Since I am an alumnus of four different colleges, I receive more than my share of college magazines. Usually they are marginally useful, just a vehicle for touching base with good memories, educational traditions, and news from former peers. But this winter edition of Houghton Magazine easily stood out as one of the best of the genre. On the issue of relevance alone it stood above the crowd. Titled “Reconciliation,” it addressed the issue of racial division in our country, not so much from a philosophical point of view as by examples of servants of God who are working to bridge the racial chasms in our country in various ways. It featured articles by three different alumni from different generations who are all working directly and in different ways to heal the divisions of our land. Outstanding pieces by our President, Shirley Mullen, and the new college chaplain, Michael Jordan, added to the issue’s power.
In addition. I was very happy to see in this issue other evidences that Houghton itself continues to be a healing force. In the same issue the college announced the initiation of the new Associate of Arts program in Utica, aimed primarily at helping refugees in that city. That initiative is modeled after the highly successful and acclaimed effort in Buffalo. In addition, the college noted that this year’s freshman class has the largest percentage of American-born minority students in the history of the school.
My favorite college is having a one day campaign to enlist support. It’s a two-way matching grant opportunity. In this day when most college education neglects character, Houghton mentors students by example and curriculum design to become servant leaders in today’s world. Many college graduates are having a hard time getting work, but at Houghton the situation is different. They were recently recognized for outstanding success with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates. “The success rate for STEM studies has proven to be true at Houghton College where over the past five years, 100 percent of graduates who obtained degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, physics, math, and computer science have obtained jobs in their desired field of study within six months of graduating from Houghton or gone on to Ph.D. or master’s degree programs.” (http://www.houghton.edu/news-media/recent-news/houghton-graduates-excel-in-stem-fields-compared-to-other-colleges/377/) If you would like to help students at a college like that, I invite you to participate in this one day of giving. Both your gift and your presence among the givers will make a difference. I very seldom put fund-raising things on my blog. There are just too many available. But today I am making an exception for a great cause. All gifts made today toward the Student Scholarship Fund will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $150,000. In addition, if 500 donors make a gift today to scholarships or any other projects across campus, Houghton will receive a gift of $100,000. Visit www.houghton.edu to donate today.
I have been reflecting today on two completely independent items that I read. The first was an article about the problem of officers being ejected from the Army in alarming numbers for character issues of various kinds. Here is the quote.
“The number of U.S. soldiers forced out of the Army because of crimes or misconduct has soared in the past several years as the military emerges from a decade of war that put a greater focus on battle competence than on character. Data obtained by The Associated Press shows that the number of officers who left the Army due to misconduct more than tripled in the past three years.” http://news.yahoo.com/ap-exclusive-misconduct-forces-more-soldiers-145434065.html
Having been in the military myself for a few years, I am aware that young officers are college graduates. I reflected that this is not the only place where college educated people seem to be showing disappointing levels of moral character. The halls of Congress and the governors’ offices of several eastern states in recent years have provided too many high profile examples of moral failures. One would hope that higher levels of education would lead to higher maturity of character too.
The other item that I read was in a letter from Dr. Shirley Mullen of Houghton College. It alluded to one of the fundamental causes of this observed counterintuitive and disturbing decline in character.
“Earlier this month, New York Times Columnist David Brooks addressed more than 300 presidents of America’s private universities and colleges at the Presidents’ Institute of the Council of Independent Colleges. At a time when much of the dialogue about higher education in America is about cost, graduation rates, job training, and student loans, Brooks pleaded with the presidents not to forget what society needs most from college graduates: character and wisdom. He then proceeded to assert that the only sector of American higher education that has an explicit strategy for the development of character and wisdom is the Christian college. It is not often that Christian colleges are called out for praise within the larger world of American higher education!”
It does not take a genius to see the relationship between these two quotes. Christian colleges represent only a very small slice of American higher education. That means most of American college graduates spend their college years in institutions where character and wisdom are not part of the agenda. When these are not part of the agenda, students often use their formative years as something of an unholy “moral holiday,” a time when they throw off restraint. With no one even attempting to guide this time of experimentation, the results are frequently predictably disastrous.
As a longtime advocate of Christian colleges in general and of Houghton College in particular, I have said for years that parents need to invest their college dollars in colleges were character matters and where good character is formed, not destroyed; colleges like Houghton. For this reason, when our daughter was choosing a college my wife and I said to her, “We are going to be investing a lot of money in this; you pick the college, but it has to be a Christian college.” We knew she liked new places, so it was a surprise when she picked her mother’s alma mater, Houghton College. Houghton did not disappoint!
Houghton College has been recognized in many ways in the past for its combination of excellent academics and affordability. Recently it has achieved an additional commendation. According to the College’s news site, “Houghton College has ranked number 76 on Kiplinger’s Personal Finance list of the country’s best values in Liberal Arts colleges. Kiplinger’s annual list ranks 100 private universities and 100 liberal arts colleges.” Way to go Houghton!
New York Post touts Houghton’s loan repayment assistance plan
Houghton was also recognized by the New York Post for doing something about the cost of a college education nowadays. The college is offering to help students repay their loans if they don’t land a job after college that pays at least $38,000 per year. The Post says, “How refreshing to see a school willing to bet on its students’ success by throwing its own purse onto the pile.” Three more cheers for Houghton!
JoAnne and I returned yesterday from the fall trustee board meeting at Houghton College. I have had the wonderful privilege of serving the Central New York District of the Wesleyan Church as district representative on that board for the last six years. Even though the decisions to be made have occasionally been difficult, I have relished this opportunity and served with great joy. The reason I am no longer serving is that when I semi-retired, I moved out of the district from which I was a representative. I thank District Superintendent, Wayne Wager, and the DBA for the opportunity to serve.
As I was driving home yesterday, I was reflecting on the reasons why I have so much enjoyed serving in this capacity. It was fulfilling, stimulating and exciting. I will miss it greatly. But why is Houghton so special?
Houghton has a transformative vision
Houghton has a vision, not just for education, but for the maturation and transformation of the lives of students. This is something I strongly believe in. So much of American higher education has abdicated its responsibility for character formation and settled only for increasing knowledge and technical prowess. That is a badly flawed concept. The result of it has been an atmosphere on many secular campuses that actually contributes to moral turpitude. In contrast, the evidence of Houghton alumni shows that Houghton grads have a highly developed character for service, leadership and faith. You can check out the mission statement at http://www.houghton.edu/about-us/.
Houghton practices excellence
Houghton is a place of excellence. From musical performances to scholarly presentations, from board business procedures to landscaping the already beautiful campus, the Houghton way is excellence. This is why Houghton is in the top tier of liberal arts colleges in the nation and is the highest ranked Christian college in the Northeast. http://www.houghton.edu/about-us/national-recognition/. Because of this, Houghton is well recognized by graduate schools. I can be proud to be associated with Houghton.
Houghton is a place to meet leaders
It has been a stimulating opportunity personally to serve among so many great leaders. In the course of my six years, I have come to know denominational leaders, college leaders, businessmen, prominent lawyers and doctors, persons of wealth and expertise in various fields. Our college president, Dr. Shirley Mullen, was recently recognized on the cover of Christianity Today. http://www.houghton.edu/news-media/recent-news/houghton-president-shirley-mullen-named-one-of-christianity-todays-top-50-women-you-should-know/162/. This has been growth-producing for me and a very helpful networking experience as well. I have also gotten to know Harriet Olsen, the president of United Methodist Women, with whom I have had the distinct privilege of working on the Academic committee for these six years. But this idea that the company we keep either strengthens us or drags us down, is a principle of life too. When we seek out company or have opportunity to interact with people of greater experience, wisdom, expertise or character maturity than ourselves, it will raise us up. I have experienced that in this season of service at Houghton.
We highly recommend Houghton
And, by the way, if you know a good student looking for a great college, do them a life-time favor and recommend they check out Houghton. http://www.houghton.edu/
Tonight I had the privilege of attending Houghton night at Frontier field in Rochester. It was hosted by Red Wing’s Board Chairman Gary Larder who is also a member of the Houghton College board of Trustees with me. I met several Houghton friends I have known for many years and chatted with one young alumni named Ryan at the picnic. We discussed what an advantage it is to graduates to have the good reputation of Houghton backing them when they apply for graduate school. He had been accepted into an MBA program and anticipated some sports involvement on the side as well. He felt that the name of Houghton had definitely been important in that process.
The game was a delight too as the underdog Red Wings won a pitcher’s duel over one of Charlotte’s best pitchers. Red Wing hitters managed just three runs and missed some golden opportunities as always happens in baseball, but it was enough as Red Wing pitchers shut out Charlotte. The night was perfect for baseball too – lots of sun, just a slight breeze, and not too hot.
I drove home joyfully with country music blaring, something my wife’s sensitive and classically cultured ears could never endure.
I remember as a student attending the mandatory chapel services at Houghton College. Since I was taking mostly Bible and related courses and was already active in church leadership in my home church, I considered chapel interesting. But I was quite aware that was not always the attitude of many of my peers. In fact, I sometimes felt a little sorry for chapel speakers who were asked to address an audience many of whom felt compelled to be there. A few of their listeners would even be shamelessly involved in other pursuits like reading, doing homework or chatting with friends.
I usually enjoy my trip to Houghton for the fall Trustee meeting, but this time, something really exhilarating happened. I was privileged to be invited late one evening to give a devotional message for the guys of 2nd West. Jed Boswell, a young man from Community Wesleyan, who lives on that dorm floor, extended the invitation. With joy, I learned that such meetings are a regularly scheduled event. Sometimes they were used for Bible study; sometimes to hash out ideas. They are well organized and include worship time and praying for each other. I shared briefly on the phrase Paul uses “until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19) and focused on the Greek verb which comes directly into English as the verb ‘to morph.’ We discussed together how Jesus is changing us, why it is a more difficult process than expected and how we can cooperate with what God is doing. The evening ended with reciting the 2nd West creed pledging to represent Christ well and singing the Doxology– typical Houghton tradition, deftly mixing traditional and contemporary in the informal liturgy of the evening. I encouraged the young men that what they were doing was a positive example of the words, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 NIV).
I could not help but reflect on how different this was from what went on in hall corridors of the secular college I attended as an undergrad. For one thing, most of those who lived on my corridor sophomore year, I didn’t even know. My roommate smoked (strictly tobacco), another guy on the corridor had his girlfriend as his roommate. I felt isolated socially. That was a contrast from the year before but my previous roommate had flunked out and I nearly had. Neither of us had disciplined our time well—too many distractions. Thankfully, in my second year, some graduate students founded an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship on our campus and I started attending. It gave me the gift of positive spiritual encouragement that these guys in 2nd West are giving to one another regularly. Because of their growing relationships, they will form lifelong friendships with their dorm friends.
This evening experience reminded me why I make no apologies for encouraging parents strongly to send their teenagers to Christian colleges. Not everything is perfect there, for sure. But there are so many possibilities for spiritual encouragement and discipleship enrichment and growth that either do not exist or are not as accessible on a secular campus. Instead, on a campus such as I attended, the student encounters both direct and subtle pressures of various kinds to fall away from the faith. Before our daughter was very far in high school we told her we wanted her to choose a Christian college. She was completely free to choose which one, but since we were paying so much, we wanted to invest our money in something we could believe would be truly good for her. We have always been glad we took that position. It was an unexpected blessing when she chose her Mom’s Alma Mater – Houghton College.
Saturday is was my joy and privilege to attend the dinner given in honor of Rev. Fred Bailey’s 50 years of ministry in the church. What an amazing milestone to reach. I only remember one other ministerial friend who reached it. You have to start young. Fred took his first church while he was a college student. He served 17 churches, mostly Evangelical United Brethren and United Methodist until his recent retirement. But now he has agreed to preach on Sundays at another local UM church. He says he has gone full circle because that is where he began as a student pastor; filling the pulpit on weekends in a small struggling church.
I came to know Fred after his retirement when he started to attend the clergy noon prayer time with the Chittenango area clergy. I appreciated his sense of humor and his fervent prayers. I learned by accident that he was a graduate of Houghton College (62). That gave us something in common as many in my family including my wife and daughter are also alums. I am also a current trustee at Houghton representing our district of the Wesleyan Church. I met Fred’s wife Anne-Louise and two of his children at the celebration and learned that his son Michael is also a Houghton grad (95).
I honor Fred and his wife for their faithful service to God; their exemplary endurance in the ministry and their desire to continue to be useful to our Master in retirement years.