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Bethel Colleagues:

In the last hour, the Board of Trustees led a special Chapel for the Bethel community. I appreciate all of you who were able to join us. If you could not attend, I want to share with you now an announcement that was made.

For nearly 25 years, Barb and I have called Bethel home. We moved to Minnesota in 1995 when I started as provost at Bethel. In 2008, I became the fifth president of Bethel University. It has been an honor and a joy to serve in this role for more than 10 years. But the time has come for the next chapter in Bethel’s presidency to begin. In partnership with the Board of Trustees and with their full support, I am announcing my retirement, effective June 30, 2020.

As I reflect on my career, I am thankful to God that Barb has walked with me through the good times and the difficulties of life and work. We have tried to model partnership for our students and alumni as they prepare for work, for friendship, for marriage, and for service to others. In retirement, I look forward to the years ahead with Barb.

Serving Bethel for 25 Years

As I look back on my years at Bethel, I am thankful for those who have gone before us. Whatever has been accomplished during our time of leadership has been built on the foundation laid by people like Carl and Nancy Lundquist and George and Darleen Brushaber. Each leader in Bethel’s history has faced challenges—and each leader has been blessed to see the community working together through opportunities and needed changes.

I am thankful for the leadership opportunities I have had at Bethel and for the leadership teams of which I have been a part. As provost, I led the educational team of the college as we became three schools and navigated the shift from Bethel College and Bethel Seminary to Bethel University in 2004. We established the Edgren Scholars program that allows faculty and students to receive grant money for summer research projects. The program builds on the strength of Bethel’s faculty-student mentorships and provides continued support for research. We dramatically increased the number of students studying outside the U.S., making Bethel a national leader in study abroad programs.

During my presidency, we worked together to make important facility upgrades in business and economics, wellness, engineering, athletics, administrative offices, and post-traditional program space for Bethel Seminary, the Graduate School, and the College of Adult & Professional Studies at the Anderson Center. We worked with our trustees and others to make policy changes to allow Bethel faculty to compete for National Science Foundation (NSF) grants. The results: six NSF grants to date. While investing in the sciences and engineering has been important, reaffirming our Pietist heritage has been vital in graduating adventurous Christ-followers. We earned recognition as a university that gets more out of students than their entering qualifications would predict. Post-graduation surveys of our alumni consistently place Bethel ahead of our peer group in demonstrating that our approach to education produces the results that matter most in faith commitment, church involvement, leadership, and education. As a community, we have seen quality improvements in facilities, programs, faith expression, and national reputation.

I have seen many changes to Bethel’s enrollment during my 25 years. On the positive side, our graduate and post-traditional programs have grown substantially. Also, our community has become more diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, and ability. In 2014 we added two programs that have aided our cause: BUILD and Act Six. In addition, our percentage of students of color has increased from 9% in 2008 to 19% in 2018. I am thankful that Bethel’s student body better resembles the body of Christ.

During the same 10 years, Bethel has had to lean into the challenge of demographic changes. Fewer high school graduates have resulted in lower enrollment in our traditional undergraduate programs. At the same time, fewer church leaders are pursuing seminary education, which has led to a sharp decline in Bethel Seminary enrollment. These realities caused Bethel leaders to face hard decisions and resulted in fiscal challenges for the community as a whole.

Foundation for a Bright Future

Despite challenges, we remain committed to our mission to educate men and women for Christ and focused on our vision to become the Christ-centered university of choice for this century. I am confident that Bethel’s best days are yet to come.

  • We have strong and gifted educational leaders in each of our schools and highly competent administrative leaders who work well together.
  • We have talented faculty members who excel in teaching, research, and the faith-filled mentoring of students.
  • We have dedicated staff who serve our students, Bethel, and God in innovative ways.
  • We have evaluated our program offerings in all four schools and invested in new programs to ensure we have the right mix of offerings to drive future enrollment.
  • We have made difficult choices to trim our budget to create a sustainable financial model for Bethel.
  • We have strengthened our Student Life and athletics, and had success combining athletic excellence with academic achievement.
  • We have expanded Christian Formation and Church Relations to demonstrate our Christ-centeredness and excellence in educating and caring for our students.
  • We continue to elevate Bethel’s visibility regionally through the Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC) and the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), as well as nationally through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

Finishing Well

In the next 16 months I will work hard to finish well. Advancing and enhancing Bethel’s mission is in my heart—and I want to leave Bethel stronger than when I started. We must be unapologetically Christ-centered to produce unmatched results in our graduates. I see us do this best when we are unafraid to engage the world’s most challenging problems for God’s glory and our neighbors’ good. We must be willing to tackle the issues of the day with an educational approach that is engaging, winsome, and excellent. That calls for disciplined pursuit of the resources we need to expand our facilities so that they are as good as the people who teach and coach in them. It calls for continued commitment to an economic model that is right for this period in history. It includes having the right mix of programs rooted in a liberal arts way of thinking not only to draw students to Bethel, but also to launch them well into the world of work.

Barb and I have been blessed by our time at Bethel—and we look forward to celebrating the ways God is at work in our community over the time between now and June 30, 2020. We thank God for the privilege to be part of a team that helps students develop a bigger picture of who God is and a bigger picture of what God is calling them to be. Thanks for being partners with us as we wait to see God do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.”

Serving together,

Jay