College presidents play many roles and engage in many activities ranging from fundraising to strategy to community relations and beyond. Student body populations are increasingly diverse and the actions of administration and faculty are increasingly under the watchful eye of the public. All of this is to say that the job of a Christian college president is complex and demanding, while crucial for the short-term success and long-term viability of the institution. With this issue of Christian Scholar’s Review, we have sought to begin a theologically-informed dialog on what it means to be a Christian college president. The aim here is not just for college presidents to continue the conversation but also boards of trustees, faculty, staff, and other key stakeholders.
With the featured article, Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College (IL), seeks to go beyond a generic and perhaps vague notion of the Christian college president as a servant leader and puts forward a theologically-informed paradigm of presidential leadership modeled on the threefold office of Christ – prophet, priest, and king. While most traditions hold that Christians are called to follow Christ’s lead and “participate in these three offices of Christ,” Dr. Ryken attempts to develop a perspective of what that might look like for a college president. He is joined in this conversation by Gayle Beebe, Shirley Mullen, Roger Parrott – presidents of Westmont College, Houghton College, and Belhaven University respectively – and William Robinson, president emeritus of Whitworth University.
The respondents affirm Dr. Ryken’s desire to bring a theological perspective to the college presidency and the appropriateness of the prophet, priest, and king paradigm, although they also share his concern that it can be misappropriated. They further and enrich the discussion by bringing some of their own insights into tackling this multifaceted job. Dr. William Robinson spends much of his response directly interacting with the threefold paradigm. He orders his critique into four parts: the ontology of the paradigm, the influence of trajectories, the problem of kings, and the benefits of the paradigm. Dr. Shirley Mullen suggests that the paradigm focuses on the work of a president and so she offers two additional models for the character of a president that draw on the incarnation of Christ and the “I am” statements. Dr. Roger Parrott uses grace and law to discuss presiden- tial decision-making. Dr. Gayle Beebe takes a somewhat different approach with his comments. As he states, “We face a perennial challenge: trying to discern the timeless from the time-bound” and offers an expanded paradigm by drawing on research in such areas as management and psychology.
These Christian college leaders have brought forward a set of essays that will hopefully spark useful conversations about the work and character of a Christian college president that draw on scripture, historical traditions, and current research. As these authors can attest, the vocational calling of president is not an easy or simple one, but it is an important one.