional planning initiative
called “A Blueprint for Excellence.” More...
September 30, 2003, SPU Campus
President Eaton spoke to the entire campus community,
asking the question, “Can Good Manners Really
Change the World?” More...
October 6, 2003, Washington, D.C.
8, 2003, Boston, Massachusetts
October 30, 2003, Portland,
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
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
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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